Principles of Good Religion

Photo by NYC Andre

Since 2006 I’ve participated actively in interfaith work, first on behalf of my polytheist temple, then as an organizer on a larger scale, and now as an author. Much of my travels are aimed at meeting and learning from leaders of other religious traditions—especially small, culturally rooted traditions like Vodou.

I’ve learned to respect and embrace traditions very unlike my own.

But I don’t believe that all religions are good. Like any broad group of human institutions, some are better executed than others, meaning they’re more effective at using their values to shape the world. And they don’t all have the same values.

That led me to adopt a set of Principles of Good Religion that I used in guiding my own temple. Eventually, a colleague asked me to share these at a large interfaith event. I was hesitant, because I didn’t want to insult anyone. But these principles don’t judge a religion by its beliefs—they judge it on the effect it has both on its followers and on society as a whole.

Here are the Principles as originally presented by my temple.

Principles of Good Religion

We do not believe our religion is the only right way, nor that religion should be fought over. We recognize certain principles that mark out helpful, compassionate religions. We endeavor to uphold the Principles of Good Religion which include:


There are many paths to spiritual perfection, and no one path has the right to overturn others. We hold public events so that people can learn about us, meet us, and participate if they like—but we never try to convert people to our religion. Those who wish to join us are welcome, and those who don’t are treated with equal respect.

Freedom of Belief

Even within a religion, people always have their own unique views on spiritual issues. Belief is a personal matter, something the individual decides based on their own experiences. Religion exists to bring the community together for celebration, not to enforce a unanimous belief.

Love of Diversity

We believe that people define themselves by their actions and their choices. People around the world have spoken with the divine for thousands of years, and all of their experiences are of value. We do not discriminate based on gender, sexual preference, race, or any other basis.

Supporting Spirituality

Religion is an institution administered by human beings. It involves buildings, jobs, financing and all the other things that make human society run. Yet the goal of religion must always be to support and encourage the private spirituality of each member. Spirituality must come before any institutional concern.

Respect for Science

Religious beliefs should be based on experience and observation, arising from the natural world. This is the same as the basis of science, and there is no reason the two must conflict. Religion should adapt as our scientific understanding of the world grows. No source of knowledge should be ignored.

(I would appreciate comment on any or all of these principles. How well do they actually work at differentiating positive “compassionate, helpful religions”?)


17 thoughts on “Principles of Good Religion

  1. Jerry Case says:

    Drew a few years ago I read about a tribe of people that was discovered in the Amazon. There was a clearing that was seen from a satellite image , that one day some one noticed was different . A building was being erected at the edge of it ! This was a tribe that as far as is known has never had contact with the outside world !
    I sarcastically said they were doomed . That some well meaning missionary was on their way to save their immortal souls !
    The government was keeping their location secret at the time of the article.
    It occurred to me, I wonder what their Gods are like ? So many people would say they aren’t real, but they are real to those people. They have been there for them in their times of need for possibly thousands of years ! There is no way of knowing what their beliefs are without forever changing their society however . Its been interesting food for thought ever since I heard about them !

    • That’s an interesting parallel, Jerry. Interestingly I’ve been thinking of ways to ethically, passively observe uncontacted tribes to learn about their beliefs – but I suppose that’s a topic for a different essay.

  2. This is really great, Drew, thanks for sharing! I want to add something like “A good religion shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself or your life.” There are a lot of faith structures out there that point out all the Wrong Ways To Live, and I don’t see how demonizing certain things or actions is fostering spirituality. Then again, that probably falls under Love of Diversity. Go ahead and not drink if you don’t want too, but don’t try to make me feel bad for having a glass of wine.

    • Exactly. I think that almost no religion has a goal of making members feel bad, even the ones that have that reputation. I think that by following these principles members will feel empowered and valued as a by-product – if the organization has a true commitment and good execution.

  3. From Christine Baldwin – I totally agree that religion is about bringing people together to celebrate and not for enforcing a belief. How refreshing. But I KNOW that’s where you’re coming from and that’s why I showed up to your Temple festivities. That’s what attracts me to the pagans – they are all about celebrating!

