Speaker 1: Thank you. This is a true honor and a privilege for me to be here. Some of my students who are here today know as an instructor, I like to sometimes share my reasoning behind different decisions I make in the classroom and why I decide to do things. I’m going to share a little bit of that with you now. When I was asked to do this I’ve decided that I want to do more things that both excite me and scare me so that’s why I’m here right now. I’m going to briefly introduce both Timothy Keller and Jonathan Haidt, and then, they will give their opening remarks in that order.
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church here in New York City, the author of several New York best-selling books including The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, The Prodigal God, Recovering the Hearts of the Christian Faith, and Making Sense of God an Invitation to the Skeptical. He is a pastor, theologian and a Christian apologist who does what many may have thought impossible. Namely, he appeals to skeptical Manhattan intellectuals. Redeemer Presbyterian Church is now regularly attended by nearly 5000 people and is one of the most vital congregations in the city.
Professor Jonathan Haidt is professor of ethical leadership as we heard here at New York University’s Stern School of Business and his research focuses on the psychology of morality and moral emotions. Dr. Haidt is the author of two books including the Happiness Hypothesis, Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and the New York Times bestseller The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
He was named one of the top global thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine and one of the top world thinkers by Prospect Magazine. His 2015 article in The Atlantic Monthly called the Coddling of the American Mind co-written by Greg Lukianoff sparked an important dialogue about the dangers of censorship in the classroom and the need for reasoned, open dialogue, debate, and disagreement in the university. Let’s hear from both of them.
Tim Keller: Thanks. I’m also looking forward to the dialogue. I’ll try to be brief even though everything I say usually takes 30 minutes. It’s force of habit but I’ll try not to. The real question is how do you have a pluralistic society? How do we live together when we have no common moral framework when we have so many different kind of moral frameworks? Let me say first of all, how do we have a pluralistic society? I think we ought to start by pointing out, before I say here’s where I think we ought to go, here’s how I think we can get there.
We ought to start by saying, “I’m not sure we ever have had a pluralistic society.” I could be wrong, but I think on this one I think, Jonathan Haidt will probably agree or be largely sympathetic. Here is an arguable history of the country. For many years, I would say Protestant mainline denominations like the Episcopalian Church and the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church essentially dominated, it’s their moral framework dominated the culture.
That moral framework essentially said, “If you’re a Protestant, you’re okay. If you’re Catholic, you’re Jewish, you’re kind of okay but a little strange. If you are an atheist or a secular person or a gay person, you’re beyond the pale.” When Protestantism, the mainline churches started to go down in the 60s and 70s there was a period in which white evangelical churches, the moral majority in particular thought they could step into the breach and take over and it would then be the cultural elite and its moral framework would be the framework of the country.
But it was an alarming experience for most of the country because the white evangelicals did not show, the moral majority did not show much more willingness to create a perspective diverse truly pluralistic society in which people with deeply different moral visions could get along. There was no indication that if they did become the power elite that would have happened. Their attitude, again, toward people with non-traditional morality, people who had a, people of different religions they showed almost no interest in that sort of thing.
But in the last 10 years, I guess you could say the secular cultural left has become considerably more powerful and in my estimation, they are acting exactly the way cultural elites have acted in the past. That is we have a new set of orthodoxies, a new set of heresies, and we still … I’ve had people say to me in … Actually, pretty accomplished people have said to me that a person with my particular view of morality in the future will not be able to get a government job or at least they hope not. That any institution that has my particular view of morality would not be able to be, get accreditation to grant degrees and so forth.
It does look to me like we actually have never had, and we don’t seem to be about to have what I’ll call a truly pluralistic perspective diverse society in which people who have deeply different moral visions can speak respectfully to each other, believe and practice and express their particular understanding of things without being ostracized and marginalized, talk together respectfully. I’m not sure we’ve ever had it. It doesn’t look like we’re on the way toward it at all.
Miroslav Volf in his great book Exclusion and Embrace says that there’s four ways to exclude rather than open to somebody who’s different than you. Four ways to exclude them rather than be open to them. He says the four ways are elimination, domination, assimilation, and abandonment. In elimination, you actually push the person out of your space or you just get them out of here, I don’t want you here. The second domination is to say you can be in my space as long as you take an inferior position. You don’t live in the same neighborhoods, you don’t have the same jobs, you can be here but you have to have an inferior spot.
Assimilation is will accept you as long as you completely agree with us on everything important to us as we define it. Abandonment is I don’t care about you, you may have needs but I don’t care. Those are all ways of pushing people out. The fact is that every cultural elite I know that we’ve had so far, including the ones that right now they’re struggling, they’re struggling, cultural elites are struggling for whose in charge. Every one of them still looks like we’re going to say, “We want one moral framework to reign and anyone who does not fit into that moral framework, we want you silenced.”
That’s the way it’s always been and that seems to be the way it’s going to be but I believe that Professor Haidt and I are here to say we would really like to have a pluralistic society, a truly pluralistic society. How could we go there? Let me give you four things I think might happen. This is something I think the whole society has to do together though I’ll explain because I’m a Christian minister and I was actually asked to talk about what resources my particular worldview or faith has to contribute to a pluralistic society in America. I’ll mention that too, but here’s the four things.
Number one, I think the first thing we’re going to have to do is we’re probably going to have to say John Rawls was wrong. Rawls, you might now believed that you should not bring religious language into public discourse. You shouldn’t give religious reasons for a particular law or a particular norm that you are contending for. That we should always be rational and neutral and we should never bring religion into it. The first thing we’re going to have to do is to say that is a great way of marginalizing a lot of people.
Stephen Carter of the [inaudible 00:08:33] and his book The Dissent of the Governed said this, “Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent no matter how thoughtfully worked out will always, in the end, say to those who organize religion that they alone unlike everyone else must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves they may consider the most vital.”
Now, and let me just say something quick to defend what I’m about to say. WK Clifford wrote a very famous essay in 1877. It was famous for a while anyway, called The Ethics of Belief. In it he said this very famous thing, his famous statement was this, in The Ethics of Belief he said, “It is wrong always everywhere and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”
His point was that you should never believe anything unless you’ve got empirical evidence for it and the trouble with religion as soon as you make religious claims there’s no way to prove those things so they ought to be just kept out of the public square. There’s probably not an epistemology course in the country taught by any philosophy professor at any accredited university that would actually give you that thing to read and say that’s my view because it’s pretty widely understood now that most of the things that we hold dear, most of the things we believe, most of the things that we believe that mean the most to us could not be empirically proven.
I’ll give you one example, human rights. Alan Dershowitz in his book Shouting Fire says, he asked this question, “What if you come to a country where they say, ‘Why should we believe in human rights?'” If you don’t want to just say because I feel human rights are good things. If you want to say something more powerful than that, what do you say? He says only four things to say.
One is you can do what Martin Luther King Jr. said, which is all human beings have inherent equal dignity because they’re made in the image of God. Now, Dershowitz says, “But for him, he’s an atheist so he just can’t go there so that he can’t say that.” He says the second thing you’d say is, “Well, human rights are natural. You can see them in nature.” He says, “The problem with that is if you actually look at nature it’s kind of violent. The strong eat the weak and that kind of thing so it’s a little hard to get the idea of inherent human, inherent dignity of every human being from nature.”
The third thing you could say is we create human rights. We just get together and we legislate them. He says, “The problem with that is if human rights are the creation of the majority they’re useless because the whole point of a human right is to put in, is to take the right of minority and put it in the face of the majority and say, ‘You have to honor the rights of my people or my client.'” If they’re created then they can be uncreated and that means they’re useless.
He says, “What is it? Then what do you say?” He says, “Here’s what you have to say. We just know they’re there. Human rights have to be discovered not created. They have to be there otherwise they’re useless and they are. Why are they?” We don’t know but they are. Then, Dershowitz says, “I know that if somebody comes to me and says, ‘Well, that’s just what you white Western individualistic people say.'” He says, “Well, that’s a problem.” But I just know that this isn’t just something from my culture. They’re just there.
Then, he says, ultimately he comes and says, “Most of the human rights now believes that they’re there and that’s why we know they’re there.” But the real problem, of course, is as he said, “Is it really true that what the majority of human beings think is right is necessarily right?” No.
In the end, can he prove human rights? Can you empirically prove them? Is it something … No. It’s a faith leap. It’s a leap of faith. It’s an assumption. There’s as much evidence for human rights as there is for God but that’s another lecture. In fact, I think there’s probably more evidence for God than there is for human rights. The point of the matter is they are both non-provable empirically, and they’re not self-evident, the existence of God, the existence of human rights, and therefore, we all are bringing non-provable moral intuitions and convictions into the public square and we ought to let them come. We ought to let everybody talk about it and not say, “Oh, you’re imposing your religion on me.”
Everybody is taking non-provable intuitions about human nature and about right and wrong and you’re bringing them into the public square and you’re trying to get them into legislation. Everybody’s doing that. Everybody’s being exclusive in that sense. That’s number one. Let’s open the dialog everybody.
Number two, let’s make sure that as much as possible when we argue we look for overlapping values that the different moral frameworks have. There are overlapping values, and as much as possible argue to a person from a different moral framework within their framework. For example, Charles Taylor, the philosopher wrote an article some years ago called An Unforced Consensus on Human Rights. He says, “If you’re going to Thailand and you’re trying to make a case that you need to be stronger on human rights, you don’t say, ‘Why don’t you become secular like us?'”
He says, “You go into Buddhism and say, ‘Are there resources inside the Buddhist moral framework for human rights?'” He thinks there are. Instead of just saying, “Well, when you Easterners become secular and enlightened like us Westerners …” Which by the way is incredibly imperialism. It says, “If you do that, of course, all their people are going to do is put up walls. Instead, when you argue look for overlapping consensus and look if you’re going to argue, argue within their moral framework say, ‘I know what your framework is, and so why don’t you see this?'”
Number three, then take a vote. Number one, open to everybody. Number two, look for overlapping consensus and try as much as possible to work inside people’s moral frameworks. Then, number three argue and argue, and then, take a vote and it’s democracy, whoever has the most votes wins. That’s the legislation and the norms, the moral norms who get the most votes, those are the norms who are going to be enshrined in our law.
But then, number four, really, really, really respect minorities. My father was a conscientious objector in World War II. He was a pacifist. He had only one friend that he maintained from before World War II, and he kept after World War II. Lost all of his friends, and yet, he was a conscientious objector. World War II you had a fight in order to defend our freedom. It was a law that if you were a male of a certain age, you had to be subject to the draft, was the law, but America has always said, “If your religious conscience doesn’t allow you to do that then we’re not going to force you.”
I hope we don’t go away from that and I do think there’s a very good possibility there is. Here’s the four things and I’m done. Oh, one last thing. I’m sorry. There’s five. The one thing was open to everybody, the second thing is to argue the way I was saying, the third thing is take a vote, the fourth thing is respect human right. Here’s the last thing. John Haidt in his book talks about the righteous mind that in his Righteous Mind book, he talked about the righteous mind.
At one point, he actually says he believes that human beings are programmed not just to be righteous but to be self-righteous. There is no doubt in my mind that is the main problem, the reason why we haven’t had a pluralistic society. It’s not just that people believe that they’re right, everybody believes that they’re right, everybody. If you’re an atheist, if you’re an agnostic, if you’re a Christian, if you’re Muslim, you believe you’re right. Your take on spiritual reality is right.
The real question is how self-righteous are you? How condescending are you? How disdainful are you? That’s the question. All I can tell you, those who are here who are Christians, you’ve got something in the very middle of your Christian faith, which ought to destroy self-righteousness and make you at the very least agents of pluralism and civility. It’s the idea that you are saved by grace alone not by your good works.
I’ve got a Muslim family on my floor, a Hindu family on my floor, an atheist, a couple on my floor, and because I’m a Christian I know that I’m not saved, I’m not a Christian, I don’t have a relation with God because I’m better, but because of God’s grace because Jesus Christ died for me and I believe in him, it’s not because I’m a better person or a smarter person or a more moral person. When I talk to my Hindu or my Muslim or my atheist neighbors, I have every reason to expect they could be better people than me. I have every reason to believe that their husbands could be better husbands than me, every reason to believe that.
I have every reason to believe they might be better people than me. Why? Because my understanding of how Christianity works, how salvation works is that I have no basis for that kind of superiority. They’re really actually is something in the very center of Christianity that ought to make you, make us those who are Christians someone who really can be part of making for a pluralistic society.
After 9/11, excuse me. After 9/11, 2 days after 9/11 we were reading all these articles in the paper about how this is what religious fundamentalism brings violence. My wife Cathy was hearing me read one of those editorials out loud, she says, “No. Not necessarily.” She says, “Religious fundamentalism doesn’t necessarily lead to violence.” She said, “It depends on what your fundamental is.” Have you ever seen an Amish terrorist?
What she means is if the very center of your faith is a man dying for his enemies, a man who wouldn’t strike back, a man who’s saying, “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing.” Yeah, Christians have been agents of oppression, but in spite of not because of what’s at the heart of their faith. John Haidt I’m sure has his own approach to how do you deal with the self-righteousness, that’s the Christian approach and it’s a powerful one. Thank you.
Jonathan Haidt: Well, thank you, Tim. Thank you, [inaudible 00:18:47]. This is so exciting for me to be here because I’ve been at NYU for five years now, but I’ve been over in the Stern School the entire time. I’ve only taught MBA students. I’ve only addressed undergrads a couple times. Raise your hand if you’re an NYU undergrad in this room? Okay, so about two-thirds or three-quarters.
I’m so excited because this is like totally the quintessential NYU experience. This is what I always imagined NYU would be. To be in a room here, it’s a discussion. Maybe a debate between a Christian and an atheist and we’re looking like up Fifth Avenue at the Empire State Building and we’re in a room that looks like a 1970s disco. This is like totally NYU. I’m really psyched about this.
You were all instructed, right? You’re all instructed, “Oh, be sure to sit only with people who have a different worldview than you.” Again, totally NYU. I’m really, really excited. Thank you to the Veritas Foundation, Veritas group whatever it is, forum for bringing us all together because the things we’re talking about tonight about pluralism and how do we get along despite our differences, it’s been topical for a long time but, man, in the last couple months like long since after this evening was planned has it become topic number one.
Now, I was asked, I think we were both asked in our questions to prepare, what is your vision for moral framework for a pluralistic society? Include a description of your worldview, faith background, and why this is relevant for you. I thought, actually, I think this will work quite well. The point for me to say is that I’m Jewish and this is relevant to the discussion in two ways.
One is that I was raised in a reformed Jewish family in Scarsdale in Westchester County, very little actual religion. Just a lot of food and bar mitzvahs and things like that. I had a bar mitzvah but I know that within two years of my bar mitzvah I was debating with my best friend who was the son of an Episcopalian minister. I was debating with him the existence of God and I was taking the con side. I was an atheist by the time I was 15 or 16. By the time I was in college I was a rather hostile atheist. I thought religion was a giant lie. I thought it was oppressive. I was on the side of truth. I was, had the New Atheists been around then I would have been one.
I was fairly hostile to religion from the time I was in college, and it was in part from reading the Bible, apart from reading the Old Testament and taking it literally. I guess, now we know I should have taken it seriously but not literally. But anyway, I took it literally and I did not want it. I was very hostile to religion for a long time, but I started studying morality in graduate school, and once I started studying morality and culture, looking across cultures, I then started studying religion and the origin, the way that morality and religion have co-evolved in the human past.
I started realizing that actually moral religion I believe is an absolutely essential part of our evolutionary history. We would not have civilization. We would not have morality if we did not evolve to be religious both biologically and culturally. Furthermore, I started reading the empirical research on the effects of religion. At least, in the United States, those effects are overwhelmingly positive. There’s an important book called American Grace by Robert Putnam and somebody Campbell. They basically come to the conclusion from survey data and other kinds of data that members of religious communities are simply better citizens. They give more not just to the religious communities but to their society in a variety of ways, in all sorts of ways that even secular people would grant religions, it’s not belief, its participation in a religious community has effects that reign in people’s selfishness and draws them out into community.
