The Golden Rule Don’t Work

The Golden Rule Don’t Work

A Parenting Column in the Indianapolis Star contained a mystifying story about a grade school teacher who was reprimanded by his Principal for an unusual event. The teacher had stopped a bully who had been picking on a smaller classmate and had criticized his behavior. The bully subsequently took the story home to his parents in tears, and the parents complained to the school principal the following day.

What was it that this teacher told the bully? You will be surprised. The teacher’s words in essence were: “You should not do to other children what you would not like them to do to you.” This comment does not seem overly cruel or unreasonable to me. And, what ever it was that the parents found offensive I can only guess, the editorial did not reveal their reason for the complaint. Perhaps they objected to the religious ring of the words; perhaps they did not believe their son would do such a thing; or, perhaps they were just embarrassed and wanted to reject the validity of the accusation against their son. Who knows? I don’t.

The Biblical Golden Rule actually is the corollary to what the teacher said. It is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

As we all know, the rule is a well-known teaching of the three major faiths. Do you practice this teaching of your religion? Although it’s found in Christian, Hebrew and Muslim holy books, can you think of any instance where a nation, religion, or person practiced this teaching? You may have a problem coming up with an instance. I did.

Every so often I hear someone preaching about the Golden Rule, usually in a church setting. It makes wonder if they have ever thought about it seriously. I am of the opinion that few people practice the Golden Rule in politics, world conflicts, religious disputes, and personal relations. Sure, it’s a potentially good rule if everyone practiced it, but who does? No one. Usually, people consider it a good rule as long as it is not being critical of their actions. If it fits into their current thinking and it won’t disadvantage them in any way, then it makes sense. But if it is used in such a way to be critical of their behavior it is usually ignored.

Common sense should tell us something different. The much-admired astronomer/philosopher, Carl Sagan, offered another take on the “Golden Rule”.

Simply put, the “Golden Rule does not work when disruptive elements, such as bullies and tyrants are present. History is full of disruptive elements that feed off the passivity of ‘Golden Rulers’ and continue to take advantage of do-gooders. Hitler, for example, had no remorse. Treating him as you wish he would treat you would, of course, be disastrous”, wrote Sagan.

Computer models, as well as human behavior specialists, have come up with a better version of the “Golden Rule”. It is as follows:

The “Secular Golden Rule” states: “Treat everyone with respect, as you wish to be treated, until or unless they mistreat you. In which case, the prudent action is to suspend your kindly treatment of them and defend yourself.”

Sagan and others called this a “Tit for Tat” philosophy, because it encourages mutual good behavior, discourages destructive behavior, and is beneficial to social structure and personal security. Although we are reluctant to admit “Tit for Tat” makes sense, because it is in contrast to the Biblical Golden Rule, it is what most of us, including Christians, do naturally.

The computer models as mentioned above created: 1) a situation where all individuals in a population practiced the biblical teaching. 2) all individuals except one practiced the teaching. Results were predictable. The first population survived and prospered. The second population collapsed after the one exception to the rule took advantage and ultimately destroyed all other individuals. In a perfect world the bible idiom works, but there is no such thing as a perfect world.

Did the author(s) of this New Testament teaching misunderstand human behavior? I think yes. Does this philosophy encourage misbehavior and aggression? I think yes. God believers admit this world is not perfect. So, why do they tell people to turn the other cheek when they know it is destructive behavior? Why do they recommend we practice destructive behavior? I don’t understand, do you?

Golden Rule

 Do unto others as they do unto you is not The Golden Rule.

It’s not the bible story, it almost seems too cruel.

It’s not what they preach to us, it’s not what they’d have us do.

It’s not supposed to work that way, it just cannot be true.


To love our enemies, when we’re wronged, is a losing game.

If we lose by doing that, we have ourselves to blame.

Tit for tat is a better way to survive each coming day.

It gives us another choice than just to kneel and pray.


It makes no sense to turn our cheek and have it struck again.

Instead we must return the blow, and not stop to say amen.

So if we live by the Golden Rule, we really must be dense,

to think that returning good for evil really makes good sense.



About cgosling

I am a retired medical/scientific illustrator and creator of patient teaching simulators, who has given up illustration to write about science, superstition, and secular humanism. I consider myself all of the following: atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, skeptic, and nature lover. I have several published books but the mass of my writing is unpublished. I write children's fiction, poetry, essays, and several plays and radio theater shows, that are available as free downloads to be used on secular podcasts and meetings. They can be heard on Indy Freethought Radio or on YouTube “secularradiotheater”. I hope some of my writings will be of interest to like minded freethinkers who I cordially invite to respond. I am also a Darwin impersonator. I invite readers to listen to and use the Darwin script for secular purposes.
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One Response to The Golden Rule Don’t Work

  1. Of course, in game theory computations, the best technique is tit-for-tat with occasional forgiveness. That way you prevent yourself being locked in constant tatting.

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