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Author Topic: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions  (Read 5394 times)

Kaio

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(Here "ancient Pagan religions" means "the Pagan religions that Reconstructionists try to reconstruct".)

 Much is heard about how ancient Pagan religions differ from the Abrahamic religions of the book and from the Dharmic religions by being world-accepting. But is seems that modern, reconstructed Pagan religions are much less world-accepting than the ancient Pagan religions.
 
 Many ancient Pagan religions seemed to imply or to advise human beings, f.ex., to accept what can be called the social relationships between themselves and other human beings in their entirety, while today there are many pagans that try to change at least certain social relationships between human beings.

 These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.

 I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?
 I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.
When in Rome do as the Romans do. (Ambrose)

Lana288

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Quote from: Kaio;175631
(Here "ancient Pagan religions" means "the Pagan religions that Reconstructionists try to reconstruct".)

 Much is heard about how ancient Pagan religions differ from the Abrahamic religions of the book and from the Dharmic religions by being world-accepting. But is seems that modern, reconstructed Pagan religions are much less world-accepting than the ancient Pagan religions.
 
 Many ancient Pagan religions seemed to imply or to advise human beings, f.ex., to accept what can be called the social relationships between themselves and other human beings in their entirety, while today there are many pagans that try to change at least certain social relationships between human beings.


What do you mean by, "accept the social relationships between other human beings in their entirety"? I hope I'm not coming off as obtuse, but this has me a little bit confused. :P

 
Quote from: Kaio;175631
These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.

 I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?

 
I don't think we can talk about ancient societies having a single Pagan Moral dimension. Different societies had different morals and values, and it's a bit pointless to talk about them in general terms.

As far as bringing back ancient morals, I'm actually quite glad that modern pagans keep many of today's moral standards. If I remember right, In Athens, women were property, slavery was completely acceptable, and people were killed outright for adultery. This isn't to pick on Hellenists, either - "ancient pagan morals" in most ancient cultures were often vastly different than any morals we have today. It's not that we can't learn from the past- of course we can- but it's dangerous to romanticize it too much.

Quote from: Kaio;175631
I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.


I'm not sure anyone actually knows what ancient pagan worldviews *really* looked like, but I'm uncertain that they were all world accepting.

And speaking as a pagan with a strong Recon bent, I'm not actually trying to reconstruct any one worldview- I'm trying to construct a worldview. I don't think that it's possible, first of all, and second of all, I'm not sure I'd want to. As I stated earlier, ancient morals were vastly different than morals today, and weren't really ones that I would want back.

RandallS

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Quote from: Kaio;175631
Much is heard about how ancient Pagan religions differ from the Abrahamic religions of the book and from the Dharmic religions by being world-accepting. But is seems that modern, reconstructed Pagan religions are much less world-accepting than the ancient Pagan religions.

Actually, I'm not even really sure what "world-accepting" means. Pagan religions tended to be more concerned with living one's life instead of living for the afterlife if that's what you mean by "world-accepting", but if so, I don't think I've ever heard that term used.
 
Quote
Many ancient Pagan religions seemed to imply or to advise human beings, f.ex., to accept what can be called the social relationships between themselves and other human beings in their entirety....

Assuming you are saying "accept your position in life instead of trying to better it" That's fairly common in most ancient societies and even in pre-modern Christian ones (for example, during the middle ages). I'm not sure why anyone would want to recreate this.

Quote
These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.

At least for Hellenic religions the Delphi Maxims already included the idea of charirty with such things as "Help your friends", "Be kind to friends", "Do a favor for a friend", "Give what you have", "Share the load of the unfortunate", etc.

 
Quote
I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?

There are many different ancient Pagan religions and often several different attempts to reconstruction each, so I'm not sure it makes much sense to generalize like this. Also, few ancient Pagan religions had a "divine command" morality, so the morality of the society was often what society required instead what the god(s) required. Absent a clear and direct command from the gods, I'm not even going to consider an ancient moral rule that I consider ill-advised or unneeded in the modern world.
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Juniperberry

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Quote from: Kaio;175631

I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?

 I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.


