It is true that many of the first Syntheists are also Zoroastrians, and there are certain practical aspects worth exploring because they had an undeniably significant influence on the first trajectories within Syntheism. It also might help you to understand where some of our members are coming from. So what exactly do Zoroastrianism and Syntheism have in common?
It is an ancient Persian faith that started with the social reformer Zoroaster 3700 years ago and spread across the Silk Route to all corners of the civilized world. Its name at the time was Mazdayasna. Yasna is Avestan for praise, worship, devotion; Mazda means wisdom, intelligence. So it would be foolish to presume that philosophy (“the love of wisdom”) started in Greece 600 BC. Zoroaster’s doctrines resonate remarkably well with participatory culture and therefore also with Syntheism. His philosophical religion is practical through and through. God in Zoroastrianism is named Ahura Mazda — two words that mean existence and wisdom. Ahura is all that exists, or the conditions that gave birth to that which is. Mazda emerges from the relations between our minds; it is literally the god we co-create through social interaction. Zoroaster’s Mazda appears to be identical to the divinity called Syntheos, although Syntheos does have a much stronger utopian drive to it.
Another key concept in Zoroastrianism is Asha (“that which fits”) which links the good, fulfilling life to intelligence, learning and creativity. Asha is truth, truthfulness and harmoniousness, and its opposites are deception and falsehood. According to Zoroaster, our thoughts form the words we speak and the actions we undertake. His notion of the good life implies that evil stems from ignorance of cause and consequence, as much as from our self-defeating behaviors such as resentment and self-pity. His greatest achievement as a philosopher therefore was to introduce the ethical distinction between constructive mentalities and destructive mentalities — a distinction that prompted Nietzsche to proclaim in Ecce Homo (source) that Zoroaster had been the first philosopher to overcome moralistic thinking. We co-create our world through the course of action that we choose. Our thoughts, words and actions become a part of this world and will therefore feed back into our existences. So there is no hiding from the consequences of the nature of our behaviors. We simply become the choices we make. This is as far from moralistic accusations as you can possibly get.
The question behind Zoroaster’s ethics is: What sort of world do you want to live in? As a practice, it isn’t easy at all — it is a daily struggle that requires patience and perseverance. The best way to keep yourself on track is to use a mantra such as Zoroaster’s: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” It is a daily reminder of how our ideas and thoughts affect our engagement with the world — whether we progress towards fulfillment and empowerment or remain stuck in self-victimizing patterns (as much as writing this blog post is a reminder to myself). A similar concept is Epictetus’ prohairesis (source). According to Epictetus’ most famous quote, things are not good or bad in themselves, but it is our notions of them that make them so. There is very little we can do to prevent most events from occurring, but it is our attitude that determines what we make of our experiences. Knowledge breeds empowerment (see Spinoza’s Ethics, source).
Another idea that strikes me is how Zoroaster related our lives to our environment. We’re prone to thinking of ourselves as (semi-)autonomous units that operate independently of what is going on around us, but as we have seen, our actions affect our surroundings, which then in turn affect our being. We easily forget how intimately entangled we are with the world. After all, we are products of our environment, so our contributions shape who we are about to become. One’s sense of self isn’t separate from what is around us. We’ve been formed and shaped by unique sets of relationships ever since our birth. All humans are born prematurely, so the neural pathways in our heads develop in relationship with our earliest caregivers. We cannot change the world from scratch, but the freedom we have depends on our choices as much as on the environment that we build and sustain — and this includes friendships and relationships.
Most Zoroastrians agree on the practical aspects of their faith but not so much on the theological implications. For instance, there are many Zoroastrians in Iran and India who believe Ahura Mazda to be a divine creator from beyond our world, which might have to do with their cultural environments. However, the ethical feedback loop we’ve encountered appears to be universally valid across all Zoroastrian communities, and it is the core idea they share with Syntheists. Zoroaster says we should think constructively as to speak constructively as to act constructively. He leaves it at that. It therefore should prove worthwhile to create our own sacred sites where people are free to explore any practices that deepen and enhance their religious experience.