OnBeingI am a bit past due in mentioning a podcast in a post in a while.  I want to share one that I really think has some application in the church.  The podcast is “On Being” by Khrista Tippett. It is the October 19th episode titled, “Jonathan Haidt – the Psychology of Self-RighteousnessJonathan Haidt – the Psychology of Self-Righteousness“.  

I really find Jonathan Haidt’s work intriguing and it seems to explain some behaviors/attitudes/actions quite well.  I already did a post on his book “The Righteous Mind” and even mentioned his work a bit another post.

In this interview Jonathan Haidt expands on some of the topics he has covered before.  Several parts of this discussion felt like they explain quite a bit within the LDS church today, especially when it comes to the conservative leanings of the church.

I have transcribed a few portions of this as I know many will not have the time and/or inclination to listen to the podcast.  I will start at just under the 19 minute mark on the podcast:

Krista Tippett  You are a not a religious person, but you as a social physiologist very much value, see a value in, in religion in society.

Jonathan Haidt Yes.  Absolutely.  And that makes me not unique.  There are other social scientists who do, but it makes me in the minority.  And I used to be very hostile to religion.  Then in doing this research on moral physiology and coming to see conservative perspectives and THEN looking at the social science evidence on the effects of religion well it is pretty clear, it’s a little mixed – there are some mixed findings, but the lit reviews generally find that religion in the United States, and it may not be true in other countries, but in the United States where we have a competitive marketplace and religions compete for adherents they are really nice and warm and open and they create moral communities that encourage people to not just focus on themselves.

And so a wonderful book, American Grace by Putnam and Campbell is the ultimate authority on this. What they find is that it doesn’t matter what religion you are and it doesn’t matter what you believe.  If you are part of a religious community then on average you are a better citizen, you give more to charity.  Religion does bring out the good in people.  Now secularly people could be perfectly good too, but on average they give less and they give less of their time.  So I would like to think that I simply as an secular atheist scientist followed the evidence and it showed me that I was wrong in thinking religion was evil.

Image from wikimedia.org commons

Krista Tippett then brings up that religions have done good and evil, such as morally justified violence and asked how Jonathan explains this contradiction.

Jonathan Haidt: It is easy.  If you think morality is being nice and kind to people then yep it sure looks like a paradox.  But if you go with me that morality is these many things and a lot of is “are you a good group member?” or are you perusing your own interest.  And those group interests are often about inter-group conflicts.  So if you think about religion as a function to bind groups together, then there is no paradox.  A lot of that is nasty stuff.

Jonathan then goes on to say how once he was a

self-righteous, conservative hating, religion hating secular liberal and in doing this research over many years and in forcing myself to watch Fox News as an anthropologist would, as “I’ve got to where I understand this” and over time realized they are not crazy, their ideas make sense, they see things that I didn’t see.  The feeling of losing my anger was thrilling.  It was really freeing.  When you get people to actually understand each other and they let down their guard and they learn something new.

I do see that many members that leave the church often become atheist and even sometimes anti-religious.  It is interesting that Haidt at some point held that anti-religious position and via scientific inquiry and looking at differing views came to see that religions on the whole as a positive.

Jonathan Haidt goes on to say

Each side can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here and the left and right are similar in some ways.

One of the clearest differences philosophically between left and right is that the left is generally Universalist, almost to a fault, and the right is parochial, often to a fault.

And what I mean by parochial isn’t just narrow minded and dumb.  […] We have a survey at yourmorals.org where we ask “how much do you care about, or think about, or value people in your community, people in your country, people in the world at large and you know conservatives value people in their nation and community more than people at large.  An you might say, “well OK, that is parochial”.  But what do liberals do?  Liberals on our survey actually say they value people at the world at large more than people in their own country, more than people in their community.  Liberals are so Universalist that they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups.  As my mother said about my grandfather as a labor organizer, “He loved humanity so much he didn’t have much time to care for his family.”

This hit home for me.  As I have gone through my faith transition I must agree that my focus has really turned from “my ward” to MUCH bigger groups.  At times I felt that Mormons spend way too much time focused on their own group and not helping or even being aware of other groups in need.  But Mormons do the “group thing” about as good as can be done.  I know of 4 families younger families,  each with 1 or 2 kids, that have just moved into the ward in the last few months.  They all have been instantly absorbed into the young families in the ward.  And even a more middle aged family with teens have found good friends within just a few weeks.  Community – it is what Mormon’s do.

During the question and answer section at the end of the podcast, a person asked Johnathan Haidt:

Shouldn’t moral authority be based on the morality of the leader?  There is a difference between Lincoln and Hitler.

Jonathan starts to answer by talking about students.  Some that come from the south and call him “Sir” and didn’t like to call him by his first name, but some students from the New York were from families that had no issue calling out an uncle when it said something stupid – something the first group considered quite rude.

Johnathan Haidt goes on to give his answer  at about 33 minutes into the podcast:

But many people think in a world which children can say “shut up” to their parents […].  A lot of conservatives are horrified at the chaos, disorder, and disrespect in liberal families.  There often is a need for some sort of order especially if a group is going to try an accomplish something.  Conservative values are effective at keeping the group together and making it effective.   Liberal values are more effective at getting justice within the group.

I think it is hard to argue that when Mormons put their mind to something, they can get stuff done.  More than most voluntary organizations (maybe excluding the military) Mormons get stuff done when they decide they want to do it.

I have several coworkers that have come from the military.  They have commented that in a military setting, they don’t value justice as much as being effective.  Jonathan then mentions that he saw the occupy wall street group.  It tried to be so inclusive that they couldn’t figure out what they were and were not and it made them less effective.

Haidt goes on to say:

Complete rejection of authority leads to chaos, leads to ineffectiveness, and ultimately leads to the group disappearing.

People who identify as conservative tend to like order and predictability.  They are not attracted to change for the sake of change.  Whereas people who identify as liberal they like variety and diversity.  We have a study where we have dots moving around on a screen.  Conservatives like dots moving around in lock-step.  Liberals tend to like it is all chaotic and random.  Liberals keep their rooms messier than conservatives.

I was reminded how I have seen Mormon’s love to have order.  I just read a blog earlier this month about conformity and how someone was mildly scorned for not sitting in the “right” place in Relief Society.

I also remember attending a meeting where the speaker had taped all the doors going into the chapel except one and taping the entrance to all but a few of the pews so he could force everyone to sit crammed at the front few pews.  Now that I think about that one it might not have been the same issue as I think that was the case of a flat out control freak.

Does this mean that in a church that embraces more status quo, that conservatives are going to feel more at home and liberals more uncomfortable and thus have tendencies pushing it to be conservative?

If so, is this inevitable?