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!
If this post was interesting to you, please be a good friend and tweet it or Facebook share it.
This is maybe one of the best breakdowns of this issue that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot, since for the past two years most bloggers participating in the “Pagan Values Month” have spent most of their time hashing and rehashing these basic questions!). I’m kind of glad you went and got it out of the way, and I think your proposed approach is a very fruitful one, maybe the only one where we can hope to make any real headway.
I’m looking forward to your thoughts this month. 🙂
Wow – thank you, Alison. I really appreciate your comment. You’re very kind and generous with your words.
This is my first year participating, so I thought I’d start at ground level and work my way up. I don’t profess to know much about much, but I do love words. I think they’re worth sitting with.
So, here’s to making headway (he raises his virtual glass to toast a fellow blogger who he respects very much)!
Looking forward to you thoughts as well!
I had an additional thought, if you don’t mind…I don’t think it matters who had the ‘value’ first. No one can own the love and respect you have in your heart for other people. Christians have absolutely no authority over people whatsoever.
Great start into the philosophy of values! You’ve also embarked into the realm of social psychology and prejudice. You have described wonderfully the concept of in group and out group and how that breeds prejudice. I’ve personally never viewed values as belonging to one group or another. I’ve always told people that I have high morals and values, and left it at that. It never occurred to me that someone would lay claim to those values…does that mean if I don’t identify with the preceding “label” then I’m stealing the value? LOL…dang philosophy 🙂
Hi Mary – thanks for joining the conversation! I appreciate the kind words. This is new for me, and I’m glad that I’m speaking to something relevant to others.
I do like the way you describe your position, and it could be a way to involve others in conversation. What are, after all, “high” morals and values? How would you distinguish them from “low” ones?
Again, thanks for the comment!
That is a great point. When placing a standard on something, it should be able to be standardized. What is a “high” moral to me, maybe lower or higher than what someone else considers “high.” Morals and values are important, but who is to say which one’s are right and which ones are wrong? Does it mean my morals and values are higher than another if I choose not to steal, but they do? Maybe that person does have what I would consider high morals and values, but they are just deviating from his norm due to a strong value to provide for his family when he keeps hitting roadblocks on all other “legit” ways.
I guess it’s important to say that my high morals and values are high for me are true for me. I don’t place judgement on others and I try my hardest to have compassion for all. That helps me break past any preconceived notions about a person and allows me to recognize that situations do arise to put us in what some would consider a “lose/lose” situation in regards to morals and values.
With that said, is it possible to have a degree of high morals and values on a broad sense? Or is each situation independent of another when determining what values are “good” or “bad”?
This is why it is so important for me not to judge another person (that’s a value, right?). It is also important to treat every person and situation with respect, and to help when I am capable (another value?). This is one of those philosophical questions that has so many possible avenues. Thanks for the thoughts Teo!
Very well said! I also have never really put a label on my values…I guess I always assumed all people (that aren’t psycho killers lol) have similar morals and values. Although I have also seen many debates on this subject between religions. I do suppose there would be at least a few values all Pagans would share, like Respecting the Earth. However is that a Pagan value? Or just a value we all share…? I’m looking forward to your thoughts this month as well! 🙂
Thanks for commenting, Iara!
Great point. Respecting this land is certainly a value that I imagine most Pagans could affirm. I’d like to think that caring for and respecting the Earth is something that people of all faith traditions can get behind. We are, after all, sharing this planet. It’s the one thing that truly unites us.
A most excellent start.
I’ve long believed that “VALUES” are the things we’d like known about us bumper-sticker style whilst morals are what we live by when no one else is watching.
Ths will be an interesting month!
Ah… “morals”… I forgot about those. 🙂 That’s an interesting distinction. I’ll have to give that one some thought.
Thanks for the comment, and I payed a visit to your website. Very cool drums!
Maybe we should just have Human Values…..
Maybe so, Sharon.
How do we get there, I wonder? Are our ideas about what it means to be human informed by our values? By our worldview? How do we find consensus to start that conversation?
Love to know more about how you reached this thought of Human Values.
One agreed on value in all pagan groups is accountability. No one else is responsible for your re-action/action…you must take full accountability for this. This is a value, and one that most other religions do not hold in common with us; since they blame it on, and then confess it too…so someone else can take care of it for them (a savior,etc)
Interesting, Sonya. Thanks for sharing this idea!
