Muddy Earth : Integrity and Pagan Ethics
Posted by spritzophrenia on December 26, 2009
I attended NeoPagan festival Magick Earth as an unintended anthropological ‘participant observer’. This is part two of my thoughts, the first being my experience and emotional response. Here’s an incomplete reflection -abandoned rather than finished. Long blog warning, grab a cuppa tea and join me 🙂
|Why does doing something ‘religious’ poorly rub us up the wrong way? Somehow it seems worse than doing something else badly, like lacking integrity at work.
A few at Magick Earth were bothered by integrity. To one friend, there appeared to be a lapse in integrity among those leading the Friday night ritual in that the leaders didn’t seem to believe in what they were saying and doing and were merely going through the form of it. Also, the ritual itself seemed meh. It appeared that way to me too. In a separate example, a husband and wife, one of whom I think was a seminar leader, got drunk and had a long, vocal and abusive fight in the wee small hours. I can’t comment as I slept through it, but I’m told they’ve done it before. Several people there seemed to regard them with some degree of ambivalence, even contempt.
My friend commented that these people should be “living what they believe”. I agree. Most people have a sense that those publicly presenting a belief should have a degree of integrity about them. Here I am speaking of ethical integrity, I also briefly consider intellectual integrity below. I think the nature of spiritual belief seems to imply that it is ‘more special’, that some kind of special effort to be reverent and integral is required. (Why we assume that is an interesting question.) I recall that hypocrisy among the then-leaders of his own Jewish religion was despised by Y’shua (Jesus), and got quite a bit of airtime from him. 
My first response, and perhaps that of others is: “Oh, they’re hypocrites, I want to distance myself from them.” What makes me hesitate to judge them is twofold: Firstly, I am a hypocrite myself. Secondly, on what basis should I judge them?
1. I am a hypocrite
A hypocrite is someone who doesn’t live by what they actually believe. It doesn’t matter whether that belief is publicly articulated. Every single person on earth is a hypocrite; at least, I haven’t met someone who isn’t. One thing I believe is that I should be kind and loving to everyone. I am often unkind and unloving even to people close to me. Hence I am a hypocrite. This is not fun.
Another thing I believe is “do to others what you would have them do to you.” I don’t want others to reject me for being a hypocrite. I want them to be patient with me, hope that I improve, and perhaps lovingly help me to overcome my faults when I ask for help. Hence i should do the same for other hypocrites. I cannot help someone remove a speck in their eye if I have a log in my own.
2. How should I decide whether someone is practicing integrity?
I think integrity has to be measured firstly from within someone’s own system of belief. Their behaviour as viewed by other ethical systems is also important, but comes second. Spot the nod to relativism or postmodernism here. Integrity is measured against ethics and the dictionary definition of ethics is formed around the concepts of morality, behavior and character. I guess ‘character’ is how ethical one is over a period of time; how one ‘usually’ acts. So if someone was consistently doing a poor job of rituals we could say they had bad character. But only if ‘doing a poor ritual’ is already defined in paganism as unethical. So I had to find out what paganism says about how its people should conduct themselves.
There are Neopagans who have written about their ethical beliefs, here’s a few sites I found discussing them:
The Goddess made me do it! This one in particular i thought was good.
[dammit! most of these articles are gone since I did my research two years back. Can anyone track them down? Might have to use the Way Back Machine]
Some pagan or wiccan principles that might come into play concerning doing rituals could include:
1. The Wiccan Rede
The ethics espoused in a particular Pagan tradition may be different, but there is a general common basis in honouring Nature and all Life. The foundation of Wiccan ethics is the Wiccan Rede – “an ye harm none, do as ye wilt” – simple but far-reaching in its implications (both individually and collectively). … in most Pagan traditions, the individual is responsible for determining how their tradition’s ethic or principles are lived out in any given moment and situation – most traditions do not have ‘commandments’ that direct their personal decisions. from http://www.paganpastoraloutreach.ca/ethics/pagan.htm
“If it harms none, do what you will”. I can’t see how doing a ritual badly harms people. If wasting others’ time is ‘harming’ or if offending the goddess harms someone, then perhaps so. Several pagan writers say that the wiccan rede alone is not a good enough basis for all ethics.
2. What we do affects the deity
After all we generally subscribe to a belief system that supports both immanent and internalized Deity and, to use a theologically technical term, is panentheistic — we and the Deity are mutually dependent on one another. That is, what we do has a direct effect upon the Deity. If our actions are honorable and ethical the Deity is enhanced by us, and likewise, if our actions are dishonorable and unethical the Deity is correspondingly impoverished. from The Goddess made me do it! and see note 
Hmmm. Maybe a badly done ritual impoverishes the deity. If a ritual gives paganism a bad name, which perhaps impoverishes the deity, this could be the basis for saying they lack integrity.
3. Codes of Conduct
There are differences within paganism, for example druids can have different ethics to witches. Though different organisations have published their codes (see http://www.paganpastoraloutreach.ca/ethics/pagan.htm ), there’s no universally accepted code of ethics. A code of ethics could be held by one pagan individual or at most a relatively small local group/coven. Although there are national groupings with developed codes, my feeling is that paganism tries to steer away from highly developed organisation structures. Or maybe that’s just my bias against large organisations.
Here is Magdalena Merovingia’s local coven code (I think – she’s not clear in her otherwise fine article where this comes from).
A Coven Code of Ethics
While attending ritual or other coven functions you agree to:
* Relate to others with general politeness, manners, and common courtesy as befitting any gathering of friends.
* Abide by any formal rules, covenants, or guidelines adopted by the coven.
* Enter the circle “in perfect love and perfect trust.” Settle any differences with other participants beforehand or don’t participate. If it is impossible to settle the differences all parties involved must be able to truly set the issue aside and relate to one another “in perfect love and perfect trust” while in sacred space.
* Try to distinguish between having psychological issues come up and truly being in a compromising position regarding beliefs and values. If you feel you are compromising your integrity by further participation quietly ask the maiden to cut a door in the circle and quietly leave. If something comes up for you that has been triggered by the ritual, speak up so those in charge can address the situation in an appropriate manner.
* Commit to thinking for yourself and not just blindly accepting everything said or done.
In general you agree to:
* Follow the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do as thou wilt.
* Make a reasonable effort to consider the difference between will and whim and to consider that harm is not always easily pinpointed.
* Commit to opposing patriarchal oppression and strive to counteract it in positive, non-violent ways. Consciously choose to wield “power with” and “power within” and not “power over.”
* Observe the legal code of your cultural location except when by doing so you are violating your personal integrity and morality in such a manner that cannot be overlooked or justified and you have considered the effects of your decision on the coven and the broader community and you consciously choose to take full responsibility for those effects.
* Commit to learning the ways of magick and the Craft that work for you and to apply what you have learned to the best of your ability with intent for the highest good of all according to the free will of all.
* Never work magick or offer prayers on behalf of another without their knowledge and consent.
* Commit to respecting the environment and working towards its recovery.
* Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on race, age, gender, occupation, physical ability, or sexual orientation.
* Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on religion as appropriate. Maintain an awareness of Wicca as a religion and the legal and social repercussions of religious discrimination both toward Wiccans and by Wiccans. Be aware of your own biases in this area and walk this line very carefully.
* Commit to remaining open-minded in your contacts with organized religion and seek to “take what you need and leave the rest” realizing that opportunities for encounters with Deity are limited only by yourself.
* Refrain from “Christian bashing” or arbitrarily condemning other religions or religious peoples.
* Refrain from graphic or offensive sexual behavior in public or semi-public situations and maintain an awareness of the changing definitions of graphic and offensive in varied situations.
* Commit to taking responsibility for all aspects of your life, physical, psychological, and spiritual.
* Commit to taking responsibility for your own psychological healing and to overcome the internalized effects of social programming in accordance with Wiccan teachings.
* Commit to the spiritual path and to continued growth and learning.
* Encourage fun, beauty, and play in your personal life and in the lives of others in accordance with Wiccan teachings.
Again, I stress that this is just the code for one group, and that wiccans don’t represent all pagans. Note  has the story of a nice druid, for example.
However, if it applies to the group in NZ, “Commit to learning the ways of magick and the Craft that work for you and to apply what you have learned to the best of your ability with intent for the highest good of all according to the free will of all.” would certainly apply to doing a ritual at less than the best of your ability. For example, the male leader in the Friday night ritual acknowledged he made mistakes because he hadn’t read his part before the ritual.
As an aside, I also noticed that “Refrain from ‘Christian bashing’ or arbitrarily condemning other religions or religious peoples.” wasn’t followed by everyone at the fest.