I know for myself and others, we try to look at the underlying philosophy of a practice/belief and reconstruct that, rather than the precise action of a practice/belief.
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Yei

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Quote from: Kaio;175631
(Here "ancient Pagan religions" means "the Pagan religions that Reconstructionists try to reconstruct".)

Much is heard about how ancient Pagan religions differ from the Abrahamic religions of the book and from the Dharmic religions by being world-accepting. But is seems that modern, reconstructed Pagan religions are much less world-accepting than the ancient Pagan religions.


World-Accepting? What does this even mean? And are you grouping all these different faiths into a single descriptive category?
 
Quote
Many ancient Pagan religions seemed to imply or to advise human beings, f.ex., to accept what can be called the social relationships between themselves and other human beings in their entirety, while today there are many pagans that try to change at least certain social relationships between human beings.


What ever lead you this this conclusion? How much do you actually know about the various religions that are being reconstructed? Where are you deriving these conclusions from?

Quote
These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.


You will need to be more specific than that.

Quote
I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?


Don't we? Society practices a lot of this that have their roots in the polytheistic civilisations. The link is just not always obvious. For example the Romans were really into law, and a lot of our legal system is still based on Roman principles. Maybe we don't practice a carbon copy of ancient moral systems, but then again the world is not a carbon copy of the past. Nevertheless, don't be so quick to dismiss them.

Quote
I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.

 
True that worldview is often the hardest part of reconstructing a religion. So what is your point?

MattyG

Quote from: Kaio;175631
I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.

 
Instead of focusing on particular rules, taboos, or attitudes that applied to ancient peoples, you might find a more productive way to view ethics is to focus on ethical systems. I would advise educating yourself in Virtue Ethics (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/), as this is a system originally founded by Aristotle, but has been developed over the years. There are many modern philosophers who still write on Virtue Ethics, so I suspect that looking at progress made in that field can be a good way to adapt ancient pagan ethics to the modern world.

Demophon

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Quote from: Kaio;175631
I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?
 I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.

I think I know what you're saying, that people reconstructing ancient pagan traditions have a modern, Abrahamic-influenced social morality rather than one based on ancient culture. I generally think it's normal for people to adapt their worldview to the society in which they live, regardless of religious affiliation, though I have seen some extreme examples. For instance, I have come across Hellenic Recons (online) who are militantly anti-abortion, despite the fact that many babies in antiquity were abandoned or exposed post-birth, which was not seen as a moral issue until Christianity came along.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2015, 07:52:15 am by Demophon »

Kaio

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Quote from: Demophon;175986
I think I know what you're saying, that people reconstructing ancient pagan traditions have a modern, Abrahamic-influenced social morality rather than one based on ancient culture. I generally think it's normal for people to adapt their worldview to the society in which they live, regardless of religious affiliation, though I have seen some extreme examples. For instance, I have come across Hellenic Recons (online) who are militantly anti-abortion, despite the fact that many babies in antiquity were abandoned or exposed post-birth, which was not seen as a moral issue until Christianity came along.

 
 You did understand what I meant! Thank you!
 
 Indeed, there are people who seemingly see no moral difference between ancient Pagan religions and Abrahamic religions, or who seemingly do not care about these moral differences.
When in Rome do as the Romans do. (Ambrose)

Lana288

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Quote from: Kaio;176016
You did understand what I meant! Thank you!
 
 Indeed, there are people who seemingly see no moral difference between ancient Pagan religions and Abrahamic religions, or who seemingly do not care about these moral differences.

 
Well, that might be true. Honestly, I probably fall into the latter camp myself. But what about you? How do you feel about ancient pagan morals? Do they resonate with you better? And if they do, have you put any thought into implementing them in your own life- and if so, how? (I hope I'm not coming across as sarcastic/snide- I'm actually quite curious.)

On my end, I have to admit that I've rarely given much thought into how my morals tie into my religious beliefs. I like to think that I'm being guided by Those Heavenly Powers, but for the most part, my morality follows a "who benefits/is harmed by [enter action here]" logic. This probably does mean that I'm influenced by Abrahamic religious morals, but I don't think that's a bad thing. I live in the culture I live in, y'know?

Louisvillian

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Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2015, 01:20:19 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;175641
I know for myself and others, we try to look at the underlying philosophy of a practice/belief and reconstruct that, rather than the precise action of a practice/belief.

This is the key to a successful reconstruction, which is more than mere imitation but is truly adaptation. You find the underlying or root idea, and see how it could apply to a modern situation.

Though I do understand there the OP is coming from. Because we've all grown up in a modern Western world, we are highly influenced in our thought and social mores from the civilisation of Christianity. As a result, many peoples' thought processes are still highly ingrained in this model, even if they are attempting a religious reconstruction of ancient religion. There is possible conflict between the ancient worldview, which shaped ancient religion, and the modern worldview; they are rather different, and it can be difficult to adapt ancient religion to a modern world where the social customs and common ideas are influenced by a religion so heavily opposed to ancient polytheism.

I think the best thing to do is to find a middle-ground. Look for ancient philosophers, ethicists, and theologians whose ideas are echoed in modern morality. Perhaps Christianity drew from them just as much as modernity draws from Christianity? This is especially true of Hellenistic philosophy.

TinyToad

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Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2015, 10:10:46 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175631
(snipped)

 
I wonder if it might also have a bit to do with advanced prosperity and easier survival, though, and not just Abrahamic religion influence?

I personally get the impression that most humans are inherently good, but that survival instinct is also extremely powerful and can sometimes override higher ideals, when our primal side takes over. I tend to be kind of fascinated by how these two forces can battle it out in humans, like we cannot and perhaps should not escape our primal and animalistic roots, but yet we are still something more, in addition.

For example,

If in an ancient culture there was not really the social means to care for an infant born with inhibiting deformities or illness, then I can understand why that culture's moral stance might have been that it was more humane to let the infant pass on than to try to force it to survive and live a very harsh and struggling life.

Whereas today in first world nations, we have so much in the way of technology and resources to not only save such an infant, but we also have the luxury in our society to be capable of directing resources to the infant's on-going thriving and quality of life. There is not much excuse in our first world societies to cast aside those who are physically disabled, mentally ill or otherwise struggling. They don't have to struggle so much, we are able to help them, and we know that with proper support, they are able to contribute in meaningful ways.

It's sort of like how sometimes I see people discussing how "savage" people are in some third world countries, but in my perception, the reality is that those people are under great strain and duress for survival, and their primitive mind has taken over, naturally and instinctively, in some cases for the sake of survival. That doesn't mean they don't have the potential to practice higher ideals if their circumstances were better. And some of them are quite impressive spiritually speaking, embracing higher ideals in spite of everything.

So I don't really like the idea of giving Abrahamic religions credit for the inherent good in most humans. Humans are very special inherently, in many ways, and when given the right environment, can show how special and unique they truly are. I believe that most humans, if they were capable of saving an infant who was ill, deformed, unwanted by the birth parents, etc, without bringing harm to the greater whole, they would.

RecycledBenedict

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Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2015, 10:51:10 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;176016
You did understand what I meant! Thank you!
 
 Indeed, there are people who seemingly see no moral difference between ancient Pagan religions and Abrahamic religions, or who seemingly do not care about these moral differences.


Pagan ethics and Abrahamitic ethics has interpenetrated each other since the beginning.

In Book of Wisdom (Old Testament Deutero-canonical book) the four cardinal virtues of Greek philosophy were accepted: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

There are traces of Stoicism already in the thought of St. Paul of Tarsus, and the Stoic component of Christianity increases in the writings of the Apologetic Fathers and in the early Hesychasts.

The ethics of Aristotle returned with increased strength during the 12th and 13th centuries, and permeates Scholasticism.

The Reformation and the Counter-reformation caused the Decalogue to become a (formerly unheard of) centre-point of Christian ethics, which caused inconsistencies: Neither Roman Catholics, Lutherans or High Church Anglicans accepted the prohibition against images. Only the Calvinists/Puritans did.

Education during the Renaissance, Enlightenment era and 19th century upheld the ethical thinking of Cicero in the worldview of middle class and upper class European Christians.

RecycledBenedict

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Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2015, 11:24:13 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175631
These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.


Individual pagans practiced charity long before Julian, and equality of all human beings was a part of Stoic ethics since the 3d century BCE, but you are right that Julian wanted the pagan collective to act similar to the Christian church in things pertaining to medical care and foodbanks.

