Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christianity and "The Righteous Mind"

I haven't read the book, but have been thinking in a general way about the moral categories in Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.  These categories are:
  • Loyalty
  • Authority
  • Sanctity
  • Caring
  • Fairness
You can test your own ideas about these things at YourMorals.Org, at the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire," which Haidt developed in doing this research.   Here's the results page from that site, including the bar graph below comparing my results with those of others:
The scale you completed was the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire," developed by Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia. 

The scale is a measure of your reliance on and endorsement of five psychological foundations of morality that seem to be found across cultures. Each of the two parts of the scale contained three questions related to each foundation: 1) harm/care, 2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights), 3) ingroup/loyalty, 4) authority/respect, and 5) purity/sanctity. 

The idea behind the scale is that human morality is the result of biological and cultural evolutionary processes that made human beings very sensitive to many different (and often competing) issues. Some of these issues are about treating other individuals well (the first two foundations - harm and fairness). Other issues are about how to be a good member of a group or supporter of social order and tradition (the last three foundations). Haidt and Graham have found that political liberals generally place a higher value on the first two foundations; they are very concerned about issues of harm and fairness (including issues of inequality and exploitation). Political conservatives care about harm and fairness too, but they generally score slightly lower on those scale items. The big difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that conservatives score slightly higher on the ingroup/loyalty foundation, and much higher on the authority/respect and purity/sanctity foundations.

This difference seems to explain many of the most contentious issues in the culture war. For example, liberals support legalizing gay marriage (to be fair and compassionate), whereas many conservatives are reluctant to change the nature of marriage and the family, basic building blocks of society. Conservatives are more likely to favor practices that increase order and respect (e.g., spanking, mandatory pledge of allegiance), whereas liberals often oppose these practices as being violent or coercive.

In the graph below, your scores on each foundation are shown in green (the 1st bar in each set of 3 bars). The scores of all liberals who have taken it on our site are shown in blue (the 2nd bar), and the scores of all conservatives are shown in red (3rd bar). Scores run from 0 (the lowest possible score, you completely reject that foundation) to 5 (the highest possible score, you very strongly endorse that foundation and build much of your morality on top of it).

What's interesting to me about this goes back to something I read years ago in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity; Lewis theorized that:
All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no "swank" or "side," no putting on airs.

To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls "busybodies."

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, "advanced," but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine.

I don't agree with some of what he says here - I don't really find the "wives obedient to husbands" thing terribly convincing (and I don't have a dog in that fight!) - but I do find interesting that it so neatly splits the difference between the categories people tend to think in, as outlined in the "five foundations" above.

It reminds me, too, of what Robert Farrar Capon wrote in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:
Christian education is not the communication of correct views about what the various works and words of Jesus might mean; rather it is the stocking of the imagination with the icons of those works and words themselves.

It is most successfully accomplished, therefore, not by catechisms that purport to produce understanding but by stories that hang the icons, understood or not, on the walls of the mind. We do not include the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, because we understand it, nor do we omit the parable of the Unjust Steward because we can't make head or tail of it. Rather, we commit both to the Christian memory because that's the way Jesus seems to want the inside of his believers' heads decorated. Indeed, the only really mischievous thing anyone can do with the Gospel is insist on hanging only the pictures he happens to like. That's what heresy really is: picking and choosing, on the basis of my interpretations, between the icons provided to me. Orthodoxy, if it's understood correctly, is simply the constant displaying of the entire collection.

And that helps explain, I think, what religion - Christianity in particular, since it's the only one I know - is actually about:  it's giving the whole picture.  It splits every difference, and fills us out into complete human beings.

It is filling in the gaps we all have in our genes and instincts, and in our minds and hearts; it is teaching a wholeness and an integration by we do not naturally come.   It's working against our negative tendencies and encouraging and reinforcing our positives ones.

That is what "orthodoxy" is.  The amazing thing, in fact, is that it is so comprehensive, and can take account of, and work for, every kind of person.  (In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if it doesn't, it isn't "orthodoxy" at all.)

I started to think about all this because of an online discussion about "natural selection," during which I realized that not only has politics become a totalizing worldview, but so, too, has science - both at the expense of the knowledge of human nature and the human condition itself.   People seem to be becoming more and more distanced from themselves as they really are.  More on that later, probably. 

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