As pretty much everybody in the blogosphere knows by now, June is Pagan Values Month, a wonderful opportunity for those of us who live an "alternative" lifestyle to share our reasonings and purposes behind what we believe, and to show the world that despite using a very wide-open word to describe a lot of people, and despite not having ten commandments or a single book to guide us, we all share similar values. I have to say, I'm pretty much in love with the concept, especially since I'm fairly new to this road.
Okay, that's a lie. I'm not NEW to it, but the first time I traveled this path I did so as a follower, as someone who was simply desperate to find something that fit her - but I was 13. My experience with organized religion in general was still somewhat negative, and when my best friend at the time turned from Christianity (she was ironically the same person who got me going to the church we both attended in the first place) and proclaimed herself Wiccan, I was eager to follow suit. It helped that I already felt a draw to nature; my boyfriend at the time (now Hubby, yikes) jokingly called me a druid and was positive I could speak to animals and influence the wind and fire. The whole experience led to a massive amount of spiritual and religious confusion that ended with me avoiding church and basically anything involving organized religion for many years, and only recently have I found a new awakening drawing me back into spiritual concerns.
So here I stand. I was baptized shortly after birth in a Catholic church as a Lutheran, was baptized again as a Christian in 8th grade, rescinded that and proclaimed myself Wiccan about a year later, then spent 11 years as a self-proclaimed confused agnostic. My experiences are hardly unique, and I'm learning more and more that a good portion of the pagan community got to where they are today through experiences with other, more "mainstream" religions. They realized they were dissatisfied, confused, disappointed, or that what they had known all along simply didn't satisfy what they looked for in a religious experience and allowed their spirit to be called in another direction, and found themselves staring down the throat of something still all-too-commonly seen as evil or negative. It's something a huge portion of the world experiences at some point in their lives, and more often than not the only thing that changes is the end result.
I was discontent with Christianity. Mind you, I didn't have an issue with a good deal of the values and thoughts behind them, but the idea that if I even once messed up that I risked eternal damnation - or, almost worse, that when I screwed up all I had to do was apologize to a deity and it was as if nothing had ever happened? - was intimidating. The god I saw in my head was forgiving, had a sense of humor, and had more respect for his creations. In my mind, Jesus wasn't an actual savior, but a very smart man who had some incredibly intelligent, wise things to say and who had a way with words. I didn't see him as the earthly embodiment of a creator. And most of all, I hated the idea that certain portions of the Bible - a book I had by that point accepted as being written entirely by mankind - were enforceable and that it was my moral duty to follow them, yet other things that had once been just as important (if not moreso) were easily ignored and swept aside. I hated how people used a book they turned toward for answers to spread hatred and intolerance. I hated the idea that somehow being gay was wrong or bad, that in one breath people insisted on loving oneself and thy neighbor but in the next breath they hemmed and hawed about how doing this or that would send you straight to hell. It was a lot to take in, and it was irritating and it rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn't come to terms with what I had learned and what I had heard, couldn't fathom how so many contradictory statements could be made when the well beings of people were at stake.
But would turning from Christianity mean giving up all sense of morality and leave me a valueless (pardon the use of the word) heathen?
Of course not!
I am of the belief that people don't need a religion to tell them what to do; there is an inherent sense of morality in all of us that the tenets of the Bible were based off of. Feeling guilty about doing something wrong, trying not to be jealous about what others have that we don't - things like this are inherent for the majority of people. Sure, there are some who are on the outside of the realm of "morality", those who don't experience the same sensations of guilt for doing wrong, or who don't have the comprehension of right and wrong to avoid it in the first place. But those people are surprisingly few and far between. It turns out that there's a good portion of humanity that doesn't need a special book or tenets issued by a deity to do the right thing! What a concept!
That being said, I think a lot of people have a desire and need to integrate their sense of morality and values into their religion regardless of what's already provided. I'm a part of that; I believe that stealing and lying and cheating and murder are wrong, and while I don't believe that I'll be punished in the afterlife for them, I do believe that what happens in the next round and what I experience in the afterlife will be affected by what I do here and now. I think there are some things that are okay, others that aren't - but as a rule I do believe that fate and karma favor those who act out of kindness and sincerity, who have the best interests of others in mind, but who can still live for themselves and achieve their goals.
So this week I'm going to try to go into what I believe, and why, and why I think it's important for people to understand that I can be pagan and still share these values.