Values and Self-Development in a World without Gods
Atheopagans don’t believe in gods. We don’t believe there is a Cosmic Plan beyond the simple unfolding of the Cosmos according to physical laws. We don’t believe in an afterlife. We believe that science tells us all that can reliably be known about the nature of the Universe.
Many who do believe in gods see them as defining the moral structure of their lives. They are prone to demand of atheists: how is it that you are not amoral sociopaths?
To which we reply: because our morality is within ourselves, not defined for us by some external authority. We do not need marching orders, threats or inducements from gods in order to be good people. As atheist Penn Gillette of the magician duo Penn and Teller has it, “I rape exactly as much as I want to. And that amount is zero.”
But if Atheopaganism is a religion, what is its point if it neither has gods nor defines a moral code?
Atheopaganism is a path to greater happiness. That’s what it is for. To help us as humans to grow into better, happier people, and to have a healthier relationship with one another and with the Earth from which we sprang. Our rituals and observances, our values and principles, all are focused around being better, happier people and helping to create a better world.
And it does define a moral code. We do have values: mine are described in the posts tagged “Atheopagan Principles”. Others may adopt these or develop their own.
But I would hope that all Atheopagans would agree that their Principles are rooted in love for the natural world, a commitment to inquiry and the search for truth, and celebration of beauty and love. I have termed these “The Four Pillars”—the Four Sacred Things. The Four Pillars are the moral foundation upon which I built my Principles: the core values, I believe, of a Pagan worldview.
(the below is excerpted from my essay, “How I Became an Atheopagan“).
- The World. Meaning generally the Universe, but most specifically the biosphere: 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 me—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.