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”?)