Morality, This World, and the Next

Some years ago I wrote a post about the heathen concept of morality. I was always dissatisfied with it, and felt I should have developed it more. Recently, I have done so.

Heathenry is unusual amongst modern religions in that it does not offer anything like a “meaning of life.” The gods do not really have a greater purpose for us, nor is there anything like a “divine plan.” The gods created us, not because they wanted us to do something in particular, but because creating life is something that gods do. They have standards of behavior that they approve of, and things that they disapprove of, but they do not give humankind a code of morality that they are expected to live by regardless of the real world circumstances they face. They are willing and sometimes eager to help us better ourselves, but they do not reward or punish based on who and what we are.

This no doubt sounds odd and even disturbing to the followers of more mainstream modern religions. These religions tend to see morality as something with a divine origin, forced onto an unwilling and amoral humanity from above. “Without divinely-given moral codes,” they argue, “people will fall into chaotic, evil, amoral behavior.” “And without fear of divine judgment,” some of them add, “there is nothing to make people engage in good behavior.“ Such a lack of divine meaning, purpose, and guidance, these people believe, means that there is no meaning or purpose in life. It leads to nihilism, they say, and to personal lives, families, and civilization itself falling apart.

There are some problems with this view, however. When a religion is centered around a god offering rewards in the next life in exchange for suffering in this one, it incentivizes people to live for the next world, and to abandon this world. It leads to a toleration of suffering and evil because of the expectation that everything will be made right in the next world. When good behavior is motivated solely by fear, it is not really goodness. It is just an imitation of goodness, an act with no more meaning than the tricks of a dog who expects a treat for performing them well, or who fears a beating for failing to do so. This kind of worldview encourages people to be false, and dishonest. It also encourages them to do no real work on their character or understanding of morality, because a premium is placed on the appearance of goodness rather than truly being good. It encourages a mindset that does not like taking risks, preferring security and comfort instead. It encourages a dissatisfaction with physical life, as the attention is turned to the next life. It promotes an attitude of intolerance, and preoccupation with appearance over substance.

When people who are raised in such an environment lose their religious faith, the worldview that faith gave them must inevitably turn toward nihilism of a most unhealthy sort. If some god was the only basis for morality and you no longer believe in or follow that god, then there must really be no morality after all, and no real good or evil. The belief in divinely-appointed morality and divine judgment set up exactly this kind of black and white dichotomy.

The heathen gods show us a more nuanced view of the world, however, and I think that this is one of the greatest strengths of the heathen religion. The gods constantly fight against the forces of chaos and destruction as personified in many jotnar and wights such as the Fenris wolf and the Midgard Serpent even though the gods know that they will eventually and inevitably be defeated by them at Ragnarok. Despite knowing that they and the universe are doomed, and that ultimately nothing that they or that anyone else does will matter, they fight anyways. They know that it is better to keep struggling to win than it is to surrender. They do not see a higher purpose, yet they do not surrender to despair or nihilism.

Instead, they go the route of what is sometimes termed anti-nihilism. They know how cynical and pointless and cruel the world is, and decide that that means they have to create their own meaning and values and to stick to them tenaciously, heroically, no matter the odds. They know how pointless and unrewarding life would be if you didn’t.

And, by example, they teach us to do the same.

We heathens, because we do not bother with divine codes of good and evil, concern ourselves with much more practical considerations when it comes to making moral decisions. We have a single, simple, utilitarian standard to apply: who does the proposed action help, and who does it hurt?

This single standard makes for some very interesting consequences. For one thing, it makes people be concerned with the real life consequences of their actions. It makes them have to try to do genuinely helpful things or at least avoid genuinely harmful things. This standard does not allow for any moral weaseling of the sort that divine codes of good and evil do. It does not allow one person to harm another with the excuse that it is for his own, ultimate good as determined by some alien, divine code of behavior. The harm cannot be counterbalanced by some greater good that will supposedly be done someday, in the future, in another life and another world. It encourages us to care about THIS world, and the real things that happen to real people.

The other thing that this utilitarian heathen standard does is encourage the creation of an individual set of values, by each and every one of us. Because values do not objectively exist, the determination of how to judge help and harm can only be made by a person who has created their own system of values. This encourages intellectual engagement with the world, and with philosophy, and the higher functions of the mind. It encourages the development of a sense of personal responsibility. This can lead to a much stronger society, one that is engaged with the world instead of withdrawn from it, one that is concerned with personal development, one that has a strong sense of personal responsibility. It can lead to a society that is fully and vibrantly alive, instead of waiting until after death to start truly living.

This is the most significant gift that I think that heathenry has to offer the larger world around us. An approach to morality, values, and meaning that is grounded in this world.

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Now for the necessary disclosures. Those who paid attention in, or took, philosophy class will recognize that some of what I write above is similar to Nietzsche[i]’s ideas about morality, the Ubermensch[ii], and the Last Man. That is because I also took philosophy in college, and inevitably read Thus Spake Zarathustra. I did indeed find myself influenced by some of his ideas. Our religion is a reconstruction. The ancients, thanks to their stupid oral traditions, did not leave a lot of their beliefs or philosophy explained for us. So we modern heathens have to interpret the fragments we have in terms of our modern understandings, and this is how I interpret them. I think the similarity is not solely due to that, however. Nietzsche was a German philosopher whose thoughts sprang from a tradition of beliefs that is distantly rooted in the ancient heathen ones. It makes sense that the ancient beliefs would find a good expression there in some ways.

Here are the lessons I have learned from the example the gods have set, and from understanding that there is no objective meaning or purpose to life, and no objective morality:

  • There is no point in clinging to pain. Let it go when you can.
  • Don’t fear loss and pain. They are unavoidable. Use them.
  • Don’t always take the easy way.
  • Accept things as they really are, and do not try to fool yourself into believing either wishful thinking or pointless pessimism.
  • Enjoy good things when they come your way.
  • Don’t cling to good things when they pass from you. It just leads to more pain.
  • Endure suffering when circumstances make you suffer. Don’t whine about it, even to yourself. Use it.
  • Is it a big deal? No, it almost never is, really.
  • Be selfless when you can. Things are more pleasant all the way around that way.
  • Be fair and just, but temper those things with kindness. No particular reason why you should, objectively, but subjective counts for a lot. Why not try to make the world a better place?
  • Never expect a reward. You probably won’t get one anyway, so why be petty and set yourself up for disappointment? Instead, learn to get value out of your own good deeds, for yourself.
  • Try not to be an enormous #^%$#. The world’s unpleasant enough as it is. Why make it any worse?

These ideas seem no worse to me than anything commanded by one of the divine-fiat religions. The heathen gods have taught me to think for myself, and to make my own rules. They have taught me that there is no real meaning or point to life, and they have also taught that that just means that I am free to make up my own. After all, if there is no objective meaning to anything, then any meaning you can come up with is at least no more invalid than any other.

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[i] No, Nietzsche was not a Nazi. The Nazis tried to pervert his message to their own ends, but he is actually on record as saying that, if it were up to him, he would have all anti-Semites rounded up and shot.

[ii] Bonus nerdy digression: Well, it is really only sort of similar to his concept of the Ubermensch. He did indeed believe that the Ubermensch would reject divinely inspired morality and concern with the next world, and create their own system of values that would be concerned with bettering the physical world. However, he seems to have believed that the Ubermensch would be a singular being, a person who not only did these things but had such a connection with the rest of society that he could transform it.

Extra bonus nerdy digression: Then again, you could interpret all that stuff he wrote about eternal recurrence as meaning that the Ubermensch was simply an ideal or template that, in a perfect society, everybody would follow. I dunno. I long ago gave up pretending that I really understood Nietzsche.

I mean, the guy’s writing was pretty freaking rambling and incoherent.

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A Lesson for Mr. McNallen

Well, the Chicken Little Brigade is at it again. Stephen McNallen, self proclaimed scientist, self proclaimed psychic warrior hero, and anti-Mexican doomsday prophet has announced his and his terrified legions’ desire to bring back the old Nazi gangs that used to roam around murdering minorities. When called on this, he responded with the following asinine statement:

“IF YOU ARE READING THIS HOPING TO FIND MY ABJECT APOLOGY FOR OFFENDING THE POLITICALLY CORRECT DON’T BOTHER”

Mr. McNallen, let me explain some things to you, as you evidently lack the wits to understand them for yourself.

Political correctness is not some kind of censorship. It is not some kind of thought control.

You see, people who actually have grown up are polite. We try to get along, and see other people as they actually are. We try to see past the stupid blind assumptions that irrelevant surface level differences make.

We do not really think like you and your army of terrified bigots deep down inside, but are too afraid to admit it. We do not censor our thoughts or our speech.

We don’t have to.

You see, the thing is, society has been making a lot of changes, over the last century. Some people have realized that we need to have high standards. We need to eliminate the scourge of intellectual weakness, and stupidity-fuelled hatred.

That political correctness thing you keep whining about? It’s not censorship. It’s standards. Actual grown ups have realized that we need to call a spade a spade. We need to call losers like yourself out, who are driven by stupidity and hate.

There is no censorship. There is no thought control. You only think that. You know why?

Because you are losers. You are morons. You are driven by hate. You cling to ancient bigotries, and refuse to grow up. But oh no! The rest of society has moved on, and left you behind! The rest of us have grown up!

