Questionable Motives

December 5, 2010

How do the religious undermine the Golden Rule?

I read many comments and articles by ‘moderate’ theists who suggest that, at their core, religious beliefs are really all the same, that what people are responding to with various kinds of religious faiths is recognizing the transcendent, honouring the spiritual, paying homage to a felt but never seen creative and loving force. It all sounds so… well, kumba ya-ish. And heart-warmingly lovely, mitigating the trivial differences that so easily separate us and acts like a special kind of blessed force (unseen by athiets, of course) that promotes the common good.

And then I read something like this and have to remind myself that the metaphorical holding of religious hands argued by different theists about life-enhancing nature of religious compatibility is nothing more than soothing lies we find in the daily practice of religious beliefs that inform how we behave towards others.

A 17 year old girl lived a hellish life and died a horrible death because of people acting on their religious convictions. More religion will never solve this ongoing and familiar tragedy played out in the lives of us little people who grant their religious convictions and the convictions of others a legitimate role in determining how to behave in ways that supposedly honour a god.

This is insane. And it’s insane because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – some divine enhancement in the lives of humans – is not a rational nor reasonable expectation. Such a belief that a different result will occur is maintained in spite of contrary yet consistent evidence of harm caused by acting on religious convictions. When we choose to empower such beliefs with an assumption that they are legitimate because they involve some homage to a deity, then we have left the arena of what is rational, what is reasonable, what is probable, what is likely true, and entered the arena of what is is merely hoped for, what is wished, what is improbable, what is likely false. And this legitimizing of what is hoped for in spite of evidence to the contrary is not compatible with empowering respect and audience for what is true. Expecting more religious belief to magically find some way to stop the kind of human abuse people commit in the name of some god is crazy talk. It’s delusional. It’s dangerous and, in the case of Nurta Mohamed Farah, deadly.

Anyone who thinks that religious belief has a legitimate and compatible role to play in helping anyone determine how to treat other human beings with dignity and respect is guilty of helping to legitimize the actions of people to do terrible things to other people for exactly the same reasons. By legitimizing the intentions of those who act to honour some god, we legitimize the basis of such assumptions that they are true, that they are accurate, that they are correct. Such assumptions help to legitimize delusion and insanity rather than what’s rational and reasonable and backed by consistent evidence. Those who assume that religious belief is equivalent to rational thinking have no evidence to insist the two are compatible methods of inquiry, compatible voices that need to be heard, compatible means to inform morality and ethical behaviour, compatible avenues to establishing respect not only for the rights and freedoms and dignity of other people but how to act in ways that achieve these results. The evidence does not support this assumption. What evidence there is shows that by legitimizing delusional thinking, we legitimize its failure to respect other people’s claim to equal rights, legitimize its failure to establish equal freedoms, legitimize its failure to support equal respect between people, and we see this failure played out in religious inspired tragedy after religious inspired tragedy.

Isn’t it high time in the 21st century to stop tolerating and legitimizing this failed voice offered up as a compatible way of achieving noble goals and Enlightenment values by the religiously deluded? The religious perspective has nothing to offer any of us but more failure to be reasonable and rational and consistent with the evidence in every area of human endeavor in which it is granted a fair hearing. Isn’t it time we recognized its failure? Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice  of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion? Is that not the least we can do on an individual basis if for no other reason than in memory of this one girl whose sad life was warped and twisted and ended by the deluded in the name of their religious beliefs? Isn’t a human life more important in and of itself to be treated as we ourselves wish to be treated – with the same level of dignity and respect – than simply as a piece of property of some god to be used and abused by the faithful who claim to be fulfilling god’s wishes?

We really do have to choose eventually because these different perspectives and antithetical methods of achieving our goals are not compatible. Agreeing at the very least to empower the Golden Rule seems to be a good starting point for everybody… unless you are deluded, in which case your opinions should not be invited to the grown-up’s table.


  1. “For the record, I hate bullies. All kinds. Whether they are school yard, high school, workplace, cyber (internet) and yes, I have a special place for hell for those religious bullies.” For the record both religious and non religious bullies have the same source of inspiration, the devil.. Bully Cain Killed Abel because he was of the evil one.

    Now asking the judge to take sides in a martial dispute is too often unfair because in reality it seems like both of the spouses tend to need help in reality.. maybe just different help. By the way the Divorcing spouse who will not let her spouse visit or access their children is also a bully, she is a control freak who herself firstly needs to be helped.

    Comment by thenonconformer — December 5, 2010 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

    • The problem here is that you are allowing people’s behaviour to be attributed to the influence of a supernatural third party called the devil.

      Their behaviour is not influenced by the devil because the devil does not exist, to state so gives them the excuse that ‘it was not me, it was the devil’ – this is just superstitious nonsense. The same people who you might label as being influenced by the devil, might believe that they are being influenced by God – for example pro-life activists who murder doctors.

      People are responsible for their own behaviour, and are accountable to society for it.

      I hate bullies as well, but I think the best and most effective way of dealing with them is to hold them to account according to basic humanitarian standards that we all acknowledge right here right now on earth.

      Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 12, 2010 @ 2:18 am | Reply

  2. “Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion?”

    Why? You keep telling us these delectively blood-curdling anecdotes about evils perpetrated by believers of various religions – as if whether we like or don’t like their behaviour had any impact on the truth or falseness of their beliefs – and you appeal to our reason to bring about kumba ya-ish, heart-warming “basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedom”… but why? Why should we?

    What is your argument against murder and mayhem? After all, it’s obviously only too natural to humanity, as it is to, well, nature itself, isn’t it? I don’t see you appealing (like PETA) to keep carnivores from feeding on their prey. Or do you want us all to become kumba ya-ish, heart-warming Vegans, too? If not, why not? Why is oppression of ideological opponents and infidels inacceptable, but the oppression of cows for burgers is not? On what basis do you decide whether a smokes has the right to saturate his environment with toxins or a non-smoker has the right to curtail the lifestyle choices of smokes? How do you decide whether the good of personalized traffic outweighs the deaths and injuries (and environmental impact) invariably suffered when you permit automobiles?

    And especially, how do you rationalize the Golden Rule??? It is the most illogical rule I know. In the short term, I can see the self-interest in treating carefully someone on whose goodwill I might one day depend. Sure I give my neighbor sugar, so that in the future I can call on his help. But certainly I will not demand “equal” treatment by my boss. And certainly he will not be willing to give it. After all, he is in a position of power, so from his POV it would make no sense to give up on that advantage. And someone who I will never see again, say, a traveller I meet in a distant land, why the hell should I heed the golden rule at all? Why not mug him, rob him, and leave him to die? What rational reason could I have to not do that? The only real rational ethic I can make out is: Do Not Get Caught. All else is up for grabs.

    Please. Refudiate me. Seriously, please. Refudiate me without faith, without kumba-ya, without fuzzy, heart-warming mush. With nothing but cold diamond-clear logic. I’d love you to succeed.

    Comment by FreeFox — December 7, 2010 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

    • My point, FF, is that when we empower faith-based belief to be equivalent or compatible with knowledge of what is, we undermine our ability to be reasonable and thwart our respect for what is rational and avoid having to back up our assertions and assumptions on the same playing field as evidence-based knowledge. In addition we lose respect for knowledge itself and grant our wishful thinking and imaginings to have an equal status to reflect reality. This is nuts.

      In the field of morality and ethical behaviour, we need a common grammar, a common vocabulary if we want to weigh, compare, and contrast various modes and means of what that actually defines. By introducing faith-based beliefs in woo to be as legitimate a consideration as cause and effect is to sabotage this common language of what IS and replace it with multiple versions of what multiple people wish it to be. This is not a legitimate substantiated informed alternative way of thinking; it’s a way to grant ignorance respect. That’s nuts.

      It’s nuts to grant the cleric a magical ‘alternative’ knowledge to make supposedly compatible informed comments about your car’s engine performance as you do the knowledge gained (by reliable and consistent understanding of cause and effect) by a car mechanic any more than it’s nuts to grant a cleric an ‘alternative’ knowledge of morality and ethics that we grant to moral philosophers and ethicists. If you truly wish to find out what informs the Golden Rule, then study it and gain knowledge about its cause and effects so that you can compare and contrast it presence with its absence and then make an informed decision about its moral and ethical implications to human behaviour.

