Today’s guest post is from Happy Hubby.

I just finished reading “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt.  Hawkgrrrl has mentioned items from this book a few times (here, here, and here).

Many of you will probably at least heard about the metaphor put forward in this book where he postulates make we make many moral decisions – that of being an elephant and the elephant rider.  The very brief explanathaidt-modelion would be that our subconscious mind makes the moral judgement (the elephant moves a certain direction) and then afterwards looks for justification for the decision (the rider of the elephant then makes up explanations as to why the elephant made the move it did).  He also mentions that the elephant rider is analogous with the POTUS and his press secretary.  The press secretary is always going to put a positive spin on the president’s actions – even if personally they think it was a very bad decision.  Even though it is a basic building block Haidt uses for theories, I am not going to focus on that analogy in today’s post.

I will say that I think the book would be good required reading for everyone in the US right now.  The Righteous Mind really does a good job explaining, not just why we have a growing political rift in the U.S., but why the disdain between the two parties is escalating so much.

The book has both politics and religion in the subtitle, but most of the book is focusing on politics with one chapter covering religion.  The title of the chapter on religion is descriptive of his thesis that “Religion Is a Team Sport.”  He calls it short sighted to look at religion as just a reaction between believing something and then that causing a person to do something.  Borrowing from Emile Durkheim from over 100 years ago Haidt emphasizes that belonging to a group is just as key and belonging and belief, doing, and belonging all interact with each other in a religious experience.

Haidt emphasized that beliefs alone do not generate the most action (doing) alone.  To get the most action, there needs to be belonging.  He also claims that belonging also drives belief.

I certainly have seen that individuals within the church that have different primary motivations.  I know of some that just LOVE to read, ponder, and expound on scripture but are not often seen when the service projects show up.  And some people are just the reverse.  The person who can’t remember if Jacob is in the Book of Mormon or Old Testament, may be the first to sign up for every service project.  And there are some that have a deep need for a community.  I have heard of many that have left the church and they state that they deeply miss the community aspect of the church.  So I can see examples that tend to support the model Haidt proposes.

haidt-model-1Haidt mentions a study of nineteenth-century communes and found that “just 6 percent of the secular communes were still functioning twenty years after their founding, compared to 39 percent of the religious communes.”  I guess we can feel less deflated on the pioneer attempts at the united order.  As to why some survived longer Haidt summarized:

“one master variable: the number of costly sacrifices that each commune demanded from its members.  It was things like giving up alcohol and tobacco, fasting for days at a time, conforming to communal dress code or hairstyle, or cutting ties with outsiders.  The religious communes, the effect was perfectly linear; the more sacrifice a commune demanded, the longer it lasted.  But … demands for sacrifice did not help secular communes … and there was no correlation between sacrifice and longevity.”

It sure seems like such a pitch for others to join such a group is going for a niche market!  I would comment that this is certainly something that Mormonism generally does well for those that fit well.  I agree with some that we could do a bit better and bring back things like roadshows.

But the communal example does seem to support how belief and belonging work together to drive action in his triad model.

He goes on to discuss how belief, doing, and belonging drive selflessness.  He makes a rather bold statement:

Religions that do a better job of binging people together and suppressing selfishness spread at the expense of other religions. … Religions can spread far faster than genes, as in the case of Islam in the seventh and eighth century, or Mormonism in the nineteenth century.”

haidt-model-2The findings of other researchers agree. Putnam and Campbell included on one of their surveys a long list of questions about religious beliefs (e.g., “Do you believe in hell?  Do you agree that we will all be called before God to answer for our sins?) as well as questions about religious practices (e.g., “How often do you read holy scripture?  How often do you pray?”).  These beliefs and practices turned out to matter very little.  Whether you believe in hell, whether you pray daily, whether you are a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Mormon … none of these things correlated with generosity.  The only thing that was reliably and powerfully associated with the moral benefits of religion was how enmeshed people were in relationships with the co-religionists.  It’s the friendships and group activities, carried out within a moral matrix that emphasized selflessness.  That’s what brings out the best in people.

We certainly can see events like the Willie and Martin handcart companies as something that strengthened some people’s commitment or faith.  There were also a few for whom this trial had the opposite effect.  But the rule of “tighten the screws and it gets harder for fence sitters” holds some truth in organizations.

haidt-model-3As previously mentioned, Haidt spent most of his book talking about examples from politics.  He admits to being a liberal, but he can dole out the critique and praise of several political parties.  He also dives into some conservative writings that helped him better understand conservatives and their motives; he developed an unexpected admiration for what makes them tick.  He goes on to present some graphical representations of 6 different things that people find important or as he calls them “taste receptors.”  He calls this the Moral Foundations Theory. He graphically diagrams Moral Matrices for Liberals, Libertarian, and Conservative with the width of the connection indicating the importance of that that moral.

  • The Liberal Moral Matrix has the Care/Harm as the most important with a very thick connecting line (the term “bleeding heart” liberal comes to mind).  This is followed by Liberty/Oppression which is just a bit smaller, then an even thinner line for Fairness/Cheating.  There is only a very thin line connecting Liberals to the other 3 morals of Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.
  • The Libertarian Moral Matrix is a bit simpler with a very strong connecting line to Liberty/Oppression (no surprise given the name).  Then a moderately thick line to Fairness/Cheating.  There in only a thin connecting line to all other morals.
  • The most interesting Matrix is that of Conservatives.  Haidt suggests that conservatives actually have a moderately thin connecting line, more or less equally to all 6 morals.

haidt-model-4I suspect that the readership of Wheat & Tares has a higher percentage of liberals than does the Mormon church as a whole.  It can be uncomfortable to be in a group where your views are not shared.  It can be much worse if your views are not only not shared, but are hated or considered morally wrong by some. Politics describe our values, and feeling that your values are at odds with the vocal opinions within an organization makes it more difficult to participate.

Just as with politics today, within the church there is much need for individuals to stop retreating to their respective corners, but instead to try to understand others and to accept and allow for differences.


  • Does Haidt put forward an accurate description of political and religious ideologies?
  • Are we going to come together or farther apart in the church and politically in the US?