Every religion has its behavioral standards. Some of these include behaviors of the mind; the Ten Commandments for instance include physical behaviors – thou shalt not steal – as well as mental behaviors – thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s … Buddhism has its Eight fold Noble Path, Asatru has its Nine Noble Virtues, Wicca has its Rede; all deal in part with making sure motivations and actions are for the betterment of oneself and/or one’s community. Of course, some of these also deal with rules for approaching ones’ God(s) and with proper worship and sacrifice, it IS religion after all, but in the main these, to me at least, deal with proper mental orientation producing proper physical behavior.
I’ve been thinking about this recently and trying to examine motivations vs. actions in whether an action can be wrong in the lens of religion, morality/ethics or the law even when the motivation was pure. Is it in fact possible to act from pure motivations and still err in behavior? Meaning, can one do the ‘wrong’ thing for the ‘right’ reasons? And is it acceptable to be punished for one’s wrong action even when the motivation was pure? If one does act from pure motivation and commits a wrong action, is the punishment that ensues just? Or is it always that wrong actions come from mixed or impure motivations? Is it error that produces the wrong action, or lack of knowledge?
And what about the other person(s) who were involved and the fact that they were committing wrong (and possibly illegal) actions with patently wrong motivations: does this person deserve karmic retribution? Justice? Punishment? Or is their wrong action ‘cancelled out’ by the wrong action of another?
Consider for instance telling a lie. In Christianity, this is always considered wrong. I was brought up not as a Christian, but I was involved in it when I was younger. I was brought up in a family that valued honesty for the simple reason that even poor people can possess honesty as a form of wealth that cannot be taken away. In Asatru however, this doesn’t necessarily apply, if another person has lied (and been caught in it) to you. There’s a standard of behavior one is expected to uphold, as a general rule, but if the other person violates it, one can choose to behave honorably or not based on one’s own assessment of one’s situation. Now, I’m not Asatru, but this is how I interpret it. And I believe that telling the truth, being honest, is a value that is central to my life. I may be many unpleasant things, but a habitual liar is not one of them.
Take Thor for instance. He dressed up as a woman, as a bride, to be wed to a giant. He went through with the ceremony. This is a pretty big lie!! But he did it to get his hammer back, and to prevent a larger wrong. His wrong actions were in response to another’s wrong actions, and the motivation was at least in part pure: to save another from a bad marriage, and to get back what was his and wrongly kept from him. Does that mean two wrongs make a right? Or have they cancelled each other out? Does the fact that Thor is a God mean the same rules do not apply? Or is this to be taken as an example for the people of Asatru in dealing with others who do not have the same standards?
I know there are many questions in this post. I have recently been through a great deal due to a ‘wrong’ action that arose from pure motivation. My motives, I believe, were pure, but I let my frustration with the other person’s illegal and unethical behavior, and apparent immunity from consequences get the better of me. Not only that, but I acted from incomplete knowledge and this in itself was critical to what followed. Does allowing emotions to be involved mean I did not have pure motivation? Or was it that I had incomplete knowledge and therefore could *not* have pure motivation? How does one go about making sure motivation is pure before acting?
I have been punished physically, mentally, legally, financially. The punishment continues for a currently unknown amount of time; it may be up to a year before my punishment will end. All of this because someone stuffed a ballot box, repeatedly denied the right to free speech at public meetings, and intimidated people. The back story is that this same person cost a neighborhood association their non-profit status from illegal activities and has a pattern of rights violating behavior. In addition, there have been irregularities in the financial accounting, the potential use of the association for illegal land transfers or zoning changes, and more. Nevertheless, this person and this board remain in power to do what they will, and I remain the one punished. I have been questioning my motivation as a result and have spent a lot of time pondering these questions.
This is a poor way to end a post, but I welcome thoughts on this subject.