Properly defining religion and identifying universal morality

To borrow from the World English Dictionary, religion is defined as “the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine and the formal expression of such belief”. I agree with this definition despite its broadly vague nature or perhaps because of it, for the common assertion that only those practices which evolved from adherence to Abrahamic philosophy are valid is utterly prejudicial. The implication that an individual does not believe in the existence of God because they do not follow one of the ‘world religions’ is asinine and presents a clear example of unforgivable ignorance on the part of philosophers and theologians alike.

Individuals who actively promote this position allow their personal religious bias to affect their perception of reality to such a degree that they essentially contribute, whether intentionally or not, to the exclusivist position of trivializing the contradictory spiritual traditions of other cultures. Their statements also lend credibility to the idea that the violent suppression of alternate religious practices is not only justified but is eminently ethical. The complete elimination of such traditions by any means possible is, to their way of thinking, somehow endorsed by God’s will as provided by a blind interpretation of scriptural passages.

There have been numerous attempts to define specific religions over the centuries, one of the most popular being the nineteenth century assumption that all religious practice can be separated into four distinct groups, those of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Paganism. Modern scholars have broken away from these distinctions by attempting to classify each religion by how its individual adherents perceive the nature of God (monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, etc.). Such organization may appear on the surface to provide clarity to the discussion; I contend that the application of such definitions to specific religions only serves to complicate what should be a simple distinction.

According to current estimates, roughly half of the world’s population (54%) adheres to religious principals based on the predominantly exclusivist teachings of Abraham. The rest of humanity follows a wide range of religious traditions that do not necessarily originate from biblical scripture and often share very specific similarities, the most common of which is the philosophically inclusive assumption that the absolute freedom of spiritual belief is the only acceptable stance for any society.

I fully endorse the theological position of relativistic inclusivism, which Wikipedia defines most successfully as the belief that  “an unknown set of assertions are Absolutely True, that no human being currently living has yet ascertained Absolute Truth, but that all human beings have partially ascertained Absolute Truth.” No other position seems reasonable to me given the limitations of the human mind with its inability to comprehend the full and intrinsically infinite nature of reality.

In my six point summary of universal doctrine, I identify the Ethic of Reciprocity as the only universal standard for moral behavior. I have chosen the Wiccan version of the Ethic as the best example of universal morality, which essentially states that a person should intentionally harm no one and then may do whatever they wish. I do not support the more commonly known biblical version of the Golden Rule as it is generally referred to in America because I do not believe the phrase ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is comprehensive enough in scope.

By the way, those who believe Wiccans are immoral and have no scriptural guidance are completely mistaken. To refute this belief, allow me to quote from part two of the Codex Vias, which reads as follows:

‘Here ye these words and heed them well, the words of Dea, thy Mother Goddess, “I command thee thus, O children of the Earth, that that which ye deem harmful unto thyself, the very same shall ye be forbidden from doing unto another, for violence and hatred give rise to the same. My command is thus, that ye shall return all violence and hatred with peacefulness and love, for my Law is love unto all things. Only through love shall ye have peace; yea and verily, only peace and love will cure the world, and subdue all evil.”

It is extremely important to realize that when Wiccans say ‘Harm none’ they are referring to themselves as well as others and the phrase does not only refer to physical harm. One should think about others in a positive way while avoiding negative judgments for how we perceive someone in our thoughts dictates how we relate to them on a personal level. One should speak to others in a civil fashion as hateful speech is capable of hurting a person more deeply than physical damage. The Pagan belief that a person creates their own reality has a very real impact on the necessity for moral behavior if one is to be responsible for one’s own actions. As a Universalist, I know that God will forgive us unconditionally for our mistakes but I often wonder how we can forgive ourselves for the damage that we have caused, not only to each other, but to this wonderful planet we call home.

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About William Knox

Rev. William Knox is the founder and current Chancellor of the Contemporary Pagan Alliance. Ordained in 1995 as an interfaith minister, he serves as senior priest at the Sanctuary of Light in Ravenswood,WV. and is an invested brother in the Shanddite Order of Pagan Secular Monks.
This entry was posted in Morality, Paganism, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality, Universalist and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Properly defining religion and identifying universal morality

  1. davidtenn says:

    Great post William, Love David

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