Just to clarify, would you say that a pagan value would be accountability to one’s self? Or, to the community? I read in your comment, perhaps, that you don’t understand there being a sense of accountability to a deity, but I’m not sure if I’m understanding you correctly. Could you help me to know if I’m understanding you?
Excellent thoughts here. You hit the nail on the head about how it can become a superiority thing. Most definitions of value are in reference to monetary things, but as a society of folks who love and hold their relationships as sacred, then there is great value in that because of trust. I hesitate on the ‘right and wrong’ approach to values because of that superiority issue, but I do see a lot of wisdom in a combination of love, freedom, wisdom, and trust. Apply it with grace and respect. 🙂 Put out negative, negative will return to you. Put out positivity, and positivity will come back. And at times no matter how kind you are, if people are rude in return, that’s their problem. And as far as Christianity goes, they aren’t supposed to have any superiority anyway. It goes against Christ’s teachings of equality. 🙂
Thanks for sharing these ideas, Sisterlisa! I like the emphasis you put on “relationships”. I’m going to think about that some more and see what it sparks in my mind!
The problem is that while Christianity inarguably consists of the majority of our most vocal detractors, they aren’t the only ones. It’s basically every other religion who doesn’t have a specific tenant that says that other religions are not only okay but acceptable, and that actually encompasses a frightening number of people and philosophies.
In the long run, we have all seen people of all sorts misuse and abuse the group values, as you mention them, by claiming said values as their own and exclusive to their religion. Also, please accept my apologies, because my phone won’t allow me to scroll back down and edit the portion below – but I enjoyed this post greatly! Silly phone. I’m sure you understand.
I truly enjoyed this post. I agree that without some sort of shared and easy to understand creed that makes sense to everyone, there are good number of
Thanks, KAS! And, no need to apologize for the comment. I know all about thumb-typing, and I thought you made some interesting points. I’d be interested to know where you were going with the idea about creed. Perhaps when you get to a computer you can unpack it again!
Great beginning… I look forward to your posts for this years event!
Pax / Geoffrey
PS- Hey Alison!! The funny thing is I was going to suggest Jeff’s blog to Teo as his approach seemed reminiscent of some of Jeff’s work…
Thanks, Pax! I’m grateful to you for putting this on!
Looking forward to everyone’s writing!
I’m going to be the fly in the ointment and point out that values have little to do with behavior.
Most Americans would say that marital fidelity is a value that they honor. Most Americans don’t actually honor it. In fact, if we observe that the ideal of marital fidelity is lifelong “until-death-do-us-part” monogamy, practically no one practices it.
Most people value the Golden Rule or one of its variants. How many people practice it? Especially when confronted by the embarrassed (and posturing to hide the embarrassment) owner of an unleashed dog that just rushed your child?
One might say that a “value” is an ideal that people aspire to (and fall short of most of the time), but I’m not sure I agree. I’m more inclined to view “values” as a largely arbitrary flag that groups rally around. “Flag” (or “banner”) is a good term because a flag is inherently meaningless. Green on red? Red on green? Red stripes on white? Its only value is symbolic. I think “values” are much the same.
I belonged to a Baptist church in college that valued abstaining from alcohol. It was one of the core values of the church, often discussed in prayer groups and informal gatherings. While it is true that some people become addicted to alcohol, most do not. Given the role of alcohol as a social lubricant, this church value actually put a lot of the professionals in the church in an awkward bind, and they would talk about this among themselves. A lot. The real purpose of this “value” was to make these Baptists “different” from the society around them, which gave them cohesion as a group.
In some gangs, the taking of a human life is a “value” that serves the same purpose. Once you’ve been blooded, you have something irrevocable in common with the other members of the group.
So I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head when you talk about putting “Pagan” or “Christian” in front of the word “value.” It changes the meaning from something we actually value to something that we probably don’t value, but that promotes group cohesion.
As people, we all have similar core values. We want: clean air, clean water, nourishing food, shelter from the elements, love and acceptance, a sense of value and contribution to others (our family, our group, our country, our world), a future for our children. We may become confused about how to achieve these, but these are values in both word and practice. Anything you want to add to this list is of almost no importance at all if any of the above is threatened or missing.
