Religion is not ethics. In fact, it can be argued that as religion declines, ethics ascends to take its place. From Taoism we learn that religion is a mode of connectedness with the creative force of life. When one is thus connected one’s actions are responsive to the needs of life; when one is truly part of the body of humankind, then a hurt in one part of the body will trigger remedial action in other parts.
But when we lose this connectedness with life, with one another, then we need a code of ethics to tell us what we ought to do. When life is fragmented and disconnected, our organic relations with one another are replaced by “oughts.” And eventually these oughts, these ethics, become an abstract system of thought far removed from human needs, a creed to be defended rather than relation to be lived. The spiritual life teaches wholeness, integration with all being, and out of that wholeness come true power and true action. Life beyond ethics s no libertine life, no denial of moral discipline; on the contrary, to live a life of true connectedness is a spiritual discipline of the highest order. John Middleton Murry has said it well, I think: “For the good man to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a straight and narrow path compared to which his previous rectitude was flowery license.”