I've been having a debate with a few friends recently over morality and ethics as a Pagan versus the common misconception amongst the American public that only mainstream religions provide a moral and ethical framework.
What forms the moral compass of a Pagan - especially an Eclectic, for example - when there is no 10 Commandments or Law of 'Whoever' to follow. How do Pagans decide upon a set of morals - do they shift and change as need or desire dictate? What makes a Pagan be moral? And what happens when Pagan morality butts heads with (for example) Christian? Who's right? How is it decided?
As a Pagan my first reaction to such questions has all too often been outrage and disgust. What makes a Pagan inherently immoral that such questions need asking - or could even be entertained in the real world. As a realist living in the States I know the answer too well. The 'Christian' mindset here is responsible.
Christian mindset - it sounds so absolute. It's not of course. There are as many varieties of Christian as there are Pagan and they seem to have a vast sliding scale when it comes to determining right and wrong, moral and immoral. What one Christian accepts another won't. But there is a certain mentality that infuses this country which is founded within the Christian mindset. It is dictated by Fundamentalist attitudes and is quite closeted. The average American doesn't seem to have a good understanding of what Pagan means aside from the standard devil worshipping Goth.
Yet the average American probably isn't a Fundamentalist Christian.
I've lived here for over ten years. In that time I have yet to discuss Paganism with someone and not need to explain what I mean by the term. Unless, of course, I am talking with a fellow Pagan. Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, or Jew...they are all equally ignorant in their understanding and often equally offensive in their assumptions. Innocently meant though those assumptions may be. They all parrot the same ignorant drivel about what Pagans are and what they believe. Drivel grounded in Christian propaganda.
And without fail, especially in discussions with religious people, the topic of morality arises. And I get asked, "What makes you be good?"
As a Nordic Pagan I have a clear set of moral and ethical laws. Known as the Nine Noble Virtues they are simple yet profound truths that reflect the same moral ideology of every other culture. They are not rules given us by the gods, but rather elemental truths to human spiritual development the ancestors have discovered...with a little inspiration, perhaps:
This is what I use as my moral compass. It helps me to define my ethical sense of right and wrong. But naturally I wasn't born following this. Like anyone else, Christian or not, I was exposed to many things - both bad and good - that helped me to find my way to a path that best suited my strengths and helped me defeat my weaknesses. My parents, my peers, my school, the books I read, the movies I watched, the people I talked with, events in my home and the world - the list is endless as to what brought me to this particular point. And it hasn't stopped. No morality is static. We change as events affect us. As we learn and grow so to does our understanding of not only the black and white but all the shades of grey. For me the difference is that I behave in a moral and ethical fashion because my soul tells me it is the Path I should follow. Not because my god will punish me for failing to follow his/her rules.
A weak and corrupt man no matter how Christian he calls himself, how obedient to his god, will rarely behave in a truly moral fashion. He will seek the easiest path, the one that best meets his desires without causing him effort or harm. A stubborn and proud woman will use the 'morality' of her faith as a mask to hide her judgmental nature behind, proclaiming that she does as her god commands and that you will fall because you do not. A generous, honest, and hard-working person, whether Pagan, Christian, or Atheist, will reflect inner beauty and strength, showing how moral and ethical life can be because of human nature and intent.
Ultimately what it comes down to is what sort of person are you? That is what determines your morality. I know what I am. Do you?
© Frigga's Weft
Source: The Pagan Heart (Geocities site now defunct)
Published: March 2006