CHALLENGE: Read through each item on this list. After each statement, decide if Jimmy’s action is morally wrong:
Jimmy Burned an American Flag.
Jimmy is a vegan and ate bacon today.
Jimmy has two wives.
Jimmy worships the sun god, Ra.
Jimmy is a Muslim.
Jimmy is a Jew.
Jimmy killed a rat.
Jimmy killed a cat.
Jimmy killed an endangered white Rhino.
Jimmy voted for Donald Trump.
Jimmy voted for Hillary Clinton.
Jimmy goes to the park every day to watch children play.
Jimmy belongs to the N.R.A.
Jimmy donates money to Planned Parenthood.
Jimmy is gay.
Jimmy has one-night stands.
Jimmy came to America illegally.
Jimmy divorced his wife.
Jimmy asked his wife to have an abortion.
Jimmy killed his wife.
Jimmy smokes a pack of cigarettes every day.
Jimmy has beer for breakfast.
Jimmy is 19, his girlfriend is 16.
Jimmy is 21, his girlfriend is 16.
Jimmy is 31, his girlfriend is 16.
Jimmy is a television preacher who asks widows for money.
Jimmy claims to be Christian but never goes to church.
Jimmy weighs 350 pounds.
Jimmy tells gay people that they need to repent of their sins.
Jimmy smokes marijuana.
Jimmy steals food when he is hungry.
As you read that list, what emotions did you feel?
Was this exercise easy or difficult?
Did you find yourself rationalizing your answers (example: Jimmy steals food because he is a 6-year-old orphan living on the streets)?
As we think about morality, politics, and religion, most of us believe that there is a right and a wrong way to think and act. In fact, many people have strong feelings about a lot of the statements on the above list. Why is that? Why are some of the above statements “wrong” and others “reprehensible?” Why do some statements cause us to say, “that is his decision, even though I would not do that” and others cause us to say, “that behavior is absolutely repulsive?” Why can one good person say that it is immoral to vote for Hillary Clinton and another good person say that it is immoral to vote for Donald Trump?
In his book, The Righteous Mind, social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt searches after the reasons that good, intelligent people have such strong feelings about morality, politics, and religion that are opposite of one another. By examining ethnographies, scientific studies, and philosophy, Haidt digs deep into some interesting material. In his research, Haidt asked participants to respond to outrageous and emotive moral questions. His goal was to determine what led some people to respond that, for example, incest is always wrong, and others to say that it is tolerable if birth control is used.
Haidt builds his theories around Scottish philosopher David Hume’s statement that reason was “the slave of the passions”. In other words, our gut tells us what is right and wrong, and our mind justifies what our gut tells us. He develops these thoughts more in the latter part of the book and concludes that individuals need to learn to understand what is referred to as the “righteous mind” of a people who belong to different groups.
Muslims believe that Sharia law is God’s plan for humanity, while Hindus do not. Christians and Jews believe that God Himself gave humankind the Ten Commandments. Taoists do not agree. In the end, Haidt basically says that we inherit our beliefs from the groups that we most identify with. He encourages all of us to be more tolerant of one another.
As Christians who are rooted in God’s word, we believe that morality and ethics is something that God cares deeply about. To take out all references to morality, behavior, and holiness from the Bible, and you would end up with a very thin book. Also, who wants to follow a savior who says, “Love your enemies…or don’t…you decide?”
Politics, morality, and religion are clashing in contemporary society. Courtrooms, the press, and social media are confronted with at hotbed of quandaries:
• Should Catholic nuns be required by law to pay for health care plans that include abortion?
• Should Muslim truck drivers be forced to transport beer?
• Should Christian adoption agencies be able to deny the placement of a child in a home based on their view of the morality of the parents?
• Should a Walmart employee who morally opposes the sale of guns be forced to sell rifles?
• Should a government employee who is overheard using a racial slur in a private conversation be fired?
• Should a Mennonite couple who owns a wedding chapel be forced to host a gay wedding?
• Should sports teams forbid any kind of social protest by players at athletic events?
• Should America stop accepting refugees in order to focus on the welfare of the people who are currently living here?
As I think about these buzzworthy questions, I both appreciate Haidt’s work and reject it.
Let me explain. I appreciate that my mind is stretched by Haidt’s intriguing research. A reader cannot help but to be challenged personally by A Righteous Mind. “Do I hold to my beliefs because they are right?” “Am I just a product of my upbringing?” These questions cannot be avoided. Haidt rightly challenges us to be compassionate with people who have different beliefs. This is something that we need to see more of in this world.
Yet, as a person of faith, I have committed my life to the God of the Bible. Scripture is filled with instructions about justice, moral purity, loving relationships, and holy living.
In addition to this, I have a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit which guides me in life choices. In my experience, the Holy Spirit has never led me to do something contradictory to scripture. At the same time, I do not think that the Holy Spirit has every checked the latest Gallup Poll before giving a Christian guidance.
Sure, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to figure out…
“You want me to take my son, Isaac, on a hike up a mountain and do what?”
“What was that, Jesus? I almost thought that you said that I needed to pluck my eye out? I must have misunderstood.”
Even so, the Bible is filled with clear and consistent instructions about morality and relationships.
In the end, I reject Haidt’s premise that morality is a solely a matter of personal preference based on the group which I identify. I believe in a holy God who challenges us to lives of holiness… not by our definition but by His. Not as slaves to our desires, but as children of the King.