Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Nature of Evil and Virtue in ADF

Reflecting on the nature of evil in a pre-monotheistic context is difficult, as our philosophies are full of the overtones from all the time that has passed since those writings were contemporary. The “Big Three” among the Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) had similar views in that evil is often the result of our humanity (Maxwell & Melete, 2018). As their society moved away from the cosmotheistic belief system that defined a divine retribution or cosmic destruction for a lack of orthopraxic adherence, the stature of the divine was diminished, and humanity became the explanation for the good and ill in the world.

Cosmotheism, or Cosmo-theology, is the term used to describe the pre-axial religions whose pantheon was made up of deified cosmic elements such as the Sun and the Moon. Prior to 900 BCE, most religious practices were centered on appeasing these deities to preserve and protect their way of life; losing favor with any one of these beings could bring death, destruction, and ruin to their tribal societies (Assmann, 2002, p. 204).

The Axial Awakening, also known as the Long Arc of Monotheism, describes the seemingly universal evolution of humanity as they moved from a cosmotheistic view of the world in which the deities were encompassed in forces of nature to the idea that the entire universe is the result of one, first/supreme being that Aristotle referred to as the Unmovable Mover, the being who first set everything into motion but who is not in motion itself. This set the premise for faith practices to devote their energies to a single, “creator” being, thusly creating the backbone for monotheism (Armstrong, 2006, p. 36).

Aristotle was the student of Plato, a philosopher whose work thematically includes his own processing of the words of his teacher, Socrates. Socrates did not create any of his own written works, so much of what is known of his teaching comes to us through the Dialogues of Plato. Socrates was a stonemason like his father who was drafted into the Peloponnesian War in the mid-400’s BCE. After his military service, Socrates began philosophizing against Athenian politics and societal structures such as organized religion. He was eventually put to death for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and impiety. His death had a profound effect on Plato, whose own faith was shaken, and the status of the gods is further diminished in his work over time. By the time Aristotle was studying under Plato, the divinity was seemingly a social construct and the gods had little to no real influence on the natural world. Aristotle focused heavily on academia, and his work, Metaphysics, is a reflection of his musings. Published after his death, Metaphysics is comprised of the notes found by his own students as the last and sacred thoughts of their mentor. The full transition from deity-centric to academia-centric took place shortly thereafter among the Lyceum students (Maxwell & Melete, 2018).

The views on human suffering and evil were similar among the three philosophers. According to the works of Plato from which the views of Socrates can be extrapolated, suffering in the world is a direct result of a lack of virtue on the part of humanity. Plato further describes the virtue of finding beauty in all things and allowing that recognition to pull the heart to kindness and compassion. Aristotle took this work further to create the discipline of ethics, applied virtue practices (Velasquez, et al., 1988).

ADF has adopted a stance against the “evil” in the natural world in the ritual section known as the Outdwellers. This portion of the service is designed to keep any beings whose “purposes are cross to ours” at bay during our work.  The issue that arises in ritual space lies in who we consider to be Outdwellers, because it changes all the time. When we perform Norse rites, the Outdwellers are the Frost Giants, but may also include beings such as Loki. What does a devotee of Loki do when they hear at the beginning of the rite that their God is not welcome? What if you are a Druid who works primarily with Titans, and they are called en masse as unwelcome guests at a Hellenic rite? What if we have Christopagans in attendance?

While it can be said that ADF has a list of virtues dedicant students are expected to explore, ADF has also been careful to state time and again that these are not to be considered the “ADF Virtues.” ADF encourages exploration of concepts of hospitality as mentioned above, though other such themes are common more in specific pockets of the organization, such as courage and perseverance among the Warriors Guild members.

As an organization, our home page says that we show respect for others through living our virtues, one of which is hospitality. Is it hospitable to make offerings or give bribes to those we deem unsavory and therefore unwelcome at our services? I firmly believe the Outdwellers portion of the service to be more useful as a time to bring healing as we are able to those with whom we have been at cross purposes, especially since I have never encountered any ghosts, ghouls, giants, fae folk, or otherwise shady otherworldly beings who are trying to disrupt and destroy our church services.