Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Wearing the Right Ha–t for Ministry

Written by: on March 30, 2018

Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a frustrating read for people who are unwilling to consider radically opposing points of view.  The Righteous Mind is an evolutionary biased book that says humans have “primate minds with a hivish overlay” and that life is simply a game. [1]  The author’s goal is to relate modern politics and religion to human morality. Haidt says morality is more than relationships between harm and fairness and as a self-proclaimed moral psychologist he holds that there are at least six other “moral cuisines” that influence human morality.[2] He believes humans are born to be righteous and “morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.”[3] While I am open to examining radically opposing worldviews, I strongly disagree with the author’s thesis.  Nevertheless, I will use Bayard’s “focus on ideas” and Elder’s “critical thinking perspective” to examine Haidt’s work while watching for the evil schemes underlying his narrative to help my dissertation research into the Problem with Spiritual Warfare.

Haidt is said to be an atheist, liberal, left-wing Democrat who after an introduction to Buddhism transformed into a moderate post-partisan who finds value in religion.[4] Haidt’s narrative is the epitome of Douthat’s idea of “unchecked heresy.”[5]  Haidt’s heresy extends to his use of Scripture (Mat. 7:3-5) to support his evolutionary development of enlightenment.[6]  “Religion is key to the bee” metaphor according to Lucas who reviewed Haidt’s “90% chimpanzee (selfish and individualistic) and 10% bee (altruistic and hivish)” model of humanity.[7]

Pearson says Haidt’s view on human nature is “its ability to transcend self-interest through more knowledge and moral evolution.”[8]  Haidt’s argument holds three major ideas: (1) moral intuitions precede moral reasoning, (2) values are implicit in judgement, and (3) moral communities restrain chaos.[9]  Fraatz’s two criticisms for Haidt’s work is his lack of moral theology from the likes of Augustine and Calvin and his use of “tenuous” historical references.[10]

What are the positive take-a-ways for a book like this?  First, my B.S. in Psychology gives me context to read and understand the secular biased viewpoints on Haidt’s moral psychology.  I concede that some knowledge and understanding of these viewpoints, I call spiritual warfare schemes, may in some cases be useful in establishing common ground between ministry leaders and their congregants when trying to address modern morality issues.  Second, I guess I would call it movement in the right direction for a Jewish atheist to move toward a God believing Buddhist variant who quotes Scripture, incorrectly and out of context, but at least acknowledges a god and values some forms of spiritualism.

What are the ties, if any, to my research on spiritual warfare?  I found 17 references to evil in the book.  One resembled the idea of spiritual warfare in his Manichaean description of the battle between good and evil.  Haidt says that humans are the “frontline in the battle; we contain both good and evil, and we each must pick one side and fight for it.”[11]  He alludes to the “forces of darkness” as absolute evil and says the forces of light are “absolute goodness.”[12]  Biblically speaking, which he is not, the concepts of light and darkness mirror the Scriptural metaphors of Christ as the light of the world and goodness versus the forces of darkness, which represent the evil of Satan and his demons.  So, could I find a way to use this book for God’s glory?  Yes, there is enough theological space to generate discussions, as differing as they might be, to help point and draw Haidt readers towards Christ.

I found another link to Haidt’s analysis that people are “intrinsically moral.”  He says it is because of a type of moral evolution that is part of the “normal human condition.”[13]  Haidt’s conclusion is derived from his thesis that people are nothing more than chimps that evolve into humans who get a bee size dose of religion that transforms them into moral agents.  While I disagree with his analysis, his conclusions that humans are wired with a sense of right and wrong is correct, Biblically speaking.  Here is another example, radical as it may be for many of us, to use another Haidtism as a point of discussion to extend love and reflect Christ.

