The Righteous Mind

Submitted by Peter on Thu, 11/05/2020 - 14:49

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This book study begins October 4, 2020 only on Zoom.

On September 11, 2012, Pastor Lee Neish invited folks to the parsonage for a discussion of Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind”. Half a dozen of us participated in a lively and interesting discussion that just touched the surface of the ideas in this fascinating book about why it is so hard for liberal and conservative people to talk seriously with each other. One reason for choosing this book is that I’ve come across references to it in many other books I’ve been reading recently.

As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly impossible - challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you’re ready to trade in anger for understanding, read The Righteous Mind.

Comments

1 – How would you rate yourself on threat sensitivity and openness to experience? Does this match the way you vote (according to our author)? 325 / 279
2 – What is one way you are similar (or different) to / from our book’s sister and brother? Have you noticed this before reading Step 2? 328 / 281
3 – Do you think that binding or blinding is the more important part of morality? Why? 336 / 288
4 – How and how much do you feel constrained by your environment? What part of that constraint do you think is either good or bad? 340 / 291
5 – Do you think governments have a chance against corporations? 351 / 297
6 – Comments about the “food insurance” section? 354 / 304
7 – How often in your reading of this book do you say “Of course….” and how often “How can that be?”? 359 / 307
8 – How might we find a person of the “other” group who would be interested in engaging, especially during the COVID-19 isolation? 364 / 312
9 – Should we continue in a social science direction or move back toward basic religious issues?

Chapter 12: “Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?” (pp.274-313) to the Conclusion (pp.315-318)

1. How would you rate yourself on threat sensitivity and openness to experience? Does this match the way you vote (according to our author)? (p.279)

If you concur with the research, I may be more liberal than conservative in these areas. I am open to “novelty, change, and new experiences.” However, if I perceive a real threat, I will always react – sometimes decisively, other times with caution. So it’s a mix. I don’t react “strongly to reminders of death” which, apparently, would be the way most conservatives do.

As far as this matching the way that I vote, I clearly saw Trump as a threat and felt like I was voting more against that threat than I was voting for Biden. In the end, then, I question the conclusions of this research that you can measure liberalism or conservatism with any degree of accuracy using just these two modalities.

2. What is one way you are similar (or different) to / from our book’s sister and brother? Have you noticed this before reading Step 2? (p.281)

I now may be more similar to the sister than the brother, but I really didn’t rebel or become “socially disengaged” in the way that she’s described here. When I was a child, I loved to travel and had experienced parts of every state in the “lower 48” – the contiguous United States – by the time that I’d reached my eighteenth birthday. But that was more my parents doing than my own. I was active in our family’s church and became president of our church youth fellowship group by the time that I was a junior in high school. So, in that, I was and am more like the brother here than the sister. My liberal and progressive leanings really began to develop, though, as I reacted positively to the activities and speeches of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Kennedy brothers. I remember being shocked as a freshman in college when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the fall of 1963. This couldn’t happen to a president of the United States during my lifetime, I thought to myself! I was truly stunned. But I really became outraged during my time in the Marine Corps as I protested our involvement in the Vietnam War. As an officer in the military during that time, myself, I was especially upset as I learned of Lt. William Calley’s actions which led to the premeditated massacre of 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai – many of them women and children. It happened on March 16, 1968. Then, the very next month, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. Growing out of these pivotal events, my adaptations clearly sent me in the direction of more liberal and progressive positions.

I’ve always led with my intuition, so it was no surprise to me (or my family) that I first felt led to become a teacher, then a counseling psychologist, and finally a pastor – but all of those vocations had grown, by then, out of a strongly developed liberal’s point of view of the world. So, the three highest moral matrices in my makeup are Care over harm, Liberty over oppression, and Fairness over cheating. However, Sanctity over degradation is up there as well. There’s just not been much room left for Loyalty or Authority in my mental constitution – unless we can come up with a set of values which we might agree upon are both worth giving it authority along with our loyalty. Those values are there in the margins of the Bible, and in the lives and voices of prophets such as Isaiah and Micah, Elijah and Jesus. Given a sweeping and thorough reformation, religion still might do that for us – in ways that the Church has not.

So, yes, I noticed all of this about myself long before reading this book or coming across the “characteristic adaptations” that McAdams writes about “emerging as we grow” (p.280). Haidt’s moral matrices have just confirmed the things that I’ve, long ago, come to know – not only about our culture and society – but also about my family and myself.

3. Do you think that binding or blinding is the more important part of morality? Why? (p.288)

I would not say that blindness is an “important part of morality.” However, discovering and acknowledging where one’s blind spots are (and we all have them), surely is important. But we ought to spend most of our time concentrating upon those areas that will eventually bind us together, instead of constantly falling back into those differences that have always torn us apart. Maybe this is one of those both/and situations and is an ongoing two-step process: keep taking off the blinders that we have and yet continue to work at trying to understand and appreciate each other – in spite of our differences – until we find ways in which we can be bound back together. In the end, though, I think that it’s the binding that is more important.

4. How and how much do you feel constrained by your environment? What part of that constraint do you think is either good or bad? (p.291)

I do feel constrained by the ways in which our customs, traditions and religions have become so institutionalized that they’ve restricted and limited my choices. Again, I go back to the original meaning of the word “heresy” (αἵρεσις in Greek) which meant a “choice” or an “opinion.” Tragically, very early on, the Church turned it into a “wrong belief.” If I don’t accept God as an anthropomorphized version of a Father figure, I’m a heretic. If I don’t accept Jesus as the Christ figure – therefore, the completely unique Son of God – I’m a heretic. If I’m against ostracizing LGBTQ people, I’m a heretic. If I proclaim that black lives must come to matter as much as white lives, I’m a heretic – or, worse, I lose all social capital with everyone around me who thinks that things are just fine as they are. Those kinds of constraints are damaging. If there is anything good about them, I don’t see it.

On the other hand, I’m constrained by speed limits on the highway, by the HOA rules of living in a gated community, by wearing a mask and not being able to travel whenever and wherever I want to go during this COVID-19 pandemic, ...and so on. All of those kinds of things, however, are good constraints.

5. Do you think governments have a chance against corporations? (p.297)

Not if people like Trump and his Republican cohorts are in control. The “externalities” of many of these “superorganisms” (such as petrochemical and pharmaceutical corporations, or monopolies like Amazon, Google, et al.) have led to more individual and environmental costs now than they’ve provided benefits. But, unless we have a government strong enough to provide the necessary checks and balances, their power will continue to grow until no one will be able to stop them. I remain hopeful, but we can’t let things continue as they have been.

I agree with our author, however; corporations do have a place. But they must be restrained “in full view of the public, with a free press that is willing and able to report on the externalities being foisted” upon us all (p.298).

6. Comments about the “food insurance” section? (p.304)

I do agree with Haidt that “as long as someone else is always paying for your choices – things will get worse.” Competition and innovation does bring down the prices for things we use and need. But a footnote does point out a caveat:

“Goldhill acknowledges that government has many rules to play
in a market-based health system” [ – such as] “enforcing safety
standards, ensuring competition among providers, running an
insurance pool for truly catastrophic cases, and subsidizing the
poor, who could not afford to purchase their own health care
even if prices dropped by 50 percent” (footnote #65, p.373).

Again, there’s got to be provisions for checks-and-balances in the economic system that’s meant to function in support of us all. If there are none, all of the support and benefits will continue to go to the corporations and none to us – the average citizen.

