Tag Archives: anti-vaccine movement

Franklin Graham Supports COVID Vaccinations…. And Gets “Cancelled” For It By Some of His Followers?

I just got my first COVID-19 Moderna vaccine.

Some of my Christian friends, however, are a bit nervous about the vaccines. Sure, there are genuine concerns. But most of these concerns, upon closer examination, are unwarranted.

Hesitancy about using vaccines has a variety of factors behind it. A March 2021 Pew Research study observes that about 33% of Black Protestant Christians are wary of taking a COVID vaccine. The same study observes that about 45% of White Evangelical Christians are either cautious or dead set against any COVID vaccine.

So it comes as no surprise that when Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, and an influential spokesperson for many evangelical Christians today, announced his support for taking COVID vaccines, the reaction from some of his most ardent followers was swift and furious. Like Graham, I have relatives in my family line who served as medical missionaries, where the administration of vaccines have saved countless numbers of lives. Nevertheless, some denounced Graham as promoting a “devilish lie.” Some of Graham’s critics believe that taking the vaccine is a sign of taking “the mark of the beast.” However, a careful reading of Scripture shows that taking “the mark of the beast” in the Book of Revelation, is a loyalty oath, and not something that can be forced upon someone by someone else. It would appear that bad interpretation of the Bible is just as much a pandemic as is COVID-19.

Furthermore, when people use Bible passages like 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“Do you not know that you body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…“), that is really a misuse of the Bible. You might as well decline the use of any modern medicine, if you plan to be consistent with that way of thinking. Paul even recommended that Timothy take some wine to remedy the latter’s health ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). So it seems odd for Paul to suggest that if he really had in mind a prohibition against all forms of medicine.

Others are hesitant about such vaccines because of suspicions about government programs.

Others are unsure, because as in the case of the Moderna vaccine that I took, these mRNA vaccines are so new and have not been tested across millions and millions of people. However, the mRNA vaccine technology is not as new as people think, having undergone a number of other successful test trials in other applications over the past several decades.

Then there is the long held distrust of the medical establishment by the “anti-vax” movement, which is totally against vaccines of any and all kinds.

Critics of vaccines do have at least one point to make in their arguments, and it is an important one: No vaccine is entirely risk free.

When I went to get my vaccine, I was asked a whole list of questions, to make sure I was the right candidate to receive the vaccine. Not everyone should take the vaccine, because of certain side effects. But the percentage of people who should not take the vaccine is very, very small. For most people who do experience side effects, those side effects are relatively mild and do not last for long. If people have questions about their use of a vaccine, they should consult their doctor. If their doctor does not offer good answers to these questions, then that might be a strong signal suggesting that it is time to find a new doctor.

But while no vaccine is entirely risk free, that is true with just about everything in life. I know of many people who think nothing of it to hop into a car, and drive across town to run an errand or go to work. However, the likelihood of getting into a life-threatening automobile accident is orders of magnitude higher than is experiencing a life-threatening injury from a vaccine. Still, I see thousands of people driving in their automobiles all of the time. Furthermore, taking a COVID vaccine is much, much safer than being exposed to the COVID virus itself.

I have come to learn that vaccine hesistancy is not just an American evangelical Christian thing. A large percentage of secular Europe is more skeptical of vaccines than is the American evangelical Christian community. I have also seen paranoia at the other extreme, too, where some people are so freaked out by COVID-19, that they will wear a mask while driving in their car…. even though no one else is with them!!

Yesterday, Christians in the West celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus, along with the hope of Christ coming once again to right all wrongs and heal all diseases. Yet unless Jesus returns in the near future, the likelihood is that mass COVID vaccination programs will continue to be effective in reducing the pandemic, and life should return to a more regular pattern of normalcy.

COVID will never fully go away. Yet the same is true about the 1919 Spanish Flu, based on the N1H1 virus, that killed millions of people, in the wake of World War One, a century ago. Descendants of the 1919 N1H1 virus still exist today, though they typically come in a more muted and less deadly form. Still, getting a yearly flu shot goes a long way towards making the flu more of a nuisance and less deadly than it was when 50 million people died a hundred years ago, when fewer treatment options and no effective vaccines were available then.

Aside from the health factors, Christians really should support COVID-19 vaccination, for the simple reason that such decisions impact their witness to the truth of the Gospel. For if Christians get the reputation that they are highly susceptible to conspiracy-thinking that goes against science, then the next generation of young people will be only more and more inclined to judge the Christian faith itself as yet just another conspiracy theory that should be rejected.

Let us help our young people have more confidence in the truth of the Gospel… and not less.

Does Bill Gates Want to Use a COVID-19 Vaccine to Give Us the Mark of the Beast?

Bill Gates is working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Is this the “mark of the beast,” that the Book of Revelation warns us about?

