Is There a Pagan in the Next Cubicle?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A friend of mine recently forwarded me excerpts of an email sent around by his company’s HR department on Paganism.  The email article was entitled “The Pagan in the next cubicle (or office, or lab).”  This is a major US company with thousands of employees.  Here is what he sent me:

A Pagan employee will hold ethics emphasizing personal freedom and responsibility.

Pagan ethics allow personal freedom within a framework of personal responsibility. The primary basis for Pagan ethics is the understanding that everything is interconnected, that nothing exists alone and that every action has a consequence.

No concept of forgiveness of sin exists in the Pagan ethical system; the consequences of one’s actions must be faced. No arbitrary rules about moral issues exist either; instead, every action must be weighed against the awareness of what harm it could cause.

A Pagan employee will hold a paradigm that embraces plurality.

Because Pagan religious systems hold that theirs is a way among many, not the only road to truth, and because Pagans revere a variety of deities among their pantheons, both male and female, a Pagan employee will believe that each person is free to choose his or her own destiny, and will not believe in evangelizing or proselytizing.

One advantage of this is that a Pagan employee will thrive in a pluralistic environment, eager to support an atmosphere that discourages discrimination based on differences such as race or gender and encourages individuality, self-discovery and independent thought.

A Pagan employee is also likely to have knowledge of other religions; most Pagans have explored other spirituality before deciding on their own. Because Neo-Paganism’s mainstream popularity is less than 50 years old, few Pagans were born in the faith, but those who are were likely taught about many religions as well.

Pagan parents are adamant about not forcing their beliefs on the child but rather teaching them and letting the child decide when he is of age. Despite its sometimes-misunderstood beliefs, Paganism is believed to be the fastest-growing religion today.

What can be said about this?  First of all, estimates are that about 300,000 people are practicing Neo-Pagans in the US (latest study done in 2001).  That equates to roughly 0.1% of the population, so I’m wondering why this warrants a company-wide email.  You have a better chance of meeting a space alien than a practicing Pagan.

Second, there seems to be an anti-traditional religion undercurrent in the email, based on the contrasts that are being made.  The writer approvingly notes that “Pagan parents are adamant about not forcing their beliefs on the child” and that “Pagans have explored other spirituality before deciding on their own.”

The message seems to be that teaching a child the religious traditions of his family is a bad thing, that more enlightened Pagan parents don’t do this.  Several things could be said here.  It’s highly dubious that Pagan parents aren’t teaching their children about Paganism.  At the very least, the children can see the parents practicing their religion, which is very influential in and of itself.  Secondly, if Pagan parents believe that their conceptions of reality are correct, then they would be doing a grave disservice to their children by not teaching them.  Do they want their kids to fail?  If the Pagan parent answers that they don’t have any truths about reality as embodied in their religion, that it’s all about subjective experience, then they aren’t practicing a religion after all – religions make truth claims about reality.

Third, the email commented that “no arbitrary rules about moral issues exist either; instead, every action must be weighed against the awareness of what harm it could cause.”  Arbitrary rules?  Is that what the writer thinks of the moral codes of traditional religions, that they are arbitrary?  To a person who wants total personal autonomy with no restrictions, moral laws may seem arbitrary, but to the person who actually wants to live in a just society, traditional moral rules are anything but arbitrary.  The fact that most people live by traditional moral values is the only thing that allows “we don’t have arbitrary moral rules” individuals to have their personal autonomy.  They can live as parasites as the rest of society does all of the heavy lifting.

Fourth, the comment about Pagans being especially able to foster a pluralistic work environment is mystifying.  It is Christianity that has allowed pluralism in many forms to flourish in the US.  Most Christians understand that even though we wish to share our beliefs with others, they are free to reject our proselytization.  We believe that God has endowed each human with free will, the ability to love God or reject Him.  It does not, therefore, follow that non-evangelizing religious groups are more accepting of diversity in the workplace than evangelizing religious groups.

An interesting question arises, though.  If Neo-Pagans are not telling their children about their beliefs, and they are not telling other adults about their beliefs (evangelizing), then how does anyone become a Neo-Pagan?  They must be telling somebody if their numbers are growing, right?  Am I missing something?

Finally, can you imagine an email like this going out about Christianity?  No, I can’t either.  After all, Christians teach their children their beliefs, they proselytize, and they believe in actual moral rules.  Clearly there is nothing to learn from them.

  • Marcello

    The laws of traditional religions often ARE arbitrary. Exs: Don’t eat beef, don’t eat pork, never use profanity, don’t kill any animals, even insects, etc. They are generally not based on logic, but nothing more than stifling, arbitrary laws meant to control every tiny aspect of one’s life.

  • Marcello

    By the way, just because someone doesn’t like the arbitrary laws of most organized religions doesn’t mean they don’t believe in any moral laws. There are sensible, rational moral rules that are based on principles like minimizing harm. Then there are the arbitrary, irrational laws like “never use birth control” and other stupid, irrational laws that are obviously just meant to control and stifle people for no good reason.

  • Marcello, perhaps you do not understand the reasons behind these rules. I don’t personally support them, but there are usually some reasons given. Furthermore, your moral ethic holds an epistemically impossible proposition. How can you possibly know what action will ultimately bring about the least amount of harm? Or do you only mean harm in the immediate action? Even then, there is a major problem. For if only immediate consequences are in view, you could justifiably lie to a person about the whereabouts of their child, assuring them their child is safe while he is on his deathbed in the hospital (unbeknownst to the mother). The mother is given no immediate harm; in fact your lying assures her and makes her feel relieved and safe. It is only later that the consequences emit harm. But then we are back to the same problem: at what point of harm do we decide to cut it off? It seems unacceptable to allow some harm to come as a result of the actions, yet it is impossible to know the ultimate result. Since you have railed against arbitrary rules, I’m afraid it’s nearly impossible to hold this ethical theory in a non-arbitrary fashion!

  • Marcello

    “Marcello, perhaps you do not understand the reasons behind these rules.”

    Religious morality is generally based on dogma, not reason. I have no use for it.

    And the principle of striving to avoid unecessary harm is a universal moral principle. It’s the basis for the golden rule and similar rules that are found in nearly every society.