A recent blog post I ran across provided a good example of the impoverished ethics found throughout most of paganism. The blogger did not seem to possess a very clear notion of what constitutes a moral problem, and made no mention of altruism, compassion, or other positive morality. The discussion of the Wiccan Rede that was presented afforded ample proof that the Rede is not enough to provide moral guidance. The unfortunate truth is that most people do not have the interest or education to consider theological issues competently, and it would be helpful if there were a clear ethical teaching to offer pagans. Wicca, lacking a doctrine of sin, does not offer commandments, outside of the traditional admonition, “harm none, and do what you will”. This is refreshing and while “do no harm” is a useful rule to guide our morality, the guidance it provides is limited. The Rede is also very easily misunderstood, as on the surface it appears to offer license to do whatever you want. I offer two notions as an alternative to “do no harm”, compassion and right living, based on the experience of contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer allows us to perceive all creation as One with God, and fosters a sense of compassion for all and obligation to help others, including the environment. Acting out of a conviction of oneness and compassion is a better foundation for moral decisions, and can work even if the person does not live an exclusively contemplative life. Contemplative prayer shows us that the better question to ask ourselves is “what is the compassionate response to this situation”, rather than “how can I avoid causing harm”. When we can see ourselves as part of everything else, compassionate moral decisions become easier.
The principle of right living tells us that we should actively strive to do the best we can do in any situation. One’s relationship with the material world is sacred, therefore to respect the divinity in the world and others, one must live rightly in the world and with each other. Rather than simply avoiding the doing of harm, promoting the common good is more proactive, leading us to work to make changes for the better. Merely following the traditional rule would not bring forward much change, and would allow people to refrain from intervening in helpful ways. Acts of kindness are more salutary than merely avoiding harm.
Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.