I’d like to believe that I simply was persuaded by the evidence. I have no idea why I was persuaded, but I’m actually, I would almost say a fan of religion now. I think that religion in America in particular where we’ve had relatively benign religions that have sort of competed to attract adherence so we have a sort of competition of religions because of our pluralism here that’s made American religions really effective and appealing.
I am a fan of religion and I believe that as religion has faded away as a common religion that Tim was talking about the Protestant consensus, as that has faded away, I think that’s an important part of the problems and predicament we find ourselves in now much closer to a state of anomie or normlessness as Emile Durkheim called it. That’s one line for me to have gone from being a Jewish atheist who is hostile to religion to being a Jewish atheist who actually is generally positive towards religion.
The second line, the second reason why being Jewish is important here is that I was raised by parents who were first-generation. They were children of immigrants from the old country from Poland and Russia and this was the great, great generation of Jewish assimilation. My grandparents all fled pogroms and violence in Poland and Russia. They came to America they were not welcomed with open arms but they were not rejected. They were basically just let free to do their thing. Sure, my parents couldn’t join certain country clubs, who cares?
I was raised to believe, I was told directly by my parents that Israel is not the Promised Land for the Jews. Israel is a really tough place to live. My parents never even wanted to go to Israel. I was told that America was the Promised Land. America is the land overflowing with milk and honey. My father’s generation, they’re all born poor, they went on to be tremendously successful in business and culture in the Academy and this was during the time of the Protestant hegemony.
David Brooks had an amazing column when Obama, President Obama appointed his first or second Supreme Court justice, it became the case for the first time in American history that there was not a single WASP as president, vice president on the Supreme Court leading either party in the House or the Senate. Everybody was Jewish, Catholic or Mormon. Brooks was pointing out that while the WASPs weren’t perfect, this particular governing consensus, yes, they had their prejudices, but they basically set up a relatively open meritocracy and accepted the results.
This is all background to my saying I am a big, big fan of assimilation. What I mean by that is not the version Tim quoted somebody says, “It means you agree on everything.” No. I think of assimilation as the assimilation I experienced growing up Jewish in a town where everybody was Jewish, Irish, Italian, WASP, just a couple of African-Americans, a couple of Iranians things like that. We had some diversity. These were all groups that had been, you might say marginalized 50 years before, but by the 60s and 70s it didn’t really matter very much and by the 90s it barely mattered at all.
I’m a huge fan of assimilation that says, “You don’t have to conform on everything.” We do have a shared consensus which is called the American Civic religion as Robert Bellah called it. We do have a kind of a worshipful attitude towards the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and American tradition. This is the time in history when I was raised. I think it was a Golden Age. I would even say of American pluralism in that we went from a time of we think the 50s is a time of closedness and intolerance and obviously lots of groups were denied full participation and rights, but my entire life was one giant sweep of more rights for everybody with gay people and our transgender being the last ones to get full or nearly full rights of participation.
I’m a big fan of assimilation for personal reasons I’ll say and that perhaps has colored my academic work. Now, on to my last point, which is now I’ll speak not as an American Jew, but as a social psychologist who studies morality. The two things you need to know about morality are one, we evolved to be tribal creatures. The whole secret, the reason why we dominate the planet and no other primate does is that we figured out how to cooperate in small groups to either beat the hell out of other groups, take their land or just outproduce them. We are tribalists. We’re really. really good at it, but we don’t have to be. That’s the amazing thing.
Under certain circumstances, if you get the parameter set right, we’d love to trade, explore, travel, meet new people, try new foods. We’re tribalists but we’re not obligatory tribalist. This is crucial because for a long time America did things pretty well to tone down the tribalism. Now, I think we’re doing just about everything wrong.
The second thing you need to know about us is that our reasoning evolved to help us persuade other people. It did not evolve to help us find the truth. Our reasoning is generally post hoc justification. You’ve all heard the phrases going around, confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, this is the basis of fake news of all sorts of things. We believe whatever we want to believe. We believe what our team wants us to believe.
Take these two things, we’re tribalists who reason to justify not to find truth, put us together. We evolved for these small-scale tribal societies. Over the course of history, driven in part by developments of religion. We developed very large societies. We develop empires that were able to have multiracial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies as they did in Rome, in the Ottoman Empire, in the Muslim kingdoms.
We are able to develop these large-scale societies but you have to look with a large-scale society composed of these tribalists, you have to look at the balance between what are the centripetal forces blowing us outwards, they’re always there. What are the centripetal forces pulling us in, they’re always there. As long as the centripetal forces are much stronger, then you can have a decent multi-ethnic, multiracial, pluralist society because you have forces of unification, forces of unity, shared sacred values, shared beliefs shared traditions, and when those centripetal forces weaken, you can expect revolution, chaos, cycle of declining trust, and the decay of a society.
This last year 2016, I think is best compared to the year 1968, a year when centripetal forces were extraordinarily strong. There was a lot of violence. The centripetal forces, the violence were much stronger in 1968 than they were in 2016 or 2017, but the centripetal forces holding us together we’re so much stronger then that the nation was able to make it through. Now, we have very little holding us together.
I won’t go into in detail because it’s too depressing and pessimistic and in the discussion, I will try to also put in a few points of levity and optimism because I think not all hopeless but I do think that we are facing a national emergency and I don’t think we understand it. Many people think the national emergency is Trump. I will say that while I do side with you on most matters with regard to that, I’m focused not just on the damage to democratic norms that I believe Donald Trump has done, I’m focused on the more serious, well, possibly more, who knows? But the very serious problem that even after Trump is gone, our democracy is so damaged, we have done so much to weaken the centripetal forces pulling us together that our future is really uncertain.
I think this is the national emergency that I hope your generation will take up as its primary cause, although I am doubtful that you will. Okay. With that, I will turn it over now to, I guess discussion.
Speaker 1: Thank you both to Tim and John. So much to discuss. I’m going to start small, and then, we’ll build into the dialogue. Let’s take a step back and even think about, should we be talking about these issues in a university setting? John, you’ve written quite a bit about the lack of recent debate in universities and civil discourse and actually, I can relate to that as an instructor as well, and one of my students put it this way, “We can only discuss when we all agree.” That was the feeling …
Speaker 4: Oh, my God.
Speaker 1: Yes. Yes. Is the university really the place for these kinds of discussions on controversial issues like morality, religion, and politics, and why?
Jonathan Haidt: We can discuss all sorts of things at NYU, we just can’t discuss sacred values. What I mean by that, is that the way to understand … I’m a [Durkheimian 00:31:44]. That means the sociologist Emile Durkheim. I think he was one of the wisest people who ever lived. I think of him as one of the greatest founders of the social sciences. He interpreted all the crazy things people do as attempts to form groups, to form tribes.
Tribes unify around sacred values, though it can be a rock or a tree or a book or a person, it can be a sports team or a TV show or Harley-Davidson, but whatever that group unifies around if anyone insults that or disagrees with it, they’re in big trouble and they’re out of the group. We’re used to thinking of this for religion, we know what blasphemy laws, sacrilege laws, we know about all that for formal religions, but I think what you have to see happening in America as the dominant religious frame has retreated is we’ve had, you have the rise of multiple sacred values in multiple groups around the country, many of which are extraordinarily illiberal.
I spent the last few days, somebody sent me various links to the dark enlightenment, the react, neo reaction, all the stuff that Steve Bannon is influenced by and it is quite a wormhole. It is extraordinarily illiberal. They dislike democracy and they were working to overthrow it. We are seeing the rise of all these groups on the right that are quasi-religious movements that are deeply incompatible with democracy, but as you mentioned my Coddling of the American Mind article, we’ve seen the rise of illiberalism on the left.
This is the problem in universities that because there are certain sacred values related to certain topics and groups, and I have to be very careful of what I say because this talk is going online so I actually cannot talk openly to you, but there are many things we cannot say, cannot talk about because they will be sent out on social media, taken out of context, and you can have your career ended. No. I’ve stopped being provocative at NYU. I can be a little more provocative if I’m elsewhere, but I’m very careful when I’m here on campus.
Speaker 1: Tim, presumably your foundation for morality as a Christian is the Bible, so how can someone like you with this obvious base for morality enter into even a pluralistic discussion about morality when many people may not even agree with your foundation?
Tim Keller: Well, I spoke a little bit to that I think. For example, Michael Sandel, Harvard University wrote a book, teaches of a masterclass there on justice and he wrote a book that basically writes up, it’s an undergraduate course, and he wrote a book called Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? He points out that there’s at least three theories of justice that are at work in our society right now.
It says is the utilitarian view, which is the just thing is the greatest good for the greatest number. He says the [Kantian 00:34:27] view, which is justice is all about the individual getting their rights, not the greater good. Then, there’s the Aristotelian view, which is justice is getting what you deserve.
He says, a great line where he says, “All justice, all theories of justice are judgmental.” What he means is there is no way to prove which one of these things is the right approach. He says they’re all grounded in somewhat different understandings of the relationship of the individual to society, different understandings of actually human nature, different understandings of maybe even the purpose of human life at different accounts of what is a good human life. None of these things can be empirically proven.
He says in the end at the bottom, as soon as you say that’s a justice issue, which people do at NYU all the time and other places. That’s a justice issue. He says, “It depends on your theory of justice.” The theories of justice are very complicated. They’re rooted in non-provable and non-self-evident intuitions about human life and human nature, and therefore, everybody is coming into public discourse in a sense with a set of moral norms that you can’t prove to somebody else. Nobody can completely just prove their moral framework.
Yeah. I’m coming with the Bible, but frankly, my moral framework isn’t, I don’t think more exclusive than somebody else’s because it’s in a sense based on faith. To me, what we need in the public square is not to change our views when somebody says, “Your views are too narrow.” I say, “Well, it’s the attitude; tolerance, humility, and respect.”
I actually feel like if a, here’s a Buddhist, here’s a Muslim, here’s an atheist, here’s a Christian all of them are bringing into public discourse values that they can’t prove so they’re all in a sense operating in faith in some way. What I’m really going to be watching is which one has the resources in their worldview to be tolerant, respectful, and humble toward the people they disagree with. That’s the most important thing we need at this point. That’s what people on the right and the left and actually, frankly, even … There’s a lot … I actually do see people in the center say don’t seem to be as extreme but actually are as hard to talk to as anybody else.
I would go like that. I would say that I don’t think that because I do say the Bible is the ground for my moral framework that I’m somehow more narrow than somebody else’s.
Jonathan Haidt: What is the slur on centrist you’re saying here? I’m offended.
Tim Keller: Well, I’m a centrist and that is to say I’ve always been a political centrist. In other words, I would say, “Well, I’m conservative on this and I’m more liberal on this.” That’s probably because I’m an oldest child, but you’re the psychologist, right? So are you, right? Anyway, I’m an oldest child so I’m trying to please everybody, but I can … Oldest children are very self-righteous. In other words, we know best than you, the rest of you just don’t really understand and there’s a self-righteousness about being centrist.
In fact, some of you know that I tend to do the third way thing. I tend to say, “Oh, what is … You here and you …” My wife actually often says to me, “Honey, everybody, everybody in the world is unbalanced but me and you and occasionally, I wonder about you.” That’s a smugness. That’s what I’m saying. I’m just saying I … It seems like the attitudes of tolerance, humility, and patience. I got this from John Inazu’s book Confident Pluralism. Tolerance is not indifference. You might be appalled with the other person but you’re respectful to them.
Humility is not that you don’t believe you’re right but that you know the limits of what you can prove and you also know, you’re always going to learn by listening. Patience is not saying I’m going to put up with evil but what it is saying is I’m not going to be too quick to posit motives and say you must be an evil person or you must be a hostile person, so whoever can muster those kinds of virtues that’s what we need in the public square, not saying you have a more narrow moral framework, you have a more broad moral framework. I would say all moral frameworks to some degree are narrow. It’s the attitude that matters. That’s what I mean by centrist.
Jonathan Haidt: Fair enough.
Speaker 1: Tim, you just mentioned several moral virtues, and John, I know you’ve written about our foundations of morality. I think it will be helpful to describe what those are of it, and to talk about how that might lead to civil discussions as well as dealing with a pluralistic society.
Jonathan Haidt: Sure. When I was in graduate school that the mystery, the puzzle that I worked on, why is it that morality is different in all these different cultures, but yet, you find these elements that are so similar. Ideas about purity and pollution and reciprocity, and so, drawing on ideas of my post-doctoral Supervisor Richard Shweder an anthropologist, some colleagues and I, developed a theory called moral foundations theory. We looked at what are likely to be the taste buds of the moral sense. Two of them are shared by everybody right, left, and center so one is care, sort of care and compassion, nurturance. We’re mammals. We’re built to take care of children.
The left builds a lot of its moral arguments, moral appeals on that foundation, caring for the vulnerable. The second is fairness. Everybody says they value fairness. The left tends to focus more on fairness as equality, the right tends to focus more on fairness is proportionality, including ideas of karma, karmic payback, including responses to negative deeds. Those two everybody understands, although, left and right use them somewhat differently, but then there are a variety of virtues that are very common throughout the world that are the basis of tribalism and religious groupings, virtues of loyalty, authority, and sanctity.
Those three have faded out of Western secular egalitarian cultures. That’s what a lot of the culture war has been for several decades now, is what is legitimacy of loyalty, authority, and sanctity or do we go with much more of a John Rawls’ all that matters is human rights especially with the most vulnerable. Those are all coherent views but they clash, they’re incompatible.
Just out of curiosity in this room, would you say you’re on the left, on the right, the center, or libertarian? That’s what I’m going to ask you to raise your hand for. Would you say … Raise your hand if you say you’re on the left-liberal or Democrat, raise your hand high. Okay. Wow. Not that many. All right. Raise your hand if you’d say you’re on the right or conservative or you vote Republican, raise your hand. Okay, less, but …
Speaker 5: [inaudible 00:41:07]
Jonathan Haidt: Actually, no. Well, okay. Raise your head if you’re in the center politically. That’s actually the largest group so far. Libertarian, raise your hand if you’d call yourself libertarian. Okay. This is like the most evenly, the most divert, politically diverse group I’ve ever spoken to.
Tim Keller: It’s probably, yes. We’ve attracted the centrists.
Jonathan Haidt: Oh, my God. You’re right. You’re right. Because the far right and the far left hate us both probably.
Tim Keller: We need to stay together. We need to stay together. We need to do more things together.
Jonathan Haidt: Okay. But anyway, the point of it is just, the main point is everybody while we all have the same taste buds in our mouths we don’t all like the same food and that has a lot to do, has a little to do with our genetics and there’s a lot to do with our culture that we’re raised in. Similarly, we all recognize, we all understand loyalty, we kind of understand authority and things like that, but if you’re raised sort of on the left or progressive culture, you’re wary of those, you have mixed feelings, and you blame people who have religious laws based on that. You think they’re being unfair, unjust.
There’s actually some new research out showing the basic way to talk to people, the most important way, and actually, you said this in your remarks, speak their language. If you’re on the left and you couch everything in terms of the rights of the vulnerable, people aren’t, they’ve heard it before. They’re not going to be moved, but if you couch it in terms of their own traditions, if you couch in terms of the need for an ordered society in which we all can be free to [inaudible 00:42:31] you can make your argument if you have a little bit of empathy and perspective-taking, you’ll be much more effective in everything you do including work and marriage.
Tim Keller: Can I add something? The essence of a persuasive statement is this. You believe A, right? [inaudible 00:42:47] Well, if you believe A, why don’t you believe B? See now, if you’re trying to get somebody to B, the only way to do it is not say, “I’m right and you’re wrong. I believe B and you don’t.” Instead, you say, “If you believe in A, why doesn’t that move you at least to appreciate B or why that doesn’t move you in the direction of B?” When you come into somebody and you affirm something they already believe, and then, try to bring them to the next place that’s actually persuasion.
Jonathan Haidt: Let me just … Don’t follow that advice. I don’t think that’s exactly right because if you say to someone, “Okay. You believe A, why don’t you believe B?” You’re telling them, “Think about why you don’t believe B?” They can do it. They can always do it. Let me suggest this, just read Dale Carnegie. I’m sorry. Who am I to question one of most successful pastors in New York?
Tim Keller: Give me a break.