For a number of Christians, what Bill Gates is doing is alarming. If it is not a vaccine, laced with some possible hidden microchip technology, it could be some type of universal ID system, using a chip implant of some sort. Should Christians be concerned? Should Christians resist taking the vaccine?

Does Bill Gates have a plan to give everyone the “mark of the beast?”

There are a number of problems with this type of thinking. First, fears about a chip implant are a bit late in the ball game. We already have a technological means of tracking people with a computer chip. You are probably using something like this to read this blog article.

It is called a smartphone.

Secondly, fears about the “mark of the beast” have a long, long history, of attempts to identify the “mark” with something that turned out to be nothing to fear. For example, when the New England Puritans, like Cotton Mather, started to promote inoculation against small pox, in the 1720s, a number of other Christians resisted such vaccination efforts. At one point, someone even firebombed Reverend Mather’s home in Boston, in protest. The vaccination itself left a permanent scar, on each person, which was nicknamed “the mark of the beast.” So, these type of prophecy speculations today are nothing new to church history. Thankfully, small pox today has been eradicated due to vaccinations, so we don’t have to worry about small pox anymore.

But the most difficult and third problem with all of this has to do with how we read the Bible.

The way to start is to read the relevant portion of Scripture. Some just look at Revelation 13:16-18, but a longer reading puts it all in context (Revelation 13:5-8, 11-18 ESV). Highlighted below are key phrases to consider:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain…. 
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. 

The popular idea, when reading about the “mark of the beast,” is to think that some demonic figure (the “beast,” as in the first and/or second beast mentioned in this passage) will try to force everyone, including believing Christians, to have this “mark of the beast” implanted in our bodies. The implication is that Christians should do whatever they can to be wary of the imposition of such a mark, and resist it with every means possible…. even if it means rejecting something like a COVID-19 vaccine.

I have thought about adapting a maxim, that is surely appropriate for a blog article like this: Having an open mind on all things is surely good, yet on the whole, it is far better to follow the evidence we already do have, instead of speculating on the possibility of evidence we do not currently possess.

Here is what I mean by that.

The popular interpretation summarized above makes a number of assumptions. First, it assumes a futurist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. A futurist interpretation suggests that the bulk of what is described in Revelation corresponds to future events. Many Christians are not aware that there are other, faithfully-orthodox methods of reading Revelation that do not assume a futurist framework.

For example, we have good evidence to indicate that the prophecy regarding the “mark of the beast” has already been fulfilled in the past, specifically in the first century of the church. Interested students of the Bible might want to at least consider this preterist, or past-fulfillment based, approach to interpreting this passage, as a reasonable alternative to the futurist approach.

Furthermore, we also have evidence that suggests that a more symbolic approach to the “mark of the beast,” exemplified by either an historicist or idealist approach to interpreting this passage, might carry more weight than a futurist reading.

But let us lay all of the above aside, and assume for now that the futurist reading is correct. It very well might be. Even though it is nearly impossible to figure out evidence for something that might happen in the future, most evangelical Christians today take a futurist approach, so it is not without precedent nor credibility. Regardless of approach, a more thorough attention to the context of the “mark of the beast” will help to illuminate why more popular understandings are problematic.

Does even the futurist approach really line up with the popular idea of “the mark of the beast” being imposed on Christians?

Notice first, in the passage above, that “and all who dwell on earth will worship it,” namely the “it” being the first and/or second beast. Who are those “all who dwell on the earth?” Well, the next phrase in the highlighted verse tells us, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” In other words, those who are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will worship the beast.

This little nugget of Scriptural truth helps us to decipher what is meant later on by “the earth and its inhabitants [who] worship the first beast” and “it [the second beast] deceives those who dwell on earth.” The ones who are deceived by the beast are not believing Christians.

It is also helpful to realize what is meant by the “forehead,” which is where the mark of the beast might be placed. Elsewhere in the Book of Revelation we can read that the people of God, those who worship Jesus and put their trust in Him, will be “sealed” with a “seal” placed on their forehead (Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4 ESV), as in Revelation 7:3, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” Furthermore, “foreheads” alludes to the concept in Hebrews 10:16, that associates the covenant of God, placed upon the hearts of believers, as also being written on our “minds.”

In other words, those who worship and love Jesus will have this forehead seal. This is contrasted with those others who are “marked on the right hand or the forehead;” that is, those who have “the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” 

The “mark of the beast,” whether it be a literal or symbolic mark, represents those who have identified with the powers that oppose Christ. Consider the “mark of the beast” to be like an oath of allegiance. Or think of it as the mark of someone passing a loyalty test. It can not be coercively forced on someone else. Instead, the “mark of the beast” is taken upon someone willingly.

What do we conclude from all of this? Those who possess the “mark of the beast” are simply those who worship the antithesis of the Gospel. Those who reject Jesus, and subject themselves to worshiping that which is opposed to Jesus will be the ones who receive the mark of the beast.

