Not Belief, Not Practice: Values.

Teo Bishop —  May 30, 2013 — 20 Comments


You Are What You Believe


You Are What You Do.


We fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two statements.


We are either driven by our beliefs, or we allow our beliefs to be informed by our practices.

In this regard, there is a distinction to be made.

Many Pagans have a spiritual practice that starts from the ground up (quite literally). For them, the lived experienced and the wisdom gained from their engagement with the earth, the land, or with their own sense of self is paramount.

Many polytheists (particularly non-Pagan identifying polytheists) have a religious practice that is deity-centric. For them, the relationship with their Gods, informed as it is by the precepts of their tradition, is of greatest importance.

But some of us float in between. Some of us are not so certain of how comfortable we are with either of the extremes. Some of us are in a process of unpacking our beliefs in order to inform our practices, and close-examining our practices in order to articulate belief.

We are not simple creatures, human beings, and there is no need to try and simplify the complexities of our spiritual lives in order to have dialogue with one another.

We can remain complicated and still have community.

I am not seeking to begin a new debate, nor am I interested in hashing out an old one. This post, and the by-products of this post, will be an attempt at sparking more intra/inter-faith dialogue within and around our communities.

Plain and simple:

I want to know what your values are.

When I asked you to crowdsource Pagan theologies, you came out in droves. You represented yourselves in ways that, in my opinion, demonstrated a healthy approach to interfaith dialogue. You started with your individual perspective, and you offered it up to the community. In turn, the community responded with respect. We listened. We took in the meaning. We saw the contradictions, but we did not rush to criticize. In my view, this was a healthy and successful activity.

Now, as we approach the 5th annual Pagan Values Event that begins on June 1st, we have the opportunity to try out this approach another time.

See, I think our community gets a bad rap. There’s a story that’s told about how we’re unwilling to communicate with each other, or that we’re so hell-bent on seeing the world through our own perspective that we can’t meet others with differing views where they stand. I think some of us are willing to perpetuate that narrative because it’s familiar. It feels easy. It keeps us from holding one another accountable, and holding ourselves accountable. Respectful dialogue, especially on the Internet, requires patience and intention. The story goes that people in our community don’t have a whole lot of that.

I don’t believe that story.

My experience in community is that we are a direct product of the stories we tell about ourselves. We are the thing we describe ourselves to be, and if we decide to describe ourselves as a conflicted people, one who will not or cannot be in community with each other, then we will have that experience.

But, likewise, if we begin to work with the narrative that we are a people of respect and honor, who listen patiently and who resist the impulse to lash out at one another, then that is the people we will be.

The Pagan Values Event is a month-long event which encourages people of all traditions to share, through whatever media is available to them, what their values look like. It is, as with the crowdsourcing theology exercise, an opportunity for people to bear witness to their own inner-experience.

These are some things to ask yourself as you consider participating in this crowdsourced event:

  • If you are a person who structures your religious life around a devotional practice to your Gods, how is that informed by your values? Or, how does your practice inform your values?
  • If you do not see yourself as religious, but rather as a spiritual Pagan, what informs your sense of personal values? How are your values lived out in your spiritual life?
  • If your tradition is being grouped in with “Pagan,” but you do not feel that comfortable identifying with that term (and all of what is associated with it), how would you define the values of your tradition? Do they line up with your values? If they are divergent, how do you reconcile the inconsistencies?


Write about these and other thoughts on your blog, or speak about it on your podcast. Once you’ve penned your contribution share a link at the Pagan Values site, on the Pagan Values Page on Facebook, or tweet @PaganValues with the URL and hashtag #PVE2013. Be sure to tag your blog post with “Pagan Values Event 2013″ or “PVE2013″. This will make it easier for your post to be curated on the site.

As you’ll see in the PVE archive, the process of curation is extensive. There is a record of dozens upon dozens of individuals sharing their values with the world, saying in effect:

This is who I am. This is why I do what I do. This is what gives my religious or spiritual life meaning.

I believe that at the heart of all of our divergent traditions is a quest for some greater meaning. We may be reaching for something meaningful in different ways, using different tools and technologies to uncover that meaning. Our vernacular may be divergent, and our viewpoints may be irreconcilable. But this desire for a meaningful life may just be a commonality that is worth greater consideration.

For more information about the event, visit the Pagan Values website, or read this post from 2011.

Teo Bishop

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Teo Bishop is a contemplative, a bard, and the author of Bishop in the Grove.
  • I’ll be helping to curate this event so you can track me down if you have something to submit to the archive but, for whatever reason, aren’t seeing it popup on the Pagan Values wordpress site.

  • cernowain greenman

    I think the topic of “values” was well covered by the old Pagan philosophers, particularly Aristotle’s Nicomachean virtues and vices. Moderation in all things!

    • Give me that old time Pagan ethics!

      The beautiful thing about ancient Pagan ethics is that human happiness was both the central reference point and the ultimate end goal. Although it is not always explicitly stated, this eudaimonistic approach is based on the assumption that human nature is fundamentally good (therefore our desire for happiness will lead us to what is Good), and also that the ultimate nature of reality itself is good (therefore, acting in accordance with what is natural will lead us to what is Good). Perhaps no aspect of Paganism more clearly distinguishes us from the self-loathing Christians who imagine that we are all “miserable sinners” condemned to live in a “fallen world”.