7. How often in your reading of this book do you say “Of course….” and how often “How can that be?”? (p.307)

I have often agreed with Haidt’s conclusions that “our complicated moral psychology coevolved with our religions and our other cultural inventions (such as tribes and agriculture) to get us where we are today.” But I’ve parted ways with his simplistic definitions of a few of his moral matrices (especially – no surprise – as he’s defined religion and sanctity). However, I do agree with him that without finding ways for us to begin to share in those matrices, we’re in trouble. I also now share these final insights with him:

“Intuitions come first, so anything we can do to cultivate more
positive social connections will alter intuitions and, thus,
downstream reasoning and behavior” as well (p.311).

...and,

“If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness.
... And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first”
(p.312).

...and,

“...each team is composed of good people who have something
important to say” (p.313).

...and, finally,

“We may spend most of our waking hours advancing our own
interests, but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest
and become simply a part of a whole. It’s not just a capacity; it’s
the portal to many of life’s most cherished experiences” (p.317).

8. How might we find a person of the “other” group who would be interested in engaging, especially during the COVID-19 isolation? (p.312)

We might try getting hold of a recognized leader and representative of the Republican Party in the county of Napa who would be willing to join us one evening on Zoom. Do any of you know Jessica Patterson – a member of the GOP who was elected over her two right-wing rivals? [NOTE: I just got this from a report by Dan Walters in a calmatters.org/commentary which you could find on http://www.napavalleyregister.com].

On the other hand, do any of you personally know a conservative Republican – someone whom you trust – who might be willing to enter into a dialogue with us? Failing that, how about a conservative Democrat – or even a traditional conservative Christian?

9. Should we continue in a social science direction or move back toward basic religious issues?

I admit that I’m not quite sure how our group would define “basic religious issues,” but I’m one who would like for us to get back to books that clearly had such issues underlining their premises and points of view – not surprisingly, those are “nearest and dearest” to my heart. It has been at the center of most of my vocational choices throughout my adult life – from public school teacher, to counseling psychologist, and finally as a pastor. Understand, however, that my definition of religion is not as many would define it, but as I’ve outlined it in my responses to this book and throughout all of our gatherings over other books. I would really enjoy reading and discussing any book that brought into dialogue the “trinity” of science, social science and religion – all together! I still think that many of the books coming from Westar’s scholars do fit this model; so, I’d like for us to explore more of the ones that we’ve overlooked.

1 – ‘professors like me who have no interest in sports.’ He doesn’t tell us how he feels at a football game, but I just feel more different and separate. How do you feel at football (or any other ...ball) games and why? 287 / 248
2 – If you could get down off the elephant, what size and kind of animal (or vehicle) do you picture yourself riding (most of the time)? 291 / 251
3 – How many of the New Atheists have you read and what do you think of their ideas? 295 / 255
4 – If “religions do in fact help groups to cohere, solve… and win… survival.” why are religions loosing so many people? 298 / 256
5 – What do you think of Wilson’s “Religions exist primarily for people to achieve together what they cannot achieve on their own.”? 303 / 262
6 – If religious belonging matters much more than religious believing, would the Methodist (Presbyterian) Church be better off without asking potential members to ascent to the I Believes in the membership ceremonies? 311 / 267
7 – Is the U. S. the country which has most ‘los[t] it’s grip on individuals’? Comments? 313 / 269
X – Perhaps the world is past the point at which we should be turning resources into offspring. 313 / 269

Chapter 11: “Religion Is a Team Sport” (pp.246-273)

1. ...‘professors like me who have no interest in sports.’ He doesn’t tell us how he feels at a football game, but I just feel more different and separate. How do you feel at football (or any other ...ball) games and why? (p.248)

Wait. Back up to the previous page where Haidt really says something outrageous: “A college football game is a superb analogy for religion” (p.247). Really? What’s more, he goes on to say: “From a naïve perspective, focusing only on what is most visible”[both are little more than] “an extravagant, costly, wasteful institution that impairs people’s ability to think rationally while leaving a long trail of victims” (ibid.). Again, he’s making an analogy between a football game and religion. I realize that he’s an atheist and may have good reasons to cast aspersions on institutionalized religion, but his very definition of religion is far from mine. To me, religion is meant to celebrate and explore those things that bind us together and which we hold sacred. While some kind of hive binding happens through the school spirit on display at athletic events, it isn’t at all like the spirituality and concern for the sacred that I find in religion. I reject Durkheim’s definition of religion, as well, as he only focuses in on its “binding” function:

“A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to
sacred things that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs
and practices which unite into one single moral community called
a Church, all those who adhere to them” (p.248).

It is much, much more than that.

Now that I’ve got that “out of my system,” on to your question. Since I’ve been both a participant and a spectator at university athletic events, I can say that between the adrenaline rushes that I experienced as a player and the spirited cheering that I’ve done from the sidelines, I’ve felt both the pure ecstasy of victory as well as the agony of defeat. If you’ve never been a player, that’s one thing, but it’s also great fun to be a fan and experience the camaraderie of getting into the game almost as much as the players do. As Hunter Pence of my San Francisco Giants would lead us in the boisterous cheer at times like these, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

2. If you could get down off the elephant, what size and kind of animal (or vehicle) do you picture yourself riding (most of the time)? (p.251)

From the very beginning (p.xiv), I found Haidt’s odd metaphor of riding an elephant both unhelpful and distracting. My intuition is very much an interior feeling that fills my very being, so I don’t feel as if I’m riding anything at all – I’m more consumed by it than anything else.

3. How many of the New Atheists have you read and what do you think of their ideas? (p.255) ideas?

I’ve read a bit of Richard Dawkins. That’s it. I immediately dismissed his ideas because they not only misrepresented my religious experiences but assumed that someone like me would have to be delusional. He doesn’t even know me.

4. If “religions do in fact help groups to cohere, solve… and win… survival.” why are religions loosing so many people? (p.256)

Institutionalized religion is disappearing because its hierarchy refuses to allow it to evolve – as it must, if it is to ever survive. To begin with, we have to get rid of all of the Church dogma and rethink most of its doctrines. That’s a huge step; I know. It will take a completely new kind of widespread reformation. In the end, traditional religious faith must be given a good death so that something new can be born. People are leaving the Church because, sadly, they simply find it irrelevant.

5. What do you think of Wilson’s “Religions exist primarily for people to achieve together what they cannot achieve on their own.”? (p.262)

Much like most of the definitions of religion throughout this book, Wilson has only one piece of what religion does for us – and it’s not even the primary one. Again, I maintain that religion, first (as understood, etymologically, from its very beginning,), comes from our shared experiences of the sacred that then bind us together because those experiences address what we value most about being human. What we have valued most highly – i.e., so have considered sacred – then gave rise to communities (such as synagogues, churches and mosques) that have attempted to live up to those values. When it has worked, it’s been wonderful. When it hasn’t, it’s been a tragedy.

6. If religious belonging matters much more than religious believing, would the Methodist (Presbyterian) Church be better off without asking potential members to assent to the I Believes in the membership ceremonies? (p.267)

Yes – better yet, let them put such “I Believes” in their own words – and be invited to offer even more, should they care to. We’d be much better off. The Church then would be allowed to evolve and its membership would increase because we’d be embracing diversity. I fervently believe this. Sadly, I’m not hopeful that it will happen – at least, not in my lifetime. But when the Church (as we know it) does die, it’s just as inevitable that something new will be born in its place. Why? Because that’s the way of human evolution.

7. Is the U. S. the country which has most ‘los[t] its grip on individuals?’ Comments? (p.269) X – Perhaps the world is past the point at which we should be turning resources into offspring. (p.269)

I don’t know about “most,” but we certainly have failed (in Durkheim’s words there) to evolve “to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices.” So, we have, indeed, lost our grip on what was considered to be most important about maintaining “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If hyper-individualism is, in fact, the culprit – i.e., where everybody’s been allowed, even encouraged, to do what they damn well please – then religion still has a place to correct it. It can return us, once again, to committing ourselves to the shared moral values that made us the dominant species to begin with. If we fail at this, however, it won’t be just the Church that will become extinct.

1 – Although I was in the army (for as little time as reasonably possible), I never experienced what McNeil did, at that time. I have later, however. Have you had an experience such as he described? 258 / 222
2 – What do you think about Homo duplex? 261 / 225
3 – How do you think COVID-19 is (and will) affecting our sacred vs profane interests? 262 / 226 What about our Social Capital? 282 / 243
4 – What activity in our society do you see that transforms children into adults? How well does it work? 266 / 229
5 – What are some implications of being conditional hive creatures? 274 / 236
6 – Trump → transactional leadership vs. Biden → transformational leadership. Is this a good comparison? 278 / 240
7 – What do you think of the idea that God is what happens between people? 283 / 244

Chapter 10:  “The Hive Switch (pp.221-245) 

1.     Although I was in the army (for as little time as reasonably possible), I never experienced what McNeil did, at that time.  I have later, however.  Have you had an experience such as he described? (p.222)

I have experienced the kind of “muscular bonding” that McNeil speaks of.  It first happened to me during the high school and university years in which I played varsity sports – especially in the play-by-play aspects of football, but also in soccer and (to a lesser extent) in baseball.  The key was that I really identified myself as being part of a team.

While a bit more intense, I had this very same kind of experience while I was on active duty in the Marine Corps – feeling the cohesiveness of my unit, learning to forget my own needs on behalf of the goals and safety of my platoon, and learning to trust the men under my command in the process.  A cherished saying of any infantryman is to either hear someone say to you, or be able to say to another Marine, “I’ve got your six!” – meaning, “I’ve got your back!” Imagine as if the area around you were in the form of a clock; with twelve straight ahead of you, three would be on your right, and nine on your left – six, then, would be behind you.  Remember the movie 12 O’clock High?  In that instance, however, pilots would be referring to the additional dimensions of whether the enemy was coming in high or low.

2.     What do you think about Homo duplex? (p.225)

We may be much more than that – a triplex, quadraplex, or more – where there are different levels of loyalty depending upon the groups to which one belongs.  For example, I have sentiments that bind me to my family that are stronger than the bonds that I have with my friends.  And the bonds that I have with my friends are stronger than my bond to the Church – and so on.  Like a series of concentric circles moving outward in my life – from family, to neighborhood, to community, state, nation, geographical region, and then to the whole world – the sentiments that bind me to others and my surroundings (and, yes, even to those spiritual and inanimate ones) varies with how close I feel toward them, how much I would give of myself for them, and what is ultimately most important to me.

3.     How do you think COVID-19 is (and will) affecting our sacred vs profane interests? (p.226)  What about our Social Capital? (p.243)

While I question Haidt’s narrow definition of sacred – as simply “where the self disappears and collective interests predominate” – I do think that a pandemic can help us understand that we’re not just in the same boat; we are all in the same storm.  So, we’ve got to learn how to work together more efficiently as a species to overcome the global dangers that we all face.  The issue of climate change is one example of an area where the quality of life has become a threat that should concern us all – there are many others.

I also question Haidt’s conclusion that our “ordinary day-to-day world where we live most of our lives” is, by its very nature, profane.  We choose to make it so (e.g., as in Deuteronomy 30: 19).

If we were to agree with Robert Putnam’s outline of social capital – that it “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy” – then, yes, absolutely, we would greatly benefit from such capital.  But we’re desperate for it, now, to be used in the face of national and global concerns that go far beyond just handling any virus.

4.     What activity in our society do you see that transforms children into adults?  How well does it work? (p.229)

I don’t see any singular activity that “transforms children into adults” – as if it were like some of the ancient tribal rituals that would mark pubescent youth moving from childhood to adulthood in a single day.  It’s a process – that may actually begin in kindergarten.  In that, I’m reminded of Robert Fulghum’s 1968 book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten in which he said these were the things that he learned there: 

·      Share everything

·      Play fair.

·      Don’t hit people

·      Put things back where you found them.

·      Clean up your own mess.

·      Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

·      Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

·      Wash your hands before you eat.

·      Flush.

·      Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

·      Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

·      Take a nap every afternoon.

·      When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

·      Be aware of wonder.  Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup:  The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

·      Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.  So do we.

·      And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK. 

He then concluded with this point:

                        “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.  The Golden

                        Rule and love and basic sanitation.  Ecology and politics and equality

                        and sane living” (pp.6-7).                                                                      

How well does this process work?  If you skip (or never get) what you’re supposed to learn in a loving, nurturing family and/or in your childhood, you may never become a true adult – no matter how old you are.  I think we’re seeing that play out in politics right about now.

5.     What are some implications of being conditional hive creatures? (p.236) 

Just to be clear, our author describes “conditional hive creatures” on that page this way:   

                        “We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others

                        when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they 

                        have violated it.”

The most significant implication of that position, it seems to me, is that we then would be far too quick to misinterpret and misunderstand others who do not conform to our moral matrix.  As I often do with Fox News, so rightwing conservatives do with MSNBC, CNN and PBS.  I’ve lost childhood friends on the right due to our complete lack of empathy for one another.  Yes, I do feel sad for that having happened; but I can’t seem to even open up a respectful dialogue with them anymore about our differences – so, regrettably, we have parted ways.         

6.     Trump → transactional leadership vs. Biden → transformational leadership.  Is this a good comparison? (p.240)

I’d like to think that this is a good comparison, but I’ve come to know more about Trump and his self-centered transactional style over these last four years than I have Biden and his style of leadership.  Biden talks a good line about all of us just “getting along” with each other in spite of our differences, but I’ve yet to see him prove it.  His record shows that he may be just as much of a leftwing partisan as his opponents are partisans for the right.  The proof will be in the execution of the next president’s decisions based upon his interior moral matrix.  

7.     What do you think of the idea that God is what happens between people? (p.244)

To my intuitive mind, God is far, far more mysterious and beyond something that simply “happens between people.”  It is a great Mystery that goes back to the creation of the well-ordered aspects of the universe itself – i.e., involving the entirety of the cosmos.  Of that we know little more than the simple mechanics of when it might have appeared, not how, why or by whom.

Earlier in the book, Haidt describes the ethic of divinity as “based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, temporary vessels within which a divine soul has been implanted” (p.100).  That seems strange and trivial to me.  Who or what did the “implanting?”  A footnote, however, has Haidt clarifying that this concept of a soul may not be “anything like the Christian sense” but “something separable from the body, something that inhabits the body” (footnote #12 on p.337).  That does come closer to some sense of how I understand the nature of the soul.  But, how did it get there?  What about its Creator?

Based upon Haidt’s observations of a number of different cultures, his theory of God seems to be this: 

                        “...that the human mind automatically perceives a kind of vertical

                        dimension of social space, running from God or moral perfection

                        at the top down through angels, humans , other animals, monsters,

                        demons, and then the devil, or perfect evil, at the bottom” (p.103).

That may be a psychologist’s clinical understanding of Western Christian orthodoxy, but I find it unbelievable and, frankly, bizarre.  Except for maybe the most traditional fundamentalist, no one believes in such a three-tiered universe anymore.

While he never says so, outright, Haidt appears to me to be an atheist.  He talks of religion as if it were primarily a delusion and seems to speak of spiritual experiences as “hallucinations” (footnote #7, p.366).  He agrees with the atheist, Daniel Dennet, that “the circuitry for falling in love has gotten commandeered by some religions to make people fall in love with God” (p.253 and footnote #19, p.367).  In apparent agreement with both David Sloan Wilson and Nicholas Wade, Haidt concludes that “Gods and religions, in sum,” are nothing more than “group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust” (p.264, cf. footnote #38, pp.367-368).  He then concludes:

                        “...we can expect religions and religious minds to be parochial –

                        focused on helping the in-group – even when a religion preaches

                        universal love and benevolence” (p.268).

So, again, who or what is God?  Haidt seems to posit God as little more than a human invention that we’ve used to help us bring order to society.  As you read the Bible and compare it to other deistic religions, he may be right in his observations.  But I think God is much, much more than that.  So, I remain to be in wonder and in awe about God – about what we did not imagine or invent, indeed, about the origin and purpose of creation itself.

______________________________________________________________________________

In classical theology, the common Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo literally meant "creation out of nothing." What’s more ex nihilo creation claims that there was a beginning to one's existence and anything that exists has a beginning. I’ve always pondered the fact that this idea of a required beginning, though, flatly contradicts the claims of these same theologians that a Creator, God, existed without a beginning. In any event, ex nihilo creation theory contrasts with two other theories: creatio ex materia (creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter) and creatio ex deo (creation out of the very being of God). That last one seems to be what most orthodox theologians claim today – that “in the beginning,” absolutely nothing existed but God. I have found it impossible, however, to believe that creation happened out of nothing. Think about it. It had to appear from somewhere or some thing, right? So, at the moment, my belief is between those last two theories – ex materia or ex deo. For me, they’re both the same thing. Will we ever be able to know, one way or the other? I think not. So, that’s where faith comes from – and we invented that, too, clearly.

Thank you for your question here. My current thinking starts with a multiverse, in
which stuff goes into a black hole in one universe and comes out as a big bang into
a new universe. But that just steps the question back one universe at a time until
????
Previously, without a multiverse, the Big Bang "just happened". Because everything
was created at the beginning, there is NO BEFORE as time is also created at the
beginning. The clock actually starts with the big bang and just as there is no
matter or energy (well, it all started as energy), there is no time before the
beginning. Time looks like it can be directly compared to (and perhaps consists only
of) change. Without anything, there is nothing to change, and NO TIME.

Another idea of God is that we get God from consciousness. Last night I was saying
that therefore God started with human consciousness but there is more than human
consciousness. Living things are conscious on some level, or they couldn't live.
Even plants roots head for water and minerals and leaves for sun. This is about
the minimum consciousness I can envision, but it goes all the way up to (and beyond?)
human consciousness. And who knows about other places in the universe? What about
Klingons, etc... Perhaps there are gods for each species, with varying attributes?

Trying to separate philosophical ideas about God from scientific ideas is interesting.
Peter J. Steinberger's "The Problem with God" is based on the idea that everything has
a cause. But perhaps that's not completely true. Perhaps our universe "just began"
without a cause. Just because the only things we know have some cause doesn't mean
that it's impossible for something not to have a cause. It does appear unusual,
though.

1 – When do you feel groupish and when do you feel individual? 220 / 192
2 – One might say that the United States is the most individual and therefore the least groupish country in the world (at least of the big ones). But I think we feel the most successful. Does this contradict our author? 228 / 199
3 – We have probably all felt the flash of negativity when we noticed someone not “playing vair(ly)”. But are you willing to share a time when you did not play fair? 232 / 206
4 – The Acheulean hand axe is an example of functionality. Perhaps they are the same everywhere because they were built ONLY for functionality. Form comes later, when we have evolved to the point of art. Comments? 243 / 208
5 – We now see cases of Asberger’s and Autism syndrome in our culture. People with these conditions can be very beneficial to progress, but are NOT groupish. Comments? 243 / 210
6 – What would you propose as the next candidate for another Rubicon? 246 / 212
7 – “…and then stayed stable for 1000 years.” What influence on our genes now has that level of stability? 251 / 216
8 – What do you think (again) about the emergent properties of larger collectives actin as a creating God? 254 / 219

Part III:  “Morality Binds and Blinds” (pp.187-313)

Chapter 9:  “Why Are We So Groupish?” (pp.189-220)

  1. When do you feel groupish and when do  you feel individualistic? (p.192)

            As our author, quite logically, points out, whenever I’ve been on an athletic team, or part of a league, I’m definitely groupish – and can be that way even as a fan (e.g., following my S.F. Giants or Duke Blue Devils!).  While I was in college, it was the same as I joined the Theta Chi fraternity and became one of the “brothers."  So, one could be groupish about one’s alma mater, club or church – wherever we come together and share common goals or dedicate ourselves to teamwork on behalf of a larger organization or institution.

            On the other hand, I do value my individualism – and that attitude can quickly pop up even within a group when I find its positions or beliefs questionable (e.g., dogmas and doctrines within the Church).  But, doing that, I’ve had to be prepared for kickback from the group – and that always happens.  Throughout my life, though, whenever I’ve felt bullied or pressured, my intuition will trigger these individualistic tendencies in me.  I’ve always been that way.  So, it has made for some very interesting and stressful confrontations over my lifetime – from my childhood in public school (questioning the way we were taught history), then on to university campuses, through my years as an officer in the Marine Corps (when I expressed my opposition to the war in Vietnam), then as a teacher and counselor and, finally, as a pastor.

  1. One might say that  the United States is the most individualistic and therefore the least groupish country in the world (at least of the big ones).  But I think we feel the most successful.  Does this contradict our author? (p.199)

            We may “feel” like we’re the most successful nation in the world, but we’re not – because we should not measure success solely on the basis of things like wealth, privilege, and entrepreneurship.  I think that when it comes to citizenship, cultural influence, and overall quality of life, countries like Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, New Zealand, Australia and maybe even Japan, are all well ahead of us.  In my opinion, we remain to be a more selfish country than any of these others.

  1. We have probably all felt the flash of negativity when we noticed someone not “playing fair(ly)”.  But are you willing to share a time when you did not play fair? (p.206)

            The petty cheating that I did as a child, aside, as an adult I think that I took unfair advantage of my strength and quickness against weaker and slower opponents in hand-to-hand combat drills during basic training when I was in the Marine Corps – but, then again, I did get cold-cocked once by a Marine who was bigger and stronger than me.  I’m not sure what the lesson was supposed to be in all of that unless it was just to toughen us up.  It wasn’t fair.

  1. The Acheulean hand axe is an example of functionality.  Perhaps they are the same everywhere because they were built ONLY for functionality. Form comes later, when we have evolved to the point of art.  Comments? (p.208)

            I’m not so certain about your conclusion.  Haidt describes the main tool as “a teardrop-shaped hand axe, and its symmetry and careful crafting jump out at us as something new under the sun, something made by minds like ours.”  That looks and sounds a lot like art to me.    

  1. We now see cases of Asperger’s and Autism syndrome in our culture.  People with these conditions can be very beneficial to progress, but are NOT groupish. Comments? (p.210)

            As I understand the unique skills that these people bring to their work, they emerge out of their tendency toward hyper-individualism.  That means that they have extraordinary focus for detail and a willingness to do repetitive work that would drive the rest of us crazy.  What’s more, they could be left alone to do this all day, so are very reliable workers in assembly-line manufacturing.  But they’ve also found a place today in computer programming, software technology, engineering, accounting, library science, drafting, and as lab technicians.

  1. What would you propose as the next candidate for another Rubicon? (p.212)

            Up to now, groupishness, as our author points out, has been based only upon trust and cooperation “with people who look and sound like us [and who] share our values and norms” (p.210).  I look forward to a crossing of the Rubicon where self-centeredness is finally put behind us and our loyalty and efforts become directed toward all of humanity, not to just a single group or nation state.  We will have finally learned that every human being is a person worthy of inclusion, equality, and respect – and that will become our most important moral foundation.  Tribalism and selfishness will be a thing of the past; the new groupishness will be one of including the totality of humanity itself.  No one will be excluded.  No one will be left behind.  Everyone will have an equal opportunity to belong and live in safety and security.

  1. “...and then stayed stable for a thousand years.”  What influence on our genes now has that level of stability? (p.216)

            So, is there anything happening in our rapidly changing world today that might affect our very genetic makeup?  If it might bring about a change like I just posited above (in #6), our innate selfishness just might become genetically damped enough to bring about a Rubicon of new groupishness.  It may be naïve of me to think so, but I fervently wish that it would happen.

  1. What do you think (again) about the emergent properties of larger collectives acting as a creating God? (p.219)

            For me, that “larger collective” would have to have some kind of real epiphany.  For example, consider what might happen if we all became convinced that the opening words of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America were really true and were meant to be followed – that they were, in fact, sacred to us:

                        “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect

                        Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the

                        common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the

                        Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and

                        establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Key words from this Preamble, then, will have taken on new and profoundly sacred meaning – as if they actually were ordained by our Creator:

  • Union – that we are all in this together and no one is more deserving than another
  • Justice – that all people are treated equally and fairly regardless of their station in life
  • Tranquility – that all shall be at peace, within themselves, and with their neighbor
  • Welfare – that everyone shall have health, happiness, and a sense of well-being
  • Liberty – that everyone shall experience freedom from arbitrary or despotic control

Now, that would be a real blessing – and maybe we would even come to know God.

Part III: “Morality Binds and Blinds” (pp.187-313)

Chapter 9: “Why Are We So Groupish?” (pp.189-220)

1. When do you feel groupish and when do you feel individualistic? (p.192)

As our author, quite logically, points out, whenever I’ve been on an athletic team, or part of a league, I’m definitely groupish – and can be that way even as a fan (e.g., following my S.F. Giants or Duke Blue Devils!). While I was in college, it was the same as I joined the Theta Chi fraternity and became one of the “brothers.” So, one could be groupish about one’s alma mater, club or church – wherever we come together and share common goals or dedicate ourselves to teamwork on behalf of a larger organization or institution.

On the other hand, I do value my individualism – and that attitude can quickly pop up even within a group when I find its positions or beliefs questionable (e.g., dogmas and doctrines within the Church). But, doing that, I’ve had to be prepared for kickback from the group – and that always happens. Throughout my life, though, whenever I’ve felt bullied or pressured, my intuition will trigger these individualistic tendencies in me. I’ve always been that way. So, it has made for some very interesting and stressful confrontations over my lifetime – from my childhood in public school (questioning the way we were taught history), then on to university campuses, through my years as an officer in the Marine Corps (when I expressed my opposition to the war in Vietnam), then as a teacher and counselor and, finally, as a pastor.

2. One might say that the United States is the most individualistic and therefore the least groupish country in the world (at least of the big ones). But I think we feel the most successful. Does this contradict our author? (p.199)

We may “feel” like we’re the most successful nation in the world, but we’re not – because we should not measure success solely on the basis of things like wealth, privilege, and entrepreneurship. I think that when it comes to citizenship, cultural influence, and overall quality of life, countries like Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, New Zealand, Australia and maybe even Japan, are all well ahead of us. In my opinion, we remain to be a more selfish country than any of these others.

3. We have probably all felt the flash of negativity when we noticed someone not “playing fair(ly)”. But are you willing to share a time when you did not play fair? (p.206)

The petty cheating that I did as a child, aside, as an adult I think that I took unfair advantage of my strength and quickness against weaker and slower opponents in hand-to-hand combat drills during basic training when I was in the Marine Corps – but, then again, I did get cold-cocked once by a Marine who was bigger and stronger than me. I’m not sure what the lesson was supposed to be in all of that unless it was just to toughen us up. It wasn’t fair.

4. The Acheulean hand axe is an example of functionality. Perhaps they are the same everywhere because they were built ONLY for functionality. Form comes later, when we have evolved to the point of art. Comments? (p.208)

I’m not so certain about your conclusion. Haidt describes the main tool as “a teardrop-shaped hand axe, and its symmetry and careful crafting jump out at us as something new under the sun, something made by minds like ours.” That looks and sounds a lot like art to me.

5. We now see cases of Asperger’s and Autism syndrome in our culture. People with these conditions can be very beneficial to progress, but are NOT groupish. Comments? (p.210)

As I understand the unique skills that these people bring to their work, they emerge out of their tendency toward hyper-individualism. That means that they have extraordinary focus for detail and a willingness to do repetitive work that would drive the rest of us crazy. What’s more, they could be left alone to do this all day, so are very reliable workers in assembly-line manufacturing. But they’ve also found a place today in computer programming, software technology, engineering, accounting, library science, drafting, and as lab technicians.

6. What would you propose as the next candidate for another Rubicon? (p.212)

Up to now, groupishness, as our author points out, has been based only upon trust and cooperation “with people who look and sound like us [and who] share our values and norms” (p.210). I look forward to a crossing of the Rubicon where self-centeredness is finally put behind us and our loyalty and efforts become directed toward all of humanity, not to just a single group or nation state. We will have finally learned that every human being is a person worthy of inclusion, equality, and respect – and that will become our most important moral foundation. Tribalism and selfishness will be a thing of the past; the new groupishness will be one of including the totality of humanity itself. No one will be excluded. No one will be left behind. Everyone will have an equal opportunity to belong and live in safety and security.

7. “…and then stayed stable for a thousand years.” What influence on our genes now has that level of stability? (p.216)

So, is there anything happening in our rapidly changing world today that might affect our very genetic makeup? If it might bring about a change like I just posited above (in #6), our innate selfishness just might become genetically damped enough to bring about a Rubicon of new groupishness. It may be naïve of me to think so, but I fervently wish that it would happen.

8. What do you think (again) about the emergent properties of larger collectives acting as a creating God? (p.219)

For me, that “larger collective” would have to have some kind of real epiphany. For example, consider what might happen if we all became convinced that the opening words of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America were really true and were meant to be followed – that they were, in fact, sacred to us:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Key words from this Preamble, then, will have taken on new and profoundly sacred meaning – as if they actually were ordained by our Creator:

• Union – that we are all in this together and no one is more deserving than another
• Justice – that all people are treated equally and fairly regardless of their station in life
• Tranquility – that all shall be at peace, within themselves, and with their neighbor
• Welfare – that everyone shall have health, happiness, and a sense of well-being
• Liberty – that everyone shall experience freedom from arbitrary or despotic control

Now, that would be a real blessing – and maybe we would even come to know God.

1 – What was your reaction to figure 7.1? How much money would you have after all ten exercises?
2 – What bumper stickers do you have, and why? 158 / 135
3 – Is United We Stand antithetical to White Supremacy? 163 / 140
4 – What does it mean for something to have infinite value? 174 / 149
5 – Any comments on the author’s questions at the end of Chapter 7?
6 – Do you agree that early hunter-gatherers were egalitarian? 197 / 170
7 – Now we have six “foundations”. Does that seem right to you or are we still missing something? 205 / 176
8 – Why don’t Republicans band together to overthrow the bully in the White House? 215 / 185

Chapter 7: “The Moral Foundation of Politics” (pp.128-154)

1. What was your reaction to figure 7.1? (p.129) How much money would you have after all ten exercises?

This was interesting – even if very Machiavellian. My first reaction was to feel repulsed by the entire exercise; I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. In retrospect, and at first, forcing myself to come up with responses, here’s what I came up with: a total of 6 for Column A ($10,000 for 1a, sticking the needle into my arm; I’d do 2a, 3a and 4a for nothing, and I’d completely refuse to do 5a); and I had a total of 12 for Column B (I’d refuse to do 1b and 2b; I’d do 3b and 4b for nothing; and I’d refuse to do 5b). My total, then, would be only $10,000 for the one ridiculous “performance.” But, wait.

After further consideration – and if this “someone” behind the experiment were actually rich and stupid enough to offer me these sums of money without question – I think I’d demand a total of $7,000,000 for doing all of those in Column A and only 3 and 4 in Column B. I’d then pay off all of my debts, share some of my profits with members of my family, and, finally, find some worthy charities to whom I’d give whatever was left over.

What, do you suppose, this says about my “moral foundation?”

2. What bumper stickers do you have, and why? (p.135)

I have none. However, I do have a blue DUKE sticker in the middle of my rear window on the Mercedes and a Marine Corps medallion affixed to the rear window of my Toyota SUV. I take pride in them both because each – in its own way – remains to be a symbol of excellence, for me, in the challenges that I’ve confronted over many years.

3. Is “United We Stand” antithetical to White Supremacy? (p.140)

It certainly seems contradictory, but any group could be united in some way and for almost any reason. If this phrase only addresses “your people,” that unity then remains within your tribe alone – while everybody else would be considered the “other” and remain outside the united stand of the group. I could see White Supremacists thinking this way.

4. What does it mean for something to have infinite value? (p.149)

By virtue of the word, “infinite,” it should refer to a value that is immeasurably great – unlimited, boundless, and true in every circumstance. That might be universally true for essentials like food, shelter, fresh air and clean water – such things, everyone would agree, have infinite value because they support life itself. But when you begin to speak of objects, places, people, and even principles (like liberty and equality), their value often becomes circumscribed by the people in power or are given more or less value depending upon the culture in which one lives.

So, yes, “the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities,” as our author notes here, but what is sacred to one may not be to another, so – not so coincidentally – their understanding of morality will often differ as well.

5. Any comments on the author’s questions at the end of Chapter 7? (p.154)

I think we on the left ought to expand our palate to include considerations of loyalty, authority and sanctity within our other foundations as well. However, we shouldn’t let the right define just exactly what those foundations should mean for us. There must be positive ways of understanding and incorporating all five (even the sixth) foundations into our model of a workable community – and there may be more that we haven’t yet defined.

Fundamentally, I think that this is what John Adams’ proposal for our nation’s motto, the Latin phrase, e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”), was supposed to mean – that out of a collection of disparate people, we could find both the will and the way to form a single nation. Back then it was just the thirteen colonies, but the principle remains the same today. If it was important enough to consider at the turn of the 18th century, it certainly should be reaffirmed now – especially in the face of such deep divisions as we’re currently experiencing.

Chapter 8: “The Conservative Advantage” (pp.155-186)

6. Do you agree that early hunter-gatherers were egalitarian? (p.170)

Who am I to question the conclusions of reputable archaeologists? The scientific evidence clearly seems to show that within those groups “there’s no chief, and the norms of the group actively encourage sharing resources” so, why not?

7. Now we have six “foundations”. Does that seem right to you or are we still missing something? (p.176)

I’m no expert in moral psychology, but it does make sense that this “Liberty/Oppression Foundation” seems to be a viable alternative for some – especially for those on the far right – who believe that outside forces are imposing illegitimate restraints on their liberty. The rise of Trump and the populist anger that he foments daily is proof enough that this opinion exists.

But, again, by committing ourselves to an open dialogue with the right wing of this country, we ought to take the time to explore ways that we might recognize the legitimacy of such a moral dichotomy as liberty vs. oppression. We may disagree on just exactly how it’s to be defined, but surely we can at least accept that it exists. So, let’s deal with it. It might even become a moral foundation in which we all share – each in our own way.

8. Why don’t Republicans band together to overthrow the bully in the White House? (p.185)

The short answer is that he’s their bully – doing their work for them – so why would they want to get rid of him? It’s got nothing to do with equality or fairness; it’s about the question of proportionality which asks, “What have you done for me, lately?” The far-right wing that’s taken over the Republican party thinks Trump is their golden boy. He’s helping them get what they want. That he’s also a narcissistic buffoon doesn’t seem to be their problem. To them, the sum of their moral foundation is far more important than any of its flawed parts – even if the biggest flaw is the president himself.

1 – How WEIRD do you think you are, and where do you think this makes a difference in your life? 113 / 97
2 – In our group we seem to live autonomy, talk community and have little to do with divinity (as our author uses the terms). Is this just my perception, or do you agree? Comments? 118 / 101
3 – What question(s) come to mind when reading the section “How I Became a Pluralist”? I can’t think of a good one for the group. 124 / 106
4 – When I say, “I drive a stick shift.”, I’m claiming my position as extremely autonomous. How much do you feel you can claim community and divinity in your moral outlook? 128 / 109
X – I don’t stir sugar into my beer, I brew it in.
5 – If you put numbers from -10 to 10 on figure 6.1 in both directions, where would you place yourself using the first number on the systematizer and the second number as the empathizer?
6 – What would you put on the third dimension that could be added to figure 6.1?
7 – What do you see as the main difference between biological evolution and cultural evolution? 141 / 121
8 – Which of the five columns of figure 6.2 do you think is LEAST important?

Part II: “There’s More to Morality than Harm and Fairness” (pp.94-186)
Chapter 5: “Beyond WEIRD Morality” (pp.95-111)
1. How WEIRD do you think you are, and where do you think this makes a difference in your life? (p.97)
While, by definition, I certainly am WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized...um, relatively Rich – compared to most of the world – and Democratic), however I’m more committed to relationships than I am to complete independence and autonomy. On the other hand, I am committed to a morality that protects individuals and individual rights; and I am concerned about fairness and doing no harm. So, that’s WEIRD. And I definitely would not place the needs of groups and institutions above the needs of individuals; that’s also WEIRD.

The ethic of autonomy, however, when pushed to extremes, becomes so individualistic that important aspects of a shared community suffer. We are not only part of a family, we are part of a larger society and nation and should take into account issues of the greater good for everyone within those families, societies and nations. That’s the ethic of community and is not WEIRD. Pushed too far, however, in that ethic, people can become stuck in assigned roles and dominated by a duty-driven hierarchy that often is given more power than it should ever have.

In the end, I guess that I’m a mix of the two; but then I’ve always taken a “both/and” kind of approach to things. Not that I always have to have it both ways, just that there should be an ongoing dialogue between what’s right and wrong, good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, fair and unfair, holy and unholy. Those things have made all the difference in the world to me.

2. In our group we seem to live autonomy, talk community and have little to do with divinity (as our author uses the terms). Is this just my perception, or do you agree?
Comments? (p.101)
I think you’re correct. As Haidt defines it, the ethic of divinity “is based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, temporary vessels within which a divine soul has been implanted” (p.100). That’s just a bit too narrow an understanding of divinity for me. And when moral concepts like sanctity vs. sin, purity vs. pollution and elevation vs. degradation come to dominate one’s sense of individuality and community, you’ve lost me.

3. What question(s) come to mind when reading the section “How I Became a Pluralist”? I
can’t think of a good one for the group. (pp.101-106)
I think it might be this dynamic between the ethics of family vs. individualism or duty vs. autonomy. When, if ever, is one more important than the other? When might living solely from one point of view become damaging when allowed to dominate the other?

4. When I say, “I drive a stick shift,” I’m claiming my position as extremely autonomous.
How much do you feel you can claim community and divinity in your moral outlook? (p.109) X – I don’t stir sugar into my beer, I brew it in.
I feel that my commitment to family and to a fair and equitable society makes me more communitarian than individualistic – as long as equality and personal autonomy are not harmed or ignored completely. Respect shown to the elderly, service to the group, the tending of one’s own soul, and a negation of self-centeredness might have me leaning just a bit toward the ethic of divinity, but, again, only if my own needs for autonomy and self-expression weren’t lost in the process. Like I said, I have kind of a “both/and” outlook on life.

Chapter 6: “Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind” (pp.112-127)
5. If you put numbers from -10 to 10 on figure 6.1 (p.117) in both directions, where would you place yourself using the first number on the systemizer and the second number as the empathizer?
If I understand your numbering system, I’d put myself on a -5 on the systemizer line and a +9 on the empathizer line – i.e., I’m definitely in the upper-left-hand quadrant of the model, halfway left of the midline toward low systemizer along that line, and way up near the top of the high empathizer line. Clearly, I am neither a high systemizer nor a low empathizer.

6 What would you put on the third dimension that could be added to figure 6.1?
How about adding the very next two dichotomies that our author presents: utilitarian vs. deontological? That would ask where you’d place yourself between wanting to bring about the greatest total good – no matter what (utilitarian) or emphasizing justice and doing no harm (deontological). Will you lean more toward maximizing the utility of the community or more toward Kant’s categorical imperative?

7. What do you see as the main difference between biological evolution and cultural
evolution? (p.121)
While both, clearly, are based upon variations, heredity and selection, I’d say that biological evolution is unconscious, opportunistic and not goal-oriented in any way. Cultural evolution, on the other hand, is conscious, planned (at best), and often does have a clear goal. Biological evolution is most often driven by the environmental circumstances in which the population lives. Cultural evolution is driven by the whole mental (including creativity) and material achievements of a particular society – or of humanity as a whole.

8. Which of the five columns of figure 6.2 (p.125) do you think is LEAST important?
As Haidt has outlined them, I’d say the least important was the “Sanctity/degradation” column – although I disagree with his choice of the word “sanctity.” To me sacredness or holiness has more to do with goodness, grace, mercy and reverence. It’s not about taboos, temperance, piety, chastity and cleanliness as he chooses to outline that term.

So, if my definition of sanctity were used, instead of Haidt’s, then the least important column for me would be the “Authority/subversion” one. I cannot abide hierarchies, unyielding dominance, and any insistence upon deference and obedience at the expense of more relevant virtues – like caring, kindness, fairness, justice, and trustworthiness.

1 – When have you caught yourself in a self righteous lie? 64 / 55
2 – Assuming we are all washing our hands more because of COVID-19, can you see how that relates to the findings of Chenbo Zhong in today’s political climate? 71 / 61
3 – What experience of Rider vs. Elephant would you like to share? 80 / 68
4 – Consider how the word ‘truth’ is being used in the last sentence of chapter 3.
5 – At this point in our book, do you favor Plato, Socrates, and Kohlberg OR Glaucon? Why? 87 / 74
6 – How much would the study of people receiving too much money be affected by their need? 96 / 82
7 – Has this chapter shown you anything you did not already know about why people are voting for Trump? 103 / 88
8 – If reason is now the rider of the emotional elephant, is the world better when reason has more control? 107 / 91
(Page Numbers are Paperback / Hardback)

Chapter Three: “Elephants Rule” (pp.52-71)

1. When have you caught yourself in a self-righteous lie? (p.55)

I’m sure that I’ve had my share of these throughout my lifetime, but centering just on my adult life, what immediately comes to my mind was when I once said to a lay person, “I’ve always opposed The United Methodist Church’s doctrine excluding LGBT people in our community.” It was a self-righteous lie.

When I’d been just a candidate for ordained ministry and had openly questioned this doctrine, I was cautioned by a member of the North Carolina Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to not take such a stance – if I truly wanted to be ordained in The United Methodist Church. So, I kept silent – until I was ordained and had become a Full Member in the collegium here in the California-Nevada Annual Conference. Only then did I speak out publicly again against this doctrine (Never mind that it finally did lead to my being charged and sent to face an ecclesiastical trial – but that’s another story.).

Looking back on these incidents, I’ve often wondered why I stayed in this denomination when I disagree with many aspects of its theology and practice of ministry. If I had not thought of my own status and reputation, first, I might not even be here today. But my conscience would be more clear than it is now if I had paid more attention to my intuition back then and not “listened to reason.”

2. Assuming we are all washing our hands more because of COVID-19, can you see how that relates to the findings of Chenbo Zhong in today’s political climate? (p.61)

I’m assuming this “Macbeth effect” – as Zhong calls it – claims that if we’re clean, we’ll want to keep everything dirty far out of our reach. Conversely, as Zhong has pointed out, “immorality makes people want to get clean.” That addresses the visceral feeling that I have every time I hear Donald J. Trump speak – or (more constantly) in seeing a tweet of his. I will turn away. I find his morals so objectionable I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with him. And, now that he’s full of the COVID-19 virus, he’d probably be unmasked anyway.

3. What experience of Rider vs. Elephant would you like to share? (p.68)

I’d like to begin by saying that I’ve never liked our author’s analogy – the image of a dialogue between the head and the heart (or gut, if you will) has always made more sense to me. Maybe it’s because one might confuse that with the Jeffersonian model (where “head and heart are co-emperors”). In any event, I’ve found myself having to stop and ask myself “Now, who was the rider again?” And whenever he talks about an elephant leaning one way or another, I have to say to myself, “He’s just talking about ‘intuition’ again.” Whatever.

I guess the experience that I’d share is a fundamental aspect of how I do theology. For instance, it just doesn’t “feel” right to have a judgmental and patriarchal supreme being that orthodoxy claims is God. I don’t even “think” of God as a sentient being. So, while it doesn’t make “sense” to me (read “reason” here), ultimately, it just doesn’t “feel” right (so, “intuition”). And I’ll almost always go with my “gut” in such issues as this. That makes me decidedly unorthodox – even heretical – but no rational approach has been able to convince me that scripture and tradition outweigh reason and experience. And, throughout it all, I will almost always go with my experience – how I feel – first.

