Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Alternatives to Christian ethics, or, you don't have to be an aggressive asshole to be a proud pagan

First off, I'm not saying that most pagans are assholes. What I'm talking about is the kind of person who is against Christianity in a Nietzschean sense to the point where instead of love and compassion they want only hardness and some sort of cruelty. This, of course, is a small small subsection of people who would call themselves pagan. But be that as it may, as a pagan myself I've tried to reckon with this point of view because I would like to be compassionate without being a latent Christian, or a person who has just shifted gears from one theology to another without actually changing anything.

A couple things stick out with regards to the sort of aggressive, let us say Roman, approach to paganism. The first is that the biggest sons of bitches on the planet are people who are just hard and cruel, who put their own egotism in front of anyone else and who don't listen to any sort of pleas to restrain themselves. These folks aren't so much liberated as just public nuisances, people who unfortunately expect others to resort to what the legal system calls "self help" and who may actually be surprised when other more legitimate ways of settling things are invoked. Like the legal system putting them in prison. The second thing is that in many ways compassion just makes sense. But how do you justify it beyond saying "It's just a good thing"?

I think that eastern philosophy can shed some light on this. The philosophical aspect of Taoism provides a kind of template that can be used to base some of the ideas that in our culture would automatically be associated with Christianity on. Compassion makes sense because it's a rational way to treat people in opposition to the irrationality of our first impulse. We may like to look at situations and only consider our own self interest or only want to close ourselves off from them, but if you take a step back and consider whatever it is and really think about it, not acting in a forceful, inconsiderate way is often the best course of action. It doesn't rely on a Christian belief in always turning the other cheek. Instead, it relies on the basic ethical principles that people normally use to navigate through their day to day lives regarding what's just and what are just ways to treat folks. I would wager that in practice the outcome of using just more consideration and not being carried away by whatever passion or automatic response it popping up at the time is more similar to basic Christian ethics than people would like to admit. More nuanced, to be sure, and with more options not to be nice, but on the whole decent and ideally just.

The idea is basically that of the stereotypical eastern martial arts teacher who inculcates in his students a philosophy where through thinking they can either avoid a fight or do only what needs to be done to solve the issue without creating more problems.

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