Jonathan Haidt: Don’t listen to me.
Tim Keller: Give me a break but wouldn’t you consider that a little … Excuse me. Wouldn’t that be … Ain’t that a little more aboveboard? In other words, I don’t want to be manipulative.
Jonathan Haidt: Start by not just saying, “You believe A, okay.” Start by saying, “I think you believe A, right?” I say, “Yes. I think you’re right about that.” You find something that they’re right about and if possible you say, “Sometimes people on my side, we believed in X policy and you know, you guys are right. That didn’t work out so well.” Now, you’ve really got the power of reciprocity working for you.
Tim Keller: No. That’s right. I agree with you. That’s right.
Jonathan Haidt: Then, you say, then you don’t say, “Why don’t you believe X?” You say, “Now, consider X.” Now, you make arguments for X in terms of their moral so …
Tim Keller: You’re just showing that you shouldn’t go there too fast.
Jonathan Haidt: Okay. Right.
Tim Keller: You shouldn’t go if I believe it … Yeah. I agree with you completely.
Jonathan Haidt: Take it slow.
Tim Keller: That’s a very good nuance. Thank you.
Jonathan Haidt: There, we had a debate.
Tim Keller: Not much of one but you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I don’t want to give people the impression you do it your way.
Jonathan Haidt: Thank you, Tim. You were right too.
Speaker 1: Now, let’s dive a little bit deeper and think about the real heart. Obviously, we know there’s a lot of conflict and disagreement in society especially today and as both of you have talked about in other spaces, people don’t just disagree with each other these days anymore, it’s more thinking the other side is evil, that people are a threat to society, and so, both of you touched on a bit about how we can work in this pluralistic society.
Tim, could you tell us more about how we would actually respect minority opinions once there is let’s say an open discussion, and then, a vote? Then, how are those opinions of people whose values perhaps aren’t agreed upon? How do we support and respect them?
Tim Keller: Well, I used my father as an example. I’ve always … I grew up every year the COs, the conscientious objectors would get together somewhere. The people who were, actually who during World War II were serving in … Basically, most of the conscientious objectors in World War II served in very dangerous wards of mental hospitals. There’s some books written about the fact that the conscientious objectors actually changed the culture in a lot of those places. A lot of those people that they were working with had been just locked away.
The stories of the Amish is a good example. [inaudible 00:45:57] the Amish are quaint but the fact of the matter is the Amish are, have just dropped out in many ways, and are given a great deal of leeway when it comes to whether you know, in a lot of areas. Actually, I did a little bit of studies some years ago and asked a couple lawyers about just how much leeway is given to the Amish to be themselves. But I think we ought to look at our own history.
Traditionally, there has been a great deal of wide berth given to people of religious minorities. I do think that we ought to go back to that and not say that was then this is now. I know that, for example, my father actually did get a lot of … My father told me not to let people know when I was growing up in school that he had not served in World War II. I grew up in the 50s and that wasn’t, that long before the World War II was very well … People lost friends, people lost family members. I remember that everybody remember World War II very well.
My father said, “I’m not ashamed of my position and I’ll defend it but there’s no particular reason why you should get into a fight at school over it.” That’s my only … My memory is that the conscientious objectors were both proud but they didn’t push themselves. They didn’t push. In other words, they weren’t constantly demanding recognition. That’s another thing that minorities are going to have to do. They’re not … Charles Taylor the philosopher says that there’s something about our modern identity that’s fragile. We feel like we feel the need for confirmation from absolutely everybody.
My father knew who he was and the conscientious objectors knew who they were and they made this decision and they didn’t really need everybody to affirm them. If they had tried to do that it would have just been one battle after another. Today, I think if Christians, for example, if orthodox, small O, Christians like that I represent become a smaller and smaller minority, we got to be very, it would be very wrong for us to demand people respect us, and honor us all the time. I think that would be actually a pretty bad idea.
What you really want is to just have the freedom to express and practice your faith. You want there to be respectful conversations when you are talking in public. I should not need people to be celebrating who we are all the time. Some minorities I do think have to … I think in the past, actually, even … I think John, Professor Haidt here has been saying the way his own parents dealt with their minority status was pretty interesting. It was they realized they weren’t getting everything that they probably should get, they probably would contend for their rights but they also weren’t constantly demanding recognition.
If there’s some way to go back to that approach to, it would be better. I would love to hear what Professor Haidt says about that.
Speaker 1: Yes. Please, share.
Jonathan Haidt: Could you just restate the question?
Speaker 1: Of course, and I’ll make it a bit more specific to your comment. You mentioned how there are different forces holding society together and also pulling us apart and how those forces holding us together are not as strong as they once were let’s say in 1968. Could you tell us more about what those forces are? How we can strengthen them again?
Jonathan Haidt: Yeah. The mid-20th Century was an historically anomalous period and we may never, we’ll never be able to repeat it. Nothing brings tribalists together like a giant war against absolute evil, and so, all of America for decades after World War II had this gigantic boost to its moral image and to its social capital. That won’t be repeated. Also, we had the Cold War for a while, and that … Well, I was going to that’s gone but who knows. It’s may be coming back in a couple of ways.
But unfortunately, see look, we’re so divided that, okay, Russia is messing with our democracy. Shouldn’t that rouse us all to anger? Shouldn’t that especially arouse the Republicans to anger? You look at the polling data and what people think about Putin and we are so divided that as soon as Putin’s intervening for the Republicans, “Oh, Republicans think he’s a good guy.” I think a foreign attack on America would now actually divide us not unite us. You have to think about that, but there’s nothing you can really do there.
Immigration was cut off in the 1920s effectively. We had very high immigration in the 18th Century, the time when my parents came in, my grandparents came in. Immigration does a lot for country. Economically, you get more eminent people, more creativity. There’s a lot good about immigration, but speaking as a social scientist, I have to say immigration like most interesting things is complicated. It does many good things. It does many bad things, but we cannot talk about the bad things.
Our publications, our conferences, all we do is talk about the good things, and therefore, we get immigration policies wrong and the same happens in Europe. American, in particular, must always be open to immigrants, and for God’s sakes especially refugees, but as I said I’m a fan of assimilation. If you’re going to have moderate to high levels of immigration, you really, really need to have an assimilationist program. The kids must learn the language and become fluent quickly. You have to do everything you can to blur the boundaries, hide the lines. The more you give immigrants identity politics the more you’re just increasing the centrifugal forces and not condemning them, but you are …
Well, I am with Mark Lilla and others that identity politics while I understand the reasons for it to some extent, identity politics is a setback for the very groups that it claims to be helping. I think that we need to move ahead. I don’t know if we can ever recover the American civic religion but I think that identity politics is one of the causes, one of the reasons why I think things are going to get a lot worse, a lot more divided in this country. My plea to you is to look for other ways to think about identity, immigration, and diversity the ways that are presented in certain departments in the academy, I think do more harm than good.
Speaker 1: We’re going to turn it to the small tables in a moment but do either of you have any final thoughts before the groups discuss, and then, present some more questions?
Jonathan Haidt: I just have to do something to like erase the incredible pessimism that I’ve put out there because it’s something that’s going through my mind a lot so I shared it with you and I probably should not have done that unmixed. Let me, at least, provide some warnings and cautions and reversals, which is one, it has always been a bad idea to bet against America. America has had huge problems before. We’ve had a civil war, the 1820s was terrible and we’ve always come through. Don’t bet against America is the first thing.
Second thing is it’s almost impossible to predict the future. The experts they missed, the economists missed the financial collapse, the foreign policy experts missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, so we really don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m looking at a variety of trends that I think are worrisome, but I’m not looking for real estate in New Zealand and I haven’t pulled all my money out of the stock market. We need to think really carefully together about what’s going on, but in general, many things about history are getting better and let’s not lose sight of that. Take my pessimism, more it’s just a thing to think about. I hope it doesn’t, it’s not like emotionally contagious. That’s it.
Tim Keller: Yeah. Let me answer the optimism a bit and now the reason I’m able to agree with Professor Haidt on this is …
Jonathan Haidt: Please, call me, John.
Tim Keller: Yeah. Good. Okay, John.
Jonathan Haidt: I’m calling you, Tim. It’ll be totally weird if you call me, Professor Haidt.
Tim Keller: I mean, you call me, Tim?
Jonathan Haidt: I did.
Tim Keller: I didn’t notice that because I’m a lot older than you too. That was kind of [crosstalk 00:53:55] but that’s all right. I didn’t realize that your doctoral, your doctoral father was Richard Shweder.
Jonathan Haidt: My doctoral father, yes. My postdoc advisor.
Tim Keller: Oh, postdoc advisor. He’s the guy that did the Why Do Men Barbecue?
Jonathan Haidt: Yeah. That’s right. [crosstalk 00:54:13] …
Tim Keller: Yeah. I read … His postdoc adviser I read some of his stuff some years ago and he’s similarly positive about religion just like John is. He points out for example that if you’re trying to deal with suffering … He says one of the most important thing, in one article I read. One of the most important things that a society can do for someone is to help them, equip them to face suffering. He says every religious society has more resources for its members than non-religious societies.
He said like if you’re a Hindu, you believe in karma, which means, “Hey, things are bad but things will get better and besides that, you’re paying for something that you did before anyway.” Christians have got heaven and everybody’s got something, even the northern European pagans said, “Well, if you go down in blazes then you’ll sleep well with your fathers and you’ll go to their long home and you will not be ashamed even in their mighty company.”
He says secularism actually gives you fewer resources for dealing with suffering and, yeah, I actually do think that religion is going to be growing in the United States because it’s growing in the world. It’s growing everywhere. It’s true that everybody says, “Wait a minute, aren’t people in America less religious?” Yeah. True, but if you take a look at the statistics around the world Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, every religion is growing and religion is growing especially amongst non-Western and non-white people.
It’s growing in this country. It’s growing in this city and I think as long as if the religionists can dig into their own religious heritage to find its resources for pluralism. I’ve already mentioned some Christian ones. Charles Taylor says he thinks that every single religion has got those resources. I think it’s going to be like what [inaudible 00:56:08] I would say salt and light inside our society. I don’t think it’s going to become an overwhelmingly secular society. We will have a lot of jostling because we won’t have one moral framework, but there’s other ways in which, like you said before, religion is basically good for people and there is a lot of overlapping consensus too.
I’m actually relatively positive in the long run about, I just don’t see the decline narratives don’t completely make sense to me.
Speaker 1: On that optimistic note, let’s turn to our tables and discuss.
Speaker 6: Thank you, guys, for coming. I love the discussion perhaps the debate. I’m representing the Secular Student Alliance and I suppose you’ll have to forgive me a little bit with this question. It’s not 100% relevant specifically to the discussion we had tonight, but it sort of been a burning question of mine for the past couple of years, which I [crosstalk 00:57:02] and to finish the preface of this question if anyone else has an answer to this. Please, find me afterwards. I’d love to hear what you’d have to say.
This is really for Pastor Keller. I’ve found something of a logical flaw with Christianity that has sort of been bothering me. Personally, I’m an atheist but I’d love to learn a little bit more. Basically, if we give, we have the assumption that the Christian God is a God that is all-powerful, and also, benevolent, if we take that as an assumption with the reality that there is clearly suffering in the world and often Christians will say that the reason for the suffering is you know so that you can appreciate the good more.
I feel like this sort of paradigm is sort of illogical. It doesn’t really, it doesn’t follow the logic that the Christian God is benevolent. What would you say to this argument? To add a little bit more meat if I was God, if I was benevolent all-powerful, I wouldn’t have created suffering at all.
Tim Keller: No. You’re being very clear and this is the old, one of the oldest if not the oldest and probably the most prevalent objection to the traditional understanding of God. If God is all powerful and all good but he allows suffering, then he either might be all-powerful but not good, he might be good all-powerful now the … There is Alvin Plantinga in the last two or three decades and a number of other philosophers have put that argument to rest philosophically. It just hasn’t trickled down very far.
What they point out is this, you’re assuming that because there’s a premise that gets pushed in there. There’s a syllogism and basically say, “An all-powerful and all-good God would not allow suffering that has no good reason. But we see suffering with no good reason, therefore, there can’t be an all-powerful or good God.” Obviously, if you saw suffering that had some incredibly good reason in the end actually justified the suffering, then, of course, well, then, obviously, you have an all-good and all-powerful wise God.
What Alvin Plantinga would say is when you say there can’t be a God, you’re assuming that just because you can’t see a reason for the suffering that is allowed there can’t be any.
Speaker 6: Right. Perhaps I’ll specify. That’s sort of the problem that I have is that I disagree with this syllogism that if there is a good reason then suffering is justified. I don’t think that’s sort of [crosstalk 00:59:59] …
Tim Keller: You’re saying there couldn’t be any good reason for the suffering that’s happened because you can’t …
Speaker 6: Right. I think …
Tim Keller: Why not?
Speaker 6: Well, I … The basis of the question is that if there is some good reason, if God created the entire paradigm itself, why create it? If there’s some benefit that comes from suffering, why not instill that in humans innately?
Tim Keller: You’re saying because you can’t imagine what benefit there could be eventually because you can’t foresee it there can’t be such a benefit?
Speaker 6: No. I think there could be a benefit. I’m just saying why not have that [crosstalk 01:00:37] let us know?
Tim Keller: He might have a good reason for that too. See, the … Listen, I’m not saying evil is not a huge problem for Christians, I’m just saying it doesn’t disprove the existence of God, and right now, I don’t know of a reputable philosopher actually that does claim that for this very reason. I’m giving you a cold answer. Those of you who are actually suffering out here, this is a cold answer, and the cold answer is that, no, it doesn’t disprove the existence of a good all-powerful God because there might actually be some reason why if we actually saw it, you’ll say, “Oh, it makes sense and I can see why he didn’t tell human beings about it too.”
If you say, “No. That can’t exist.” Well, see, that’s the mistake. Plantinga would say, “Just because you can’t imagine there’d be such an answer, it doesn’t mean there can’t be an answer.” But, having said that, the Christian answer is God comes into the world in the form of Jesus Christ and God becomes, even though he’s divine, this is what no other religion will say. God has actually experienced suffering. He went to the cross, he experience the suffering. He does that in order to save the world, and so, even though we still don’t know what the reason for suffering is, we do know what it isn’t.
It isn’t that God doesn’t love us. God loves us so much that he would experience a suffering. It can’t be that God doesn’t care, so that’s a consolation. Most Christians say, “Look, God understands my suffering and whatever the reasons are that he’s allowing, it must be good. You know why? Because he loves us so much that he would come and be involved with the suffering.” That doesn’t prove there is no God and it also doesn’t prove there is a God, but it’s, though it’s an answer. The answer is it doesn’t disprove God and there’s a consolation, at least, in Christian belief.
Speaker 6: Thank you.
Tim Keller: Oh, well. Thank you.
Speaker 1: I have several questions up here as you can see and I want to start with the practical to make sure we get to it. Many of you have asked and we’ve discussed up here, what can we do practically, how can we have conversations with people who have a different moral foundation or different morality in general? What are some practical steps we in this community can do? This is for both of you.
Jonathan Haidt: I’ll be happy to take that. I’m realizing, but before when I said that I was not optimistic that your generation will take up this challenge. I realized that was a really obnoxious thing to say and I apologized to you for it. What was getting me down was that there’s a lot of polling data showing that Millennials have much less endorsement or support of free speech and democracy, but there’s a reason for that, you had, you guys have not seen democracy working very well in your lives and you’ve been exposed to an awful lot of nasty stuff on social media. I understand why those numbers are going down.
At some point, I’m actually, I’m sure people are, people your generation are going to start to say, “You know what? We have to start doing things differently to start doing it ourselves.” I think it’s going to be things like how do you behave on social media. Social media makes it so easy to join mobs to shame or attack someone. That’s really, really powerful nasty stuff that destroys people’s lives, leads them to suicide, and it comes because certain algorithms work well in Facebook and Twitter and feed you what you’ve clicked on.
It’s going to be up to your generation to use things differently, to realize the ways that these technologies are warping social behavior. In some ways, damaging to democracy. In other ways, they’re helpful but … Your generation is extraordinarily innovative, you’re not all aiming for corporate jobs. You’re much more likely to strike that on your own so if you agree that there is a problem, then your generation is going to come up with lots and lots of ideas.
Now, I’ll just give you a couple of general things maybe they’ll be helpful. One is that the most important principle that I think is missing from social interactions these days is the principle of charity. That is when someone says something, we can choose whether to take it in the worst possible way so that we can argue against them and impress the other people who are watching or we can choose to take it the most generous way. Those two are miles apart.
When you approach anything, when someone says something that seems thoughtless. When you think about micro-aggressions, for example, if someone says to someone else, “Oh, that’s a micro-aggression,” or they want to be harsh on them, try giving them the benefit of the doubt and stand up to people and say, “Well, why don’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?” There are ways, there are just changes to human interaction that have happened in recent years that have greatly ramped up the mutual outrage, be sensitive to those and try to calm things down.
Here’s where I think religion and Christianity, in particular, can be so helpful. My first book was The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. The reason that I wrote it was because I was finding the same deep psychological insights in just about every religion and tradition I looked at. I’ll just read a couple of, two pairs of quotes. “Look how he abused me and beat me. How he threw me down and robbed me, live with such thoughts and you live in hate. Look how he abused me and beat me, how he threw me down and robbed me, abandoned such thoughts and live in love. In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law ancient and exhaustible.”
Now that happens to be Buddha, but obviously, Jesus said very, very similar things. You find this in so many religions. One more pair. “How easy it is to see your brothers faults, how hard to face your own. You win no his, win, oh, you win, oh, his in the wind like chaff but yours you hide like a cheat covering up an unlucky throw.” That’s basically [inaudible 01:06:40] from Buddha. It’s a translation of how can you say to your brother, let me remove the speck from your eye et cetera.
The ancients understood human nature. The ancients understood our incredible self-righteousness, our tendency to demonize and jump on and attack each other. There’s a lot of wisdom that we are forgetting and that I think religions, the world’s religions are repositories of that wisdom. I think it’s up to your generation and I think religious members of religious groups and there’s also many secular groups [inaudible 01:07:07] too, have the potential to lead to an awakening of basic human decency. Those are my hopes for you.
Tim Keller: Yeah. I would say it’s got to be local, it’s got to be personal. The interaction I just had with a guy who just asked me about evil and suffering that was, he was good, he was respectful. I had to be brief. If we were actually sitting down and even had 15 minutes together, it would have been a vastly better interaction because, here’s something I used to do in marriage counseling, I’m so glad I don’t do marriage counseling anymore it was very draining, but let me tell you, when things are really bad between two people there was almost a trick. It was basically a method.
I would say, here’s the husband, here’s the wife they’re talking to each other and they’re just yelling at each other, at a certain point, I’d say, “Okay. When the husband has just said something to the wife before the wife responds the wife has got to restate as best as possible what the husband just said and you’ve got to say it until the husband says, ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s what I meant.'” Put it in your own words and so in other words, it took forever to have a conversation this way but when the person says something you had to restate what you thought they just said to the place where they said that’s exactly what I meant, in fact, you said a little better than I just said it. Then, you can respond to that.
Now, actually, that’s actually a very, very good thing to do. Get people together, say we’re going to meet together monthly, we’re going to meet together weekly, we have very, very different views and we’re going to listen to each other. We’re going to do something like that where we actually say, “I’ve listened to you. This is what I think I hear you saying.” To the place where the other person says, “Yeah. That’s what I meant. That’s … You said it as well as I could.” Then, you can go ahead and critique.
It slows it down but do it. I think you will learn tolerance, you will learn humility, you will learn patience with each other. It can’t be done in the courts. It can’t be done in the social media. It can’t be done, actually, even in this room that much even though we’re both urging you all to do it and I actually sense that we’re getting, we’re doing something really good here tonight, really good. Nevertheless, to actually do it means around tables with people with different moral frameworks and moral visions who actually are willing to say for the next number of months or weeks, “We’re going to get together, get to know each other, and really do this, hearing each other, listening to each other, restating each other’s points of view, and then, critiquing.”
Trying as much as possible, when you do try to convince the other person, going inside their moral framework, respecting it, and trying to help them understand … If you’re going to change their mind, try to change their mind inside their framework because that’s the only possible way the person’s going to make any move anyway.
Speaker 1: We also received several questions around identity so some of you asked for elaboration on identity politics and also with the comment about the fragility of our identities, what are some factors that have led to this greater fragility and the American identity? What are positive and negatives around identity politics? Maybe, Tim, you start with this one.
Tim Keller: I better start because I mentioned it and I can just elaborate on the reference already made. I’m sure, John, has more, way more to say about this than I do, but Charles Taylor, Canadian philosopher did a series of lectures, quite a number of years ago that in this country they’re called The Ethics of Authenticity, it’s as a Harvard University press book. He talked about the fact that in traditional societies, I’m wondering what a social psychologist thinks of this.
In traditional societies, you went outside to find out who you were. You went to your parents, you went to your tribe, you went outside to find your social role and they said, and they told you, “If you’re going to be a good person this is what, this is who you have to be.” You go outside to find out who you are, and then, you come back in and reorder your life in accord with it. Generally, in the past you knew, who am I? I’m a father. I’m a husband. I am a son. I am a grandfather.
In other words, your family roles were who you were. You went outside to find your family roles and you came in to reorder your life. Taylor says today we’re told you go inside and you don’t talk to anybody else, you go inside, you look at your deepest feelings and you decide who you are. You don’t let anybody else tell you who you are, you decide who you are. Well, he says that naturally means that when you come out and you need all kinds of recognition.
I have to say it’s smothering to come from a society in which essentially your meaning in life is found by pleasing your parents and that’s basically your identity is to please your parents. That can be suffocating but on the other hand, as long as your parents like you and they think you’re, good, your identity is secure. But if you go inside and decide who you are without any reference. Gail Sheehy in the book Passages years ago said, “You go inside and you don’t ask anybody else and you decide who you are, then when you come out you need all kinds of affirmation from everybody and you demand recognition.”
Taylor just feel persuasive to me. Taylor says, “As a result, a lot of modern identity is just more fragile. We get very upset when somebody doesn’t validate us whereas in the past we were smothered by what our parents said or what our tribe said but, at least, we knew who we were because, and we didn’t need everybody in the world telling us who we were.”
Jonathan Haidt: [inaudible 01:12:39] the topic of sort of identity politics as we experience it on campus now and why is there a big debate over it. As far as I can tell there’s two very different kinds of identity politics and this is what causes the confusion. If it’s the case that black people are not allowed to eat in certain restaurants or drink at water fountains and you organized a march against that, yes, in a sense its identity politics in that it’s saying there is racial injustice, there’s a clear violation, and we’re going to get people together and use the political system and have rallies and marches, and we’re going to change that.
Now, that’s fighting for justice and that’s kind of, if you want to call that identity politics or politics about an identity group, that’s one that almost, that most Americans support. I certainly do, and all the people who argue against identity politics support that, but then, there are some new ideas that were nurtured in the 1990s in particular about privilege and matrices of oppression that are training young people to do a couple things that I think is very bad for them and for society.
One is we’re training young people to see people in terms of their categories. I think this is just the wrong thing to do. If we should be reducing the degree to which we see each other’s members of a category. We’re hyper sensitizing this tribal instinct which is trouble, to begin with, and then, we’re telling people, we’re teaching people to find ever smaller amounts of injustice wherever they can so they’re in a perpetual state of outrage and we’re teaching them then that America is an eternally racist homophobic et cetera nation.
Now, it’s never perfect but, boy are things getting better decade by decade, things are getting amazingly better, but many young people don’t seem to know that because they’re taught that the racism and the other problems are so deep. This is the identity politics that I find alarming, which is where these tribal creatures that are not good at finding the truth, where once we’re emotional, we’re able to, we accept the reasons for that and we attack the other side. I see the identity politics that is not about solving injustice and being magnanimous and loving towards your enemies, but rather is about getting people perpetually in a state of anger and outrage, and then, demonizing your opponents.
Where we see this, where I’m finding this in the intellectual debate is when I have made arguments about the bad effects of a culture of protecting young people. In The Coddling of the American Mind article, there’s been almost no argument that has engaged with what I said most of the argument online has been, “Oh, well, you’re a white male, of course, you’re protecting your privilege.”
In other words, identity politics become a way that young people are taught to not engage in arguments where you can win or lose, it’s a way of invalidating your opponent by linking them usually to racism. Mark Lilla had this really powerful, as the New York Times, and one of his Columbia colleagues wrote right back in some major journal, I can’t remember how she put it but she basically linked him to the, you take off his … He’s basically he’s a KKK. He’s like something …
As he says, “This is a slur, not an argument.” I’m afraid that identity politics is teaching young people at our top universities to make slurs and it’s preventing them from learning how to make the kinds of arguments that are needed in a democratic society where we win by convincing, not by force and intimidation.
Speaker 1: Now, I have a few questions specific to each of you. Tim, how can the tyranny of majority be prevented in a society whose moral framework is determined by vote?
Tim Keller: Well, that’s actually a great question, and it is a … I think Alan Dershowitz was right when he said that if you believe in human rights and inherent human dignity, and he’s also right in saying, “It’s something that is not created by the majority. It’s got to be something that’s just there.” Now, he admits as an atheist Jewish guy who doesn’t believe in the supernaturally transcendent, he has trouble giving an account for it.
He actually says, at one point, he says, “Martin Luther King Jr. who, a letter from Birmingham jail invoking the image of God in every human being, it just, it’s neater, it feels better, but he doesn’t really have a good way of accounting for it.” But he said, “We better agree on that.” He said, “If you have a society in which we agree in inherent human dignity and human rights even though we may argue about what those rights are, at least, you’ve got a …” He says, “You have a weapon against the majority. You have a weapon against the majority saying, ‘52% of us vote to kill 48% of you and we win.'”
He said, “As long as you don’t have any understanding of human rights then you could do that but if you have that understanding of human rights.” Here, I know that what I’m about to say is arguable, but people like Larry Siedentop and people like that, the recent book, the inventing of the, invention of the individual. There really is a lot of overlap between Christians and Jews and atheists and secular people on this idea of human rights.
Nietzsche would actually say and maybe I know a lot of atheist friends hate it when he says this. He says, “If you actually do believe in human rights and the equality of all human beings, you’re still a Christian whether you know it or not.” Because he says, “There is no good empirical basis for it, and basically, it’s a holdover from your Christian past or your Jewish past.” I know a lot of atheist friends do not like when Nietzsche says that but I actually am convinced that be, I do think that the roots of the idea behind human rights comes from the Bible. It’s become secularized.
You can disagree with that or not, the fact is that there would be a whole lot of overlapping consensus about human rights, overlapping consensus from people who are Orthodox Jews and Christians. Muslims, I don’t know enough to know, frankly, I’ll just say or Buddhists, I don’t know enough to know, but I’d love to go in and say, “Do you have the resources behind this?” But would seem like there would be an awful lot of people in this country who could agree on human rights and that’s the main way you can deal with the majoritarian tyranny, which is the big problem. That’s Dershowitz says.
Speaker 1: On a related note, John, with what do you measure morality? For Christians their moral compass comes from the Bible, but if atheists don’t have that, what do they use as their moral compass?
Jonathan Haidt: I think the deepest question in moral philosophy is the question of moral realism. Are moral claims real? If we say that men and women should have equal political rights, is that a fact or is that just my opinion? Most people, we’re sort of natural moral realists. We tend to think that moral truths are, it’s just a fact. It’s just, this is obviously true and if you deny it so we tend towards moral realism, and so, Sam Harris, the new atheist has a book called The Moral Landscape in which he takes a secular view of moral realism that we can derive moral truths from science and because things that make people happy make them good feelings that’s good and we can measure in the brain.
There are variety forms of moral realism. I am not a moral realist in that sense. The alternative is moral relativism, “Oh, well, you know, that’s ridiculous, therefore, morality just whatever …: It’s subjective. I like coffee, you like tea. I like human rights and you like mass murder.” It’s just who’s to say? Who’s to say?
That’s also a position that many people find deeply offensive and humorous as I do too. What’s the, is there any alternative? I think there is. I am an emergentist. What that means is that there are many different kinds of facts. There are some facts that emerge from the interactions of people. I’m going to make a statement. Gold is more valuable than silver. Now, is that a fact or is that just my opinion? What do you think?
It’s a fact but it’s not a fact a universally true fact across the universe wherever you find intelligent life they will agree, no, gold is more valuable than silver that is not my opinion that is a fact but is a fact that emerges as people trade, move around, markets create these facts. There are a lot of these facts. Our ideas about political rights. We have certain ideas now if one were to say that your gender was in any way a bar from holding political office, this is incredibly offensive.
Now, if someone said that in ancient Rome or if someone said that 10,000 years ago, were they just wrong, was that just wrong or do political rights grow out of our interactions such that if the basic unit of the polity is they family and with a division of labor within it, well, then the idea of a gender, general political rights is not obviously crazy, whereas today it’s obviously crazy. What I’m saying is the way that we live together because of our human nature and our inevitable creation of culture, if we interact we will create a culture, if we trade with each other we will create a market with prices.
Moral facts emerge from our interaction. I think atheists are human beings like everyone else. I certainly think I’m a moral creature like everyone else. Yeah. We have a moral compass and it emerges from interaction. I bet you’re upset. I bet you disagree with that.
Tim Keller: Yeah. It does sound like moral relativism but let’s not go there. Man, I’d love to have a conversation with you about it …
Jonathan Haidt: That’s the second longest moral conversation after the evil and [crosstalk 01:22:13] …
Tim Keller: Yeah. No. Actually, it’s also actually what Dershowitz did. Even though he wrote the book quite a long time ago that’s basically what he said why he can say human rights are real and they’re there even though he didn’t [crosstalk 01:22:23] …
Jonathan Haidt: [inaudible 01:22:24] I’d say.
Tim Keller: That’s right. That’s what he would say too.
Speaker 1: Okay. For our last question, there are several comments around this idea of assimilation and how it seems like there might be differing definitions of that. What is it again? What would an assimilated American identity look like? John, in particular, there’s references to how you mentioned in the past there was an idea of a positive pluralistic society, and so, what would that look like today?
Jonathan Haidt: Okay. These are the sorts of really hard issues to work out when you get to the details. I’ll just start exploring it. I’ll just put a few things out there. For one thing, whatever you want to do at home, however, you want to cook your food all that is great. Now, it becomes more difficult when you have social practices that put restraints on your daughters. Those are difficult issues to work out and I can’t give you a blanket answer on that, but you try to work them out, you try to be as light-handed as possible.
When France put on the burkini ban that, I think, the view in America was, “What the hell are they doing?” That is … There’s a harsh assimilation, which says, “You must look like us and act like us. You’re not welcome here until you do everything like us.” Now, that’s not the American way of assimilation and that is not a positive or welcoming way.
In America, we are blessed by the fact that if you are conservative, what you’re conserving is this tradition of being a nation of immigrants, of being able to bring in first Catholics, and then, Jews, and then, non-Judeo-Christians. It does say that we have certain, we do hold certain values in common, and so, democracy, equal opportunity. Now, maybe American exceptionalism only in the sense that America there are many great and wonderful things about America, not that it is blemishless, of course, it is not.
Our original sin of slavery is forever a huge stain so you acknowledge that honestly, but the idea that we treat the country … There are certain forms of patriotism that are open and welcoming in America. Now, there are other forms of patriotism that are based on the blood and soil or your race, your genes. Those are profoundly un-American, and that’s what we’re seeing a resurgence of on the right. That’s just a few general points.
Assimilation often feels like a dirty word because it seems to be saying, “Oh, it’s …” Some people could say it’s cultural genocide. If you come here and adopt American culture, we’re going to kill your culture. I understand the sentiment behind that but the alternative if you don’t have assimilation, if you say come here bring your culture, bring your language, we’ll all just live near each other and we’ll try to work it out. The alternative is you have no more centripetal forces. You can expect rising distrust. You can expect declining social capital, and eventually, democracy will fail.
Speaker 1: Before turning it over back to our emcee, let’s thank Jonathan Haidt and Dr. Timothy Keller.