I see no reason why modern pagans shouldn't pick that good idea up from Emperor Julian. It seems more reasonable to reconnect to classical paganism in its late stage of development before dormancy, than to try to copy everyday life and values of the time shortly after the Bronze Age Collapse (a nadir between two great civilisations). But if we reconnect with this late phase of classical paganism, that mean: The social activism of Emperor Julian, the abolition of animal sacrifices (as per Porphyry) and a sophisticated abstract philosophical view on the deities (as per Proclus).

Modern pagans live today. Ancient pagan ethics was a virtue ethics. During the dormancy of classical paganism, virtue ethics has continued to evolve. I see no reason why modern Pagans should be forbidden to study Alasdair MacIntyre or John Rawls?

fatcatspats

Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2017, 12:18:40 am »
Quote from: Kaio;175631
(Here "ancient Pagan religions" means "the Pagan religions that Reconstructionists try to reconstruct".)

 Much is heard about how ancient Pagan religions differ from the Abrahamic religions of the book and from the Dharmic religions by being world-accepting. But is seems that modern, reconstructed Pagan religions are much less world-accepting than the ancient Pagan religions.
 
 Many ancient Pagan religions seemed to imply or to advise human beings, f.ex., to accept what can be called the social relationships between themselves and other human beings in their entirety, while today there are many pagans that try to change at least certain social relationships between human beings.

 These changes in Pagan religions possibly associated with contact, f.ex., Christianity may not be completely new; some people think emperor Julian adopted the practice of charity from the Christians into Hellenism.

 I mean that many modern Pagans accept the specifically (poly)theological part, and sometimes even the specifically cultural part (like studying and/or even, in ritual contexts, speaking the language) traditionally associated with ancient Pagan religions, but much of their moral dimension seems to be neglected. Is this OK? Is this good? Is this bad?
 I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.

 
I would say you're right, and would argue that this is OK because pagan morality doesn't serve the same purpose as contemporary monotheistic morality.  To quote John Michael Greer, "most monotheist traditions have an other-directed approach to morality; to put the matter perhaps a little more bluntly than it deserves, these traditions see morality as a matter of telling other people what to do.  At the core of these moral traditions is the image of a prophet or preacher denouncing the wicked behavior of his fellow human beings, and holding up some ideal of righteousness for them to follow; quite often the god of monotheist religion himself is imagined in those terms, and morality defined accordingly as a matter of obedience to divine preachments.  By contrast, moral thought in most traditional polytheist faiths is inner-directed, and the image at its core is simply a person mulling over the options and making the best available choice.  The gods of Paganism may do many things, but they don't preach."

Greer, John Michael. A World Full of Gods: an Inquiry into Polytheism. Tucson, AZ, ADF Publishing, 2005.

Also, paganism is currently more orthopraxic than orthodoxic. We're more concerned with ritual actions than we are with dogma of any kind, which has frequently included moral rulings.  Most pagans don't listen to weekly contemplative sermons, and if you're not directly challenged to rethink your morality, it's a lot easier to just let it slip through the cracks.

Shewhoseeks

Re: Gap between some modern moral sensivities and ancient Pagan religions
« Reply #14 on: March 13, 2017, 04:57:49 am »
Quote from: Kaio;175631
(Here "ancient Pagan religions" means "the Pagan religions that Reconstructionists try to reconstruct".)

 I'm not talking about reconstructing the whole society where ancient Pagan religions were traditionally practiced; I'm talking about worldviews associated with them.

I think we should strictly differentiate between belief / perception of the divine and the structure made around it, which has its roots in the society developing that cult/religion. This means locality (country, kingdom, polis etc), politics and economic interests (yup humans have always been the same in that).

Religion was never "just" worship, but also structure and order for society. It went so far as to be the other plate on the scale of power, balancing against king and nobility (that game was played already before the Middle Ages).

So as we are living in completely different systems than were the norm back then it is not strange to see reconstructions differ. Actually they should, because religion nowadays is separated from state affairs. And moral ... Well that one always had to do with the rudimentary law principles every religion / cult carried and as I already mentioned - some are obsolete in modern society and may conflict current law.

How far would you go to reconstruct?
« Last Edit: March 13, 2017, 05:00:51 am by Shewhoseeks »

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