I read this quote earlier today, and it struck me to be the most simple and elegant explanation of my approach to ethics and morality.
In nature, there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.
The concept of Karma was brought to the West by H.P. Blavatsky, and ever since then, Westerners have grasped onto it as the best possible alternative to the Abrahamic "do it and I'll spank you" ethics of their God-Out-There.
Karma, for so long by Westerners, has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Pagans of various sorts refer to Karma as if it were some cosmic piggy bank. Do good deeds, you get good things later. Do bad things, bad things happen to you. It all still reeks of that same God-Out-There mentality - that something outside of yourself is going to punish or reward you for your behavior.
I make no bones about the fact that I find the simplicity of the Wiccan Rede, well, oversimplified. "An it harm none, do what you will." That is simply not possible in such a complex world where every one of our actions could have such long-reaching effect. Filling up my gas tank means that I have indirectly contributed to the continued oppression of women in Saudi Arabia. Wearing a t-shirt or sneakers means that I have contributed to the harm of my fellow human beings in sweatshops, far away in third world countries.
To "harm none" would mean that I would have to live in a bubble, complete with air filters to prevent me from inhaling bacteria or tiny insects. I'd better never take an antibiotic, either, nor get treatment for a tumor. And lets not get into the potential harm of words and the myriad of ways that they can offend someone, somewhere.
Then, we have this notion of threefold return, which is the other side (the "punishing side") of the Wiccan Rede. "That which you do will be returned to you threefold." I can get behind the idea that perhaps our actions' effects are amplified as they go out into the world. But again, we have this idea of something else doling out punishments and rewards.
Rather, my approach to ethics is one of understanding consequences. We have to accept the reality that we create. When we act in our own best interests at the expense of others, then we have to accept that those we have slighted will likely one day return the mis-favor in kind. When we create happiness in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we have to accept that those who we love will likely return the love in kind. And even if those people never cross our paths again, those people will be affected by your actions, and that will shape how they interact with others, who will interact with others further on, and so on. Even if you do the perfect crime and are never caught, you have caused the world you live in to be an uglier place. What you create, perpetuates.
The "bad karma" of being an asshole is having to be an asshole.
I cannot imagine how awful life must be for someone like Pat Robertson, who is constantly turning eyes full of hatred towards anyone, anywhere who differs from him. After all, there are a lot of different people in the world, and almost all of them look nothing like Pat Robertson. That is a lot of hating one has to spend his time doing. Where is the room for enjoyment, love, and delight? We live in what we create. We have to live in the head-space and heart-space that we create. Sometimes, though, when we create enough of a head-space so filled with negativity, it is easy to forget that joy and love are options, too.
It isn't something out there causing it, though - it's all the cause and effect of the one taking the action. We have to live with the consequences of our actions. We have to live with the world we have created for ourselves.
As a Witch, and simply as a person who likes to live in a wonderful world, I choose to act in a way that promotes that. The ethics driven by a sense of enlightened self-interest sustain me because I am not only taking care of everyone else, but I am also taking care of myself. If I wish to live in a miserable world, I will create misery around me. If I wish to live in a world full of love and joy, create love and joy around me.
This concept of receiving what you create does not just apply to the way you treat people. It applies to everything in your life. The consequence of chain smoking and eating junk foods all of ones' life is poor health later on. The consequence of racking up huge credit card debt is not being able to get a loan for a house or car. The consequence of studying, hard work, and devotion to a subject is getting to be excellent at that topic. The consequence of practice is becoming better at that which you are practicing.
The core ethic surrounding all of this is personal responsibility. We do not blame others for our mistakes - the consequence of that is repeating that mistake until we recognize the mistake and fix it. Rather, we examine that which has gone wrong and caused us suffering, and seek to overcome those difficulties in the future. The consequence of remaining in a victim mentality is having to always require someone else to take care of you. Personal responsibility and enlightened self-interest liberate, not enslave. It is only when we are liberated that we can grow and become more.