So, should Christians be concerned that someone might force the “mark of the beast” upon Christians? NO, not according to what is taught in Scripture. Therefore, unless you are planning on committing apostasy anytime soon, followers of Jesus need not worry about any potential threat of having the “mark of the beast” imposed on them, against their will.

Should we be concerned about those influences associated with the power behind the “mark of the beast?” Absolutely. That which opposes the Gospel should not be taken lightly. In the case of vaccines, we should do what we can, as believers, to promote the development of a safe, effective vaccine, freed from the influences of those who might try to use something like this, as an act of bioterrorism, or for some other nefarious purposes.

Should we be concerned about others who might take upon themselves the “mark of the beast? Again, absolutely. But the way we are to go about this is by spreading the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. We are to pray that the Holy Spirit might penetrate hearts, that others might turn from their rebellion against God, and embrace the Savior.

Despite whatever you may think of Bill Gates, followers of Jesus should support vaccination efforts, like his, that are intended to save lives. We have evidence that people, like Bill Gates, are at least trying to do good, to help people. Now, surely, Bill Gates is not perfect, but we do not have evidence for Bill Gates, that he wants to implant the “mark of the beast” on ChristiansSadly, such hyper-vigilance against the “mark of the beast” is associated with all sorts of conspiracy-type thinking, that mars the reputation of the Gospel, and invites an unbelieving world to view Christians with needless mockery and derision. Instead, let us all pray for the development of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, as soon as reasonably possible.



The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion: A Review

Here is my big book review for the best book I read in 2019….

Why can’t we all get along?

This is the question of our age. Societies are divided. Schools are divided. Politics makes us divided. Churches are divided. What can we do about it?

Do I have a book recommendation for you!

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. Best book I read this year. Though written by an atheist, Haidt makes sense of why different Christians (and people in general) think so differently.

If I could ever get my fellow Christians to read just one book written by a secular-thinking atheist, this would be it. Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, is a social psychologist at the New York University, Stern, in their School of Business. Haidt grew up as a secular Jew, and rarely ever met any evangelical Christians, until he taught a few years ago at the University of Virginia. But that encounter with evangelical Christians at UVA changed his approach to scholarship, and it really shows in The Righteous Mind.

The Righteous Mind is the best book I read this year. I can not believe I waited this long to read it!

Jonathan Haidt specializes his research in an area known as “moral psychology,” which probably sounds like a bunch of academic “hooey,” to many Christians I know. But I was stunned to find out that The Righteous Mind, actually has a lot of lessons to be learned by evangelical Christians.

I mean, a lot.

Haidt’s experience with evangelical Christians at UVA helped him to realize, to his astonishment, as a secular Jew, that conservative evangelical Christians can be moral, too. This will make more sense as the review below unfolds.

Haidt is most recently known as a co-author for The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure, examining how college campuses across American have become insulated in a world of liberal theological and liberal political ideologies, mentored at times by overly-enthusiastic, extreme proponents of “intersectionality” and “critical theory.” Along with co-author Greg Lukianoff, Haidt argues in Coddling that with a well-intentioned motivation of promoting multiculturalism, today’s university system is inadvertently creating an atmosphere void of discomfort and distress, sheltering students from hearing opinions different from their own, whereby young people are becoming increasingly unable to engage other people with civility. Coddling contends that such suppression of robust dialogue, among others with different points of view, is having a negative impact on the moral development of young people.

But in 2012, Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind, a book that evangelical Christian leader, Russell Moore, described as being “the most important book in years.” I just finished the Audible audiobook version of this title, and I could not agree any more strongly with Moore’s assessment.

Here is a nugget right near the outset of the book:

If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas – to justify our own actions & to defend the teams we belong to – then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, & don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

The brief question, at the beginning of this post, “Why can’t we all get along?,” though slightly altered, is often attributed to Rodney King, an African-American man, who was almost beaten to death by police officers, triggering the Los Angeles race riots of 1992. I remember vividly watching the events unfold on live television, as neighborhood after neighborhood went up in flames. Following six days of violence, Mr. King made his appeal for peace, after a videotape of him being beaten a year earlier, failed to convince a jury, of the wrong that was done to him.

Jonathan Haidt begins The Righteous Mind reflecting on this incident, asking that very difficult question, and exploring why it is so hard for people to answer it. As a Christian, I ask that very same question, as I find it puzzling and frustrating that so many followers of Jesus, who know that love is the very hallmark of the Christian life, can find it so difficult to express that love. On the one hand, we do want unity, but Christians also want to be people of the truth. So, while unity is vitally important, we also know, that sometimes, the quest for unity can subtlety become a cloak for an imposition of uniformity, whereby truth is sacrificed. And conscientious Christians simply can not abide by a compromise of the truth.