4. Consider how the word ‘truth’ is being used in the last sentence of chapter 3 (p.71).

Just for reference, that sentence says this: “That depends on which you think was more important for our ancestors’ survival: truth or reputation.”

I’m assuming (“intuiting”?) that our author is referencing the lengthy sentence just before that:

“Wouldn’t it have been most adaptive for our ancestors to figure
out the truth, the real truth about who did what and why, rather
than using all that brainpower just to find evidence in support of
what they wanted to believe?”

I’m reminded of the traditional question asked of witnesses at trials: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?” – although I hear that last phrase has now become optional as we can no longer agree on just who God is or isn’t!

So, what Haidt seems to be asking for here is Truth – with a capital “T” – but how would we really know without absolute and undeniable proof? And how do we find that? You tell me.

5. At this point in our book, do you favor Plato, Socrates, and Kohlberg OR Glaucon? Why? (p.74)

I need to check my reading again and attempt to summarize: Plato says reason could and should rule because “It is better to be than to seem virtuous” (pp.67 & 73). Socrates says reason “must rule if it cares about what is truly good, not just about the appearance of virtue” (p.73). Kohlberg, another rationalist, stands “on the bedrock of the absolute moral truth that harm is wrong” (p.10) and “that the ability to reason well about ethical issues causes good behavior” (p.89). Glaucon, however, concludes that “people care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than about reality.” Therefore, “the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences” (p.74).

As I’ve said, I think I come out somewhere between Kohlberg and Glaucon: If it feels right, do it. But, on the other hand, let’s think about it a bit – preferably, together.

6. How much would the study of people receiving too much money be affected by their need? (p.82)

It might be considerable – much like a father stealing food because his children are starving (as in Victor Hugo’s famous novel, Les Misérables, where Jean Valjean steals bread to feed his sister’s children during a time of severe economic depression). Poverty – in the presence of systemic inequities and society-wide injustice – will dramatically affect our moral decision-making.

7. Has this chapter shown you anything you did not already know about why people are voting for Trump? (p.88)

It just confirmed what I already knew. Haidt’s title for section #5 says it very succinctly: “We Can Believe Almost Anything That Supports Our Team.” Trump demands loyalty above anything else – even morality – and he gets it. As Haidt states, closing out that section, “...it would explain why extreme partisans are so stubborn, closed-minded, and committed to beliefs that often seem bizarre or paranoid” (p.88). It explains why both reason and intuition have been obliterated by delusion in this administration.

8. If reason is now the rider of the emotional elephant, is the world better when reason has more control? (p.91)

As I’ve said earlier, reason and intuition ought to be in more of a dialogue than they usually are – and I don’t subscribe to Jefferson’s image that both should be “emperors.” Let’s just have a little more give-and-take between the two positions. Can we? So, I agree with Haidt’s observation:

“This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological
diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth
...or to produce good public policy” (p.90).

But I do recoil a bit at Haidt’s glittering generality: “Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason” (p.89). Okay, let’s not make a god out of reason, but I reject his outright dismissal of rationalism. We’ve been given a brain; let’s learn how best to use it. And, along the way, let’s all of us also try to avoid “confirmation bias” – arguing in support of our own preconceived points of view at the expense of the truth – at least as much as we’re able.

1 – Our author starts with: “...morality is the extraordinary human capacity that mad civilization possible.” Why do you agree, or if not, what other attribute do you think made civilization possible? xviii / xii
2 – Do you feel that your early moral development was mostly developed from playing with other kids or from lectures about the ten commandments? 10 / 9
3 – Where do you think our “gut feelings” come from? 22 / 18
4 – What is your reaction to the 1793 David Hume quotation? 29 / 25
5 – Rather than “Who is right?” among Plato, Hume and Jefferson, what question would you ask? 36 / 30
6 – How much time did you spend on the “4 card trick”? 49 / 42
7 – When did you change your mind about a moral issue? 56 / 48
(page numbers are Paperback / Hardback)

Introduction (pp.xi-xvii)

1. Our author starts with: “...morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.” Why do you agree, or if not, what other attribute do you think made civilization possible? (p.xii)

No doubt human beings had to get along with each other to finally create a civilization, but moral structure wasn’t the only thing that made it possible. There had to be land that provided a livable habitat (e.g., nutritional resources for hunter-gatherers), a shared means of communication (i.e., the invention of language that would eventually lead to writing and record keeping), some kind of administrative infrastructure, a division of labor, and then further complexity that would become networks of urban settlements. An economy had to be developed to provide stability for these growing populations that would lead to trade and sharing of goods and services. All of that, then, probably led to a diverse array of professions, vocations, and interests that would create different social and economic classes.

Was morality responsible for it all? I doubt it. Like now, intelligence, persuasion, cooperation – but also strength and those able to wield power – must’ve been parts of what led to our survival and expansion as a civilized species.

Part 1: “Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second”
Chapter One: “Where Does Morality Come From?” (pp.3-26)

2. Do you feel that your early moral development was mostly developed from playing with other kids or from lectures about the ten commandments? (p.9)

I’m certain that my “early moral development” began at home with the relationships that I shared within my family: a father, mother, maid, and four brothers. And, yes, it was further developed from just playing around with other kids in our community.

But, I never had any “lectures about the ten commandments,” and my first memories of ever talking about Moses and these tablets happened in Sunday School – for which our mother was the Superintendent and my father was my favorite Sunday School teacher.

3. Where do you think our “gut feelings” come from? (p.18)

It’s simply another phrase meaning our intuition – often described as a knowing without reason. As I recall from my physiology class, however, we’re all “wired” with it; it’s just part of our biological make up. It’s centered in the limbic system – that lower part of our brain. There have been conversations among scientists, themselves, which have led to the conclusion that this is a particular part of us that most likely connects our mind to the spirit – leading to our concept of the soul. It’s even, then, led some theologians to refer to that part of our brain as a “transmitter to God.”

Who knows? I just know that I have it. After all, I test out on the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, clearly, as an INFJ (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging).

4. What is your reaction to the 1793 David Hume quotation? (p.25)

Okay, so Hume’s quote is this: “...reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” That is a sweeping generality without any basis in scientific fact, so I reject it. However, as a deeply intuitive and emotional person, myself, I’ve come to know that reason is not the only factor that leads me to the kinds of conclusions that I come to. My emotional reactions are very much a part of that process – but, I’d say, it’s always in dialogue with reason.

Chapter Two: “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” (pp.27-51)

5. Rather than “Who is right” among Plato, Hume and Jefferson, what question would you ask? (p.30)

I’d put it this way: “How does the dialogue between our reason and our emotions affect our decision-making?”

6. How much time did you spend on the “4 card trick?” (p.42)

I spent, at most, about a minute – and got it wrong. Apparently I’m “simple-minded,” because I’d have turned over the #4, as well, certain that there’d be a vowel on the other side.

7. When did you change your mind about a moral issue? (p.48)

I “woke” up to the fact that we are all not treated equally in this world when, in 1964, I discovered that a friend of mine had been pulled over – more than once – by traffic cops solely for a DWB: “Driving-While-Black.” Much like Saul (Acts 9: 17), the “scales” then fell from my astonished eyes and I could see the injustice of it all. It was also, then, that I began to listen – really listen – to the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Before this incident, I’d been a naïve, and very ignorant, racist – and had been for the first 18 years of my life. My naïveté all came crashing down when Dr. King was assassinated four years later – April 4, 1968.