What do I mean by piety (Єύσέβεia )? Well, I would be remiss if I did not begin this journey about piety without acknowledging Socrates’ famous question. Plato, in his Euthyphro, has Socrates ask Euthyphro about piety. There many definitions for piety suggested—Socrates is all about definitions. As is often the case for Socrates, well at least as Plato portrays him, all the suggestions about what piety are rejected and at the end Socrates recommends they start from the beginning. I shall take that advice but I will not be focusing on Plato’s ideas as presented through his writings on Socrates. However, I will leave with that I agree with John Hardwig who stated “Socrates’ understanding of piety—piety is moral conduct and nothing more” (261). I am not inclined to use phases such as “nothing more” even if I think that Plato may have had that in mind. But there is a close connection between piety and morality.
Piety seems to imply showing reverence or devotion to a deity, relationship, and community in which both duty and virtue come to mind. I am reminded of Robert Parker’s remarks about sixth century Athenian festivals and if they are religious, in which he suggest that “[p]utting on a show in a way ‘worth of the god’ was an act of piety” (79). Worthy actions are at the root of piety. Just as morally only makes sense in connection to relationships, so too for piety.
Yet , there are some negatives response to piety. W. Warde Fowler suggests that pious “suffered damage from the sanctimoniousness of the certain type of Puritanism” (462). Whereas, “piety still remains sweet and wholesome’ (Fowler 462). Also, I found it interesting that for Paul Tillich, piety is good so long as a person conforms to the will of God in which nothing is done for the sake of becoming a pious person for one’s self. His idea is that “…in its distorted form, ‘piety’ becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self.” (Tillich 86).
Within Paganism, I think that I am on firm ground with acting with reverence towards our essential relationships in which we can achieve our own personal transformation is not only a good thing but rises to the level of becoming a core value of Paganism. I will shy away from listing core values of Paganism in general, nor do I think that there would ever be a single stagnant list. Overtime I will suggest some of the core values of Pagan Humanism some of which may be include with many other types of Paganisms.
Piety then is our actions with regards to essential relationships such as those towards deity, community, nature, and ourselves. This is way I often describe Paganism as a people of piety. Then I follow-up with piety is building right relationships. I enjoy this Paganism in one or two sentences. Although, I would not suggest that everyone use this same description, I would encourage each Pagan to have their own short description ready.
Fowler, W. Warde. (1971). The Religious Experience of the Roman People from the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus: The Gifford Lectures for 1909-1910 Delivered in Edinburgh. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc.
Hardwig, John “Socrates’ Conception of Piety.” Teaching Philosophy, 30:3 (Sept), 259-268.
Parker, Robert. (1997). Athenian Religion: A History. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Tillich, Paul. (1967). Systematic Theology: Three Volumes in One. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.