      • Crystal Hope Kendrick

        I had to save this quote. Very good point, Apuleius. I think this has been my worldview since before I even understood what that meant exactly. It’s why I never meshed with a lot of the society around me. I have always felt that human nature is inherently good. A belief that humans are flawed and ultimately evil makes for a miserable existence. You are unable to trust others, everyone is suspect- and the hopelessness such a belief can create is stifling and ultimately depressing.

        • “everyone is suspect”

          Indeed. One’s belief about one’s own inner nature necessarily reflects one’s belief about the ultimate nature of “it all.” And vice-versa.

        • Northern_Light_27

          I feel like I sit exactly between those two worldviews. I don’t believe that humans are “ultimately evil”, nor do I believe that human nature is inherently good. I absolutely do believe that humans are flawed, as that’s not just a belief, that’s the evidence of my own eyes and my own experience. Humans are capable of great things, and both tremendous and tiny acts of good, and that, too, is the evidence of my own eyes. But we fall so far short of that capacity so often that it seems only logical to acknowledge it.

          It’s funny, this has left *me* not meshing with society around me and especially not meshing with other Pagans. I have no doubt that the “eudaimonistic approach” was well-nuanced in the past, but the way a lot of modern Pagans seem to go at it is to say that human nature is inherently good and heaven is right here on earth and if we just ask the universe for what we want, we can bring it into being. IDK, that optimism is nice, I guess, but sometimes I wonder what the hell world these people are living in because it ain’t the same one I’m in or the same one I see on the news each night. And the people viewing humanity this way are so often people with a lot of systemic privilege who may not have ever had systemic oppression aimed at them, and I can’t help but wonder if that feeds into a worldview that, in its intention to avoid the hopelessness of perceived Christian belief, denies and shuffles under the table the lived experience of people whose lives aren’t so rosy. Of course we’re flawed– I don’t know how we could be anything else. That doesn’t mean we’re evil, that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless, that doesn’t mean you can’t trust anyone, that doesn’t mean we need a savior or that we can’t address these flaws by ourselves. That simply means that the work we do to rise above our body’s fear-of-the-other signals and the good we create is *work* and it’s not going to come automagically simply because we imagine it should.

          • Humans have an almost infinite capacity for cruelty, and even when we don’t act with malice we often cause needless suffering to ourselves and others without realizing it. You get no argument from me on this. But it is my considered opinion that when we cause harm we do so out of ignorance, not out of any inherent malevolence. But when we are wise and kind this is an expression of our true selves. And this is why the ancient admonition to “know thyself” is so important.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            So cause harm because it amuses them.

            If there is only one absolute about humanity, it is that there are no absolutes.

    • Indeed! I do find it interesting to see what modern Pagans think about values, or how they conceive of their own values. Sociologically, this can be a very interested activity to participate in.

  • Ursyl

    “We are not simple creatures, human beings, and there is no need to try and simplify the complexities of our spiritual lives in order to have dialogue with one another.

    We can remain complicated and still have community.”

    This puts me in mind of my experience with UU, as a Pagan, as a teacher of our Coming of Age students as they learn about as many different religions as we can manage to teach about so they can come to their own conclusions of what they believe from a base of information.

    I’m going to share this quote with them.

  • harryunderwood

    A slight bit OT: I often read The Wild Hunt out of curiosity, even though I don’t believe in deities, and I found your comparison of “values” to “faith” and “practice” to be of interest.

    I think that you have identified the main problem with the very word “interfaith”, seeing that the word “faith” is most popularly identified with some sort of trust in the existence and personal relevance of a deity; apparently, it also excludes those paths guided by shared “practices”. IMO, the word “intervalues” (or “inter-values”) should come into greater secular, non-sectarian usage, as it perhaps best articulates those life paths guided by shared values and desires which any one of us may articulate through practiced rite, scriptural rote, physical action and/or community advocacy.

    • cernowain greenman

      I believe I, to a point, disagree with Teo’s comments about the word “interfaith”. Having “faith” does not always infer a deity; in its basic form it is about what we “trust” to be real or true. “Faith”, therefore, speaks to what one’s “worldview” is. We all have a worldview, a conception of what our reality is or a philosophical window which we look out that creates our outlook.

      Therefore what we believe often has an impact on what we value. Really, beliefs, values and practice are interrelated, or at least they probably should be. So, I believe that I’m not at all disagreeing with Teo’s approach here, just commenting on the connections I see.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Interesting concept.

    I’d jot something down, but I still haven’t quite worked out how to explain my spiritual-philosophical system in my own head, let alone in writing.

  • Faoladh

    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus was unable to leave a comment here, apparently, so he replied at his blog, Aedicula Antinoi. You can see that comment here:

    • It is well worth checking out! Thanks for posting the link.

      • Faoladh

        PSVL frequently has important and interesting things to say. You are quite welcome.

  • Malaz

    Hey Teo,

    Another excellent post! answer>>>>

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The source of my values is that another’s pain is my pain.

    Everything else follows.

  • Sarah

    Where are the contribution options for people who don’t have blogs or podcasts? I already sent a message to the Blogject site asking about this, but I have to comment on it here, too, because even if there IS an alternate option for non-bloggers, the fact that only blog posts and podcasts were mentioned is just mind-blowing to me.

    • M

      As with Teo’s last question…everyone is welcome to answer here, dear. 🙂