Well, you lack courage. So you hide your true faces. You hide your true intentions. You adopt the language of your betters, of people more mature than you, and use it to fool people into thinking you are something you aren’t. So that the rest of us don’t call you on your stupidity.

We aren’t censoring you. You are doing that to yourself. Because you are dishonest. You have the freedom to believe any damn idiot thing you want.

And we have the freedom to call you what you really are: bigots. Idiots. Barbaric halfwits who cannot see past their own fondly cherished traditional prejudices.

We don’t want you to act or think differently than you actually are. We want a world where people actually are grown up, and part of that is pointing at the children who refuse to.

Grow up. Your antics aren’t even funny anymore. You and all those like you are the real threat to our society.

New Folkie Code

My attention was recently brought to some complaints Folkies have been making about my work in public forums. Now, this is nothing new: my firmly anti-racist heathen writings have earned me the hatred of that crowd for many years now. Every couple of months, I receive some foaming at the mouth rant from one of them.

Apparently, they lack the courage of their convictions when speaking in a public place, however. Not daring to expose their true beliefs to others not like themselves, they have developed a code that allows them to criticize beliefs like mine in public without exposing themselves to ridicule. The new Folkie code for anti-racist writing is “getting political.” As in “Wayland Skallagrimsson’s new book really disappointed me, because he ‘got political’ instead of sticking to heathen issues.”

Well, I have two things to say about that. One is that is an especially weaselly, cowardly way to make a complaint. If you actually believed you were in the right, you’d act like a REAL heathen and speak up publicly and honestly. Our people believe in courage and honesty. The other is: the race issue and Folkism ARE heathen issues. You chowderheads made them into heathen issues by hijacking our religion and bending it to suit your purely social, political, racist issues. You are the ones who are trying to steal our religion and make it out to be all about race. You are a bunch of cowardly social engineers who have decided, like many social engineers before you, to use religion to manipulate people. I, as an actual priest of that religion, am now forced to correct the lies you have spewed out about us.

And seriously: why are you even reading my work? I have made it clear to you from the beginning that I despise Folkism, Folkies, and all your works. Folkism is not heathenry. Racial beliefs are not now and never were heathen beliefs. In other words, my work is not for you. I am writing for actual heathens.

It is, though, a hopeful sign that these cravens feel the need to disguise themselves and their real issues. The world is not what it was. A generation ago these losers could freely and openly speak in public without fear of censure. The times they are a changing. If all of us true folk work hard and do not back down from this fight, we can drive the Folkie scourge into the pages of history, where it belongs.

Christian Day Debacle, Follow-Up

Well, it looks like the crazy brigade has come out to support Christian Day, the rape-advocating super-tool I discussed in my previous post. Two members of the Hellenic community, Brandie Elaine and Todd Jackson, have decided to back up Day’s “right” to endanger people’s lives and encourage rape.

Mr. Jackson has even upped the ante, posting this little gem of insanity:

“For the record, I don’t really believe in free will except in the most superficial sense … whether you consent has already been decided. The future – in which you did or did not consent – exists already. We experience it as a futurity, and think we have choice. This is an illusion, like the passage of time itself.

Apparently Mr. Jackson is attempting to become the Cee Lo Green of the pagan community. Well, Mr. Jackson, sophomoric philosophical positions do not magically disprove the need for consent, or justify rape.

Rape is wrong, people. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Morality and the Gods

One of the greatest strengths of the heathen religion, I think, is our concept of morality. It is unlike the way that morality is viewed in many other religions. We did not get our moral code engraved on stone tablets by a burning bush, or anything else of the sort. Our morals are not given to us by the gods. Instead, the heathen view of morality has always been far more pragmatic.

We do not waste time on rarified and abstract concepts like good and evil. We do not attempt to interpret the divine will in order to find out how we should be living our lives. Instead, we ask ourselves one simple question: “What harm or help does will be the result?” A deceptively simple question, this is a much firmer basis for morality than wondering about divine will or the nature of good and evil. We simply try to do as little harm and as much help as possible. It is not as easy to wiggle out from under the constraints of this standard as it is to ignore morality handed down from above.

You see, worrying about what the divine will is, or what the nature of good and evil are, is too far removed from the real world and its consequences. Need proof? Just look at the Big Three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Their history is rife with committing murder, even genocide, in the name of a god that explicitly forbids killing. Abstract theories are easy to pervert from their original intentions. Codes of morality that are divorced from real world considerations such as harm and help too easily lead to incredibly immoral actions.

To the heathen mind, morality is not given by the gods, it simply is. The gods are as bound by it as we. And that’s the way it should be.