Is “big tent” evangelicalism, the kind inspired by Billy Graham, fading away? Perhaps the scientific research and insights, counter-intuitively coming from a secular, atheistic moral psychologist, can help Christians figure this out.

Why Christians Should Read The Righteous Mind

I had The Righteous Mind on my “to-be-read” list for several years, but I was prompted to read it a few months ago, when I became aware of the anti-vaccine movement, that has picked up momentum in recent years, among some modestly-well educated evangelical Christians I know. It just seems like much of the reason why some Christians refuse to vaccinate their children is because they simply do not trust medical doctors, and the medical profession, and/or the government, and/or the pharmaceutical industry. Perhaps they have some justification for their lack of confidence in those institutions, due to some type of tragic vaccine injury encountered by a family member, or some other disappointment with medicine, or doctors.

This makes a reasonable amount of sense to me, but what has exasperated me the most is the strange, unfamiliar theological and/or ethical justification that some Christians then go onto rationalize why they think vaccines cause more harm than good. Such Christians see no problem in pulling verses of Scripture completely out of context. I really did not understand that type of thinking, and so I thought reading The Righteous Mind might help… and yes, it really is!

Then, there is the Flat Earth movement, popular among some Christians, that suffers from the same level of mistrust of science and scientists, and bizarre ways of reading the Bible, as we find with the anti-vaccine movement. The same type of moral justifications and rationalization strategies apply, as demonstrated by their so-called appeals to “science,” or whatever they think counts as “evidence.”

The Flat Earth movement runs in popularity with the belief that NASA faked the 1969 moon landing… and the interest in these sets of beliefs has been growing in the age of the Internet and social media. Twenty years ago, in 1999, a Gallup poll revealed that 6% of Americans believe that NASA faked the moon landing. A smaller, independent survey of 500 Americans, conducted this year, 2019, indicates that perhaps as many as 10% of Americans believe that the moon landing was actually filmed on some desert, Hollywood-style movie set. The same survey indicates that among younger people, between the ages of 18 and 34, up to 18% reject the moon landing, compared to only 3% of those over the age of 54. This is an astounding increase of conspiracy-style beliefs, in the Internet, social-media age.

Why do so many people, including a growing number of Christians, buy into this sort of nonsense? The Righteous Mind has helped me make sense of why so many, otherwise, well-meaning Christians (not to mention, a good number of non-believers as well!!),…. do not make much sense. Most of the crazy beliefs that others around us hold are post-ad-hoc constructions, designed to help them further their social agendas, to lessen the strain caused by living in a post-modern world, and justify their actions.

Conflicts in Beliefs Among Evangelical, “Bible-Believing” Christians

On less crazy matters, Christians struggle with division among themselves. It is no mystery to understand that even in Protestant evangelical Christianity, the efforts to maintain unity, among Christians, who hail from different denominational traditions, is exceedingly difficult. I remember twenty-five years ago when the theme of “unity in the midst of diversity,” was a welcome catchphrase, among many evangelicals, weary of denominational bickering and infighting, that inspired a generation of Christians, in the footsteps of a Christian leader, like a Billy Graham, to find an expression of Christian faith that majored on the majors, and minored in the minors.

This expression of evangelicalism, what historians typically classify as Neo-Evangelicalism, was a “big tent,” following an image from the great Billy Graham Crusade rallies, and classic revivalist tradition, whereby communities of churches, from different denominational backgrounds, would gather under one “big tent,” and preach a single, simple Gospel, that would encourage the listener to come forward down the aisle, and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.

But those days appear to be fading behind us. Today, talk of “diversity” in more than a few evangelical churches, is an invitation to dissension and discontent. “Big tent” evangelicalism has become a victim of its own success. Instead of being an oasis that rose up from the chaos of a mainline Protestant liberalism, or the liberating alternative to a narrow-minded fundamentalism, today’s evangelicalism is fraught with claims of compromise from within the evangelical fold. The future of “big tent” evangelicalism is tenuous, as many Christians believe that the size of the tent has gotten too big and unmanageable, and stretched to the breaking point.

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt observes that the large chasm created by the culture wars, that have given Americans a dysfunctional society, divided by politics and religion, can be explained by studies done in the area of moral psychology. The scientific research done by Haidt, and others in this field, is immensely fascinating. Haidt draws upon such studies, that follow the framework of evolutionary psychology, to make conclusions that sound eerily familiar to what many Christians experience. More than a few Christians, who might be tempted to brace back a bit, whenever they hear the “E” word; that is, “evolution,” might be really surprised to discover what researchers like Haidt have actually learned, from their research.

The Primary Research Results Discussed in The Righteous Mind

Haidt’s first big idea is that intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes second. Christians and non-Christians alike follow their intuitions at first, and only later apply reason in an attempt to justify those intuitions.