    • Thank you Christine. There were times that I worried our Temple did not live up to these and I used the Principles, in part, as a way to remind myself as a leader of where our priorities needed to be.

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  6. Ariel says:

    I love this! A beautiful, thoughtful post and including points that I wish more spiritual people could see, including many of my fellow polytheists.

    Probably the only thing I would like to see added is something that respects and fosters community. Not only community among and within various religious groups, but recognizing that in our vast national and global community, we all need to get along and cooperate and that it would behoove our religions to foster such values of community. Hope that makes sense. ;-) You do hint at that in your introduction.

      • Ariel says:

        Hi, Drew. Thanks for your response. :-)

        Well, maybe by way of example, sharing my experience of my own local “community” will illustrate what I mean. It has been said that my city is one of the most diverse in the USA. We have to be tolerant of each other to survive, indeed to thrive. But what we have are actually pockets of nearly closed communities based on race, religion, and economic class. Even if people live in the same area they will drive miles to be with their “own group” — however they perceive that — rather than create community where ever they find themselves to be — in their neighborhoods, at work, even with those whom they share interests.

        Personally, I have always found such a situation frustrating. I think, to me anyway, we have to be more overt about encouraging ourselves and others to create community. Most people I know do not even seem to be aware there is an issue. For example, when I go to the local “Pagan Pride” harvest festival in a couple of weeks, I will see very few black or Hindu people there, and few to none Asatru, even though I know that we have populations of all those groups who worship Gods and Goddesses. (Yes, our local festival could be much better named, but this is where you will find some polytheists).

        Here is another example. I know, personally, quite a few people of European ancestry who practice (or even teach!) Yoga and forms of Hindu spirituality. Yet when I have encouraged such folks to visit one of their local Indian or Fijian Hindu congregations or social groups, my words have totally fallen on deaf ears! I find this attitude completely astonishing! Our local Hindu population is extremely warm and friendly. And our city has more Indians per capita than most other cities in the USA. One can find Hindus in nearly every work place, for example.

        But all of those white people who will be at Pagan Pride and who teach Yoga and Hindu spirituality would certainly say they love diversity and accept others. Just as long as they don’t have to mix with them, I suppose. ;-)

        So, what I am saying is that I have not personally observed that love of diversity and acceptance has, at least some people’s minds, equated with community, sadly.

        • These are excellent points and really great examples.

          I see what you mean. I also accept that religions have limits in how much they can do – and they exist at least in part to bring together people of similar beliefs or practices. But the best religious organizations I’ve seen have also prioritized interfaith outreach, and I agree that should be a key principle.

  7. Dear Sir,

    i am a hindu priest at Allahabad india and i am looking a job as a hindu priest my education is p-hd in sanskrit from varanasi university but no any idea please help me. i know all kind hindu ritual’s and samskar’s.

    My performing is below :-

    Hindu temple priest performing satchandi mahayagya rudra mahayagya Astrology,karmkand,and performing various hindu religious poojas yagnas,tem-ple ,kumbhabhishekam,teaching,hindi Sanskrit& veda teaching veda-parayanam,shanty path,expert in performing the following hindu religious,ceremonies,vivaha,shadi,hindu,marriage,upanayanam(janeu)baby.shower,punyahavaachanam,namkarnam,jaathakaranam,annaprashanam,Ayushyahomam,shanti.homam,mrityunjay.homa-m,Nakshatrahomam,Navgrahshanty.and.homamGanpati,patha,and.homam,Sudharshanahomam,Rudrahomam,Chandihomam& prayanam & homam,Sundarkand prayanam and homam,own Deity poojas,murty.pratithapanas,Satyanarayan.pooja&katha,Suryanamaskar,business,car.or.yantrapoojas,Sahasranamapooja,Rudraabhishekam to god shiva,pooja and all karmakand,samskars.
    2- 2 years of hindi & sanskrit teaching experience in j.n.d.Collegenaini Allahabad
    3- 3 years as Co-ordinatior in Gitanjali n.g.o.
    And manuscript surveyor in National mission in varanasi India.
    Ashok kumar pandey
    Allahabad India

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