Culture wars can produce nasty rhetoric. Political discourse quickly becomes emotionally charged and divisive. We are tempted to view those with whom we disagree as not only irrational but evil. The culture of demonization of our political opponents is what moral psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt seeks to dismantle with his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt, who serves as professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, believes that we demonize opponents because we do not recognize that everyone values fairness. Moreover, we justify our positions from antithetical moral foundations.

In one sense Haidt is not saying anything that religious leaders and economists haven’t been saying for centuries, namely, that at the root of our understanding of politics are fundamental beliefs about human nature and definitions of morality. In recent decades, Americans have increasingly turned to psychologists as experts on morality and human action. As such, religious and economic texts like Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, Abraham Kuyper’s Problem of Poverty, and even Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions, which all explain political conflicts as extensions of antithetical views on human nature and morality, are ignored.

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