Haidt employs the image of the Rider and the Elephant. It may look like the Rider (reason) is in charge. But in reality, it is the Elephant (intuition) that mainly guides and orients. The Rider can do some important things, like explain what the Elephant is doing, and even trying to change the direction that the Elephant is moving, in small increments, though it can be a slow and awkward process to do that.

As book reviewer and British pastor Andrew Wilson summarizes, “People don’t reason their way to which things are right and wrong; they sense emotionally and intuitively that they are right or wrong, and then use their reason to explain why. In that sense, to switch metaphors, moral and ethical decision making is more like a politician looking for votes than a philosopher looking for truth.” This relationship between intuition and reasoning applies to believer and non-believer alike.

Haidt then argues that humans have a tongue with six moral taste buds. But for most people strongly influenced by a secular culture, whether they be Christian or not, they are primarily influenced by two of these moral taste buds, namely (1) Care vs. harm, and (2) Fairness vs. cheating. Haidt cleverly describes these people as W.E.I.R.D.:

  • W: Western.
  • E: Educated.
  • I: Industrialized.
  • R: Rich.
  • D: Democratic.

For such W.E.I.R.D. people then, the basis for making a moral decision comes down, almost exclusively, to two criteria:

  • (1) Care vs. harm: Is something not harmful to someone?
  • (2) Fairness vs. cheating: Is something not discriminatory or unfair?

However, not everyone is so W.E.I.R.D. Haidt’s studies show that among non-W.E.I.R.D. people there are four other moral foundations, or moral taste buds, that complement the two above. These six moral foundations together create a type of balanced, ethical reasoning system for the non-W.E.I.R.D.:

  • (3) Loyalty vs. betrayal: Is something loyal to the tradition or the leader?
  • (4) Authority vs. subversion: Is something submissive to the appropriate authority?
  • (5) Sanctity vs. degradation: Is something respectful to the sacred?
  • (6) Liberty vs. oppression: Is something promoting freedom?

The last moral foundation (6), the liberty vs. oppression foundation, is a bit slippery. Moral foundation (6) can still be found, at times, among W.E.I.R.D. people. But for most of the time, the other three moral foundations, (3), (4), and (5), can be difficult to find, among W.E.I.R.D. people. W.E.I.R.D. people are generally less concerned about loyalty, authority, and sanctity as are non-W.E.I.R.D people.

Case Study: How Conflicting Moral Matrices of the Righteous Mind Apply to Discussions Among Evangelical Christians about “Women in Ministry”

Here is a helpful example, of a case study, to see how this works out among evangelical Christians, when the topic of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism comes up; otherwise known, in general terms, as the topic of “women in ministry,” or more specifically, addressing this question: Should women be permitted to serve as elders and/or pastors in a local church, where both women and men are present?

Shortly put, egalitarians answer the above question in the affirmative. The complementarians, on the the other side of the debate, answer in the negative. But why do some Christians lean towards being egalitarian, whereas others lean towards being complementarian? Jonathan Haidt’s taxonomy of moral foundations explains the answer beautifully.

The egalitarian side of the debate, who argue that women should be permitted to serve as elders and/or pastors in a local church, are W.E.I.R.D. people. They focus almost exclusively on moral foundations (1) and (2), though it could be argued that in some cases, moral foundation (6) might apply as well.

W.E.I.R.D. people; that is, egalitarians, believe that prohibiting women from serving as elders and/or pastors would be harmful to women. Therefore, it is more caring, and therefore, more moral to have women serving as elders and/or pastors in a local church. This corresponds to moral foundation (1).

W.E.I.R.D. people; that is, egalitarians again, also believe that prohibiting women from serving as elders and/or pastors would be discriminatory, and therefore, unfair. This corresponds to moral foundation (2).

In some cases, W.E.I.R.D. people appeal to moral foundation (6), believing that a prohibition against women serving as elders and/or pastors is inherently oppressive. In defense of liberty, W.E.I.R.D. people would support having women as elders and/or pastors in a local church, if women were to choose to assume such responsibilities.

Non-W.E.I.R.D. people have a different moral matrix to work with. Non-W.E.I.R.D. people; that is, complementarians, would reject the idea of women serving as elders and/or pastors, because such a position would betray nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Restricting the office of elder and/or pastor to men only would therefore emphasize loyalty. This is moral foundation (3) at work.

Non-W.E.I.R.D. people would oppose the idea of women serving as elders and/or pastors, as this would be an act of subversion, seeking to undermine what they see as the apparent authority of the Bible. The principle of spiritual “headship,” whereby man is the head of woman, would be an example of what might be defended here, an indicator that moral foundation (4) is active, having an emphasis on authority. This is in contrast with W.E.I.R.D. people, who are more generally concerned about “getting the job done,” as in “reaching more people for Jesus,” instead of having an emphasis on respecting the authority of a centuries-old tradition.

Non-W.E.I.R.D. would also oppose the idea of having women as elders and/or pastors, as it would degrade the sacred purposes of God, and thereby profaning God’s good order. This is grounded in moral foundation (5). W.E.I.R.D. Christians, on the other hand, are less likely to be concerned about the sanctity principle treasured by non-W.E.I.R.D. Christians.

Interestingly, non-W.E.I.R.D. people will also apply moral foundation (6), but they do so in a manner that is completely at odds with how W.E.I.R.D. appeal to moral foundation (6).

In contrast to the moral analysis done by W.E.I.R.D. people, non-W.E.I.R.D. people would oppose the idea of having women serve as elders and/or pastors, as it would be inherently oppressive, but in a completely different orientation. Having women serve as elders and/or pastors would force non-W.E.I.R.D. people to submit to an authority structure which would be contrary to the revealed purposes of God. To force someone, whether they be a man OR a woman, to submit to such authority, under the realm of a local church, is to try to compel a person to act contrary to God’s will; which for them would be an act of disobedience.

Nevertheless, non-W.E.I.R.D. people in the church still hold to the care vs. harm, and the fairness vs. cheating, moral foundations, numbers (1) and (2), in a more balanced way, with respect to the other moral foundations, than W.E.I.R.D. people in the church. Non-W.E.I.R.D. people, when evaluating complementarianism and egalitarianism from a moral psychological angle, are still concerned about making sure women are not being harmed, and that women are being fairly treated, that even if women are not permitted to serve as elders and/or pastors. In other words, women are still encouraged to use all of their God-given gifts for ministry, where they are indeed permitted to do so.

Of course, in the real world, the binary opposition of W.E.I.R.D. versus non-W.E.I.R.D. people is not absolute and clear cut. Moderates are those who are partly W.E.I.R.D and partly non-W.E.I.R.D.

My example above was not specifically tested by Jonathan Haidt, but it is consistent with similar forms of analysis that he studied. What is truly fascinating about Jonathan Haidt’s research in this area of the six moral tastebuds, and the differences between W.E.I.R.D and non-W.E.I.R.D. people, is backed up by study after scientific study. Truly remarkable.

More Research Results from The Righteous Mind

Haidt then goes onto describe what he calls “the Hive Switch.” Morality both binds and blinds. Haidt’s metaphor to describe this is that humans are 90% chimpanzee and 10% bee. We spend most of our time acting like chimpanzees, selfish individuals who seek to maximize our own chances for survival, comfort, legacy, and security. But in certain cases, the “hive switch” gets turned to “ON,” whereby we behave like bees, working together in community, in selfless and apparently irrational ways, and valuing the benefit of the group over our own.

The “hive switch” is triggered to go “ON” when we engage in team sport, commonly agreed-upon mission, tragedies (9/11, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), and especially, religion. Those religious traditions that make the most demands on their participants are the most successful, ironically, in  triggering that “hive switch” to flip to “ON.”

For example, churches that make less demands on their members are less likely to trigger the hive switch to go “ON,” for their members. In contrast, when a crisis comes, or a desire to engage in a common mission is embraced, churches that emphasize community and commitment are more likely to shed their chimpanzee-mode and enter into bee-mode, in order to address the crisis, or participate in the mission.

Haidt’s thesis suggests that the apparent conflict between W.E.I.R.D. people and non-W.E.I.R.D. people explains why American society is divided in the “culture wars,” why Republicans are at such odds with Democrats, and vice-versa, and conservatives (non-W.E.I.R.D.) and liberals (W.E.I.R.D.) in politics. The same paradigm follows in the area of religion, which would explain much of the tensions experienced in evangelical Christianity.

W.E.I.R.D. Christians tend to emphasize the moral foundations of care vs. harm, and fairness vs. cheating so much, that they do so at the neglect of the other four moral foundations (though the liberty vs. oppression moral foundation does play a role, but in a much different way, when compared to how non-W.E.I.R.D. Christians think of it).  Alternatively, non-W.E.I.R.D. Christians, while still considering the importance of both the care vs. harm, and fairness vs. cheating moral foundations, tend to mute the value of those two moral foundations, in an attempt to balance with the other four moral foundations.

The challenge in contemporary society, whether it be in the realm of politics, or in the realm of religion, including the life of evangelical churches, is that we all tend to live in chimpanzee-mode about 90% of the time. Our natural inclination, most of the time, is to act in our own personal interests, at the expense of the needs of the greater community. This leaves us with a chasm that separates W.E.I.R.D. and non-W.E.I.R.D. people from one another, in our normal, everyday lives.

The only way to heal this wound between W.E.I.R.D. and non-W.E.I.R.D. people, and bridge the gap, is to try to find ways to trigger this “hive switch” to flip “ON,” thus encouraging people to find ways to work together to behave more like bees, and foster community.

