As I was writing about the Odinic Rite’s Nine Noble Virtues, it became clear that I really should take a moment to talk about the Asatru Folk Assembly’s version as well. After all, they’re worded much differently so they require their own analysis. After careful consideration of them, the depressing truth is that they’re good enough to reveal how truly good they could have been had they been crafted with more forethought.
In my opinion, an ethical code needs to have an eternal truth it grabs a hold of and lays bare for the world. This eternal truth can be very broad or very specific, but it needs to be there. Further, it also must be firm enough to offer a measure of guidance, yet flexible enough to be applicable to just about any circumstance. There will be questions that a code can’t directly answer, and that’s okay; it’s supposed to be a filter to view the world though as opposed to a sheet of instructions. Using your own heart and mind to interpret things isn’t just desired, but necessary.
The OR’s NNV fail because they’re very narrow, internally redundant, and crafted to serve numerology over ethical introspection. The AFA’s, by contrast, is a handful of amazing ideas surrounded by the blatantly obvious. I get that their virtues are set up to provide a binary comparison to prove which quality you should most actively bring into your life…but at the same time, most of these comparisons are stupidly obvious.
Look, I get it; honor is better than dishonor. The problem is that I understood that before I read the AFA’s ethical code, and even before I was Heathen. I understood this the moment I knew the definitions of both words, and I suspect I am no savant in this respect. Of the nine virtues they have, six of them aren’t outlining anything that will change how people see the world; do you have to point out that freedom is better than slavery? I mean, unless you are into that sort of thing of course. One way or the other, I don’t think Stephen McNallen is weighing in on bedroom practices.
Strength is better than weakness. Courage is better than cowardice. Honor is better than dishonor. Kinship is better than alienation. Vigor is better than lifelessness. Yes, being alive and moving around is better than being stagnant and decaying; glad we cleared up the confusion. This isn’t philosophy, ethics, or anything very deep; it’s portraying two extremes as the only options that exist, and than pretending that this was some sort of difficult question.
A good one, by contrast, is “Joy is better than guilt”. If this was another pandering paradigm, the other word would have been “sorrow” or “sadness”. The choice of guilt provides us with something to think on and consider. It’s better to be happy than to obsess over your wrong doing. It’s a denouncement of the theory of living in sin. It can suggest optimism, living with agency, or treating each moment as if it were your last. It can mean all of these things or none of them, providing a virtue that opens itself to the consideration of the one that follows it. I’m a little annoyed that it’s wording suggests that it’s talking more about theological based guilt possessed by from Christianity, because guilt wouldn’t be much of a consideration otherwise. It’s still going in the right direction, however.
The best of the bunch, to my mind, is “Realism is Better Than Dogma”. It’s probably the only one of the virtues that I can appreciate without conditions, because it balances two things that can both be considered valuable in the right circumstances. You can use tradition and scripture…but all things being equal, chose the most pragmatic option. See, this does something that six out of nine virtues don’t; it prompts interpretation for the sake of our faith alone. The value of real world needs against the value of traditions for the sake of respect comes up frequently in Heathen discourse.
Too bad they spoil it with “Ancestry is Better Universalism”.
Well, perhaps spoil is the wrong word. I feel like it’s more of a subtle slap in the face to Paganism in general (and perhaps the Troth is particular), but this virtue still has a lot it can say. Considering that it’s being said by the AFA, however, I just don’t understand how it’s choosing to say it. In moderation, it’s brilliant; contrasting it with “Realism is Better Than Dogmatism” provides a very no nonsense rule of thumb; don’t do something just for the sake of tradition, but don’t forget that the traditions of your family made who you are. That can be powerful, meaningful, and deeply spiritual if you allow it to be.
The problem come in when you take it at a greater whole. This is the same AFA that turns a blink eye towards white supremacists amongst it’s ranks. This is the same AFA whose members have had issues with people of other races professing to be Heathen. This is a group with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to racially based hatred, and it makes their ethical code weak as a result. Is the AFA calling out universalism because they truly feel that disregarding the ways of your ancestors is cause for concern, or is it because many of these theological concepts come from non-Aryan people?
Of the nine virtues, six are functionally useless. The three that are good are very good, but their message is diluted by principles that don’t have the same strength. Their function is rendered moot when compared to the organizational politics of the AFA. When I dug deeper, I found amazing things…but considering the source, I couldn’t blame anyone who refrained from doing that digging. I look at what many AFA members choose to stand for, and it makes it hard to view the group as anything but racists with fears of the stereotype.
I had been ready to pretty much call it meaningless. Truth be told, I wish I still viewed in that manner. I preferred viewing it as a useless pile of pandering dross, over something beautiful ruined by pandering dross and bigots. The foremost I can mock and have a good time of doing, where the later just makes me feel frustrated and depressed.
So where do we go from here? Is it wrong to try and have something like the Nine Noble Virtues, or have we just gone about things the wrong way? There is still the six fold goal to consider, or is it just another list of words? Next time, we continue to look into how Heathen ethical codes can operate.
Author’s Note: I am well aware that one can be a member of the Asatru Folk Assembly and not be racially motivated bigot. I am not portraying all members of that organization in the light. I have heard that the leadership of the AFA combats racial problem when they see them. Regardless of what their intent is, however, it doesn’t change the prevalence of circumstances that seem to arise from that group. “We are our deeds”, after all. I view the organization as having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regards to racism.