9/9: Why Good People are Divided by Politics & Religion!

Posted on : Sep 6th, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Everyone alive in America today knows we are a deeply divided nation.  In politics, our divisiveness is crippling our country.  Nothing is getting done at a time when a lot needs to be done.  President Clinton in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last Wednesday evening said it better than any:  “A broken clock is only right twice a day.”

The same is happening in religion.  Good people are deeply divided over religious beliefs.  Nowhere is that more obvious than over the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in religious life and equal marriage.  Denominational battles over “ordination standards” and marriage equality are raging in all but a few religious traditions.  Thankfully our new denomination, the United Church of Christ, is one of the very few denominations where this is no longer a battle.

How can people of strong religious faith be so passionate over issues about sexual orientation, women’s reproductive healthcare, and gender; and so oblivious to the issues of wealth and poverty?  How can families be so divided over these same issues?   How can we and some of our best friends be so divided by them?

Jonathan Haidt has published a new book entitled, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.”  Using some current knowledge of neuroscience, (that is, studies about “how the brain functions”) Haidt suggests our “brain structure or brain chemistry” may well be the major influence in the way we make moral decisions.  He suggests that part of the division we experience in politics and religion is because of the way our brain functions.

Kevin Currie-Knight, an “Education Grad Student” wrote the following review/synthesis of Haidt’s theory:

There is evidence from neuroscience that increasingly suggests that human reason is less a tool for figuring out what to do, and more a tool for justifying what we’ve already decided to do (based on emotion and other simple snap-judgment intuition) to ourselves and others. Of course, this isn’t to say reasoning is futile, or that we don’t ever use it to actually decide what to do, but we generally use reason as a deciding mechanism only when intuition and emotion are at a loss or conflicting.

The upshot of this? Reason is often less decisive in deciding what the best moral positions or political positions are. And this leads us [to the] thesis that any moral or political theory that attempts to use reason to discover the simple rules that should govern all political and moral decision making [is] likely going to fail. Why? Because, according to Haidt’s and others’ research, there are at least six mental ‘modules’ that go into moral and political decisions, and it is difficult to argue that any one (or two or three) are more important than others.

They are: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation and liberty/oppression.

Some people (often of the political left) care most about care/harm and fairness/cheating in their emphasis on egalitarian politics that aim to provide care for those in need and create fair rules in the sense that everyone, relatively speaking, starts on an ‘even playing field.’ Others (usually conservatives) have temperaments that focus on authority/subversion and loyalty/betrayal, focusing on maintaining or promoting institutions that foster some level of deference to authority (in legitimate hierarchies), and loyalty (whether to country, God, family, etc.).

While I am doubtful of parts of Haidt’s theory, it is enlightening to know that one of the reasons we can’t get those who disagree with us is that changes in moral thinking don’t come about the same way for everyone.  For example, as I’ve listened to the speeches at the Democratic National Convention this week, I’ve been amazed by two things.  One is that somehow marriage equality or “gay marriage” as it is sometimes called, has become a staple of the Democratic platform.  How did that happen so fast????  The second is, those words have not been used at all.  The language used over and over again is “everyone should be free to marry the person they love.”  And regarding the change in eliminating “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell,” the new language is “all persons should be free to love the persons they love as well as serve the country they love.”  That language is a shift to “moral principles” that conservatives embrace (Authority/Respect; sanctity/purity) as opposed to the language of “equality, justice and fairness.”

The Apostle Paul had this idea two thousand years ago.  In the fourth chapter of Ephesians he told a deeply divided church, “Let us speak the truth in love, and grow to the full maturity of Christ.  When you get angry, don’t let it become a sin.  You who have been stealing, stop stealing.  Say only what will build others up.  Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind.  In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

Can we bridge the divide?  Let’s talk about that on Sunday.



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Ephesians 4: 14-32

Let us then be children no longer, tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine, or by human trickery or crafty, deceitful schemes.  Rather, let us speak the truth in love, and grow to the full maturity of Christ, the head.  Through Christ, the whole body grows.  With the proper functioning of each member, firmly joined together by each supporting ligament, the body builds itself up in love.

So I declare and testify together with Christ that you must stop living the kind of life the world lives.  Their minds are empty, they have no understanding, they are alienated from the life of God – all because they have hardened their hearts.  They’ve dulled their sense of right and wrong, for they have abandoned themselves to sensuality in order to indulge in every form of licentiousness and greed.

That is hardly the way you have learned from Christ, unless you failed to hear properly, when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus.  You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which is being corrupted by following illusory desires.  Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s likeness, in the justice and holiness of the truth.

Therefore, let’s have no more lies.  Speak truthfully to each other, for we are all members of one body.

When you get angry, don’t let it become a sin.  Don’t let the sun set on your anger, or you will give an opening to the Devil.

You who have been stealing, stop stealing. Go to work.  Do something useful with your hands, so you can have something to share with the needy.

Be on your guard against foul talk.  Say only what will build others up at that moment.  Say only what will give grace to your listeners.

Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind.  In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

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