      Comment by tildeb — December 8, 2010 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

    • “If you truly wish to find out what informs the Golden Rule, then study it and gain knowledge about its cause and effects so that you can compare and contrast it presence with its absence and then make an informed decision about its moral and ethical implications to human behaviour.”

      I did study it, mate. And I gave it a lot of thought. And even if you extend the “golden rule” (do unto others as you want done onto you) to the “platinum rule” (do unto others as they would want have done onto them – to account for different needs, tastes, and values), it still remains highly dubious. As Christopher Stephens pointed out, there is a number of prerequisits for such a system to make any kind of sense other then as an arbitrary moral code. For example you need a dependable system to detect cheaters and there must be a sufficiently large (potentiall infinite) number of occasions for an exchange to take place. The latter simply isn’t the case in most encounters, making the rule nonsensical from a self-interest POV, and the former practically extends the rule to “do unto other… unless you find a way to get away undetected”, i.e. “be bad as long as you don’t get caught.” Which is exactly what large companies like Shell, Enron, Halliburton practice. Hardly ethical.

      And it is only logical. I am not saying there isn’t rational arguments in favour of some sort of altrusim or another. But if you define altrusim as “promoting the welfare of another entity, at the expense of its own welfare” (as Dawkins does), something that does indeed happen in the animal kingdom, you find that you need some sort of enforcing mechanism. For animals it is instinct – in other words it is hardwired into their genetics. Apparently humns do not have that. Substituting pure self-interest does not suffice: That is only useful for sheer mutuality, like in strict Anarchocapitalism. But that again is hardly ethical. Is that really the world you would want to live in?

      Since you love to call up the specter of Nazism in support of your argument against faith-based reasoning, tell me this: What is your argument against euthanasia? What rational reason (aside from kumba-yaish heart-warming sentiment)could we have to feed, clothe, and care for severely handicapped people. You know, those that cannot talk or walk or go to the bloody toilet on their own. What rational argument is there against casting them out and simply leaving them to die on their own?

      I do think these questions are very relevant to your line of argument. You see a big problem with non-rational behaviour. And I agree that it presents big problems. But you claim that the porblems can be solved by retreating soley onto a scientific, logical, rational ground and leaving the kumba-ya behind entirely. And that is what I doubt. I agree that science is a great control instrument to check if the paths suggested by the heart is truly wise. If it gets us where we claim we want to get. To enlighten us about the consequences of our actions. But it doesn’t substitute that core of irrationality that human behaviour is founded upon. If you claim it does, prove it. Show me that you can construct a sciinetific argument without any a priori ethical assumptions that convinces me of the golden rule.

      But we both know that you can’t. Generations of philosophers have tried and failed.

      Comment by FreeFox — December 9, 2010 @ 1:57 am | Reply

      • I argue that how we approach and inform our morality matters: simply believing something to be so is inadequate, that we need to base our actions and decisions on reasoning, that we need to make decisions about the ethics of an issue not on divine authority (which is vacuous) but on what we consider our best reasons. If we have to defend and explain our behaviour on ethical grounds, then I think the reasons on which we form the basis of our morality can then be explored in practice, supported by principle, criticized by rational strengths and weaknesses, and altered if found wanting. You seem to think that because there is relativity involved in practice, there cannot be any better reasons in principle that are not equally kumba-ya-ish and heart-warmingly lovely. In practice, this may appear to be the case, but you make a mistake to think there cannot be better reasons based in principle. What informs that principle is where my argument lies: divine authority and favoured beliefs alone are immune to any part of this moral exploration, rational support, necessary criticism, and impending alteration, making morality by authority inadequate in principle. And it is in the matter of moral principle where agreement can be found based on rational arguments (like the Golden Rule) than we can find from the dissenting religious faith-based beliefs we find so abhorrent in practice and immune from rational examination. That does not mean that all moral issues can be solved and ethical considerations can become unified but we get much closer to these goals through reasoning than we will ever be able to accomplish through accepting faith-based beliefs from divine authority as its equivalent.

        Comment by tildeb — December 9, 2010 @ 9:42 am

  3. For me the issues relating to morality are not black and white rules – and this is the failing of religion. Religion assumes that a one size fits all rules apply to all situations and individuals – this is simplistic, childish and fundementally flawed.

    Though shall not kill – is a stupid rule, when confronted with an individual who is a begging to be killed because they are suffering a fate worse than death, in this situation the religious rule causes the suffering and the inhumanity.

    My conclusion is that there are no ‘simplistic’ rules, there are only situations which are cost/benifit assessed and analysed by our rational brains which take in a number of inputs to try and determine the ‘best answer’ to any given situation. When people are being unnecessarily cruel or peevish it is because they have suspended their ability to cost/benefit assess situations in favour of stupidity or ignorance. Religion has the tendency to promote this suspension of an individual’s ability to decide right from wrong, and this is why it is dangerous.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 11, 2010 @ 4:05 am | Reply

  4. Hey, mate, what do you think of this conversation between Bill Moyers and Dan Dennett?

    “I am a lover of cathedrals. I feel their power. I do think that that power can be understood. And I don’t think it is diminished.” (c. 41:50-42:10)

    To find some baseline of a possible understanding – can we agree on that? That there is a common human craving for awe at something beyond each individual’s profit? A craving that is probably not entirely universal, but shared by the vast majority of humans, and – like the craving for sugar – in and off itself a healthy, natural reation of our mental & emotional lives?
    Too much sugar, or the wrong balance in our diet is unhealthy. Both organized religion and the basic human tendency towards supersticion holds the danger of subverting our ability to reason and to react to reality in an adequate way.
    But explaining that craving for awe (not for the love and respect for something on the same level of existance as we are – that also exists – but awe for something vast and elevating), while probably possible, doesn’t necessarily diminish the craving, nor it’s satisfaction, just like understanding human biology neither diminishes our sweet tooth nor does it make an eclair less delicious.

    What do you say?

    Comment by FreeFox — December 14, 2010 @ 10:58 am | Reply

    • Kurwa. I forgot to close that link. Sorry. Should have placed an “” before the first “?”

      Comment by FreeFox — December 14, 2010 @ 11:00 am | Reply

      • Lol. Can’t even write out “less-than slash a greater-than”…

        Comment by FreeFox — December 14, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    • FF, I think we agree far more than disagree… especially about the power and need for metaphor and myth and narrative and love and awe and wonder and so on. Experiencing all of these are part and parcel of being fully human. Where I draw the line is some crossing to the supernatural where faith alone lives as if that were any kind of answer to purpose what it means to be human. I think such a crossing is unnecessary and actually contrary to developing a full and authentic and meaningful and intellectually honest life based on the here and now and what is.

      I, too, love cathedrals and appreciate architecture as an art. I see no difference between any of the arts to enrich our lives. I am biased towards using the arts as a vehicle not simply for our desire to emote but on a journey of discovery of what is beautiful, which in turn reveals a depth of emotion that can be transcending. It’s what separates the function of craft from the experience of art. But just because the artistic palette finds exquisiteness in its beauty does not mean that source of harmony and its majestic impact of wonder comes from beyond ourselves. Each of us is capable of having this experience in the same way each of us is capable of experiencing the exquisiteness of love; both are expressions of the marvels we inherit in our biology. Finding and pulling the trigger (in practice) to this particular experience is unique to each of us… although the experience (in principle) is generally the same. No supernatural woo or faith is necessary.

      One of the things we crave as primates living on a rock is a sense of community and this comes from our biology and not some exterior divine authority. But relegating the source to biology in no way diminishes or adversely affects the bonds we can form to enhance our sense of being part of something greater and more noble than our base desires and individual wants. In other words, we have the power to utilize something so basic to our biology in ways and means that allow us to experience being part of something larger than just its individual constituent parts. One only need attend a concert (or a sporting event) to feel this connection to the whole and allow a loosening of our individual boundaries to gain some measure of that experience. Again, no supernatural divine authority is necessary.

      So I think we are mostly on the same wavelength about the need for and the transformative power of these kinds of experiences to enhance our lives. I think we our are actually closer to agreement than we are to any fundamental and basic difference. I just keep god out of it not because it’s undefinable and unknowable in any meaningful way but because crossing that line is an unnecessary and usually detrimental complication.

      Comment by tildeb — December 14, 2010 @ 5:04 pm | Reply

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