What's This "Right" Stuff, Anyway?


To: Chris Anderson
@PID: RA 1.01
@MSGID: 8:7703/8 4dba2fe8
What would a Wiccan provide as an explanation for behavior that was "contrary" in the sense that you've given? We've all seen folks behave in a way that is *apparently* inconsistent with stated beliefs, even those that are closely held. What do you believe is the basis for the difference between a "positive direction along the Path" and actual behavior that is contrary to this by one who earnestly seeks "the Path"? The answer is stated clearly enough for many other religions, but I've never had the opportunity to hear a Wiccan add his/her windage on this topic. Flip Wilson's answer obviously isn't going to apply, so where do we go with it? ;)

Chris, sorry for the delay in answering your question. I have written and re-written my response, and although I still may not have answered your question herein, I feel that I must reply at last.

First, I must stipulate that what follows is my own interpretation of Wiccan belief, and my own sense of "morals." You know, the usual disclaimer.

Second, I wish to deal briefly with the concept of separation of Law and Moral. What I am writing here has absolutely no relation to the practice of law. I do not advocate murder, for example, nor do I think that murder should go unpunished by the State. I recognize that we live in a society which must have rules in order that the maximum amount of freedom may be enjoyed by all. I would not hesitate, if I were a juror, to vote to send a proven criminal to jail, or even to death, if the situation warranted it. Therefore, let none who read my words mistake my moral convictions with my beliefs about our judicial system - I am not in disagreement with the majority of our laws as they exist.

Finally; the point:

To save space, I'll omit the dictionary definition of 'sin.' I think we all understand that Christians believe in sin, Wiccans do not. As you have stated, members of other religions have their rules clearly stated, so that one may easily decide if one is in error or not (although it's often not quite *that* easy). Wiccans claim to follow only the Rede, which states, "An it harm none, do as thou shalt."

You have asked how a Wiccan can stray from such a path. The answer is complex and far-reaching, and even delves into (ugh) philosophy. I'll try to keep it succinct.

If one thoughtfully examines the Rede, it quickly becomes apparent that almost every action has the potential to harm some creature in some way. Drawing breath can kill micro-organisms that float unseen, in the atmosphere. Drinking water does the same thing. One could choose to marry, and ultimately bring pain and suffering on future generations of children by way of an unhappy union. There is literally no way that one could possibly foresee all circumstances and avoid harming anyone. Yet, that is what the Rede demands. What is the answer?

In my opinion, the answer is obvious. The Wiccan must choose. Each and every Wiccan is responsible for their own actions, and will be accountable to themselves for the results of those actions. The wheels turns, and each Wiccan reaps what they have sown. No Godly mandate or indulgence can save us from the results of our own actions, be they good or bad. But, with ultimate responsibility comes ultimate freedom. No God can shackle my soul or subject me to that which I do not Will. I am supreme within myself, and I am the "captain of my soul." I have chosen to obey certain of society's laws and mores. I have chosen to be a "good" man. Mine is the reward for choosing such action, and mine will be the punishment if I fail to meet my self-imposed responsibilities. As you jested, I cannot claim Flip Wilson's famous defense. Nor do I claim that such things as I do well stem from my Creator - in ultimate hubris, I claim that "As I Will, so mote it be."

Every day, I am met with new decisions. I make those decisions, and then I live with the consequences of my actions. In my opinion, that is what makes me human, what sets me apart from the animals. Man alone can choose, man alone is not chained to genetically imprinted behavior.

I have been asked why, if there is the possibility that the Christian deity exists, do I not choose Christianity on the possibility that it is correct? This is Pascal's famous wager. If I wager that (the Christian) God exists and I am correct, then I win all. If I am wrong and God does not exist, then I have lost nothing, and have lived (hopefully) a good and productive life in the bargain. Why would anyone not accept this wager? My answer to that is that I would not willingly serve any God that would choose one of His/Her creations over another, the good over the bad, the shriven over the heathen. If I had definitive proof that such a God existed, I would actively oppose Him/Her. I would rather suffer the cold comfort of damnation than continue to exist in a hereafter peopled with only the "saved." This is my choice, and again, as I Will, so mote it be.

