Now that we’re nowhere near consensus on how to use the word “Pagan”, how’s about we wander through an even hazier meadow…
What are our Pagan Values?
I’m jumping the gun a bit, being that the Third Annual Pagan Values Blogging and Podcasting Month is scheduled to begin on June 1st. But I thought it might be useful to spend a minute trying to understand what exactly a “Pagan Value” might be, and to ask the question, What makes a Pagan Value…pagan?
Before I go there, I’m going to get a little “101” with it. Sometimes it’s best to start with a simple question.
What exactly is a value?
My American Heritage Desk Dictionary app, the default resource I use when typing with my thumbs, lists this definition:
A value is a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.
Using this as a starting point, what happens if we add in the word “Pagan”? How does it change things?
A Pagan value is a principle, standard or quality that Pagans consider worthwhile or desirable.
Is this statement true? Can we imagine such a value?
Consider the following questions:
Do all Pagans have shared principles? If so, how do these principles differ from those shared by people who would not choose to identify as Pagan? What happens when they don’t differ much, or at all? Is it possible, for example, that there is overlap between Pagan principles and Christian principles? Were such a thing to happen (as I think we will find it does), can the shared principle be truly claimed as either Christian or Pagan?
Maybe a question to ask is, Who came to the principle first? If the Pagans beat the Christians to the principle, do they get to claim it? What’s the motivation behind that kind of race? A quest for superiority? Thirst for the truth? Dunno.
Do all Pagans have shared standards? Are we talking standards of behavior? Standards of academic integrity? Standards of social accountability or etiquette? There is no central Pagan dogma, so there is no standard set of beliefs. We’ve seen evidence in the last week that there isn’t even a singularly acceptable title for the whole group, nor an agreement that the group is even a group at all. How do you arrive at group standards when the group is sort of a non-group?
Do all Pagans have shared qualities? This may be the easiest of the three to approach, but we might also fall into a trap of describing the qualities of Pagans we’re most exposed to, unaware that these qualities may not be universally applicable to all Pagans. Again, we find qualities that are both specific and universal. Still not sure what to do about that.
Double Edged Values
What else happens when you tack on the word Pagan – or Christian, or American, or Family, even – in front of the word “Value”? Does the new group-specific phrase serve a entirely different function than the word might on it’s own? What is the purpose of distinguishing one group’s values from those of another group?
I’m going to nudge forward here and suggest that drawing value-borders around a group allows people within the circle to judge the behavior, the actions, the worth of the people outside the circle. When that judgment is paired with a given or assumed authority to condemn, the opinion can become a tool for victimization and oppression.
This might look something like:
I hold up this Group Value, and by doing so I assert not only what is good and right about my worldview, but what is not good or right about yours.*
*Insert religious debate/argument/war here.
People sensitive to the Christianist, Islamist or any other Fundamentalist assault on…well…anyone who doesn’t share their Group Values might recognize the behavior I’m describing.
It Must Begin With The Individual
I don’t have the answers to these questions, nor am I certain that they’re the most useful questions to be asking. I’m not a trained philosopher by any stretch. But, I think I’d be foolish to go charging ahead into philosophical territory without at least trying to get clear on a few important concepts.
I think my approach to this June’s blogging assignment will be to describe, as best I can, what my values are first, and then see where else these values might be shared.
If these questions sparked an idea, please share your thoughts in the Comments section of the post. I’d love to know what you think about this notion of Pagan Values, or about values in general!
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