Some other ideas:
* I think it’s crucially important to realise that modern paganism has as it’s background the modern Western world, much of which is arguably based on christian theism, Greek philosophy and classical law. So a lot of ethics are assumed from there, eg those about patriarchy and discrimination against minorities. These assumptions should perhaps be more explicitly acknowledged.
* If paganism comes to hold a set of beliefs that excludes – as the article on the impossibility of Christian Wicca by a fellow Wiccan suggests – then it will become as intolerant as the christianity it despises. I suspect there is much intolerance under the surface already, purely based on my observations of people both pagan and non-pagan. Intolerance seems to be in our human blood.
* However, this should be carefully nuanced. I think it’s perfectly sensible, even essential that a belief be able to set boundaries around what is and is not orthodox. Christians should be able to define their religion so that Cosmic Chicken Worshippers cannot be considered christian. Satanists should be able to exclude nice people who are not selfish enough. Buddhists who believe in no g0d and many reincarnations should not be required to consider g0d-bothering one-stop-and-then-you’re-off Muslims as part of their fold. Of course, those who believe that all is “one” can try to define how all these mutually exclusive concepts can logically be the same. Good luck.
* Based on my workplace experiences and some theory, I currently believe the inherent nature of organisations – including religious organisations – is to become inhumane. By which I mean they come to serve the rules of the organisation itself, rather than the people within the organisation – who, in a young organisation, may even have created the rules in the first place.
Finally, even if I decide they are hypocrites, what does this mean about their beliefs? What does “living what they believe” mean in practice? Someone who is living a religious belief will probably do something like having a ritual. It would possibly be lacking integrity for them NOT to have a ritual. See note 
But what happens if they make a crap ritual? And what happens if we know there are other parts of their life where they are unethical? Does that mean their beliefs themselves are invalid?
By analogy, let’s imagine an atheist tries to live their beliefs and does something others don’t like (lying, stealing, abusing their spouse or similar). Does that invalidate the belief system itself? Does an atheist’s hypocrisy mean atheism itself as a religious choice is invalid?
Or perhaps we just say they are a poor example of an atheist.
Here is where I’ll abandon this section. Comment welcome.
 Would you like me to write a post about Christian hypocrisy?
 “What we do has a direct effect upon the Deity” is not an exhaustive definition of panentheism and I’m not sure how many wiccans would agree with it. I think some definitions of panentheism are compatible with traditional theistic thinking. If g0d is there, a transcendant AND immanent god as per Eastern Orthodox christian theology makes more sense to me than a strict separation of god and nature. This is not saying nature IS god, only that god indwells all nature. I may be muddling things a bit here.
 If I understand one friend, she prefers people who don’t talk about their beliefs but just get on and “do it”.
I wonder, What does “do-ing” a spiritual belief involve? There is always a thought-part or theoretical part to doing. Having a ritual is a way of expressing that thought-part. Perhaps it’s possible for a religion to develop which involves no public expression, merely private in-one’s-head stuff.
 An example of a warm, inviting pagan story:
Another question: Intellectual Integrity
I have a separate question to that of strictly behavioural ethics around intellectual ethics. Or maybe congruency is a better word.
I want my religion to be reasonable. Note this does not necessarily mean prove-able, but it does mean that if someone asks me for a rational explanation of what it is, how it works and most importantly WHY i believe something, i want to be able to explain that. Among other things it should not have any insurmountable internal logical conflicts.
At present I conceive of intellectual integrity as a subset of ethical integrity. It may be the other way around.
[pretty Venn diagram picture coming]
The main question I want to ask NeoPagans around this is: “If you know that your spirituality was ‘invented’, how does this impact your intellectual integrity?”
I cannot (at present) “believe” or gain satisfaction from something I know to be untrue. I can play it as a game and enjoy it as a fantasy or intellectual exercise. But that is quite different from experiencing something real. If “true for me” is not congruent with “true out there”, then it is not true at all.
Whew. After all that I think next post will be light and humorous. I still want you to tell me what i should write about next. Please comment!
listening to Maslow (Helix) | Fingerpaint, Haujobb | Renegades of Noise, Majai | Phoria, Save The Robot | I Am A Robot
tful  Funny, poignant song about love and hope
 Today’s Fun Unrelated Link
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