Finally, I think as Christian leaders we must be well versed in what I will call a Dr. Seuss “Cat in the Hat” type of theology.[14] What I think I am saying is that as Christian leaders we should be willing to juggle may issues and wear many hats when responding to the needs of ministry.  I think our LGP8 reading list is forcing us to not necessarily be open-minded, because I think that is an invitation for the devil, but instead I think we are being asked to know our own lived theology better, so we can reach, lead, and minister to a variety of worldviews that are not what we agree with or feel comfortable with.  What ha–t are you wearing?

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. (New York: Random House, 2012) Kindle location, 122.
[2] Ibid., 108.
[3] Ibid., 53.
[4] Margery Lucas. 2013. “Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Society 50, no. 1: 86.
[5] Ross G. Douthat. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. (New York: Free Press, 2013) 29.
[6] Haidt, Righteous Mind, 135.
[7] Lucas, Society, 87.
[8] Andrew L. Pearson. 2014. “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics.” Religious Studies Review 40, no. 3: 168.
[9] William Fraatz. 2013. “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Anglican Theological Review 95, no. 3: 548.
[10] Ibid., 549.
[11] Haidt, Righteous Mind, 361.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 73.
[14]Dr. Seuss. Seuss’ ABC. (HarperCollins UK, 2003).

About the Author


8 responses to “Wearing the Right Ha–t for Ministry”

  1. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job Mike

    I really appreciated your challenge to the evolutionary background that Haidt came from. Excellent work finding his background, which I found rather ironic. I thought his new label for himself seemed rather like a marketing tool to try and appeal across a broad spectrum of all people. I could not tell he was liberal from hearing him speak on a youtube video. He sent shots at both sides and it kept his own position ambiguous. I guess his real goal was only to show why we get separated and not to give his own stance.

  2. M Webb says:

    Thanks Kyle,

    How is your congregation doing? It is an amazing phenomenon to watch communities react to these tragic scenarios with loss of life. Keep doing the Ministry of Presence and I am sure your Shepherding role will be blessed.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. Jay Forseth says:

    Hey Mike,

    As always, a solid post. Thanks for calling Haidt out. To me, he is the Howard Stern of our semester. A “shock jock” who goes to the extremes, just to get a reaction out of people. I chose not to take his bait, realizing he has chosen to be far from Christ and is allowing himself and God’s enemy to be his guide.

    As far as hats, I am trying to wear “learner” as we travel this road together. But to be honest, if anything, books like these are making me hold on even tighter to my Biblically conservative viewpoints.


    • M Webb says:

      I am wearing the “learner” hat too my friend. There is a saying out here, “Semper Gumby,” which is a play on Semper Fidelis meaning always faithful. In our LGP8 reading, I think the always flexible seems to fit, but does not mean you have to change your Gumby form, just be flexible for all the twisting, stretching, and bending required to read and non-read our rigorous reading-list.

      However, Semper Gumby is not meant in any way to influence my daily call to “Stand firm.” We do not give away ground, bend, twist, or stretch in spiritual battle, we are called to hold the line, not give an inch, repel evil forces, extinguish flaming arrows, and overcome the attack through the supernatural power by wearing Christ as our full Armor of God!

      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

  4. Great post Mike! I have to agree with you about this author, I didn’t really care for his writing and also struggled with his evolutionary ideas without acknowledgment of a divine creator. I also agree with you that reading books like this helps us add another hat to our repertoire in ministering to the world around us. I’ll stand firm if you will 🙂

  5. M Webb says:


    Yes my brother, I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the skirmish line against spiritual warfare! Anytime my friend.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  6. Trisha Welstad says:

    Mike, I appreciate your use of your own BS in Psychology and your critical reading of Haidt. I found that I didn’t mind his style and, like you, saw some truth in his analysis of how people function although we have different starting points.

    How is your own research coming? Have you found these texts to be broadening or narrowing to your work?

  7. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Mike! I really appreciate your perspective on this text. Thank you for also looking for useful material and highlighting how the author refers to evil. Because your career/work has always been “in the world” are you more/less tolerant of Haidt’s perspective?

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