Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

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Prairie_Kestrel
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Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby Prairie_Kestrel » 28 Mar 2009, 03:45

This is a difficult book to read. Both in the sense that it requires a lot of mental effort, and in that it tackles some difficult issues in a sometimes uncomfortable way. It basically tells you that if you are living in a modern western culture, you are probably NOT living with honour...but I'll get back to that in a minute.

The first time I read this book, I did so over the course of about a month in lots of short chunks. By the time I had reached the end, I knew I hadn't 'gotten' it. I didn't really understand what she meant by “living with honour”. So I went back through the book again, skimming this time, to try and form a more coherent picture of the book. Orr's view of honour is actually deceptively simple, and flows quite naturally out of her world view. In a nut shell, if all nature is sacred, then to live with honour means living in a way that acknowledges and respects the unique soul-songs of all beings, while simultaneously being aware of the interconnectedness of all things. “Honour is achieved when we acknowledge our free will, with the courage to be honest, with responsibility for our actions, with the respect that allows loyalty and generosity, knowing we are all utterly and irrevocably connected” (p. 139). It's about relationship. It's simple, beautiful, and makes perfect sense from an animistic, nature-based Pagan world view.

The difficulty comes in applying this ethic in a culture that is based around an entirely different world view. In the book, Orr spends a bit of time exploring our modern western, Judeo-Christian based culture and it's ethics, and contrasts it to Pagan ethics. She then discusses the implications of Pagan ethics to modern issues such as suicide, fertility treatments, animal testing, eating meat, capitalism, globalization, overpopulation, and so on. And if you accept her premise that nature is sacred, and that living honorably means having responsible and respectful relationships with nature, it's hard to argue with any of her conclusions on these issues. But it's also equally hard to actually apply and live by these ethics. Orr herself admits this....“ I am not righteous in my own position. For I too live as part of Western culture...”. Western culture is, in it's current state, antagonistic to the Pagan ethic that Orr describes.

It would be lovely to dream about what the world would look like if the Pagan ethic outlined in this book were the dominant ethic. It would certainly be a different world. But a more practical exercise would be to figure out how the heck to apply the Pagan ethic to the world we are currently living in. It really seems like the only way to live with honour is to drop out of western society all together and form a counter-culture of like minded folks. But if you find that a bit extreme, Orr discusses an alternate route that consists largely of thinking very carefully before we make any sort of decision, aware that our culture is hostile to our values. We can vote with our money, for example, by carefully researching all of our purchasing decisions to make sure they meet our standards of ethics. We can question whether we actually need to purchase something at all. We can do our best to craft honourable relationships. But even this, she acknowledges, is not easy, and her book is a call to rise to the challenge.

Personally, I agree with Orr's world view, but admit that I'm definitely not living up to her ethics. And I don't think I'm prepared to drop out of western society entirely. I will, however, use the ideas in this book to make some changes. I am definitely going to focus on creating more respectful relationships with others (be they human or not). As Orr points out, every action creates ripples, so small changes may lead to larger changes. Orr's ethic focus on establishing honourable relationships, and then acting in a way that is harmonious with those relationships. Just as with building any relationship, this can't happen overnight.

I would like to close this with a passage from the book that particularly struck me:

“It is because it is not always (or often) easy that we speak of *Pagan honour using key words – courage, generosity and loyalty – drawn from the heroic tales of our Western Pagan heritage. In each of the old stories, the hero is seeking something magical, something ordinary that, drenched in the sacred, is extraordinary. Whether a golden fleece, a cauldron or grail, an ancient ring or even home and tribe, each hero is compelled by their own quest as a warrior in search of some quality of immortality. Yet the mythologies do not hold their validity in the detail: it is because the individual, whether part or fully human, finds the strength of his honour that the stories continue to shine with such poignancy, even after thousands of years. It is for that reason that they are still so important to Pagans. There is no single hero revered, one who sacrifices all for the people of his tribe: there are many heroes, each one finding the steps to do what is needed.” (p. 316)
Erin {Kestrel} :mapleleaf:

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby mwyalchen » 03 Apr 2009, 18:22

It's a worthwhile book, and makes a serious attempt to engage with difficult ethical issues.

Emma does make it very clear, though, that in the end it represents her personal views. In many ways this is a strength, and she is not afraid to reference her own experiences to illuminate her discussions. But there were times when I felt her conclusions had more to do with her personal views than with thorough reasoning; for example, I'm vegetarian myself, but I felt she dismissed far too easily the views of those pagans who think it is possible to eat meat ethically.

Nonetheless, it's worth a read; and it's about time (we) pagans started working out more thoroughly what pagan ethics might look like.

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby Charlene » 02 Sep 2009, 20:32

I actually did not like this one. Not because of the scope she chose, nor is it that she does not make good points. She has a style of writing almost freeform, and she is out of her element with this highly academic style of work. I found it wordy in places to the point I think her point is lost at times.

It was a slog to get through. I found Myers book on Virtues easier to understand, at least in terms of readability.

I also do not agree with her political conclusions as well.
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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby Zylah » 28 Jun 2010, 04:13

This caught my eye since I just ordered this book last week.

Kestrel, I would really like to thank you for such an in-depth review. I so appreciate it in advance! :tiphat:
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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby shirley mclaren » 28 Jun 2010, 11:23

In an ideal world, we could do so. However, the world is not ideal, so we can only do the best we can.

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby Kima » 09 Feb 2011, 21:36

It was a slog to get through. I found Myers book on Virtues easier to understand, at least in terms of readability.
As a matter of fact I've been considering buying Living with Honour for a while but, having come across several reviewers who thought Orr didn't always scrutinize her opinions toroughly enough, I think I will opt for The Other Side of Virtue instead. I'd be very interested in hearing from someone who's read both (or even just Myers).

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby White Star » 04 Mar 2011, 10:50

At the point of writing this post I am about half way through "Living Druidry" by Emma Restall Orr and I just don't get it. I can't come to terms with her style of writing which I personally am finding very very dry and each page for me is a hard long slog. I find the sections written in italics annoying too, these are mostly personal experiences of hers and I actually find them quite "smug" in a way. I am too down to earth for this stuff which I find totally off with the faeries to the millionth "percentile" (an "in" comment there for those who have read the book).I feel non the wiser now than I did when I first opened the book.
I first started to lose interest really early in the book p.12? when she stated that for her Druidry is "unquestionably a pagan religious tradition."
This book is not for me I'm afraid and will probably be passed on un-finished.

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby Pollen » 04 Mar 2011, 13:01

I think what a lot of people said above. I really wanted to like this book but really Emma is a great druid/pagan/whatever but not really up to being taken seriously as a philosopher of ethics. I think it was a wonderful idea - but really needed a second author who was more capable of scrutinizing, critiquing and reflecting (i.e. doing proper philosophy).

Then again I've met a lot of people who like it. I personally found it a frustrating experience.

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Re: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics - by Emma Restall Orr

Postby DJ Droood » 04 Mar 2011, 14:11

"unquestionably a pagan religious tradition."
unquestionably eh? Well, at least that is in line with "religious tradition".
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