Many years past I had a conversation with a Lutheran minister on the subject of morality, the Christian 10 Commandments, and the Wiccan Rede. His argument being that if one did not have an objective list detailing what one could and could not do in life, that one could not be a moral person. He also argued that telling people to just do as they willed instead of what God willed, even with the harm none caveat, was just encouraging people to be selfish and not have any consideration for anyone but themselves.
Of course, in any group you are going to get some small groups of people who think that a lack of specific rules for behaviour is a license to do anything they want, regardless of who it may harm. There is a word for these people, they are called assholes. Assholes aren’t just found in the Pagan communities though, you can find them lurking around any group, regardless of the religion they may or may not follow.
My argument to the above mentioned minister was that the phrase “Do as you will, but harm none” put a greater onus for personal responsibility onto a person than a specific list of behaviours and actions not allowed. I also argued that when questioned, Jesus had said that there was only One Commandment: Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
In my way of thinking, there is small difference between “Do as you will but harm none”
and “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Both place it upon the person to have the maturation and wherewithal to determine whether their actions will be harmful to their neighbour, and whom exactly their neighbour is.
Yes, personal will says that I could walk into the local PC store and buy the latest gadget. I want it, I can have it. Personal responsibility and knowing that I need to be aware of whether or not my actions will harm me (loving myself) or harming another (loving my neighbour) says, if you do that your children will have nothing to eat next week and no way of getting to school when the car runs out of petrol.
Following a moral code that says you can do as you will is not in itself an indication that one is self-indulgent, or living with a sense of selfish entitlement. Far from it.
Those who follow a Pagan Path who aren’t assholes know that they need to consider every decision, every choice, every action. Will this cause harm to myself or to those around me?
It’s not easy, and where I draw the line about what is and is not permitted will be different from the decisions of the next person. Because I have free will and the person standing next to me has free will, I cannot say to them, “Do as I would do for I know the only true way.”
Sometimes, the idea behind “Harm none” gets murky. Regardless of the decision made, harm will be done. They wouldn’t be called ethical dilemmas otherwise now would they? In those situations, the individual has to make a decision on which will be a better, morally correct choice for them out of the options seen.
I know Pagans who are pro-choice when it comes to abortion, and Pagans who are anti-choice. Pagans who are strict vegan and those who enjoy a rare beef steak. I know Pagans who are against gays being legally married, and Pagans who fully support it. Think of any ethical dilemma facing a group of people today and I will most likely know Pagans who sit on both sides of the fence, and more than a few who straddle the middle.
While I have my own views on each of these subjects, I can also see the validity of points made by those who hold opposing views. Neither of us is wrong.
What the majority of Pagans have in common is very simple. They don’t try to force others to come to the same conclusions and interpretations of what it means when we say Harm None. They understand that where one is exercising Free Will, there will occasionally be disagreements and that’s okay.
You can read more about my views on Will in a post I wrote a last year, Where There’s a Will.