Going beyond the obvious...

For about a month - since seeing Jonathan Haidt on Bill Moyer's new TV show - I've been thinking about his insights:  namely, how and why it is that liberals and conservatives don't understand one another better.

How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World? from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

At the heart of Haidt's research are two key insights:

+ In the West, as the NYTimes Review of Books puts it, "we think about morality in terms of rights, fairness and consent... (further) our moral systems are built upon six fundamental ideas: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity." (check out the book review @ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?pagewanted=all)

+ There are also six additional principles that influence and shape our moral perspective: divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation.  Curiously, liberals and conservatives tend to connect more deeply to different configurations of these principles.
That means, Haidt argues and my 30+ years of ministry supports, faith communities need to understand how all of this works.  He suggests that

... we acquire morality the same way we acquire food preferences: we start with what we’re given. If it tastes good, we stick with it. If it doesn’t, we reject it. People accept God, authority and karma because these ideas suit their moral taste buds. Haidt points to research showing that people punish cheaters, accept many hierarchies and don’t support equal distribution of benefits when contributions are unequal.

You don’t have to go abroad to see these ideas. You can find them in the Republican Party. Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn. Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression. This is Haidt’s startling message to the left: When it comes to morality, conservatives are more broad-minded than liberals. They serve a more varied diet.   (NY Times)

Over the years, I know that because I value and support faith and patriotism, valor, chastity and law and order some people have told me that they think I am a middle of the road Republican. Simultaneously, because I also resonate with the prophetic call to care, compassion and fighting oppression, others think of me as a radical Democrat.  In reality, I am neither - at least at this point in my journey - I am a follower of Jesus Christ who takes seriously our commitment to living as a part of the Body of Christ in the United States of America.  And like Haidt, I too have discovered that it is harder to get liberals to open their minds and hearts than conservatives:

Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.

Haidt isn’t just scolding liberals, however. He sees the left and right as yin and yang, each contributing insights to which the other should listen. In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s. Haidt compares us to neurons in a giant brain, capable of “producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.”

As a congregation - and faith tradition - we are getting ready to head into Holy Week - a time when everything is turned upside down in bold ways. Palm Sunday points to the insights of Renee Girard more than ever - especially the notion that Christ shows us what it looks like when violence is used to destroy a scape goat in pursuit of building community - and the Trayvon Martin headlines only underscore this reality. (check out this interview with Girard @ http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/11/an-interview-with-rene-girard_

+ Holy Thursday - or the truncated Protestant version called Maundy Thursday - invites us to get over ourselves and learn to serve as Christ the Servant served us:  on our knees washing one an other's feet.

+ Good Friday takes the Girardian wisdom deeper and invites us to own our complicity in sin and violence and live on behalf of the most wounder.

And Easter - the Feast of Resurrection - underscores that no matter how deep and profound human sin and violence, God's love is greater.


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