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Rifkin on Morality, Part 1

January 28, 2012

Excerpted from The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin:

“The inclusion of the core features of awe and reason into a broader, empathic consciousness takes us beyond the age-old schism between bodily experience and prescriptive behavior–the so-called is/ought gap– that has long plagued theology and philosophy.

Because both faith-based consciousness and rational consciousness largely denigrated bodily experience, perceiving human physicality and drives as depraved and contaminated in the case of religion, and pleasure seeking and utilitarian in the case of secular philosophy, there was always the need to impose moral codes from above to assure pro-social behavior. It was always assumed that physical feelings, emotions, and passions were evil, irrational, or potentially pathological and needed to be continually reined in by a higher authority. The Abrahamic religions relied on God’s authority, coded in the Ten Commandments, to maintain a measure of morally apropriate behavior…

…The widespread dissemination of the Golden Rule in ancient times represented a powerful empathetic surge and a qualitative shift in human consciousness, yet its impact on the human psyche was limited by the disembodied assumption that accompanied it. The faithful, especially among the Abrahamic religions, were expected to conform to the Golden Rule, not out of feeling for the other, but as a moral duty because it was the will of God, and God’s laws needed to be obeyed, lest one experience divine wrath.

Even the story of the Good Samaritan in the tenth Book of Luke in the New Testament is tinged with the notion of one’s duty to God rather than one’s feeling of empathic identification with a stranger… If one shows compassion to a stranger and loves God, one will be assured eternal salvation. The act of comforting a stranger becomes inextricably linked with securing one’s place in heaven and is, therefore, justifiably categorized as instrumental behavior.”

Continue to Part 2


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