I am excited to announce that a new Facebook group has arisen for Atheopagans in the UK! Congratulations to Debi Gregory for starting the group.
Those applying to join the group are asked to answer a short questionnaire, which originally asked for a commitment to abide by the 13 Atheopagan Principles. Some were puzzled by this, or felt they are too restrictive. So I thought I would unpack the issue a bit and discuss why ethical principles are a necessary part of a functioning religion.
Obviously, everyone has their own moral compass. We act according to what we view as right and proper; even when we are breaking our own supposed values, there is always a rationalization for why this action meets some higher good (even if it’s just personal benefit). Atheopaganism isn’t trying to supplant the internal moral landscape of its adherents, nor to establish arbitrary “commandments” that supply an external moral dictum, as do the Abrahamic religions.
What the Principles are intended to do is to spell out the moral landscape within which Atheopaganism makes sense. If the four Sacred things are truly held as Sacred, if the Earth is revered and Love is honored and Truth is pursued and Beauty is cherished, the result is a set of principles for living very much like the 13 Principles as I have articulated them.
Atheists are often accused of having no morals, because the dominant culture is unable to conceive of morals and ethics that arise from the will of the individual, rather than enforced by threats by an external god. That accusation is nonsense, of course—atheist and stage magician Penn Gillette famously says “I rape exactly as much as I want to. And that amount is zero.” But it is a canard that persists in polling on public views on atheism, and one with which we must contend. The Atheopagan Values and Principles are a way of spelling out what most who love the Earth believe anyway: that we must be kind, that we must be people of integrity, that we must apply critical thinking in our assessments of what is likely to be true. They are meant to be stars to guide us along the way of our lives, to help us live as well and happily as we can.
That said, following or being a part of Atheopaganism doesn’t decree that you have to do anything. It is available to you as a path and a set of guidance and an opportunity to incorporate practices and observances into your life that will add richness, color and joy. Adapt and tailor it as you see fit, holding in mind that the path was created with the intention of holding Sacred those four Sacred Values.
For myself, I find that the Atheopagan Principles are qualities that help me when I feel uncentered or angry. I don’t always live up to them. But I’m glad that they’re there, and that the 13th Principle spells out that no one will meet all those qualities all the time, and we must be compassionate with ourselves and others when we don’t.
I hope that you find value in them, too. But if not, all anyone can ask is that you be a person of kindness and integrity by your own lights. Because it’s not about asserting “rules”. It’s about cultivating ways of living that increase happiness, both in yourself and those around you.
What do you think? Comments welcome.