In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt recounts his seemingly sudden rush of patriotism that overcame him directly after 9/11. According to Haidt, a self-described liberal professor at UVA, this was incredibly foreign to him, and felt like a bit of a betrayal to his liberal “tribe.” This is how he opens his dialogue about the human desire to be a part of the group and the triggering of what he labels the “hive switch.” All of this relates to the part of Haidt’s theory that I find most intriguing – the theory that humans are 90% chimp and 10% bee.
Haidt’s ideas about why humans are divided by politics and religion rest deeply on the ideas of evolutionary natural selection, hence the whole chimp thing. He provides well-reasoned information for how evolution has brought humanity from primate to personhood, with a few lingering attributes. In fact, his entire premise of humanity’s self-interest is carefully constructed on the idea that we descend from primates and, in observing chimpanzees, we see the similarities between our selfishness and theirs. There is just one thing missing from his theory – the imago dei.
I am by no means anti-evolution. I believe there is strong scientific evidence that all of creation has evolved since the beginning. I do not believe in a literal 7-day creation, and I do not believe the first humans look like we look now. That being said, I believe that God created humanity as, well, humanity. Into humanity God instilled God’s image (the imago dei) and humanity has been assigned the role of God’s representative and caretaker of all creation. I believe our selfishness and self-interest “evolved” as a result of sin and brokenness because we are not God’s robots. That being said, I also believe in the idea of the remaining spark of God’s goodness in humanity. We are created to be God’s community, but we have torn apart that community.
By neglecting the idea of the imago dei, Haidt also neglects the idea of the Kingdom. While I find a lot of his psychological theory extremely convincing, I think he begins with an invalid presupposition. We are not selfish creations who occasionally override that selfishness to invest in community; we are created for community and our selfishness overrides that innate desire. I think this is why people who truly believe they are serving the same God can seemingly worship very different Gods or no god at all. The glitch in our desire for community is self-interest. I love God, and I love my country, but it’s easier to see positive results from my patriotism than it is to see results from my devotion to the Kingdom. Kingdom sacrifice sucks. It means I have to give time, money, stuff, and effort to people and things that may never increase my own well-being and may push me to the same margins. Patriotic sacrifice has not only its own reward, but also the reward of being honored and lauded by others. I know that sounds simplistic, but I have seen it in my own life.
Going back to Haidt’s post-9/11 patriotism…
When 9/11 hit, my first response was to lament. I was broken for people who died, for the fear that would change our country, and for the overwhelming loss of our feelings of security. I was struck, however, by the way our times of prayer became patriotic rallying cries. Our weeping was replaced by songs that spoke of America’s greatness. Words of hate against our enemies fell from the pulpit, and military hymns were sung by our church choirs. Instead of “turning our eyes upon Jesus,” we offered our allegiance to the flag. I don’t know why, but suddenly I felt my own patriotism slipping away. In this, I found myself ostracized and scoffed. I was told I was turning my back on God. I was called selfish for hating America.
The thing is, I don’t hate America. I am ever-grateful that I was born here. I love so much about this country, including its incredible variety of people and geography. I have found goodness in every place I have travelled here. But America is not the Kingdom. We are not the Chosen. We have been given so much, and from us much is due.
I don’t expect our government to right the wrongs of the world. I don’t even expect our leaders to love our enemies – that’s not their job. I do, however, expect the people of God to love our enemies in spite of government policies. I expect our Christian leaders to speak truth to governmental power, not cozy up to them. But again, self-interest comes in. Many of our leaders believe that aligning themselves with political power so that they can get things accomplished (I’m purposely avoiding use of the term ‘agenda’ here), is more important than calling out violations of humanity that they have previously labeled immoral. On the other “side,” there are leaders insisting that government work according to Kingdom principles (as they interpret them) while spewing hate-filled vitriol at government leaders or people who disagree. We have chosen our hives, for better or for worse.
Despite my disagreements with Haidt, I find his ideas for at least partial resolution to be incredibly valuable. We can come to the place where we recognize we are all part of one whole hive. We can fight like siblings, but work together to better all of creation by finding places of commonality as well as points of mutual interest and understanding. I think Christians must start this. If we are truly called to be God’s representatives (and I believe we are), we must learn to put aside self-interest, ease up on nationalism, and use our blessedness to be a blessing.
PS – I highly recommend that anyone interested in these ideas read Lisa Sharon Harper’s books:
And her most recent book: