Pagan Existentialism: An Interview with Brendan Myers
You talk about how isolating modern society has become. Do you think it's important for people today to re-explore the tribal and familial structures of the past? To revisit the idea of being interdependent rather than independent?
I'm a fan of Iron-age mythology, and those stories make the social and relational foundation of all our moral values very clear. I've shown that in a previous book of mine, The Other Side of Virtue. The heroes of ancient times had to deal with the same basic problems that we have to deal with: the instability of fate and fortune, the difficulties that come with social or political power, the inevitability of death. A straightforward revival of Iron-age community values is probably impossible: it might include some practices that are obviously repugnant, such as the blood feud. But it may help remind us of the importance of friendship, family solidarity, and community togetherness, when dealing with our most basic problems.
Your book seems to model a sort of "Positive Existentialism." I find Existentialists like Camus to be rather dour and bleak, and I really found your approach to Existentialism inspiring. Do you think Paganism could prove fertile ground for a new perspective on Existentialism?
Certainly, yes. Some existentialists may seem to take away a sense of hope, but certainly not all of them do. Sartre, in a short text called Existentialism Is a Humanism, wrote that the issue with existentialism is not its pessimism but the sternness of its optimism. Religious existentialists, such as Kierkegaard, called for a dramatic "leap of faith into the arms of God." My work could be called existentialist in the sense that it calls for a rigorous look at the actual condition of human existence.
And like the existentialists, my work also claims that the essence of things emerges from existence, and it isn't existence that emerges from essence. If loneliness is part of our essence, that is, our essential nature, that is only because of the way, in practical terms, we actually exist, that is, the way we move and work and live in the world. But the means to escape from the crisis of loneliness, which is revelation, also emerges from our practical way of being in the world. It involves courage, honesty, and trust when we reveal ourselves to each other.
In your book you describe revelation as a positive affirmation of existence. Some religions tend to emphasize the negative aspect of existence (sinful/unworthy) and seek revelation through negative expressions of existence or through abasement of the spirit. Do you think negative affirmations of existence have value for Pagans? Or are they incompatible with Pagan worldviews?
I think that any worldview that might deny, or ignore, the suffering and oppression in the world is profoundly immature and unrealistic. Thus if the pagan movement is a mature one, its question is not whether the acknowledgement of human suffering has value, but rather the question concerns what that value is. In the Christian worldview, the notion of Original Sin, and the crucifixion of Christ, put suffering at the very center of the Christian story. Christians, I am sure, would add that the resurrection is equally important. To this I would only comment that Pagans have a fine collection of dying and resurrecting gods who can act as our role models in our own struggles with the "negative." Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, come to mind as examples, as well as any number of heroes who made an underworld journey, such as Inanna, Persephone, and Orpheus.
A hopeless movie junkie, Star Foster believes that good movies are the mythic narratives of our times.