The House Divided
We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about. Jonathan Haidt
To be “righteous” means our minds, our wills, and our behaviors will be conformed to God’s will. It means holiness, goodness, love, justice, and good works. Scot McKnight
As a moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt believes that people can improve their capacity to understand and get along with each other and work together for the common good. On the whole, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is an upbeat, optimistic book. Can liberals and conservatives sit down at the table and look at their differences honestly and see how each may contribute something of value to society?
Haidt says, “Yes” and his case is built in three sections:
Principle #1– Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.
Where does morality come from? Typically, sociologists give one of two answers; either it is innate (the nativist answer) or it comes from childhood learning (the empiricist answer). Haidt explains in his book that is can be “innate (as a set of evolved intuitions) andlearned (as children learn to apply those intuitions within a particular culture).”
Haidt provides the metaphor of a rider and an elephant. The rider is the conscious mind with its rational functions and volitional power. But the elephant is everything else: all the internal presuppositions, genetic inclinations, subconscious motives, and raw experience. The elephant is bigger (more powerful) than the rider. This is why, Haidt says, that the reasoning process is adapted to our moral intuitions. We act on how we feel, and then justify it.
Reflection– Quite honestly, I believe that most Christians believe the truth in the Bible and probably act more on their beliefs than feelings. The elephant may be big, but the rider has a stick and more importantly, the food.
Principle #2– “There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.”
Haidt’s research suggests that human morality can be categorized into six moral foundations. Each of us responds differently to or is pulled more strongly by some of these receptors than by others. The moral impulses and values beneath major political affiliations can be described with reference to these six foundations. Haidt claims that conservatives (not necessarily the Republican party) understand this better than liberals (not necessarily the Democrats). Republicans know how to speak to the elephant better and so they have an advantage over the Democrats who also don’t understand the Durkheimian vision of society. Conservatives are strong in all six of Haidt’s moral categories; liberals in three to four. If both parties could only understand this they might be able to work together, suggests Haidt.
Reflection– Again, most Republican Christians I know truly believe that they are following the Word of God when they choose a candidate to vote for. That is why Republicans honestly think they have the moral high ground.
The bigger question for me is why do they vote for people whose lives really don’t reflect good moral values? (See Principle #3 below.)
Principle #3– Morality Binds and Blinds
Why are we so groupish?
Haidt says, “We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong.” He said that there are “links between virtues and well-established evolutionary theories.”For millions of years there has been warfare between tribes. This is part of the “evolved intuitions” mentioned above.
Reflection – I like Scot McKnight’s explanation for why we separate into groups better. God’s image is lovingly reflected in man and woman as one. When Adam and Eve sinned, Adam blamed Eve instead of taking responsibility. Eve became ‘other’. “This otherness problem is what the gospel fixed, and the story of the Bible is the story of God’s people struggling with otherness and searching for oneness.”Haidt is right; we do like to form groups and justify our actions. But I agree with McKnight that the division is due to sin, not evolution.
Reflection–The need to be part of a group or tribe can be used by leaders in bad or good ways.
Bad motivation– The Republicans have no doubt capitalized on the group idea by getting people to associate Christianity with conservatism. When people like Billy Graham or Wayne Grudem (leader in the Self-Named Council of Biblical Manhood/Womanhood) throw all of their support to the Republicans, Christians who don’t have time to study or who just go with the collective readily vote for a man of questionable morals. This is a sleight of hand by those in charge of the party.
Good motivation– Someone who understood the power of oneness and community, but used it for good to promote unity was Nelson Mandela. “Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” – Nelson Mandela
Amazingly, the strong division between blacks and whites was eased as each group joined together behind their ‘tribe’ – the Springboks. It didn’t solve all of South Africa’s problems, but surely Mandela’s demonstration of forgiveness and enthusiasm went a long way to helping. The team did what it was supposed to do – create community. “It pulls people up from Durkheim’s lower level (the profane) to his higher level (the sacred).”
