I think we are all aware of the arguments between the more traditional believing Mormons and those that have more liberal leaning views. It goes something like this:
- God is immutable
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s Church
- Conclusion: Since the LDS Church is God’s Church and God doesn’t change, his Church does not change. So, get on board all you liberals.
- God’s Church is led by humans who make mistakes.
- Many of these mistakes have been on social issues such as race and priesthood
- Conclusion: because the Church has made mistakes on social issues, it means that it is making mistakes on current social issues.
Well, both are wrong. The conclusions of both sides don’t necessarily follow the presuppositions. And yet, both are right, but not for the conclusions they make.
About two months ago, I started reading and listening to the moral psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Haidt. His work both confirms some of my ideas and radically challenges them as well. In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Dr. Haidt develops what he calls the “Morals Foundation Theory.” He argues that we all come “pre-wired” with certain moral foundations that our society and family tweaks a little bit. It’s almost like an unedited book, that gets revised as we get older. What are these moral foundations?
Dr. Haidt argues that at some point in our evolution, these six moral foundations gave our ancestors (and can still give us) an evolutionary advantage. Allow me to briefly explain the five foundations.
Evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.
The Fairness/cheating foundation:
Evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to a be good (or bad) partner for collaborations and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.
The Loyalty/betrayal foundation:
Evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaing coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a
team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.
The Authority/subversion foundation:
Evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forgoing relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position.
The Sanctity/degradation foundation:
Evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma (trying to figure out which foods were okay to eat), and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects with irrational and extreme values – both positive and negative – which are important for binding groups together.
Liberty/Opression was later added1
Dr. Haidt describes these six moral foundations as taste buds. That is, we all have them, but some are more sensitive for some people than others. It’s similar to how I love Mexican food and others like Italian.
What was shocking to me were the results of Dr. Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) that examined where 130,000 liberals, moderates, and conservatives landed with regards to the five moral foundations discussed previously. This is what he found:
Liberals value Care and Fairness far more than the other three foundations (no shock there). Conservatives endorse all five foundations more or less equally -although they do endorse Sanctity, Authority, Loyalty slightly above Care and Fairness.2 Liberals and conservatives both care about Liberty/oppressions, but each cares in a different way.
This helped explain something to me that was quite confusing. I was in the break room a few months back when an agnostic surgeon said to me while we were watching something on the news about a gay couple, “Just think about those two having sex.” I thought that was weird coming from a non-religious person. Why would he be opposed to same-sex relationships? Surely it wasn’t for religious reasons. I responded, “No. I really don’t think about other people having sex. I don’t think about sixty year-olds having sex (the surgeon is in his early sixties).” What was he implicitly saying? He was tapping into the Sanctity/degradation foundation. He found such relationships disgusting and he didn’t need God to tell him that. I on the other hand, was making fun of him (using the Sanctity/degradation foundation) for that while I was endorsing the Care/harm foundation.
As Mormons, the sanctity/degradation foundation should be screaming at us. It explains much of the Church institutions morality. The Family Proclamation Declares:
“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God (Sanctity/degradation)…We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife….Further, we warn that the disintegrations of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and the nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
In the November 1996 Ensign, Elder Hales stated:
“Satan makes a major effort to destroy the sanctity of the family…”
In the April 2000 General Conference, Elder Scott gave a talk entitled, “The Sanctity of Womanhood.” Three sentences into his talk, Elder Scott states, “I would speak of the sanctity of womanhood…”
We are familiar with this language. We see here that our conservative Moral Foundation of Sanctity/degradation is being tapped into.
The Elephant in the Room
Dr. Haidt often uses the metaphor of a man riding an elephant to explain why we think and do what we do. The elephant is our emotions. It leads the charge. The man riding the elephant is our rational. Our rational is subservient to our emotions. Dr. Haidt states:
“Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is….reasoning has evolved not to help find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasions, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people. As they put it, ‘skilled arguers…are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views.” This is why the confirmation bias is so powerful, and so ineradicable….We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to ‘decide’ whether to fire a pulse along its axon. A neuron by itself isnt’ very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.
“In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing; finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of other, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).”3
More on group thinking and its role in the Church in a moment.
Women and Peace
I recently listened to a talk Texas A&M professor, Dr. Valerie Hudson gave in which she discussed her newest book, “Sex and World Peace.” In this talk, she gave some startling research findings and questions that caused me to pause:
- Death tolls from all the conflicts (interstate and intrastate wars, genocides) over the 20th century: 150 million.
- Estimates of women that are missing from the world population that should be there: 163 million missing women in the world at the turn of the century.
- In the sub-Saharan Africa women perform about 84% of all agricultural labor.
- World wide, 50% of agricultural labor is performed by women.
- World wide, women only own 2% of land.
- Children’s caloric intake is highly correlated with women’s property rights
- When land-extension agents, agricultural agents are provide by the state, they usually are men who speak to men.
- Remuneration for cash crops is almost always given to men and not to women.
- When cash is provided, 95% of a women’s cash income goes to her family. In world bank studies only about 40-60% of a man’s cash income will go to his family
- 2/3 of all malnourished children in the world are female children.
- Might the inequitable treatment of women make famine and malnutrition more likely in a state? Yes
- The larger the gender-gap, the lower the GDP per capita of a nation
- The larger the gender-gap, the lower the rate of national economic growth
- Lower investment in female education is tightly correlated with lower national income.
- When economic development projects are put forward, those with a gender component are much more successful in reaching their benchmarks, compared to those who do not.
- The smaller the gender gap, the lower the infant mortality rates of a country.
- The smaller the gender gap, the lower the level of child malnutrition
- The smaller the gender gap, the lower the amount of family income spent on alcohol and cigarettes.
- The larger the gender gap, the higher the AIDS rate
- The larger the gender gap, the higher the infectious disease burden.
- The larger the gender gap, the lower the life expectancy for women and men
- When girls are removed from the birth population via sex-selective abortion, this creates a large young male population and this in fat does fuel spiraling rates of violence, crime, instability, and the potential for regional conflict
- The higher the rates of violence against women, the more likely a nation-state was to be non-compliant with its international treaty obligations.
- The higher the rates of violence against women, the worse the nation-state’s relation with neighboring or bordering states
- The large the gender gap, the more likely a state is to be involved in a conflict, but to be the state that uses force first in a conflict.
- The higher the rate of violence against women, the less peacefully overall a state will behave in the international system
- The higher the gender gap, the higher the perceived and actual government corruption
- The smaller the gender gap, the greater the level of trust in government and greater the level of transparency in government
- When the representation of women in the councils of humanity is higher, more legislation, more policy making is devoted to social welfare, fighting corruption and improving legal protection for citizens.
- When women are represented in peace negotiations, participants are more satisfied with the income and the peace agreement lasts longer than if women were not at the table.
- Might one great key to the structural and physical violence around the world be related to the inequitable treatment of women?
- Perhaps we would have a better chance of obtaining sustainable development, good governance, lower levels of poverty, lower levels of disease, lower levels of conflict if we also put a premium on international treaty obligations relating to the treatment of women.
- Is it possible that there cannot be peace between nations until there is peace between men and women?
- We might consider that the roots of many things we value, such as democracy and human rights are rooted in the character of male/female relations.
What might Mormonism learn from this?4
Elder Ballard’s Slip-up
Take the above information and then read the following statements by Elder Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The first is from a BYU devotional address in August of 2014 and was printed in the September 2014 Ensign:
“Now, sisters, while your input is significant and welcome in effective councils, you need to be careful not to assume a role that is not yours. The most successful ward and stake councils are those in which priesthood leaders trust their sister leaders and encourage them to contribute to the discussions and in which sister leaders fully respect and sustain the decisions of the council made under the direction of priesthood leaders who hold keys.”
Then, in a recent European’s Women’s Meeting Elder Ballard said the following:
“We cannot meet our destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in preparing this world for the Second Coming of the Savior of the world without the support and the faith and the strength of the women of this church. We need you. We need your voices. They need to be heard. They need to be heard in your community and your neighborhoods. They need to be heard within the ward council, or the branch council. Now don’t talk too much in those council meetings. Just straighten the brethren out quickly, and move the work on.”5
So What Now?
I would like to conclude by looking at the work of Dr. Haidt and Hudson through a Mormon lens by addressing the following:
- Why the Church needs both conservatives and liberals
- The importance of councils in the Church the necessity of women being on these councils
- How to change the mind of a liberal or conservative Mormon
“By proving contraries, truth is manifest” – The Prophet Joseph Smith
The Conservative and the liberal Mormon, as I said, both are wrong and both are right. We do need both voices in the Church. The relationship should be that of a yin and yang. Two opposing forces that make a whole. I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis said:
“Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all others– fresh and ever fresh news of the ‘My God’ whom each finds in Him whom all praise as ‘Our God.’”6
We need both views so we can have our symphony.
