Edging Toward Enchantment: Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too

I ended my last post with a provocation.

I said, let us become disgusted with a disenchanted view of creation.

I chose my words carefully. I specifically wanted to use the word disgusted.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt, as many of you know, has posited that human societies tend to work with five "moral foundations" to decide if something is right versus wrong. The the moral foundations are: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity.

One of the early findings of this research was that liberals and conservatives appear to use these foundations differently. Specifically, it was argued that liberals tend to restrict their moral judgments to the foundations of Care and Fairness. This gives liberals that "social justice" impulse, a sensitivity to injustice (violations of the Fairness foundation) and oppression (violations of the Care foundation).

By contrast, it was argued that conservatives appeal to all five foundations. Beyond issues of harm and injustice conservatives also care about in-group loyalty/solidarity, obeying authority and honoring the holy/sacred.

But is that true?

For example, do liberals and progressives really eschew the Sanctity foundation?

This is important in that the Sanctity foundation is the fount of enchantment, as it is the experience of what we've called a "sacramental ontology," a world experienced, here and there, as holy and sacred.

By and large, liberals tend to be a pretty disenchanted group, more modern and secularized than their conservative counterparts. And the same holds true among liberal and progressive Christians. Liberal and progressive Christians tend to be the Christians who most struggle with doubt and disenchantment.

But if progressives and liberals also makes appeals to the Sanctity foundation, as conservatives do, then we've found here some other resources that might help doubting and disenchanted Christians edge back toward enchantment.

So, the question: Do liberals make appeals to the Sanctity foundation?

Contrary to what was first thought, it appears that they do. Liberals just use the Sanctity foundation for different sorts of things. What we are now realizing is that it's not that conservatives appeal to Sanctity and liberals do not, but that each group considers different things to be sacred and holy.

For example, in a 2015 study entitled "Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too: The Harmless Desecration of Cerro Torre" psychologists Jeremy Frimer and Caitlin Tell, along with Jonathan Haidt, observed that liberals condemned the alteration of the mountain Cerro Torre by mountain climbers. (The mountain climbers had placed permanent bolts in the mountain and left them there.)

But here's the key point. The researchers observed that liberals condemned the alteration of the mountain by making an appeal to the Sanctity foundation.

That is, the bolts were condemned as a desecration of the mountain.

In short, liberals also make appeals to the Sanctity foundation.

And that is why I chose the word "disgusted" in my last post. Disgust, as I describe in my book Unclean, is the emotion that regulates the Sanctity foundation. Disgust is the emotion of defilement and desecration.

Liberals, it seems, experience nature as sacred and holy. Liberals appeal to the Sanctity foundation to condemn the desecration of nature. Which connects back to my last post, the sacred experience of creation becomes a resource for liberal and progressive Christians to edge back toward enchantment. 

In short, while they might not theologically believe it, liberals emotionally experience the world as being "charged with the grandeur of God."

That's why in the last post I called this a "romantic Christianity." Intellectually, liberal Christians struggle with disenchantment.

For liberal Christians enchantment is emotional, less theological and more romantic.

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