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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Local Pagan Study Group's First Informational Meeting (Or, a Lesson on Pagan Morality as I See It)

Technically today was our fourth meeting but the first three were meet and greets, making today our first informational meeting. We discussed the similarities and differences between our religious paths, because "Pagan" is a term that covers a myriad of belief systems.  More specifically we discussed the concept of the Divine as well as the root of Pagan morality.

Unlike followers of the Abrahamic religions, Pagan practitioners do not have a single text or collection of ancient texts to guide our moral compass. Instead we take our morals from the tales of the gods and what they found objectionable. We also take our cues from society at large as well as the belief that everything in nature is sacred and that when we take from the planet we must give back. In this way we arrive at different moral conclusions than Abrahamic practitioners.

An excellent example of this is the current debate around homosexuality and whether or not homosexuals should be "given" the right to marry. There are several passages in the bible (Leviticus 18:22, etc.) that condemn those that practice homosexuality and through the use of these verses many anti-homosexuals support their position on the matter. Most Pagans look at the situation from the position of "is this hurting anyone"? Being homosexual is no more or less harmful to a person than being heterosexual and neither sexual persuasion indicates whether someone is a good or bad person. Therefore there is no reason why homosexuals should be barred from marriage. Let them eat wedding cake!
(Fun bit of trivia: Marie Antoinette never actually said "let them eat cake". Now back to the morality lecture)

Morality is a tricky subject in general and it becomes even more complicated when you're moving from one religion to another or conversing with someone of a different belief system. Speaking from experience, I have found it very hard to shake some of the strict Christian morals that I was brought up with, such as the sanctity of monogamy and the shamefulness of sex and related topics. Neither of these things is required of humans, it was simply how I was raised. I do not want to say that they are bad or good, only that they are one way of seeing things and as a Pagan I am always willing to question the way things are and learn from the answers I find.

In addition to morality we also discussed how we each view the Divine. We went from member to member allowing them to describe how they view the Divine, which most Pagans see as being divided in to a god and a goddess which are equal to one another. Most of the group, this blogger included, agreed that we see the Divine as something greater than we can understand. Because of this humans have assigned pantheons, names, genders, and attributes to the feeling that they label as Divine, so that they may better relate to it. And this leads us right back to morality and the judgement of others. I feel that no religion is wrong in how they view the Divine, whether it is a monotheistic or polytheistic approach and regardless of what that/those god(s)/goddess(es) appear as. Religions go wrong when they begin to force others to see things their way or use the tenets of their belief to harm living beings.

Many people do not share these views and when I first became Pagan I gave little thought to how my new understanding of the Divine and morality should affect my treatment of others. Because I was raised in an environment that did not tolerate other religions well I became intolerant of people who were not Pagan. It took me years of learning and reflecting to reach a point where I wasn't angry with the religions who preached that my religion was false and dangerous. But once I reached a place where I could see more clearly, I realized that it is not my place to judge. Humans fear what they do not know and the common phrase "be the change you wish to see in the world" is the best way I have found to handle the issue.
(Another interesting fact: There is a great deal of debate over whether or not Gandhi actually said that. I recommend Googling it if you're curious.)


I didn't intend to make this a lecture on morality, but it seemed to have ended up that way. Hopefully it clarified things for those with questions and prompted all my readers to think on their own morality. After all, morality in all its splendor is at the center of what we call humanity.

My next post won't be for a while because classes are starting but I'm sure I'll have something fun for you when I return!

Blessed Be

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