“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.

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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!

Why Atheopagan Principles?

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.