As groups, however, we adopt a different kind of “values” that are more abstract, less meaningful, less achievable, sometimes overtly harmful, and sometimes just plain silly. The purpose is to bind the group together and identify/eject outsiders.
Consider the “value” of circumcision: you will see people opine fiercely about whether this has an inherent “health benefit,” but compared to smoking or chronic overeating, any such benefit is insignificant.
So why do people get so hot about this particular bit of body art? Group identity. In fact, if you talk to parents of a newborn boy today about circumcision, their first concern is the junior high locker room. Will my son be “different”? Will the other boys make fun of him?
So when you talk about “Pagan values” as opposed to “Christian values,” they are the symbolic elements that differentiate us. You can look to the ways we arrange our ritual space. You can look to the ways we talk about the divine feminine. You can look to the general acceptance of polytheistic language in Paganism, as opposed to the strict monotheistic or trinitarian language demanded of Christians. You can look to the more subtle language about “dominion over nature” (Abrahamic faiths) versus “living within nature” (Paganism).
Themon – you should totally submit this as a blog post of your own. These are wonderful points, and that last paragraph in particular really opens things up for me. I feel like I should explore elements of practice and language next, not to mention this idea of “core values”. I love that.
Thanks for contributing your voice to this conversation. I’m always glad to see you here. 🙂
Incidentally, I don’t think that different values need to result in either accusations of wrongness or conflict. Though they often do.
My first real introduction to Paganism was at a major Pagan festival in the mountains above Denver in 1996, and one of the things I remember clearly was playing the social butterfly and flitting from fire circle to fire circle and asking questions about what people “believed.” It was a delightful exercise, because people were all over the map, but generally very rooted in personal experience rather than theology. People didn’t say, “This is the right way to cast a ritual circle.” Instead, they would say, “Well, this is how I cast a ritual circle, and this is what it feels like to me.” The former contains an element of shaming, and evokes controversy. The latter evokes a sense of, “Gee, I’d like to try it that way and see what I get.”
I had people who told me about their experiences with UFOs, with psychedelic mushrooms, with sex magic, with energy work and gods and goddesses, with past lives, on and on. All mind-blowing, all fascinating. I had no idea how much of it was drug tripping, how much was psychosis, how much was metaphor, or how much was real. I don’t think any of them was entirely sure, either, which is what made it so non-threatening to everyone. “This was my experience, and I’m not sure what it means,” plays well in pretty much any room.
Where I’ve consistently seen trouble is when the values decouple from the experience. I wasn’t present for them, but I heard the echos of the so-called “witch wars” on the old Usenet BBs back in the 1980’s. I heard that the core of this very unpleasant early Internet flame-war, which devolved into covens publicly laying curses on each other, had something to do with whether it was proper to uncast the ritual circle clockwise or counterclockwise. As I say, I wasn’t there so the story may be apocryphal, but it is amusingly plausible. We can look at real historical examples of this kind of thing in, say, the Celtic tonsure (head shaved forward with a mullet in the back) versus the Roman tonsure (head shaved on top with a fringe all around). Or the entire “Filioque Controversy” that broke the Church Universal into the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic factions in the mid-1000’s.
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Great post. I also approached the challenge of Pagan Values Blogging Month by discussing my own personal values and then relating them to the two main channels of my spiritual faith and practice (paganism and Quakerism). Lots of interesting comments here… thank you for writing!
Thanks, Alyss! I'll be sure to give your post a read. There have been so many insightful posts this month — so many new and interesting perspectives.
I appreciate your comment, and I hope to hear more about the intersection of your paganism and Quakerism!
Every person has their own sets of values that they follow in life. These values might be seen as something inappropriate or a taboo in some cultures, but our society somehow dictates the formation of the said values.
Thanks for your comment, Frank.
I'm interested to know more about how you see our society dictating the "formation of the said values." What does that mean to you, exactly?
[…] I wrote in my last post, there are challenges to any group claiming a value as their own. The principle that is meant to be […]
How we deal with life is a matter of our personal choice and part of our individual uniqueness. Our parents and our family are our foundation of values. However, no matter how the foundation is built, we eventually modify what we are taught to fit our personalities. I think the essential thing is to be sincere.