The Sacred

Over the past few weeks, I've had more than one bone to pick with Jonathan Haidt and the results he has drawn from his Moral Foundations Questionnaire. This questionnaire covers six general areas which Haidt defines as providing a moral core: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. In his book, , Haidt concludes that, although liberals and conservatives score similarly on the core values of care, fairness, and liberty, they divide strongly on the core values of loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

I think that not only is he dead wrong on most of those assumptions but that he has also helped keep the national narrative unnecessarily divisive by affirming one group in their negative assumptions about the other.

According to Haidt, liberals outscore conservatives in the values of care and fairness by 6 to 7 tenths of a point, but that conservatives are an entire point more loyal, have 1.2 points more respect for authority, and have a whopping 1.5 points higher recognition of a higher power.

The take-away from these results can too easily boil down to this: Liberals care about everyone and everything whether they deserve it or not, and insist that life must be made fair. Liberals are not loyal citizens and therefore cannot be trusted. Liberals flout tradition, rules, and custom at every turn just because they can. And worst of all, Liberals do not believe in God. In fact, Liberals do not believe that anything is sacred. As a card-carrying liberal (I've got a card around here somewhere), I protest.

Here is Haidt's definition of the moral value of sanctity:

6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions)

Some of the most liberal people I know belong to a little-known group called Theosophists who believe very strongly in living a more elevated, less carnal, more noble life. Vegetarians and vegans can be passionate about the food or medicines allowed into their bodies, and many of these folks would be at home on the liberal side of the aisle. A couple of times a year, I attend services at St. Mark's Cathedral, one of the most liberal congregations in town. I have a feeling that we liberals coined the phrase "spiritual, not religious." We hug trees, we found PETA, holding all of nature and species other than our own as sacred beings.

For the record, I scored an abysmally low score on the sanctity chart - .03. And yet, I hold many things sacred. As an atheist, I take issue with other atheists about the value of religion and the role it has played in human history. What I don't do, apparently, is feel disgust at other people's values.

I am not a vegetarian, a vegan, or a member of PETA, and I am a very bad Theosophist, not being all that certain about reincarnation. But I used to have a sacred tea pot. And I currently have a sacred honey spoon. I don't believe in letting go of tradition just because it's tradition. I tend to try to separate babies from bathwater. Then find a use for the bathwater. I subscribe to Parabola.

If anyone thinks liberals have no sense of the sacred, try convincing a bicyclist that wider highways are the answer to transportation issues, try convincing a peace warrior that armed conflict is necessary, try telling any one of them that the death penalty prevents crime or that the children of undocumented workers should be turned away from health care. Try getting most of us with the option to ignore a recycle bin. Just try.

Benjamin David Steele
wrote recently in a post entitled Jonathan Haidt’s Liberal-Minded Anti-Liberalism:

He [Haidt] essentially doesn’t see liberal values as moral values which is a standard conservative position.

David Satterlee
chimed in with Conservative Values vs. Liberal Values on The Daily Kos:

...others, such as Integral Theorist Jeff Salzman, have pointed out that Haidt’s research simply omitted some values that are part of the “language of liberalism” that many conservatives have yet to fully embrace. These three additional values are Empathy, Pluralism, and Social Justice.

That's what I noticed as well. Go and test yourselves and see how you fare.

.03 indeed!