While some of my friends are packing their favorite YA novel into a beach bag, I spent this week being sucked into Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, and devouring the entire book. Not necessarily the best idea, if one wants to reflect critically and comparatively. But entering this book, I realized I didn’t want to read critically and comparatively. I was looking for answers, for help.
Don’t Tread on my Rainbow Flag
Haidt, a social psychologist raised in a culturally rich secular Jewish family, a self-proclaimed progressive, uses the philosophy of Hume, Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Durkheim’s functionalism, and utilitarianism to construct a way for us to understand why our country is currently so polarized socially, politically, and regionally. Like a cancer patient willing to try any alternative treatment for a cure, I realized I was open to anyone willing to offer a model for how to theoretically understand our country’s polarization, and even more important for me, how to understand and respond to why I see the world so differently than my birth family (parents and sister) does. This polarization hits home for me as, I assume, it does for many of us. This apparent polarization is not just in my family, but the churches I’ve been part of, and even my neighborhood. (These two pictures are my neighbors two doors down, one right and one left, literally and socially).
I’ve heard many people say that you usually can’t reason or use logic with someone in order to change their mind; Haidt , though, articulated why, and did it in such a way that doesn’t dismiss or denigrate those we attempt to convince. It’s not logic or reason that drives us, but our intuition (the “elephant”), Haidt argues. Reasoning and judgment, rather than driving our decisions, follow in order to justify our intuitions. It is possible to change our minds, though, through varied experiences (and how open we are to those experiences feeds our proclivity to liberalism or conservatism), and learning from others’ judgments and reasons (primarily others whom we trust).
Labels Totally Mess Us Up
Haidt’s development of the Moral Foundations Theory and its six elements fascinated me. I discovered, by taking the test at YourMorals.org, that I need to stop calling myself a Progressive, because I fall between “liberal” and “conservative” on all matrices except Authority (sorry, Jason. I really do respect [some] authority). Englewood folks often state that we’re “too progressive for conservatives, and too conservative for progressives.” I’m finally ready to agree with that and call myself a Moderate, primarily because I’m willing to affirm the value of (most) all the matrices, though to different intensities than those on the extreme. Like a good progressive, I strongly value caring for the vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed (because, well, Jesus). Likewise, like a good conservative, membership and belonging in a group is extremely important (in fact, I just finished my semester essay on the detriments of individualism on both society and individuals).
My hunch, and in agreement with Haidt is that most of us don’t fall into the extreme ends of liberalism or conservatism. I mentally think about each one of you, my classmates, and how, initially before we knew each other well, it was much easier to label you into one category or another. Now that we’ve spent valuable time together in rich conversations and prayer and parties (those are important!), it’s much more difficult to peg you into a single sanctified matrix either. Like me, I believe each of you is complex. And this, honestly gives me hope and excitement for my relationship with my sister and parents, who have landed on a different place on the liberal-conservative spectrum than I have. Haidt encourages, “don’t bring up morality until you’ve found a few points of commonality or in some way established a bit of trust. And when you do bring up issues of morality, try to start with some praise, or with a sincere expression of interest.” My sister and I share a love of gardening and unprocessed foods. She’s currently speaking out on behalf of potentially striking teachers. We believe our faith is important, as is family traditions and stories. It becomes so easy to see only the things that we differ on (and I don’t want to minimize them; that chasm is wide), but if we’re to continue in a relationship (sometimes that’s the harder choice), we’ve got to build trust and find things in common.
The Feast of The Lamb
Finally, being a creative moderate(!), I believe both committed belonging to a group and an openness to welcoming the outsider—permeability—is possible. Haidt argues that we need membership in groups to bring cohesion to society; I, too, see great value in the mutual deference, trust, and commitment to one another that we find in healthy groups. He also suggests that diversity (valued by liberals—including me) reduces trust within and between groups, thus weakening social capital. The apparent incompatibility of these two disturbs me, though. At some point I reject a complete utilitarian view of the world and embrace something a bit more inefficient and paradoxical. As followers of Jesus, we are compelled to be part of a tribe—not of Americans (or Brits)—but a local expression of the Body of Christ, “a chosen generation, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). And that “tribe” is extended to the stranger, the Other: “Hospitality toward both fellow believers and those who are unknown is seen as virtuous (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).” I have to believe that both are possible—strong, trusting membership within the church, and a welcoming of those who are different.
I’d like to imagine that the Eucharist is a place where those intersect—strengthening belonging and welcoming the outsider into our tribal identity: “in some cultures to share food signifies that one belongs to the same family and that sharing a table is the first sign of membership in a group.” This purpose of meals – especially the Eucharist, with Christ as the host— reminds us that our choice of guests at the table is powerful, shaping current reality into the possible future that God desires.
 Jonathon Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, (New York: Pantheon, 2012), 47.
 I’ve got to be honest though, and say that libertarianism doesn’t sit well with me.
 Ibid., 276-277.
 Ibid., 318.
 This is the kind of membership that Wendell Berry values and threads through his writings. See, for instance, The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership (North Point Press, 1989); and “Health is Membership,” a lecture given at the “Spirituality and Healing” conference, Louisville, KY, October, 1994. http://home2.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berryhealth.html
 Haidt, 308.
 Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, (New York: Cambridge University, 2011), 171.