“Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Asking around I have quickly come to realize that people have widely different ideas of what piety is or means. I also have discovered that within my local neo-pagan community the word piety has strong negative connotations. The word seems to be closely tied to Christianity in some way, and this I believe is the root of the bias. For a Neo-pagan a pious Christian is one to be disdained. This reaction caught me off guard as I never had the association. It seems to me that people are beginning to confuse piety with fanatical.
In ADF piety is defined as "Correct observance of ritual and social traditions, the maintenance of the agreements (both personal and societal) we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty." What’s interesting about this definition is that it makes no comment about belief. What this is saying is that piety is not about what one believes but about meeting our ritual obligations. This harkens back to the idea that ADF is Orthopraxic and not Orthodoxic. Thus trying to define piety by what a person believes wouldn’t work in ADF. Despite this, I believe there is a likely intersection between belief, piety and piety as a virtue.
If being pious is about observing ritual and social traditions and the like, at what point do I take on the virtue or the label of “being pious”? Do I posses the virtue of piety after doing my first high day ritual? How about after eight of them? After three or nine years worth? At what point does one say “yes, I have the virtue of Piety.” What does it take for other neo-pagans to look at another neo-pagan and say “they are very pious.”? I don’t think there is a set answer to these questions, but I do believe that just doing one high day doesn’t make one pious. Piety comes with time. It take’s consistent practice of the high days of at least a few years. This is where belief fits in. Most people cannot, nor will not consistently meet the definition of Piety for years without belief to motivate them. Is it possible? Yes, but not very damn likely. Celebrating the high days takes time, energy, and resources. Only discipline motivated by belief will cause people the kind of consistency in the “correct observance of ritual” that is needed to attain the virtue of piety.
Is piety a virtue? I have turned this question over in my mind seeking an answer. After much thought and discussion with others, simply stated, yes it is a virtue. Piety however, is a virtue that relies upon many of the other nine virtues to maintain its virtuosity. Throughout history, there are many examples of piety “gone bad”: human sacrifice, slavery, subjugation of woman, the Crusades and Jihads, the inquisition, the naming of “heretics”, and self mutilation are just a few examples. Piety needs to be tempered with the virtues of wisdom, integrity, and moderation. Wisdom is important to know if what is needed to keep the oaths to the kindred is right. Integrity to show us the truth of whether or not our piety is virtuous or if it has “gone bad”. Perhaps most important to keeping Piety a virtue is moderation. Without it we can find our piousness taken to dangerous, maybe even deadly, extremes. Despite the dangers and all the examples of piety gone bad, I cannot help but to think of the person whose piety is moderated by the other virtues a very good trait to have and a person I would respect deeply.