Tag Archives: morality

What do you want?

It always bothered me that the bad guys in Babylon 5 always asked ‘what do you want?’ It’s one of the most useful questions to ask – of each other and of ourselves. In digging in to find out what we want, we can learn a lot about who we are, where we are going, what needs to change. Wanting should not automatically be associated with greed and selfishness. It’s a necessary, healthy and frequently good part of our humanity.

What do I want? I’ve been asking that question a lot lately, and digging in with the answers. It’s not an easy question and it’s shown me things that have been tough to square up to. In understanding what I want, I have to own the areas of my life that aren’t giving me what I want and need. I have to face the aches, absences and insufficiencies in order to know what I want to change. I have to face up to the things I do that don’t work, or haven’t gone the way I wanted them to. I’ve learned a lot, doing this. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve released a lot of anger and frustration I didn’t even know I was carrying before I started.

Of course what I want cannot be just about me. I have a son and a husband to consider, so I’ve been asking what they want, and we’ve started exploring those issues and dreams together. I’ve started talking to my closest friends as well. Seeing who has similar wants and issues and what we might co-dream from here.

The biggest issue for me in all of this is the day to day grief of not being able to do enough in face of climate chaos. We’re a low carbon household, but we aren’t restorative. I want to be restorative. I need to plant trees. I don’t even have a garden I could put a small fruit tree in. I’ve got small trees in buckets, it’s the best I can do where I live, but it has never been enough.

I need wildness.

I crave community. This has been a curious one, because where I’ve talked to various friends about this, it turns out the perception is that I’m deeply immersed in my local community. I’m not. I tend to feel peripheral at best. I’d assumed that was about me – that either I don’t know how to belong, or I don’t know how to do the right things to feel a sense of belonging. Now I’ve opened that can of worms, my perception of what’s going on has shifted dramatically. It may not be a failing on my part.

I’m asking what I can change in the short term. What can I do now that would improve things for me? What do I want that I can have? And what happens in the longer term? At this point, I think I know, but there are still some conversations I need to have privately before I start talking about it more publicly.

What do I want? To put down the idea that wanting itself is morally suspect. To make room for what desire, and longing can teach me. To act based on what I learn.


External authority and why I’m not a fan

One of the accusations levelled against Pagans and atheists alike is that we can’t have a moral compass because we don’t have a sacred text to refer back to.

In practice, the person without a sacred text can only use their reason and personal sense of fairness to make moral judgements. It means you know that you are responsible for what you do and say, what you think and how you come to conclusions. As far as I can see, this is the most honest and most responsible position to hold.

Of course a person can have a sacred book, use it for inspiration and take the same process of coming to reasoned positions. So long as the book isn’t considered the literal word of God and to be followed in all ways, a person can use it to help them navigate while still remaining consciously in charge of their own choices.

However, when a sacred book becomes a substitute for thinking, it becomes dangerous. Anything in a book is at risk of going out of date. What makes sense in one time and place may be far less sensible or fair in another. Dogmatic insistence on the primacy of an out of date book clearly isn’t going to work well.

I note that the people who seem most fanatical about sticking with the text are often the ones calling for the least kind outcomes. The sort of people who would make a child rape victim carry a baby to term, and oblige them to marry their attacker. The sort of people for whom being ‘immodest’ in dress (however they choose to measure that) is a greater spiritual offence than physically attacking someone. What I think happens here is that people outsource their morality so they don’t have to question the real implications of their apparently spiritual beliefs.

This kind of dogma is really convenient for anyone with a nasty agenda.

I don’t think the problem here is books – a decent human being can read a book and make informed decisions about what to work with and what to reject. We do this all the time with the stories of our Pagan ancestors. I’ve never seen a modern Pagan suggest that tricking someone into a bag and then beating them until they let you have things your way is a sensible way of getting things done, for example. If you know that a story is just a story, you can work with it in whatever way makes sense. It’s when you decide that the story has authority, and then, having given it authority, negate your own responsibility to be a decent person, that we get into trouble.

It’s not the presence or absence of a sacred book, or books, that gives people a moral compass. The morality does not lie in the book. It never has.