Alapaha Paganism

DSCN1555 I am writing a book that discusses a vision of living well.  I believe that living well varies from person to person.  From the beginning, then, this view rejects the ideas that there is one single way that everyone should live and that there is a set of laws everyone must follow to be a good person.  This is not evangelism, but you might think of it as a conceptual portrait or simply as a conversation starter.

Later I provide a brief history of Paganism, but for the purposes of introduction, I will note that I am not trying to define what (neo/post) Paganism really is or should be.  I believe that those who interested in Paganism will find this blog/book a nice place to start.  This is not intended to be an academic piece.  It is closer to a work of art in the everyday sense: like the pictures you hang on your refrigerator or frame and hang on your own wall, the flower arrangements you place on your table, or your garden or landscaping.  It is one of those things done primarily for the pleasure of doing and of sharing something that makes us happy and enriches our lives.  We go to work, we care for kids, pets, or other family members or friends, and we try to do each of these things in ways that make them fulfilling and make us happy.  I am tempted to say that ‘we try to make the world a better place’, and that would be a good phrase, were it not so encumbered by moralistic baggage.

The title, Alapaha Paganism, communicates the particularity of this approach.  Even a cursory study of pre-Christian religion/philosophy can illustrate how communities cultivated their own meaningful tales, while also happily borrowing readily from others.  The result was that much of the world had something like a shared religion that remained open to new ideas.  That dynamic changed, of course, with the advent of universalistic creeds that offered the way.  Alapaha Paganism is one way.  Although it is sharable, it is not fully transferable to other settings, such as densely populated urban areas, or lives directed by extreme poverty or the driven pursuit of riches.  It requires the privilege of a contemplative comportment toward life that is neither available to or desired by all.  Nor should it be.

I see myself as participating in an ongoing renaissance.  Life is reiterated in an untiring process of rebirth.  Georg Hegel was groping this idea when he contemplated the Dialectic.  His mistakenly imagined the cosmos strove to realize his own moral and social prejudices.  That seems absurd to many of us today, but Hegel, like each of us, could only think and build new concepts by using those already available.  It seemed natural to him, writing in Pietist Germany, before Darwin, that there was a single purpose and truth.  But, in part thanks to the historicism commonly associated with Hegel, we no longer share his prejudices.

I will share one last introductory note: a phrase borrowed from Nietzsche: Amor Fati.  If there is an idea that defines my life, it is Amor Fati.  We do not choose to be born.  We chose neither our genes nor how we were raised.  We do the the best with what we have.  This sounds a bit like Stoicism, and it is.  The difference, perhaps, is that Amor Fati intimates celebration rather than a resignation.  I am who I am and cannot have been any other way.  If I were, I would not be me.  I would be someone else: perhaps someone cooler, or taller, or smarter, or wealthier, etc., or their opposites.  But I would not be Mark Johnson, son of Larry Johnson and Gayle Davis and Connie Herndon …  I AM this particular confluence of genetic material and history – and I could be no one else.  So let’s see how well this life can be lived.

People are sometimes wary of what seems to them the scent of determinism hanging about this doctrine.  But I don’t see it that way anymore.  Yes, there are facts of life beyond our control.  We do not control the rotation of the galaxy, the laws of physics, or our love interest’s reaction to pheromones.  We have, however, evolved the ability to see ourselves as individuals in the world, and to act in accordance with that belief.  The problem of determinism is/was a conceptual problem that dissolves when we realize our words and ideas do not necessarily connect to reality and that the binaries (such as determinism/freewill) we use to make the complex appear to be simple and make the dynamic appear to be linear.

At the heart of Alapaha Paganism, then, is an attitude of embracing oneself and the world.  This view is in contrast with the more common one that causes people to view the world with sad and resentful eyes that have been trained to interpret the world and the people in it as bad, evil, and unjust, and in need of redemption or salvation granted only to those who will reject this real world on account of a “better” one that does not exist.

We hold a different view: the world was not created for our pleasure or punishment.  It just is.  And we choose to celebrate our existence and make the most of this short moment that is our life.

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