The history of the Beneficence ethico-religious movement stretches as far back as 21st century Earth, and ever since has been a small but significant element in the history of early Terragen civilization.
Beneficence began as an ethico-religious system in the 21st Century. Several individuals sought to develop a system whose core values would be universal and flexible enough to weather almost any paradigm shift in the understanding of the physical universe. It rejected the revelational, cosmological, and authoritarian approaches of many faith traditions up to that time; instead relying on idealistic goals (see core precepts) to strive toward utilizing pragmatic means. The founders of Beneficence felt that the old religions were too closely tied to particular cosmologies, and were too authoritarian to have appeal in late Information Age societies. They attempted to produce a system of values that would be adaptable and resilient even under conditions of rapid social and technological change, and an associated cosmology phrased as an ideal to be reached rather than as a revealed truth. It became a religion more about what the universe should be than what it is. Beneficence made the individual conscious sophont responsible for interpreting the universe around them as best as they could, and acting on that knowledge to improve that universe and their ability to improve it.
A Beneficence parable believed to derive from this time tells of a Beneficent coming before God on the Day of Judgement. God says to the Beneficent, "Congratulations, you are one of the select and will live in bliss through eternity; unlike the sinners who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire." The Beneficent starts by saying, "God, that is not right…"
Even early on there was a definite transhuman and quasi-negentropist orientation to it. Provolution also was an early topic of debate amongst the Beneficents as to how far to extend the concept of "all." This approach to religion and ethics was often described by sophonts of the time as "too hard" and few subscribed to it, most preferring instead to fall back on the more traditional faith-based religions, limited humanist tracts, or simply giving up entirely on any organized ethical/moral/religious system.
Though few adhered to the new movement, converts were widely distributed throughout the population of Earth, appealing to few in numbers but myriad in type. It was probably only the internet that allowed them to communicate with enough like-minded people to maintain themselves as a group.
Core Precepts of Beneficence
Originally formulated during the 21st century, the core precepts of Beneficence have remained surprisingly stable through its long history and several singularities. The primary value is devotion to the promotion of good for all humans, defined by Beneficence as striving for higher and higher states of well-being.
The Ultimate Beneficence, sometimes referred to as Paradise or Heaven in Beneficence works, is the attainment of the highest states of well-being universally for all humans who have ever existed or will ever exist for all time. It is implied in Beneficent theory that this concept of Ultimate Beneficence is more a process of ever increasing improvement than a static state of perfection or utopia. The concept of Ultimate Beneficence leads to one of the few actual articles of pure faith in Beneficence: that such a goal is achievable and that adherents are to never give up hope of reaching it, despite any apparent hurdles or even scientific evidence to the contrary. This idealistic article of faith is balanced, however, with an almost paradoxical insistence that the best way to reach Ultimate Beneficence is through a practical understanding of the Universe we live in. It is taught that Ultimate Beneficence requires conscious mediation to come to fruition, and does not occur naturally in the Universe without such conscious acts. Sometimes the consciousness posited to be involved in attainment of the Ultimate Beneficence are referred to as God, or Divine Will, but this usage of the term God does not include any connection necessarily to the Creation of the Universe or Life, and the concept seems to lack any element of being worship. If Beneficence worships anything, it is goodness and hope rather than any other sophont or force. In the interim, until Ultimate Beneficence is achieved, followers of Beneficence (referred to as Beneficents) are to strive to improve the present, working to increase the goodness and well-being of sophonts in the here and now, as well as the foreseeable future.
Beneficence precepts place an emphasis on individual responsibility for fostering goodness and well-being. It identifies five stages necessary to effectively act as an agent for good:
- Right Perception mphasizes a need to be conscious of what is going on in the universe around you. It requires that adherents stay aware of their surroundings, both near and far. Most Beneficents have been ardent news junkies, though not to the degree that they lose sight of the immediate, small details of life.
- Right Understanding requires that the Beneficent be aware of the nature of the universe and be able to interpret the information acquired through Right Perception in a manner that leads to as true of an understanding of any given situation they encounter. In practice, this tends to lead to Beneficents being general infojunkies as well as news junkies. They absorb massive quantities of data, theory, and speculation, an in particular vast numbers of philosophical and ethical treatises.
- Right Feeling calls for the cultivation of a merciful and loving emotional nature. Beneficents are to foster benevolent and positive feelings towards themselves and those they interact with, and suppress, redirect, and if necessary remove malevolent or negative feelings. Surprisingly, they do tend to retain such emotions as anger and sadness, but do away with their more extreme or fixed manifestations such as hatred and despair. Beneficents also put an emphasis on forgiveness as a key element to Right Feeling. Since they observe that the present universe and all entities within it are flawed, they take as a logical corollary that there can be no progress or improvement without forgiveness, both of oneself and others. Beneficents believe that above all you must have the right feelings about a situation to be beneficent, and generate the proper motivation. Some Beneficent works also refer to Right Judgement, the elements of which in the classic formulation begin in Right Understanding and Right Feeling and extend into Right Planning.
- Right Planning takes the knowledge of Right Understanding and the motivation of Right Feeling and requires that they be actively applied to the formulation of a plan of action maximizing the chances of improving well-being for those the Beneficent interacts with as well as themselves. Beneficence is for the improvement of the well-being of all, both the self and the other, and thus transcends altruism and selfishness.
- Right Ability refers both to the successful implementation of plans as well as a constant striving to improve and acquire abilities which will make the Beneficent a more effective force for good in the universe. Sometimes, the first four stages are referred to as the qualities of the Sage-Saint, and the last as the quality of the God-Hero. The term God is also sometimes used in Beneficence treatises when referring to a hypothetical being who is Omni-Capable in the Five Stages.
Beneficents are to seek out knowledge and power to be more effective agents of good, not as ends in themselves.
Some commentators have seen similarities between Beneficence and some forms of Buddhism. However, Beneficence is not directly related to Buddhism, and has a number of significant differences. Though Beneficence concurs with Buddhism that the root of all suffering is desire, Beneficence seeks to maximize well-being first and foremost, and then end suffering through cultivation and fulfilment of desire, as opposed to the Buddhist doctrine of ending suffering by ending desire. The Five Stages of Moral Action integral to the core precepts of Beneficence are widely acknowledged to owe a stylistic debt to Buddhism; with the Right "attribute" format believed to have been inspired by the wording of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. There are some schools of thought that still claim there is more than just a superficial resemblance between the two, as exemplified in this Koan Tao parable on the relation between Buddhism and Beneficence:
"A human comes to a deep lake. E cannot swim, e cannot fly, and there are no boats. E must choose to walk along one shore or the other; e cannot walk both. Some say these paths are different. Yet they both lead to the far shore. Buddhism and Beneficence may meet again on that shore, we will only know at the end of the journey."
Benefit: One additional Twist per game to be spent on Comprehension or Empathy.
Core Value: Beneficience — Devotion to the promotion of good for all humans, defined by Beneficence as striving for higher and higher states of well-being.