Therefore, Christians who are concerned about maintaining “unity in the midst of diversity,” in a local church context, would do well to consider what conditions might be required to trigger this “hive switch” to activate. The activation of the “hive switch,” in church communities, is essential to maintaining a sense of unity among believers, who often hold to such strong and conflicting opinions, that would otherwise drive such believers apart.

Christian critics of Jonathan Haidt’s work might contend that while such insights and conclusions are fascinating, there is a profound worldview conflict separating Haidt’s fundamental perspective and an orthodox Christian perspective. But it does bear noting that Haidt’s research did move him personally from being a stubborn atheist, strongly antagonistic towards religious faith, before he began his research, to becoming more positive and appreciative of the value of religious faith, including Christianity, by the time he concluded his research for this book. And that really says something about the power of scientific inquiry, as an ally for the Gospel, for those who believe that God has truly revealed himself in Creation, such that both believer and non-believer can study Creation together, and be both drawn towards the glory of God together, if their hearts and minds are open.

What Christians Can Learn From The Righteous Mind

British pastor Andrew Wilson again has some some “lessons learned” from reading The Righteous Mind that would indeed help evangelical Christians find ways to better minister to others more effectively, and build more community among fellow believers. First, we should learn to speak more to the Elephant, if not more, than the Rider.

For example, when doing evangelism, or when engaging other Christians, who do not share your theological perspective on important matters, it is important to first diagnose the intuitions of your partner in conversation, instead of focusing primarily on rational argumentation. You can have all of the apologetic arguments lined up neatly in your head (which really is not a bad idea, by the way), but you can still lose people, and lose friendships in the process. Wilson says that “if the people you’re speaking to have their intuitions and emotions against you, then it is almost impossible to win over their minds.” Following Pascal’s pithy logic in Pensees, we must “make good men wish it were true” before we “show that it is.” We should therefore endeavor to acknowledge emotional objections, make use of stories, use humor, and finding early points of agreement, in an effort to win our audience. Dick Woodward, the late pastor emeritus of my church, was simply a master at doing this.

Secondly, we must understand that differences in theological perspective may result from different moral foundations. Frustration often happens in conversation when we fail to clearly and carefully lay out the moral foundations that guide our thinking. If we merely assume that the other person shares our moral foundation, when in reality, they do not consider it, or only consider it in a token measure, then that can become a real discussion killer real quick.

For example, if a non-W.E.I.R.D. person is engaged with a W.E.I.R.D. person in conversation, then appealing to the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, first and foremost, without much explanation, will probably fall on deaf ears. Since a W.E.I.R.D. person may not value authority as much as a non-W.E.I.R.D. person, it will help to lay out the moral framework as to why authority is so important in the first place, before launching into “thus sayeth the Lord.”  Speaking of “thus sayeth the Lord” is much more effective if a person is willing to acknowledge the concept of spiritual authority.

I particularly appreciate how pastor Andrew Wilson considers this in another example: “It occurs to me that, in the abstract at least, one of the most important changes wrought by the sexual revolution is the profound weakening of three of these six moral foundations, to the extent that many WEIRD people no longer know how to use them. (Gay sex harms nobody, goes the argument, so it can’t be wrong; your appeals to authority, loyalty and sanctity, as vital as they are for you, do not have any purchase in the other person’s moral framework.) This doesn’t mean proving that all our moral imperatives are somehow about harm, because that would concede that WEIRD morality is all there is. But it probably does mean laying out these frameworks, and explaining where they come from, rather than assuming them.

Wilson’s third point then follows from the second: “Go beyond telling people what the Bible says is right or wrong; explain why it is right or wrong.” It is difficult to speak of holiness to people in a world without temples. It is difficult to speak of the kingdom of God in a world without kings. The Bible lays out the building blocks for describing why something is true, good, or beautiful. The challenge for sharing the Christian faith in a post-modern age is trying to find ways for explaining why the Bible says something that it says, and not merely in saying the Bible says something is wrong. For example, it is important, not simply to say that gay sex is wrong, but to say why it is wrong.

Here is Wilson’s fourth point: “Continue to call people to lives of sacrifice and commitment.” Making demands on people seems counter-intuitive, whereas giving people an easy path seems more logical. But packaging the message along the easy path, is not only unbiblical, it really does not work. Following Jonathan Haidt’s terms, you need to place great demands upon people, because otherwise, it will not flip the “hive switch.”

Here is an added gem from Wilson’s application of Haidt’s research: ‘And don’t be fooled into thinking that lower commitment to the church, in time and money, will increase people’s activism outside it. As Haidt explains, “Common sense would tell you that the more time and money people give to their religious groups, the less they have left over for everything else. But common sense turns out to be wrong. Putnam and Campbell found that the more frequently people attend religious services, the more generous and charitable they become across the board.”’

