Musings in Moral Theology (1)
I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.
• Jonathan Haidt
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the “clean” and expelling the “unclean.” Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries.
• Richard Beck
Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
• • •
The two most important books I’ve read over the past few years, especially for these partisan and divisive times in which we live, are:
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt,
— and —
Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, by Richard Beck.
I did two posts on Beck’s book back in April of 2014:
In another post in which I mentioned what I learned from his book, I wrote:
Many puzzle pieces fell into place when I began to realize how many “theological convictions” have roots in one’s own sense of that which attracts and repels. These impulses run deeper than cognition and analysis. This book (and others) helped me see that my opinions are often more visceral than rationally-based.
In fact, the message of both these books is this: rationality is overrated when it comes to developing our moral psychology.
We think we are reasonable people. We examine the evidence, the arguments, the facts, and then we come to our moral conclusions.
Both Haidt and Beck dispute this, and offer studies to prove that this is simply not the way things actually work.
Our morality is determined rather by our intuitions, our visceral and emotional responses, our conscious or subconscious loyalty to the group to which we belong. Whatever moral reasoning we do tends to follow intuition and emotion, and its purpose is to (1) confirm what our impulsive self has already decided, and (2) to keep us on good terms with the group with whom we identify.
For the next few weeks, on Mondays and Tuesdays, we will be considering various insights from Haidt and Beck.
The main point, as Richard Beck says, is that “there is an affective, experiential, and psychological aspect to theological reflection.”
I would add, as well, “moral” reflection and “political” reflection. Much of what is going on when we “take a stand for truth” is that we are, in reality, exhibiting more of our own visceral and emotional responses to various situations, and then using whatever rational arguments we can muster to justify our “righteous” position.