The Four Sacred Things
This is an excerpt from my essay “How I Became an Atheopagan“, posted to give an easy reference for the core values that inform my version of atheist Paganism. It is these pillars upon which were developed the Atheopagan Principles.
We can’t talk about religion–or define a new one–without addressing the issue of what is to be considered sacred: what that means, and how it informs the values by which the practitioner is expected to live.
While many traditional religions seek to define the sacred as an inherent quality possessed by certain objects, beings, or activities–and, therefore, not by others–at root “sacredness” is an ascribed quality: an opinion. It is applied to whatever is highly valued by the tradition or practice in question, and to those objects, events and practices which evoke internal narratives which communicate the religion’s beliefs and values.
So: what, exactly, is sacred to an Atheopagan? At least—to this one? Only four things, ultimately; to me, these are the Four Pillars:
Life. Evolved from the mathematical unfolding of the exquisite Universe, the interconnected fabric of Life on Planet Earth is to me the single most sacred of all phenomena. It is these systems which gave rise to all humanity—and thus, to each of us, personally—and which support our ability to survive. All we eat, all we breathe is this, and it is thus holy.
Beauty. Beauty is that which inspires joy in living and which communicates the inner truth of the creative person. Beauty fills our hearts and provokes our minds, strikes us motionless with the recognition of our good fortune in being alive. Bright and dark, soaring with joy or filled with rage, we know beauty because it sets our Limbic brains to singing. It is not optional, trivial or superfluous. It is to be cultivated, celebrated, revered as the means by which the finite and precious moments of our lives are best measured.
Truth. I believe that what is true is of deep and inherent value. It is the only beacon we have to light our way into the unknown future. And the more significant the topic, the more sacred is the truth about it. It is a deep wrong to lie about matters of deep significance: to deny human-driven climate change, for example, or the genocides of the 20th century from Armenia to Germany to Rwanda. It is a deep wrong to deny what is true when it effects what is sacred. This isn’t about “little white lies”. It’s about the tremendous and humbling power of Truth to bring down despotism and corruption, to right wrongs, to advance liberty, to advance closeness between us.
Love. Living as we do, each of us, trapped inside our skins with the endless ongoing dialogue between our various parts, our various minds, humans are subject to a degree of loneliness suffered by no other creature. Evolved as social creatures, we are nonetheless subject to such fear, such doubt, such storms of self hatred and delusions of inadequacy that many collapse under the weight of it, fall to self-destruction and madness.
But love corrects this. Love lights up the dashboards of our Limbic brains and provides us the courage to reach across the great gulf to the Other. It drives our kindest and best impulses, enables us to forgive what we suffer, spurs us to face down the darkness and carry on, to insist that betterment is possible, that the ugly moment needs not be the end of the story. Love brings hope where it has flagged, sometimes for years. It is the redemptive power each of us bears within us to deliver another from hell and into light.