You see, the liberal Mormon is more attuned to the Care/Harm foundation and will see the injustices perpetrated upon people. They ask the questions. They push and push. They have the right to push and ask hard questions. To my liberal friends, take courage, we need your music in this symphony we call Mormonism. Realize that it is an uphill battle though. A recent article in the Huffington Post by Benjamin Knoll “suggests that the proportion of ‘active’ Mormons who also would either sympathize or identify as a “progressive” Mormon is probably somewhere in the ballpark of 10%.”7 You probably didn’t need an article from the Huffington Post to tell you that you are in the minority amongst Mormons. We need you here. The Church needs you for its all important tithing ( you get it? You are 10%? Yes I write all my own material).
I read this from Chaim Potok’s, “My Name is Asher Lev,” the other day and I thought of you, my liberal Mormon friends:
“Only one who has mastered a tradition has a right to attempt to add to it or to rebel against it. Do you understand me, Asher Lev?”
The problem with the liberal Mormon however is that they destabilize the institution. That is why we need the conservative Mormons.
In Dr. Haidt’s study, he found that conservatives ranked the Authority/subversion and the Loyalty/betrayal foundations higher than the Care/harm foundation. It is the conservative’s taste buds that are more sensitive to these tastes that allow for an organization to exist. It is the conservatives that provide stability. However with that stability comes a rigidity to change and change is necessary for the vitality of an institution.
Perhaps this is why liberal Mormons are so confusing to the LDS Church at large and society too. They want to be part of the LDS Church (Loyalty/betrayal) while at the same time ranking Care/harm so high. We need you though. Please stay, our Asher Levs.
I will say this bluntly. In those earlier quotes by Elder Ballard, Elder Ballard was dead wrong. He is wrong on two fronts:
- Again, Dr. Haidt stated:
“…if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of other, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truthChanging the minds = elephant “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”
- Dr. Valerie Hudson:
The smaller the gender gap, the greater the level of trust in government and greater the level of transparency in government
When the representation of women in the councils of humanity is higher, more legislation, more policy making is devoted to social welfare, fighting corruption and improving legal protection for citizens.
When women are represented in peace negotiations, participants are more satisfied with the income and the peace agreement lasts longer than if women were not at the table.
Councils that have members with varrying opinions will lead to better decisions and when women are involved with these councils, the agreements reached will last longer. In light of these data points, Elder Ballard’s statement found earlier in this September’s Ensign is better than the one I previously quoted. He said:
“And any priesthood leader who does not involve his sister leaders with full respect and inclusion is not honoring and magnifying the keys he has been given.”
Do you want to bring a liberal Mormon over to your way of thinking? Do you want to bring a conservative Mormon over to your way of thinking? Don’t use rational argument. For heaven’s sake, don’t argue with them on Face Book or one of the many Mormon chat boards. You won’t change minds by trying to appeal to Dr. Haidt’s metaphorical rider. You must appeal to emotion. You must appeal to the large and impossible elephant. Dr. Haidt has put it this way, “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” That is, emotion comes first and rational comes second. If you want to change minds, sit and share a meal. Acknowledge the strengths of their views (stability vs. progression) Or as Dr. Haidt has written:
“When does the elephant listen to reason? The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people. We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs, but other people do us this favor, just as we are quite good at finding error in other people’s beliefs. When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight. The elephant leans away from the opponent, and the rider works frantically to rebut the opponent’s charges.
“But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephant leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments. The elephant may not often change its direction in response to objections from its own rider, but it is easily steered by the mere presence of friendly elephants (that’s the social persuasion link in the social intuitionist model) or by good arguments given to it by the riders of those friendly elephants.”8
Appealing to the elephant takes patience and love, but as St. Paul said:
“Charity suffereth long and is kind”(1 Corinthians 13:4)
1Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, page 153. If you would like to take Dr. Haidt’s Moral Foundations questionnaire to see where you land, go to moralfoundations.org
4Dialogue Podcast, episode 16
5To access the video, go to https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/watch/europe-area-sisters-meeting/2014/09?lang=eng. The portion in question starts at 1:19.
6C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain