Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

As Russell Nieli, a lecturer in politics at Princeton University points out , not all atheists are anti-religion. While University of Virginia professor of social psychology Jonathan Haidt, a resolved atheist, certainly does not advocate religion, and in fact laments the many harmful effects of religion on society, he beseeches   his fellow social scientists, in all fairness and in the name of science itself, to acknowledge the great good that both religion and social conservatism bring to humanity.

If you believe that morality is about happiness and suffering, then I think you are obligated to take a close look at the way religious people actually live and ask wheat they are doing right . . . [Not only are religious people more charitable among themselves], religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood . . . Atheists may have many other virtues, but on one of the least controversial and most objective measures of moral behavior — giving time, money, and blood to help strangers in need — religious people appear to be morally superior.

In his book  The Righteous Mind:   Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion , Haidt enumerates the six virtues necessary for a decent, stable, and cohesive society: personal liberty and autonomy, caring behavior, fairness, a concern for the maintenance of traditional authority structures, loyalty to the group, and respect for the sacred.  While social conservatives possess all six of these virutes, Haidt says, those left of center possess only the first three.

Not only that, says Nieli, but “ [Jonathan Haidt] clearly believes that conservatives, at least those of the more traditionalist and communitarian variety, have a richer repertoire of virtues than leftists, and, not surprisingly, that they usually have a better understanding of the secular left than the secular left does of them.”

“Haidt offers kind words in his book,” Nieli says, “for the wisdom of Edmund Burke, and toys at one point with the possibility that ‘conservatives [might] have a better formula [than others] for how to create a healthy, happy society.’”

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles