Understanding Our Differences

When something seems clear-cut to me, and a person believes something different, one question comes to my mind: Why don’t they see it as clearly as they should? This question reveals my arrogance and self-righteousness, of course. The person with whom I disagree is thinking the same thing about me. Hence our human dilemma.

A book that helps me gain a bit of clarity on this phenomenon is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. His study, as I understand it, states that we all share five innate “moral foundations” in varying degrees. We each have these natural pre-sets, which are the fruits of our evolutionary development. Here they are, presented with the caveat that the following descriptions are a generalization/oversimplication; at least they’re a starting point.

CARE. Think of a parent being drawn to the needs of their child. Compassion is a synonym. Liberals express care through projects to feed the hungry and save the environment. Conservatives support Wounded Warriors and Backstoppers projects.

FAIRNESS. Think of protestors correcting wrongs and advocating for human rights. Justice is a synonym. Liberals express fairness through taxing the rich; conservatives, through work requirement for food stamps and Medicaid.

LOYALTY. Think of players supporting each other and sacrificing for a team. Liberals express it through joining groups advocating for social causes while conservatives do so through joining traditional groups and displaying patriotic symbols.

AUTHORITY. Think of roles and symbols that elicit humility, reverence, and obedience. Liberals may have difficulty with this because they question motives and traditions. Conservatives express this through advocating for traditional values embodied in religious and national doctrines.

SANCTITY. Think of feeling righteous by adhering to ethical/moral standards. Liberals may have difficulty with this because of the emphasis upon individual freedoms and rights. Conservatives express clearly what they feel is right/wrong, sacred/profane.

So, this is big reason why we just can’t get along. We are evolutionarily-proned to view life in certain ways and orient ourselves, accordingly. Additionally, Dr. Haidt concludes that, overall, liberal-proned people have an uphill battle in their conflict with conservatives. The more left-wing we are, the more care and fairness override the other three moral foundations. Right wingers have no trouble holding all five together.

Well, if the author is correct, then it will be helpful for we Christians who are on the progressive end of the spectrum to ground ourselves more in the other three moral foundations.

AUTHORITY. For us, authority lies in the mission, message, and ministry of Christ. It’s not in a religious leader, a set of creeds, or a black and white reading of Scripture. It’s having the mind of Christ in us, as Paul said. When we read the Bible, we read it with a “What would Jesus think about this?” question in our minds. Not all books are created equal, which means the authority of Leviticus pales in comparison to that of the Sermon on the Mount.

SANCTITY. For us, this means loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. What is sacred is what we do in honoring God by personal devotion that leads to Christian servanthood. “Traditional family values” is too restrictive because it separates people into good/bad categories. We love others without labeling or fearing them. We understand that in such openness we affirm our solidarity with them, broaden our experiences, and connect more authentically to Christ (a la Matthew 25:31-46).

LOYALTY. For us, this means committing ourselves to the kingdom-revolution Jesus initiated; as one person expressed, it’s making sure there’s no gap between heaven and earth. That means we are inherently countercultural. We’re ultimately not Republican/Democrat, American/Non-American. Paraphrasing Jesus, you can’t serve competing loyalties.

Reinterpreting things like this helps us see the one advantage liberals might have: open-mindedness and open-heartedness. We’re not exclusive but inclusive, and that means inclusive with our fellow humans who just happen to be more conservative. We must all have the humility to learn from each other and not be afraid of what we discover and from whom. That’s just being caring and fair.

3 thoughts on “Understanding Our Differences”

  1. I’m trying to understand those who see political matters, at least how I think they see them, than how I see them. It seems at this time to be futile.

  2. Thanks, Greg…Again! For putting “food for thought” out there for all to reflect on. I pray that some day we can echo the Three Musketeers..
    “All for one & one for all”


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