Postmormon Morality and Haidt’s Moral Foundations
I finally got around to posting my latest blog article at Wheat and Tares, If your morality is fragile, do handle with care….
The basics of this post are that it was supposed to be a quick followup to my previous post at Wheat and Tares, which was a partial transcript of John Dehlin’s interview on Mormon Stories and A Thoughtful Faith. (This podcast episode drew a lot of discussion at Main Street Plaza, by the way.) The basics were simple: many folks suppose that when people leave the Mormon church, they become (or have the possibility of becoming) immoral. My response was such: 1) I don’t think that really happens, 2) there are some parts of Mormon morality that should be challenged, and 3) to the extent that some former Mormons legitimately do become immoral, this really says something about the way the LDS church teaches moral reasoning.
One of the comments made me think of something entirely different, however.
In the 12th comment, jmb275 wrote:
Yeah, to elaborate though a little, we’re not talking about the care/harm moral foundation, those are strongly enough imbued in society no faith crisis undoes that (plus most of us aren’t psychopaths). But if we’re talking about alcohol, or premarital sex, those are a different ballgame. Those fall under the sanctity/degradation moral foundation, and those are the first to go. Those have nothing to do with empathy but are based on tradition or “God’s will.” They’re still “moral values,” if you will, but under a faith crisis the importance of the sanctity/degradation moral foundation evaporates unless you work diligently to keep it together. (FYI, see Moral Foundations)
This really got me thinking. Although I suspect that Haidt’s moral foundations theory probably has some culture-bound issues (the mapping between American liberals and American conservatives probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to many folks around the world), I have to say that I fit closer to Haidt’s view of an American liberal — fairness and harm strike me as legitimate moral values, while the other foundations — especially sanctity/degradation seems of less importance…and doesn’t seem particularly “moral” to me at all!
Whenever I talk about Mormon morality, I (and many other folks) often make a clear delineation between issues like marital infidelity, murder or violence…and then other things like coffee, tea, non-monogamous or non-heteronormative (yet still consensual) relationships. The reason I do it is because to me, it seems clear that there is a difference — if we’re talking about moral issues, then I understand that murder, lying, cheating, stealing, and those things apply.
But drinking coffee or tea is not like these others, in my mind. These things don’t even register as morality items to me, so it bothers me that people will look at these things when they talk about ex-mormons “slackening” their morality.
…the issue that jmb pointed out is that perhaps the entire disagreement stems because I value different moral foundations than the other guy — whereas I see ritual issues of purity to be wholly irrelevant at worst, and a matter of proprietary or prudence (rather than morality) at best, I have to recognize that for others, these items are quite literally viewed as being along the other moral issues. When someone says sexual immorality (which can be under the “harm” foundation” but is usually phrased as a purity/degradation issue) is next to murder, to me this seems absurd…but for another person, this might seem intuitively true.
The question to consider is whether the leaving the church relates to a shift in the moral foundations one values — are the people who either a) chafe at Mormon moral rules to begin with or b) reevaluate morality after leaving just folks who tend to be on the “harm and fairness” side of the moral foundations typology?