My book reviews for this column are based on a five star system with each star representing a quality the book has, does not have or partially has. The five star qualities are 1) it is an enjoyable read. 2) the author is qualified to write on the topic based on experience or research. 3) the book is well edited and organized. 4) the topic is covered well. 5) awareness.
O-Books offered up several titles for columnists to review this month and I selected Living with Honor: On Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr. I was excited about reading this text because of the focus on animism and ethics–topics important to my spirituality. I have read other strong offerings from both this publisher and from other Druid authors. At this point it seems most Pagan ethical thought is coming from Druidry.
I dove right in and found the author’s tone engaging. Ms. Orr intersperses sections of academic discussion with personal anecdotes and illustrative fictional vignettes in a way that is engaging for a learner.
Emma Restal Orr is well qualified to write on this topic because of her leadership and experience in the Druid community. She has done vast reading on ethical thought. She also raised her son with her ethical system and has found community with other pagans of similar worldview to support its value. Supporting her arguments are not only facts and valid points, but also a strong approach to current ethical debates on assisted suicide, veganism, stem cell research and more that were very persuasive to the author’s particular Pagan ethic.
Orr ultimately upon a philosophical ethic of human life not being a priority over other life on earth. Her Pagan ethic stated that the loss of human life was courageous and honorable if it helps the environment and animals. I could see her point all things being equal, but did not find it very socially aware. Ethics like these usually result in inequitable distribution of that loss of human life and minority people generally take the bigger burden. I think this area was the author’s main blind spot, and in my experience each philosopher has something they overlook.
Living with Honor provided an impressive survey of the Western ethical philosophical tradition. This was heavy reading made lighter by Emma’s very practical approach and her clear understanding of all the points of view. I was pleased to even see a few of my more obscure favorites in there like Sartre–who ultimately is her biggest influence on matters of choice. Her biggest focuses were on personal choice and a measure of a society based on how it treats the least of its people. For the most part she stuck to Western thinkers and I felt this was a missed opportunity to cover world animistic philosophical thought. I would have liked to see how cultures that have remained more animists’ great philosophers developed their ethical approaches too.When it came to awareness, I was disappointed in the author’s approach to children and teens, people of color and people with disabilities. Throughout the text the author has no qualms in her dismissal and dislike of teens. She has a strange moment when she explains the during the Industrial revolution “children lost the right to work.” “Boo hoo,” as Mugato the villian from Zoolander says when he makes a similar point. I became even more pained at her disregard for the plight of labor abuse when she equated factory farming mistreatment of animals to African American slavery and the sentience of animals to that of the mentally disabled. These kinds of equations kept cropping up. I will say I think it is not acceptable to invert the continual dehumanization of People of Color and People with Disabilities in effort to humanize animals. Maybe the author isn’t aware of how much discrimination minorities face, as social justice issues were not a strong focus in her ethics text.
The book was well edited and organized into sections. I did not note any factual or historical inaccuracies and was able to use the PDF version of the book with ease.
This book earned 3 1/2 stars on my rating system. I suggest it along with other interesting books on pagan Ethics like The Other Side of Virtue by Brendan Meyers, A World Full of Gods by John M Greer, and Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Gray.