Man is interesting in that we find two conflicting natures in him. He is a social, or herd animal, in that his actions are often determined by the leader and a drive to keep close contact with those around him. As sheep, man has no greater threat to his existence than to lose contact with the herd. Psychological studies have shown that isolation is the severest form of punishment imaginable. Big, strong, intelligent men can be broken into submission by isolation from their fellow man. Our herd sense is so strong that in order to belong, we will allow right and wrong, truth and falsity to be determined by the herd.
Moreover, we are not only sheep. Man has awareness of himself, he has reason, and this confers a sense of individuality and apartness from the herd. His independence can be asserted by his actions, which result from thinking for himself, whether or not his ideas or realizations are shared by other members of the herd. Rationalization is the mechanism whereby we reconcile our herd instinct with our ability to reason, to be individual.
The split, between our sheep nature, and our human nature, is the basis of two kinds of orientations: the orientation by proximity to the herd and the orientation by reason.
Rationalization is a compromise between the sheep nature and our human capacity to think. The latter, forces us to make believe that everything we do can stand the test of reason, and that is why we tend to make it appear that our irrational opinions and decisions are reasonable. However, inasmuch as we are sheep, reason is not our real guide; we are guided by an entirely different principle, that of herd allegiance.
In authoritarian religion, the subjective experience is one wherein reason is not allowed to flourish. A good follower is one who subverts his will to that of the herd, which dictates what will and will not be. Yet man’s power to reason causes him to give rational explanations for his actions. Thus, he may, for example, believe that he acts out of a sense of justice, when he is motivated by cruelty. One can believe one is being dutiful, when the real motivation is narcissism. One may believe he has sound philosophical reasons for cooperating with authority, when the real motive is fear of isolation from the herd.
In fact, most rationalizations are held to be true by the person who uses them. He not only wants others to believe his rationalizations, but believes them himself, and the more he wants to protect himself from recognizing his true motivation, the more ardently he must believe in them.