I am currently reading a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. I wanted to share a few quotes from the book, for a couple of reasons: 1) It is not a book that most of my readers will probably read themselves. While it is accessible for a work of social psychology and intended for a more popular audience, it is still a work of social psychology. 2) It includes some fascinating insights on the current political divide in America that would be helpful for people across the political spectrum to read, and that have the potential to make discussions and disagreements happen in healthier ways. 3) But mostly, and the main reason I’m writing a pastor’s blog about the book, is that it drove me to the Bible over and over again, ultimately strengthening my confidence in the Bible. Haidt is not a Christian and he’s not using biblical evidence to make his points, but the research he cites often (not always) supports the Bible in surprising ways.

  1. “People are trying harder to look right than to be right…When given the opportunity, many honest people will cheat” (89, 97). We all know this temptation, if we’re honest. But this should be less true for Christians, who realize that we live all our lives before the watching eyes of our Creator, Savior, and Judge. Who we are in secret, and who we are in our thoughts and hearts, matters just as much as who we appear to be to others.
  2. “Perkins concluded that ‘people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly” (94). Augustine (and since him many others) have argued that all truth is God’s truth. If this is the case, Christians should be willing to seek out truth wherever it is found, even when it is found in unbelievers, or in those across the political aisle. In this, we must keep Scripture as our sure and steady guide, and remember that truth is not something disconnected from God.
  3. “One of the greatest truths in psychology is that the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. To be human is to feel pulled in different directions, and to marvel—sometimes in horror—at your inability to control your own actions” (32). If you’ve read Paul’s letter to the Romans, it’s hard to read this and not think of his words in chapter 7: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Rom. 7:15-17)
  4. “There’s more to morality than harm and fairness” (129). The development of this point is one of the greatest assets to the book. Increasingly, the conviction of our culture is that morality is limited to harm and fairness: as long as you don’t hurt someone and treat everyone fairly, you are moral. But as Haidt points out, this ignores the moral aspects of things like loyalty, authority, and sanctity/cleanliness, things which most of the world’s cultures (and religions) have connected to morality. For Christians, the assertion that morality is limited to harm and fairness requires discarding much of the Bible’s claims of right and wrong, not least idolatry and the biblical vision of sexuality.
  5. “We’re usually nice to people when we first meet them. But after that we’re selective: we cooperate with those who have been nice to us, and we shun those who took advantage of us” (158). In biblical terms, we’re sinful and self-seeking. We love ourselves more than others; and when we love others, it’s often for what they can do for us, or how they can make us feel. The call for Christians, in response to the self-giving love of God, is to love those who can give us nothing in return.
  6. “When I began graduate school I subscribed to the common liberal belief that hierarchy = power = exploitation = evil. But…I discovered that I was wrong. Authority Ranking relationships are based on perceptions of legitimate asymmetries, not coercive power; they are not inherently exploitative” (167). Everybody agrees that authority can be abusive. Sadly, most know this through experience. But not everyone agrees that authority can be beneficial. The Bible calls us to recognize various authorities: parents (for children), husbands (for wives), government, pastors/elders, and ultimately God. None of these positions carry ultimate authority (except God); and people in them will sin and hurt others. But despite this, God says these authority positions are for our good, and unless they lead us to disobey God, our attitude towards them ought to be one of honor, respect, even submission.
  7. “Repugnance…revolts against the excesses of human willfulness, warning us not to transgress what is unspeakably profound. Indeed, in this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done, in which our given human nature no longer commands respect, in which are bodies are regarded as mere instruments of our autonomous rational wills, repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder” (177). In a secular world in which morality is limited to harm and fairness, little is sacred. But Christians know that there is a sacredness to life, and it seems most people have a sense of this in their gut, even if they can’t explain it rationally. We must continue to insist on the sacredness of life.