09 The Golden Rule Fallacy



The Golden Rule is the highest behavioral standard.

Religion is the ultimate source of ethical guidance.

To the religious these lies are particularly seductive, because most religions claim their creeds and doctrines to be absolute truths handed down to humanity directly from God.  The promised reward of a heavenly afterlife is especially tempting to those whose worldly lives leave much to be desired.  It is also true that many valuable ethical insights have been derived from religious teachings.  The Golden Rule itself is a good example of this fact.  So, why not make religion our ultimate source of ethical guidance?  Why not consider the Golden Rule to be the highest behavioral standard?

To answer these questions properly we need to look back at the earliest origins of religious thinking.  To the best of our knowledge, based on the archeological evidence, such thinking began with the search for objective truth about how the world works, the behavior and causes of natural phenomena, the origins of life, and the ways and means that must be observed in order to make daily life a more predictable and manageable experience.

Today we find that science is a far better guide to objective truth than religion; but in those days there was no science.  So the earliest religious pronouncements were speculative statements about the personal experiences of those who spoke.  They were basically saying, “This is my experience and this is what I think it means.”  Some of these speculations, right or wrong objectively, seemed more credible than others; so organizations formed around those whose insights were the most popular.  These organizations were formed hierarchically, so it was natural that they became bureaucratized as their influence grew.

“Bureaucracy”, you must understand, is not a synonym for “organization”.  Bureaucracy is the systematic elimination, destruction, or avoidance of corrective feedback.  As such it is highly damaging to the search for objective truth.  But early religious leaders were heedless of this fact.  So the statement, “This is my experience” became, “This should be your experience” – and “This is what I believe” became “This is what you should believe”.

As religious organizations grew more and more powerful, often dominating whole cultures, they often became more and more bureaucratic; so it was only a small step for “This is what you should believe” to become “This is what you must believe – or else!”  This insistence on infallibility, which violates the sixth Ethical Principle, was the basis for many forms of religious persecution, including that of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms of Europe, and Hitler’s Holocaust in Germany.  The phenomenon persists today in the Islamic Jihad and in various other instances of genocide around the world – as we have seen recently in Africa and Asia.

The Golden Rule is particularly relevant to this discussion.  Christians say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Jews say, “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”  Both of these statements can be summarized by the single admonition, “Do unto others only as you would have them do unto you.”

If everyone valued the same treatment by others the Golden Rule would be pretty good.  However the question arises, “How do you want to be treated when you encounter a sado-masochist”?  The phenomenon of sadomasochism is a fairly common neurosis, well known to psychologists and other mental health practitioners worldwide.  My 20 years as a clinical Psychotherapist indicates 1 person in 5 are indeed sado-masochists.  This condition causes those so-afflicted to value the infliction of physical and/or emotional pain – either as the perpetrator or as the recipient thereof.  Since there are many gradations of this problem and the causes are unconscious, many sadomasochists don’t even realize that they have a problem.

It is also observation, as a clinical psychotherapist, that the greater the compulsion to sado-masochism, the higher the level of power one attains.  This allows the sado-masochist to cause greater pain and suffering on a higher degree to a larger number of people.

So two sadomasochists might be quite happy observing the Golden Rule by inflicting pain on one another; but the rest of us wouldn’t want to be treated so.  Thus the universal application of the Golden Rule by everyone wouldn’t be an altogether good thing.  We must therefore conclude that religious teachings in general, and the Golden Rule in particular, leave much to be desired as sources of ethical guidance and behavioral standards.

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