“A House Divided” religion can be compared to a team sport. This past weekend I attended my granddaughter’s high school graduation. She and her best friend have been accepted at two Florida universities. The party room was divided. Everyone had a lot of fun with the rivalry. I asked the girls to switch sides for the photo. They laughed but they did it.
(BFF’s – Nicole, Grandma’s Gaitor Girl, Katie, ‘Noles)
Conclusion– Of course, religion is much more serious than sports. But one lesson we can learn from this concept is that community is very important. Diversity is wonderful, but instead of feeling superior with our own group, why not learn from others? Why not have a community of unique people who love each other and major in what’s important?
What a better testimony we would have as a church. Sadly, we are a House Divided. But we can get back to Jesus’ admonition, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2012. 31.
Scot McKnight. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. 72.
7 responses to “The House Divided”
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What a great way to connect your granddaughter’s celebration with the text– yes, a house divided! Glad that was tongue in cheek though. 🙂
“I believe that most Christians believe the truth in the Bible and probably act more on their beliefs than feelings.”— I think it’s helpful to add into this scenario that groupish nature we value. While we may *feel* one thing (empathy for a refugee, for instance), we are often more inclined to follow what’s expected of us as “good Christians”, stick with our group, and follow along with the party line (“safety and security from these criminals”); even though, logically, scripture suggests something hospitably different.
You and I both addressed Haidt comments on righteous, the rider and elephant. Of course, you are very insightful to his views. I love your ending, “What a better testimony we would have as a church. Sadly, we are a House Divided.” It is sad to admit that the house of God is divided on His truth, equality, liberty, and morality.
How can we be a light in the world when we have so much darkness among us.
Mary, I always appreciate how you are able to summarize and provide background on our authors. I loved the questions you posed in your conclusion “community is very important. Diversity is wonderful, but instead of feeling superior with our own group, why not learn from others? Why not have a community of unique people who love each other and major in what’s important?”
Yes, how do you feel in your community you as a leader can support in bridging the divide? How do we as leaders facilitate our communities and groups in this manner?
When Adam and Eve sinned, Adam blamed Eve instead of taking responsibility. Eve became ‘other’. “This otherness problem is what the gospel fixed, and the story of the Bible is the story of God’s people struggling with otherness and searching for oneness.”Haidt is right; we do like to form groups and justify our actions. But I agree with McKnight that the division is due to sin, not evolution.
Mary – I really think this is it, right there. From the very first introduction of sin into our world we have responded by ‘othering’ people. We do it so we can judge; we do it so when can claim their problems aren’t our own; we do it for lots of reasons.
This is why I have a hard time with Haidt’s Institutions before reasoning point. I mean, I actually agree with it, but at this point isn’t the issue that so many primarily identify with the institution of the Republican or Democratic party instead of first with something greater?
This is the task for us as Christians, to remember that we are strangers and aliens here on earth – it isn’t our home and we don’t primarily belong to a party, a group or even a nation….. Our primary identity is found in and through Jesus Christ as the adopted children of God.
If we really live into that identity, then we live our lives going forth as God’s messengers and ambassadors – sharing the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God.
Mary, if anyone is qualified to speak to this issue you are. You have the intelligence, relational experiences, scriptural knowledge, and personal passion to speak aptly and poignantly to the destructiveness of division and the value of developing connected, loving community. Anything you would suggest in achieving this, I am eager to hear from you due to your vast knowledge, wisdom, and experience. How have you accomplished this in your life? How would you suggest our church overcome the divisiveness and develop unity? Share your secrets. 🙂
“Why not have a community of unique people who love each other and major in what’s important?”
This is a good question, Mary. It seems many denominations and movements have devolved into gatekeepers or heralds of what is not acceptable rather than working through a lens of love.
Mary, I appreciate your thoughts on community and the need to learn from others. You have modeled that in your life. Great post!