I have done things in my life that I am ashamed of. They are things that when I think of them–even though I no longer think in these terms–I think, “it takes a bad person to do that”.
Not often, but I have done them.
And I have been on the receiving end of behavior that was cruel, corrupt, underhanded and/or disregarded human value and dignity. Sadly, not nearly as rarely.
While my family carries the lion’s share of responsibility on that front, some of that behavior came from within the Pagan community…particularly, from self-appointed leaders in that community. And I’ve seen behavior towards others by such leaders that is much worse than what was directed at me.
It was for this reason that after more than 20 years of active participation in Pagan community, I walked away. As beautiful as some of it was, some of it was so far out of step with my own sense of integrity that I could not indulge it any longer.
I have written about this before: the self-dealing, the corruption, the sexism and homophobia, the sexual harassment and abuse.
And so it was that I left, and then discovered how large a hole my practice, religion and community left in me when I abandoned them. Within six months, I was aching for them again, and so began the long process of inquiry, research and writing that resulted in first my essay, then my book as the Atheopagan community began to grow.
I never really articulated it to myself, but a key aspect of the subtext of that inquiry was the question, what would it mean to do it right? What would that look like?
And so Atheopaganism came not only with a worldview and practices like holidays and rituals, but with values: the four Sacred pillars, the 13 Atheopagan Principles. Later, with community conduct standards so we can all be safe and respected as we gather online or in person.
In everything I do with and for this burgeoning community, I am asking myself, what is the highest road we can take here? What is the position, approach or action with the highest integrity?
Now, I’m human, and that means I won’t hit the target all the time. Fortunately, the Atheopagan community has no shyness about pointing this out when it happens, and I could not be more delighted that this is so. I’m not a pope, a guru or a “spiritual teacher”. I make no claims to infallibility.
I’m just a guy trying to get it right.
I have been thinking about excellence this week, in the wake of my beloved Golden State Warriors’ winning of a fourth National Basketball Association championship in the span of eight years. The Warriors are a class act from top to bottom: ownership, management, coach, player development, culture. Their stars play a selfless, joyful variety of the game that is simply beautiful to watch. Off the court, they are humble and self-effacing and they work as hard has anyone ever has to become the best at their craft. Players blossom when they come to Golden State because they enter a culture that wants them to be the very best they can be.
My hope for Atheopaganism is that we can be like that as a religion. We can take the high road and treat people respectfully, respecting boundaries and asking for consent, sharing peak experiences of meaning and joy, finding wonder and awe in the simple fact that we are living and that this incredible Universe is here. Bringing out the very best in one another, and healing the places in one another where we have been wounded. Contributing to the evolution of a culture that is more kind, more sustainable, more respectful, more egalitarian.
It’s a tall order, but, like the Warriors, we can do it. It takes participation and attention and love and high aspirations, but we should ask nothing less of ourselves.
As the song goes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.