What Are Ethics?

Laws and rules are the social glue that allow us to live together in relative harmony.

wiccan-redeMany years ago I was asked the question – “How can you have ethics and morals without religious laws telling you what is a sin and what is not?”

At the time, I did not have the knowledge base or the experience to be able to answer that question fully. Who knows, I may not have the ability to answer it fully now either.

But I would like to try.

I tend to use the words ethics and morals interchangeably. I know there is a subtle difference between these two words, but that difference is so slight, does it really matter?

So, where do they come from? Our parents and family, the society we grow up in, religious teachings? All of the above?

I know this is not a static thing. What was ethical and moral to society 100 years ago is considered immoral and unethical today. What one considers to be ethical or moral behaviour in Asia differs from what is considered to be ethical and moral behaviour in Europe.

I was told – you can’t be an ethical person if you do not follow a religion that lays out the rules for you to follow and punishes you for transgressions.

I say Рyou are not an ethical person if you need a religion to lay out rules for you to follow  and the threat of punishment for disobedience in order to behave in an ethical manner.

The Pagan religion as I practice it (I can only ever speak for me since I follow no established Pagan tradition) has no rules, no threats of everlasting punishment, no threats of a witholding of love should I slip. I have to consider and think for myself and work out what is the right thing to do with no thought of reward or punishment in return.

I don’t tend to worry too much about the second verse of the Rede. I’m of the opinion that things do come back (aka there are consequences) but it may not be 3 times, or 9 times, or 100 times. More often than not, it’s an equal exchange.

Newton’s LawFor every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

If it harms none, do what you will

This particular phrase has a long history within neo-Paganism.

Now, the argument I have heard against these words is that it is blanket permission to do whatever one wants, without thought about consequences or morality.

I say these arguments are wrong. These 8 words put just as much burden of duty on a person as lists and pages of thou shalts and shalt nots to be found in the other religions of the world.

The difference between these 8 words, and the pages and lists to be found elsewhere is that it is up to each individual Pagan to interpret these words for themselves.

For every action and word I use, I have to stop and ask myself – by doing this could I be causing harm to another? If the answer is yes, then I consider long and hard on whether or not I should do it. By doing it, will I harm another? By not doing it, will I cause harm? By my actions or words will I stop another person from harming others, or from harming me? Even if by stopping that person I will be harming them?

The answer isn’t a black and white yes or no every time either. Sometimes, the answer is – maybe.

Whatever the answer though, I have to weigh up the options. And I have to consider, am I willing to accept the consequences of my actions/words? For good or bad?

If I am not willing to accept the consequences, I don’t do it.



One thought on “What Are Ethics?

  1. Well done! I think the Rede is actually more of a burden than a list of defined behaviors. It requires us to think for ourselves, and to consider not just the action itself, but the outcome of it, its impact on others, and on the Earth.

I enjoy reading your responses, so please let me know what you think.

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