Earth-Based Ethics Or Pagan Morality in the 21st Century

Nearly all spiritual belief systems seek to provide their adherents with some sort of moral code, be it simple or complex, to guide their lives. The Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shaped Western culture to the extent that their basic moral paradigm is accepted without analysis even by those who no longer embrace the theological worldview that birthed it.

The traditional Western worldview sees God as a transcendent deity who is the ultimate source and personification of "good" with "evil" conceived as opposition to God's will. God is sacred and divine because he is ultimately good and vice versa. Goodness is obedience to God's will; evil is disobedience. Building on this basic concept Western nations built more or less humane societies and millions have been inspired to noble acts of unselfishness and charity. Millions have also slaughtered their fellow human beings in the name of God/goodness. For there is a great pitfall in this dualistic worldview. If to do good is to do God's will and to oppose God's will evil, then in the complexity of human life it is far too easy to see one's self, or one's religion, country, or belief system as being "of God" which carries the automatic corollary that one's opponents must be evil and anti-God. And once you truly believe that, then anything becomes permissible. "If God be for us, who can stand against us?" Most of us are familiar with the sad history of war, violence and strife arising from this belief, from the religious persecutions of the Reformation to our current political leaders condemning of the "Axis of Evil."

Yet, it was not always this way. For most of human history, most people did not worship a single supreme deity, or see deity and the world as separate. The result was that goodness and the Gods were not identified. Typically, Pagan creation myths begin with something already existing - a great sea, great mountains, mud... - and the deities emerge from it. They remain a part of the world, the personification of natural forces, and continue in the seasonal cycles of creation and destruction, death and birth. These belief systems describe the world without judging it, accepting all that is as divine.

In the Pagan view, there is no transcendent Good or Evil. The natural world is sacred but is not divided along moral lines. However, Paganism is not amoral. Pagan morality arises from the belief that Divinity, the Spirit of Life, is immanent in the world, beside us, in us, all around us. When we look at nature we see that She values life and diversity and the balanced interplay of life and natural forces. We see ourselves as part of that variety and balance and feel oneness, love and completion as part of this divine whole. A sense of oneness with the divine world shapes our awareness of the consequences of our actions and provides a context in which to judge them. Acts which deny our connection to other beings do not lead to punishment but to natural consequences. If we treat people as objects rather than as expressions of the divine then the world we live in becomes less pleasant and we too become objects. If we treat the Earth as an object, heedlessly exploiting and polluting Her, we will also reap the natural consequences. For the Pagan, evil is failing to see all life as sacred, and failing to understand where the balance lies in our lives and in the life of the Earth.

While not offering an absolute moral standard, this belief system does provide a very effective guide for decision making. Every action and reaction reverberates in the universe, and we must seek, insofar as is possible, to always act to respect and promote the Life Force, or, as our UU principles put it, "to respect the great web of existence of which we are a part."

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