Strictly psychologically, some very interesting stuff via Rod Dreher the other day. He summarizes some of the theory of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist who attempts to find the mental frameworks for how we think about a moral world.
Based on how you think about the following terms, Haidt says, a matrix of values will emerge that underlies a lot of morality: Harm, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Purity. Western liberal democracies are high on the Harm and Fairness terms, and hence have trouble understanding moral statement based on authority or purity. As Dreher emphasizes, these scales aren’t supposed to tell us which norms are right, but might perhaps help in cross-cultural communication. Or even communication between liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists.
Haidt goes on, in this essay, to talk about the things that morality “does,” which are often missed by New Atheists, such as binding people together, prescribing social action, and dealing with the intuitive and affective mental responses we have before we can even start to reason about some stimulus.
I simply want to insert a factor that Haidt leaves out. He combines Durkheim, evolutionary biology, and moral psychology to try to avoid the self-contained weaknesses of any. All of which are valid, in some ways, but he is remiss not to talk about spirituality. In laying out what kind of a physical and metaphysical world we inhabit, and especially how we interact with it, Haidt won’t really understand why many people continue to be religious today. He will always be in danger of the liberal condescension he seeks to avoid.
Spirituality is not just some form of morality – and that is the problem with Haidt, who is focused on morality. At this point – the point of defining one’s interaction with the world through a sense of metaphysics – morality is inseparable from religion, and religion refuses to be diminished to the mere doctrine-claims Haidt excoriates Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens for focusing on, or the Durkheimian group identity, or the Kohlberg psychological morality, or the Dawkins biological function.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.