We want to believe that we are clear thinking, rational people. We want to believe that we have arrived at our conclusions and opinions through well thought-out reasoning. But, we are not and we haven’t. According to Jonathan Haidt, “…moral reasoning [is] often a servant to moral emotion.”1 What this means is that we do not simply think our way through issues, but instead, we all have an instantaneous emotional reaction to certain words, people and concepts and, instead of wrangling those emotions in and drawing conclusion based on reason, we begin to reason in support of our moral emotions.2 When you have a negative emotional reaction (no matter how slight), you then go off figuring out how to justify that emotion instead of figuring out if it is justifiable.
You do not have to be a social psychologist who spends years running detailed academic studies on this subject to see that there is a lot of truth here. These past weeks in America and social media is Exhibit A – this past year really. Why did so many of my friends who profess faith in the same God profess such opposite views on the same event? And why, when I read them, did I react so emotionally. I decided years ago (for a variety of reasons) to stay out of Facebook bickering no matter how important the issue is to me. The problem with that practice is when I read things being said that I find appalling (that’s not an exaggeration) there is not much of an outlet for those emotions and it can leave me depressed while I wait for my mind to digest the junk food I just consumed. That stuff can stay in your system longer than you want it to. But, like an idiot, I come back for seconds too often. I might create an app that every time I go to open Facebook, it delays it ten seconds and makes me answer the question “Are you sure?” three times.
This emotionally driven reaction is why nobody changes their mind on anything because of that article you shared or questionably ingenious argument that you just put forth in a world changing cartoon. Nobody cares what you think. Simply speaking to someone’s reason is not effective.3 The level of polarization that we see in our country today is the result of our emotional reactions and our emotion serving reasoning that then clears the path for us to move further away. This can quickly lead to the absurd.
As people of faith, we claim to have Jesus as our point of orientation. We are to lay our lives like tracing paper on his pattern, erasing and retracing as needed. But, it seems as if many of us have picked up our tracing paper and laid it on some other pattern. We look more like our political parties than we do Jesus. The problem with this is that when you attach Christianity to anything other than Christ, it becomes something else and is compromised. The result is emotion and emotion driven reasoning that is more worldly than Christian. Our rhetoric sounds more like talking points. We sound more like the news than good news. Spiritual wisdom and depth have been overcome by emotional tweets.
Lately, it seems that we care more about protecting statues than we do people, more about football and anthems than hate and more about American citizenship than Kingdom living. This is not an ironic attempt to change any opinions, but instead, it is a reminder of who we are and the need for our dialogue, as Christians, to rise again to a higher level. We are in desperate need of a flood of spiritual wisdom to irrigate the land scorched by our shallow partisan vomit. What we say matters. “Out of the same mouth comes praise (for God) and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”4
“Empathy is the antidote to righteousness.”5 The “righteousness” in this quote is a self-assuredness of one’s conclusions as being right and rational. This is not wishy-washy empathy that leads to relativism singing kumbaya and telling everyone they are ok. This empathy is an honoring of and starting with valuing humanity – people. I do not have an answer to healthcare, but I believe God finds it absurd that money keeps fellow humans from getting readily available care, or if they do get help, leaves them in financial ruin. So, any talk about health care must start from a premise of valuing people and not political parties. This is what has troubled me so much about the discourse between Christians for some time. I saw more posts from Christian friends about being against “sanitizing history” than I did about Heather Heyer – a human ran over by a car.
As I have said many times, I do not claim to have the answers to a single issue facing us in America today, but, to me, the way of Christ is clear on this: We are to value others above ourselves. Our speech should reflect that. People are more important than political parties, money, heritage, or even our own mistreatment. We are to be people of grace in word and deed who stand on the side of the less fortunate, on the side against hate and a people who point the world to a place above our shallow and trivial arguments full of missing the point to a higher spiritual wisdom from a God loving perspective.
Who cares if you won’t watch the NFL anymore? That changes nothing. But grace does. We need to hear more about grace. Many of us are just adding to the noise and nobody really cares what we think.
1,2 The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt pg. 29
3 This premise is discussed throughout the above-mentioned book.
4 James 3:10
5 The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt pg. 59