What do you believe is the basis for the difference between a "positive direction along the Path" and actual behavior that is contrary to this by one who earnestly seeks "the Path"?

A fine, difficult question, Chris. As you've stated elsewhere, we've been dancing all around this one for some time. Here goes:

I cannot determine what any one individual's Path is. I am not even sure of my own. I often follow forks in the road until they come to a dead end, and have to double back. Of course, that's the problem one faces in following one's own Will, and not a set of directions laid down by God. My concept of the Path is that it is like many roads, all of which lead eventually to self-knowledge (enlightenment, Godhead, nirvana, and so on). In my theology, my ultimate goal is to become one with the God of my creation by gaining divine knowledge, or gnosis. We've discussed the concept of "hidden knowledge" in the past, yet I feel that my understanding of gnosis differs from yours.

The entire concept of the ancient mystery religions, and of modern "occult" (which mean only 'hidden' after all) religions and practices was based on the concept of the inverted filter. Each person passed through successive layers of filters, gaining knowledge and understanding at each stop, until they could absorb no more (and so could not pass through the next layer of filter). Of course, at each level, the initiate was given to believe that they were now in possession of secret knowledge, and ultimate truth. If they could find legitimate questions that led them to reject or doubt those 'truths' and seek deeper meaning, then they passed through to the next level of understanding. If they did not question, then they were satisfied that they had gained truth.

This 'hidden knowledge' can be obtained outside of the constraints of organized religion; in fact it originally was obtained independently. Just as Newton's Laws could eventually be figured out by a person ignorant of his discoveries, one could find a Path to enlightenment separate from any of the mystery religions. However, just as one attends school to learn that which is already known, so one pursues illumination from the teachings of those who have already achieved more than oneself.

Further, I do not believe that there is one 'right' Path. I accept that the OTO has valuable knowledge to impart. I accept that Christian Mystics, Jewish Quabalists, Muslim Sufis, and so on all have some piece of the puzzle, and that all will eventually converge on the road to wisdom. I know because I have been to that intersection once or twice, although I am not there now. My Path is my own, and as Van Morrison said, I have "No teacher, no guru, no method."

Can I move in a direction that is contrary to positive movement towards the Laughing Light? You bet. The tough part is that the definition of what is or is not 'positive' is not static. An example: it might be proper that I learn what it means to take another human being's life by killing an intruder in my home. It might not be proper that I learn that lesson by following the orders of a superior officer in time of war. OR VICE VERSA. I must choose at every instance, and I might not immediately know if my choice has given or taken from my search for truth.

There are also times when I might know that I am actively choosing to deviate from my Path. I might choose to soothe a feeling of anxiety about whether or not I can pay the rent this month by yelling at my wife. I'm not using this as an example because it is traditionally "wrong," but because I know that I cannot solve my problems by transferring my anxiety to others. If I choose to ignore what I have already learned, then not only have I lost ground, but I will have to deal with the anger that I've given out at some point.

In conclusion, I believe that I am responsible for my own actions, as others are for theirs. I also believe that if I commit an action which may seem 'right' to me, but which society has deemed to be a crime, I'll be punished by society for breaking that law. I would punish those who break the laws which are meant to hold our society together, such as prohibitions on murder, burglary, and so forth. I believe that my moral convictions are binding only on myself, not on others, and that I'll ultimately deal with the consequences of my thoughts and deeds. I believe that I have no right to judge the moral content of another's actions. I believe in the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do as thou shalt," and I further believe that it is meant to make me consider my actions and their consequences, and to make my own decisions, rather than as a prohibition against any specific action.

There is much that I do not know about Godhead; much that I do not know about Right and Wrong. I have only my instincts and intellect to guide me, but I trust myself to make the right decisions eventually.

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