Friday, May 18, 2012

HT Phoenix Preacher: Jonathan Haidt on Social Conservatives, New Atheists and Civility at Christian Post

The link is buried so deep into this week's Linkathon I want to plug for the article by posting it as a stand alone entry here. A few years ago I think I read some of what Haidt was discussing about three verses six measures of ethics and that it was becoming more apparent to him that liberals focus on three while social conservatives focus on six.  The challenge is not that liberals and conservatives don't share any common values, Haidt began proposing, it was that conservatives had some additional values liberals don't share that seemed to stymie the possibility for dialogue.  Haidt was, by his own account (and my reading at the time) more liberal than he says he is now.

Anyway, it's a fascinating interview and worth reading. This part is just a sample, and an interesting one in which Haidt explains why he thinks Democrats and Republicans have made a mistake of ramping identity politics.  He also makes what is (to me) an unsurprising distinction between conservative intellectuals and the Republican Party. You may not agree but it's an atheist talking about conservative and liberal politics and religion.  Should any of us expect to agree on everything?

Haidt: First, let me distinguish between Republicans and conservatives. As I say in the book, I think conservatives have a more correct view of human nature than do liberals. But, as I also say, I'm praising conservative intellectuals, not the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now going through a moralistic fervor akin to that which gripped the Democrats in the 70s and 80s when they were into identity politics. I think the Republican Party has circled around a few issues, especially taxes, which are in some ways counter to conservative values and bad for the country.

I think Republicans need to take income inequality more seriously. Not because I favor equality of outcomes. I do not. I think the right is correct to stress merit and earned rewards, not handouts and forced equality. But I think what Republicans are blind to is that power corrupts. Especially in a democracy in which money buys access. I think the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are correct that crony capitalism is a huge problem for our country and I think the Republicans are not sensitive enough to that.


BrianD said...

WTH, I appreciate that someone notices these links I post on the main threads and in the comments section. In fact, it's gratifying, because I think the studies that Haidt and Chris Mooney have written about are important, and it's not getting very much attention in the evangelical world. The Haidt link certainly didn't get any traction at PP; neither do the links I post on/from Peter Enns, Biologos, etc.

With the New Atheists and skeptics gaining ground in American culture, Christians will have to address issues they raise, and those raised by moderate "accomodationists" like Mooney, Alain de Botton, Robert Wright, and Haidt.

I'm glad to see that at least one person (you) is reading outside the evangelical tradition. Sometimes, there is more truth to be found outside the Christian cultural bubble than inside it.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Thanks, BrianD.

I found the Haidt and Enns articles fascinating. I think that New Atheists may be more popular for evangelicals to react to but the accomodationist strain of atheism presents far more challenges in apologetics with more potential opportunity for avoiding an impasse in culture war politics. Where a New Atheist would say belief in God is irrational and based on some silly infantile wish fulfillment of a world that makes sense the accomodationist strain of atheism proposes that, no, what we're seeing is a hyperextended misapplication of the human brain's capacity for empathy.

The implications in this difference for evangelicals in terms of social conservative political goals on the one hand and apologetics and debate on the other seem difficult to overstate. An accomodationist who sees theism as an overextension of empathy can be more gracious than a New Atheist because the accomodationist has an evolutionary explanation for how and why the empathic impulse that manifests as theism developed. If evangelicals fixate on New Atheism and don't address the accomodationist side of things then if they bring their old time presuppositionalist or culture war weapons into the discussion things are likely to go very badly.

I wonder if it's the accomodationist approach that will be a bigger threat to keeping younger people in the church than the New Atheism over the next forty years.