For me, my Pagan path is intertwined with my ideas of morality and compassion. I have written about my veganism, but that’s just one aspect of a much larger web. I have been mulling for a long time how Paganism and Compassion fit together. In truth there are as many answers for this question as there are Pagans.
People today often assume today that morality is closely associated with religion. In reality, that’s an assumption based on the Judeo-Christian propensity for issuing commandments – admonitions supposedly handed down by God to give people moral instructions. There aren’t just the 10 from Moses, but by some counts as many as 613.
However, it’s pretty clear that experience of divinity or belief in a particular cosmology does not lead to moral actions or attitudes. It seems in every place from prisons to churches. we see deeply religious people who nonetheless steal, lie and kill. Alternately, in my experience Atheists and Agnostics often have strongly held and consistently practiced ethical and moral beliefs when it comes to their actions.
Paganism is perhaps more honest when looking at this divide than many other religions. There are guiding concepts – love of the natural world and desire to maintain its balance is certainly a central theme. Respect for individual choices and paths is a common idea. The idea that harmful energy sent out will come back at the sender (and often in a magnified form) is an idea in much of Paganism that discourages willfully harmful activities. But these aren’t commandments or strict rules of morality. In a sense, perhaps there’s an argument that Paganism is less socially “useful”. It doesn’t dictate moral codes and it doesn’t help control people’s actions in society.
I have to admit that I am a still puzzling over the root of Pagan compassion and its relationship to morality. This doesn’t change my own desire to minimize harm to others. I am getting better at that, and it’s an ongoing challenge. In truth, that is perhaps a rather cool version of compassion, not the warmth of trying to actually improve the lives of others.
To be honest, I have never felt like I have the power to impact others very much. I can amuse with a witty comment. I can give momentary comfort with a kind word or perhaps something I have baked. I can provide an ear to listen to someone’s troubles. I can cheer on a friend who is creating something beautiful. These are small actions, though.
But have I ever changed anyone’s mind about an important idea? Have I ever provided some thing, some service, some legacy that improves the lives of others? I don’t think I have. My efforts to avoid harm and to cheer up friends seem a little weak in comparison to the vast problems of the world.
Reader, please don’t take this as self-pity. That’s not my intention. I have never been much of a leader or a follower. I feel like I mostly follow my own path, and I am fairly happy to do so.
Lately though, I have had an idea for an institution, but it seems like a pipe dream, a phantom. I would like to create a vegan food pantry to assist those facing food insecurity, and possibly a related vegan soup kitchen. It could also be a forum for educational resources and cooking classes about low cost, nutritious vegan cooking.
On one hand, it seems like food assistance is needed more than ever. I teach myself every day about vegan food and I think I have some knowledge to share about cooking (though I am hardly an expert). On the other, I have zero training or knowledge in any of these areas. I lack personal resources to start such an organization – I couldn’t personally pay rent on a space for the food pantry. There may be a community of vegans who would be supportive and willing to contribute, but I am also not a schmoozer or fund-raiser. I feel a little lost about where to even start to make this idea into a reality and wonder if I am really the person who can do it.
Sadly, there are many within the Pagan community who would not only lack support this vegan project, but who are actively hostile to veganism. I don’t even know if it would be wise to try to associate this organization with Paganism since that combination would alienate many vegans and Pagans alike. Sadly, it almost seems like having to choose between the two.
The idea is germinating. I hope it is a seed that will grow. It’s a harsh climate out there, though. I don’t know if I can get it to grow.