Another way of putting it? The more demands you make upon people to invest in understanding and grappling with the truth of God’s Word, the more they will be inclined to engage in the mission of the church. Or to get “out of the Ark,” so to speak, to borrow a metaphor from Noah’s emergence from the Ark to repopulate and steward the earth, following the great flood taught in the Bible.

Wilson’s final point of application: Learn to disagree well. One of the insights gained from Haidt’s book, based on his analysis of peer-reviewed research, is that moderates are reasonably good at being able to explain what those they disagree with actually believe. Conservatives are less good at being able to do this, to accurately articulate what someone else really believes. Liberals are at the very worst of being able to accurately describe the beliefs of those, with whom they disagree.

In my mind, this fully explains why liberals are the most annoying in the things they say on social media, and why conservatives are only slightly less annoying, and why moderates hardly ever get heard, because they are not annoying enough.

As Tim Keller puts it, describe your opponent’s view in such a way that they would say, “that’s better than I could put it.” If you can not do that, then it is best not to critique the perspective of the other person.

There is an interestingly element in Roman Catholic thought, where a parallel can be found to Jonathan Haidt’s work, comparing the rider and the elephant. In his The Grammar of Assent, John Henry Newman argued that there is a difference between notional assent and real assent, when it comes to Christian conversion. Notional assent deals with the abstract, rational arguments that can be presented to someone, when presenting the Gospel, which is parallel to the Haidt’s rider. Real assent deals with concrete experience, the sacramental expression of notional assent, that appeals more to the senses and to human intuition, corresponding to Haidt’s elephant.

What does this look like in practice? Consider the phenomenon of revivalism, in evangelical faith, as best exemplified by the Billy Graham Crusades of the 20th century. Billy Graham was an expert communicator, able to effectively appeal to the mind of his listeners, with abstract, rational arguments, inviting notional assent to Graham’s message, targeted towards Haidt’s rider. But Graham’s abstract arguments were not enough to eventually trigger conversions. Graham was gifted in his oratory, along with his approach to giving an invitation to his listeners, to come forward to receive Christ, while “Just As I Am” was being played, all while “the buses will wait.” This does not downplay the work of the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, this was the mechanism the Holy Spirit used to appeal to Haidt’s elephant, thereby joining the notional to real assent, leading the evangelical conversion to Christ, in Graham’s Crusade meetings.

Earlier in this post, I observed that it appears that the idea of a “big tent” evangelicalism is slowly fading away into the past. After reading The Righteous Mind, I am a lot more optimistic that the current trend can be altered. Defining those specific boundaries that constitutes “evangelicalism” is still an extremely difficult, and yet necessary, task. The voices of moderates are still there, but they do not speak up much above the din of other voices. Haidt’s book reminds me that while the most conservative elements within evangelicalism appear to be the most dogmatic, they are also counter-intuitively, strangely more open to embracing a “big tent” approach to the evangelical church. The supposedly more open-minded, progressive elements of evangelicalism, that tend to push the boundaries to the breaking point, are actually the most dogmatic and resistant to fully realizing a vision of a robust, “big tent” evangelicalism.

A Caveat Regarding The Righteous Mind (Which Should Be Obvious)

Up to this point, it is quite easy to see that I have written a rather glowing review of Jonathan Haidt’s book. But there is a catch to his overall argument, and the catch is a most serious one.

While Haidt brilliantly explains how moral reasoning functions among humans, The Righteous Mind does not address the question as to why morality matters, or why be moral in the first place. Or to put it differently, does a moral standard genuinely exist, or is morality simply an evolutionary mechanism to advance the human species? Sure, Jonathan Haidt believes that such a moral standard exists. But nothing in The Righteous Mind clarifies how we as humans are supposed to know what this is. In contrast, Christians believe that God has truly revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and that sets the standard for morality in our universe.

Christians can and certainly do debate what exactly constitutes God’s moral standard. But that such a moral standard actually exists is part and parcel of a Christian view of the world. An atheist has no actual recourse to ultimately address this question, apart from some existentialist appeal of some sort. So, for such a otherwise brilliant and immensely rewarding book, it ultimately falls short at trying to answer such fundamental questions.

Nevertheless, despite this caveat, I still walk away from reading The Righteous Mind as the most important and best book I read this year. For more blog articles, YouTube videos and other resources that engage with Jonathan Haidt’s most important book, from various Christian perspectives, check out Haidt’s website for the book here. If only more atheists were as irenic and evidenced-based as Jonathan Haidt!!

New York City evangelical pastor Tim Keller, and Jonathan Haidt, participated together in a Veritas Forum discussion, suggesting that Christians and atheists, despite their fundamental disagreements, can work together towards building a truly pluralistic society.

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