Walking Our Talk: Modeling a Vision for the Future

As I have written before, Atheopaganism is a forward-looking religious path. We envision a time when humanity lives in balance with the natural systems of the biosphere and when all people are treated fairly and equally in human society.

Those are tall orders, but that’s what a vision is for, right?

Especially in these times, it is clear that we have far to go to approach these visionary goals. And so as we create our “microcosms” of human society in our Pagan circles, it is that much more important that we model for ourselves and others the world we hope to create.

In my experience, Pagans don’t do nearly so well in this regard as they tell themselves they are doing. Just look at the sheer mess left behind after a night of Pagan partying and you see the signs of people who aren’t considering their responsibility for their impact. Pantheacon takes place at a convention hotel that doesn’t even do recycling; I can’t speak to other conventions but imagine they may be similar.

Obviously, this is not an ideal world. Sometimes we would like for practices to be in place when they simply aren’t, and we can’t change this (as with the operation of a hotel). But here are some considerations/aspirations for Atheopagan gatherings so we can emulate to as great a degree as possible the world we are seeking to build.

1)  Anti-discrimination policies and conduct standards. Ensuring that all participants are safe and treated equally, and articulating in writing that bigotry or harassment of any kind are not acceptable at your event is a critically important thing to do. Consent culture is learned, not assumed.

Recently, I published the Atheopagan Event Organizing Guide. In it are sample policies that will set clear expectations for both attendees and organizers.

2)  No disposables. Other than toilet paper, just don’t have them available. Require attendees to bring their own plate, bowl, cup, utensils, napkin and towel, and have some extras available in case someone forgets. Ask that food be brought in reusable containers.

3)  Minimal plastic. Try to minimize the usage of plastic, and certainly do not provide any kinds of trinkets, ID markers or keepsakes that aren’t naturally degradable (paper, wood, natural fiber textile, stone or ferrous metal).

4)  Recycling. Make recycling and minimization of waste a priority for your event, and explain clearly to attendees where they should put recyclables, compostables and landfill garbage. Explain to all attendees that the goal is to minimize landfill.

5)  Sustainable and responsible sourcing. When buying supplies and food, consider where they come from. What is the behavioral profile of that company? How far must the material be transported? Is there a local source?

6)  Carbon footprint. This is a tough one, because every gathering wants as much attendance as possible and particularly for leaders and presenters to come, even if from a far distance. But the truth is that fuel consumption for travel is a tremendous burden on our planet. We have arrived in a time when it is important for us to stay locally as much as possible, and consider alternatives to distance travel whenever feasible.

Here is language I am including in the invitation for an event this summer:

Carbon footprint and climate impact.  This event is intended to be conducted in accordance with sustainability principles to as great a degree as possible. We would love to see you. but if you are considering attending from more than ~100 miles away, please ask yourself, ‘How important is this to me really? Is there some other way I can get my need for this event met without the energy and pollution impact, such as by organizing my own local event or attending something closer by?’ If not, we encourage you to carpool or take transit to our event, and will arrange to pick you up if you do the latter. Just being conscious of the impacts of our actions is an important part of being an Atheopagan.”

7)  Another thing we can do at our events is to incorporate some kind of concrete political action as a part of the event itself. Taking a half-hour to write postcards to elected officials or swing-state voters feels good and can really make a difference.

No one can be “perfect”, and that’s not the point of considering such issues. But all of us can do what we can to minimize our impacts on the Earth, and to develop the habit of thinking about them. Baking this awareness into our culture is a step towards being more connected with our world and our impacts on it: the flip side, one might say, of the reenchantment of the world that Paganism is all about.

May we build our culture with our eyes wide both to the glories and the challenges before us. May our joy and pleasure be leavened by responsibility and right action. And may our communities grow as people who treat one another—and the Sacred Earth—with respect, kindness and consideration.

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“Harm None” Ain’t Good Enough: A Call to Action

There has always been something about the Wiccan Rede that has bothered me, and I’ve finally figured out what it is.

The Wiccan Rede, for those new to the community or coming into Atheopaganism from atheist/skeptic circles, is the only widely (though far from universally) adopted moral precept in the Pagan community. It reads: “An (if) it harm none, do what thou wilt.”

To start with, the Ye-Olde-Tyme-Englande language rubs me the wrong way, using “an” for “if”, and calling it a “rede” instead of a “rule”. The Wiccan Rede is a 20th century creation, not bloody Shakespeare.

But that’s a small point.

The primary bone I have to pick with the Rede is that unlike many of the world’s religions, the only widely embraced ethic of Paganism doesn’t contain any expectation that its followers should be promulgators of good. Only that we shouldn’t do harm.

If you’re not hurting anyone, do what you like, says the Wiccan Rede. Echoes Crowley’s famous Thelemite creed, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

Hate to say it, folks, but that’s pretty weak tea. It’s selfish and it contains not a whisper of a suggestion that we should be responsible to any but ourselves. It is a teenager’s libertarian fantasy, not a formula for a respectful and healthy community nor a better, healthier world.

People sometimes wonder why Pagans don’t have charities to support the environment or the disadvantaged. I would suggest that this is at least a contributing factor: because of an excessive emphasis on individual liberty to the exclusion of social responsibility.

Now, Paganism is a broad spectrum of practices and paths. Many do not adopt the Rede as a guideline for their own behavior. But I have not yet heard of a major flavor of Paganism that formally expects its adherents to, say, feed the hungry or house the homeless or even actively work to resist and reverse humanity’s degradation of the biosphere. Those who choose to act thus do so not because they are following their religion’s principles, but in spite of the lack of them.

The Abrahamic and Buddhist traditions have one up on us in this vein; particularly, traditions like Quakerism and Sufism and Unitarian Universalism and reform Judaism. Say what you like about them, every day many charities associated with Abrahamic traditions do a great deal of good in relation to some of the ills that confront humanity. (Others do harm, such as to LGBTQ folks, because their values are bigoted. But that’s really beside the point).

Of course, many self-described followers of those religions don’t lift a finger to do what their religions tell them to do for the disadvantaged. But at least they are told that they should. The key takeaway is that despite broad adoption of liberal and tolerant and environmentalist values within the Pagan community, our paths don’t demand anything of us but to try not to hurt anything. Not the faintest whisper of a suggestion that being a good Pagan necessarily means an expectation that we will try to make things better for our fellow humans and our fellow creatures.

Compounding this, I believe, is the propensity on the part of some Pagans to view non-Pagans with condescension. Why would we feel the need to care for “Muggles”, for squares and straights and…worst of all…Christians?

I understand that minorities sometimes compensate for feeling like outsiders and subject to discrimination by expressing similar sentiments about the majority. It’s human, and probably to some degree inevitable.

But we are all here on this Sacred Earth together. As humans, we have responsibility for one another. And our moral precepts should tell us so.

I wrote awhile back on why I believe Atheopaganism is inherently political.  I believe that the times we live in and our values as naturalistic Earth-reverers naturally and inevitably obligate us to do what we can to make our world a better place. To promulgate kindness and environmental responsibility, and to practice it ourselves.

Pagans tend not to want to be told what to do. Even more so than most folks. In fact, many of them are so vehemently opposed to it that the very idea of a community ethic of good works would be viewed as authoritarian and “oppressive”.

To that I say: please look around you, and then step up.

Everyone on this planet has both a social and an environmental impact. If ours is truly a better way, it is not unreasonable that we expect ourselves pro-actively to see our values made manifest in the world, whether that be sexual, racial, ethnic and gender egalitarianism or care for and uplifting of the downtrodden or biological diversity and reduction of pollution.

Let us make the world as we wish for it to be, not merely try to minimize the damage we cause. Let us be seen for how we conduct ourselves in the world, with how we treat the most vulnerable among us. The Abrahamic obsession with what adherents believe is not ours; let us rather assess ourselves on the basis of what we do.

And let us do much, more more than simply try to avoid causing harm. Because in days like these, that is not nearly enough.

What’s This Atheopaganism About, Exactly?

So, we’re doing this Atheopaganism thing.

What’s its purpose? What are its goals?

I think we talk around the edges of this question a lot, with discussions of Sacred values and Principles that clearly point their way to a vision. But it would be better to articulate that vision straight-out, so people are clear about where I come from, and so we can discuss and refine it if it doesn’t work for the Atheopagan community writ large.

My vision for Atheopaganism is a nested set of Russian matryoshkaIt exists on scales from the personal to the societal.

Personally, I pursue my Atheopagan practice as a modality for healing my inner wounds, navigating my life, and cultivating more wisdom and joy and awe and celebration. To be a better person.

Interpersonally, I hope my Atheopagan practice helps me to become more kind, less acerbic, and closer in my relationships, even if they don’t share my cosmology. Success is mixed on that one, but to some degree that’s because I don’t always succeed in bringing my best self forward. Working on it.

In the Atheopagan community—those who read this blog and/or belong to the Atheopagan Facebook groups, mostly—my goal is one of service. I provide resources, ideas, projects, personal reflections and lore meant to help others to develop their own practices, so they can enjoy the personal benefits I have and shape and adapt Atheopaganism to their own needs.

More broadly, in the Pagan and Atheist communities my goal is to hold up a lantern: to offer a pathway to those who may find value in it, and help to ease their entry to what may be unfamiliar and strange. My goal within those communities is not to convert anyone, but rather to ensure that this path is given room to exist, and to support those who are interested in it.

Finally, societally my goal is a better world. Where people are happier, and kinder, and more critically thinking, and more awe-struck, and more fulfilled, and more tolerant; where the human relationship with the Earth is resacralized; where diverse paths of religious expression are welcomed and allowed to flourish.

So that’s all: my vision is nothing short of total societal transformation. But it starts small, and quietly, in the heart.

For Pantheacon 2018,  I proposed a discussion group on the subject, What is Paganism FOR? Unfortunately, the proposal was declined. I think it could have been a fruitful and illuminating conversation. Because I think that when you strip away a lot of pomp and frippery, these are the goals of many, if not most of the Pagan community.

I have learned, however, that my proposed ritual, “Arming the Earth Warriors: A Ritual for Activists”, was accepted, so for the fourth year in a row, nontheist programming will be available there. I will also convene the annual Nontheist Pagan Mixer, so we can socialize with one another…news on that soon!

I’m really interested in the take of those who follow this blog on the vision articulated here. Please comment below, or on Facebook. Thanks!