The HPedia: Responsibility

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Responsibility is an important aspect of Naturalistic Paganism, including intellectual and moral responsibility.

The naturalistic and humanistic roots of Naturalistic Paganism suggest that humans are able to respond to life’s challenges without recourse to supernatural aid or explanations.  Those who follow an HP path accept 1) that we cause many if not most of our problems, in whole or in part; and 2) that we are capable of solving our problems.  We have no need of divine or supernatural aid; the power is ours.  And, as the old saying goes, with power comes responsibility.  The types of problems we may respond to are many and varied, but involve at least environmental, social, and psychological problems.

The Pagan side also contributes significant ethical inspiration.  Ancient Pagan ethics were often couched in terms of virtues, as developed in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  Contemporary Pagan traditions have developed similar models, such as the Nine Noble Virtues of Asatru or Nine Virtues of ADF.  The most widespread Neopagan ethical maxims are probably the Wiccan Rede (“Harm none, do as you will”) and the Law of Return (“Whatever you send out will return to you threefold”).  Both emphasize the consequences of actions.  This is perhaps encapsulated even more simply and eloquently in a line from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy: “To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”

Ethics is, of course, a huge and tangled topic, and it is up to the individual to decide what virtues and principles seem best.  Whatever ethics are adopted, they ought at least to be consistent with other key aspects of Naturalistic Paganism.  For example, to be consistent with naturalism, one ought to strive to meet life’s challenges without recourse to supernatural causes and explanations (note that this does not necessarily entail that contrary acts are unethical, only that a path involving such acts cannot be called naturalistic).

David Suzuki, in The Sacred Balance, writes:

We have to know we’re immersed in nature. This doesn’t conflict with science! For most of human existence we knew we were part of nature and dependent on it. That’s what many of our prayers, our dances and rituals were all about and we knew we had responsibilities to act properly to keep it all going. But now our world is shattered, and we no longer see the connections. If we don’t see that everything is interconnected, then any action has no consequences or responsibility. So the challenge is to reconnect ourselves to the world.

See also “Fourfold Path.”

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