I rarely do this, but I felt the need to modify the title and wrote it onto the cover: “The Self-Righteous Mind.” I did this for two reasons. First, when Jonathan Haidt refers to the “righteous mind” of humans, he in fact means self-righteous – individuals generally feel that they are right and others are wrong. Second, Haidt himself writes self-righteously, believing that he has morality and psychology and religion and politics all figured out, and everyone else isn’t quite there.
Nonetheless, Haidt does have great insights into the history and function of human morality. In the first part of the book, Haidt makes the case that morality is a product of evolution (in the same vein but a different angle from Sam Harris). More importantly, Haidt argues that in moral psychology, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” This confirms what many of us already knew. “The main way that we change our minds on moral issues” (or other issues for that matter) “is by interacting with other people” whom we like or respect. In other words, it’s relationship, not reason, that leads people to change their minds. I’ll get to his second point in a moment. Haidt’s third point is that “morality binds and blinds.” He argues that “our minds were designed for groupish righteousness.” Adhering to a certain worldview necessarily creates an inside and an outside, separating people. So while it’s natural to segregate into groups along these lines, Haidt urges his audience to strive for civil understanding of those who are different, whether along national, political, religious lines or others.
Getting back to Haidt’s second point, he reveals that he is a moral pluralist, suspicious of “anyone who insists that there is one true morality for all people, times, and places.” He argues that there are six foundations of morality – care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation – a different mix of which each individual holds. These foundations are an excellent tool, but Haidt cannot envision a reality where all six moral foundations are harmoniously satisfied, and so concludes that no such reality exists. If there is no God, then I agree with him. But in my opinion, the evolution of morality or the existence of diverse moralities have no bearing one way or the other on the existence of God. To the contrary, I believe that there is convincing evidence for the truth of Jesus’ claims and the existence of God, which makes possible the perfectly harmonious world (shalom) that will be heaven.