The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Summer
2012

Moral Confusion, Family Decay


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


When commentators on the liberal-left condescend to consider family issues, they invariably view those issues through an economic lens. University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a sharper lens: morality, reinforced by religion.

Through years of investigating the psychology of moral judgment, Haidt has developed moral matrices for conservatives, liberals, and libertarians based on their divergent orientations to six key values—Care, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity, and Fairness. All of the groups that Haidt dissects in this fashion may learn something from his matrices. But liberals in particular should attend to Haidt’s account of the impact of the progressive agenda on African Americans in the inner city:

Liberals stand up for victims of oppression and exclusion. They fight to break down [what they perceive as] arbitrary barriers (such as those based on race, and more recently on sexual orientation). But their zeal to help victims, combined with their generally low scores on the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, often lead them to push for changes that weaken groups, traditions, institutions, and moral capital. The urge to help the inner-city poor led to welfare programs in the 1960s that reduced the value of marriage, increased out-of-wedlock births, and weakened African American families. . . . On issue after issue, it’s as though liberals are trying to help a subset of bees (which really does need help) even if doing so damages the hive. Such “reforms” may lower the overall welfare of a society, and sometimes they even hurt the very victims liberals were trying to help.

And like liberals, atheists (most of whom are liberals), have much to learn from Haidt’s analyses. Haidt recognizes that religion provides an important support for human moral intuitions: “religions are [thus] moral exoskeletons” in his analysis. “Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion,” he cautions, “should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies ever known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).”

In a world in which liberals and atheists exercise disproportionate cultural and political influence, no one should be surprised when more and more wedding chapels and maternity wards are closed and shuttered.

(Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion [New York: Pantheon, 2012], pp. 269, 309.)

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