The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson 1

I rarely read a book twice, however I have just finished rereading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. You may think it is a curious choice, a book on Moral philosophy by a secular Jew! However, I have found it very helpful and relevant. I therefore want to share and apply some of his thoughts.

One of his premises, backed up by academic research, is described by the picture of us as elephants being ridden by a rider. The elephant represents our intuition, emotions and feelings whilst the rider is our intellect and reasoning. His point is that most of the time we are ruled by our feelings and use our reasoning to justify and reinforce our feelings.

He draws out the implications of this as follows –

We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

…….you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.

If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own…… talk to the elephant first. If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuitions, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch—a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed.

Having seen the heated debates going on around me regarding the hot political issue of our time, Brexit, I am convinced about the relevance of this. People try to change others minds by reasoning but all that happens is we throw more and more facts at each other and no-one’s minds are changed. We doubt the truth of facts from the other side whilst accepting everything from our side. As Haidt says when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?”” In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?”

From a political perspective I have concluded that we need to listen to others much more and seek to convince them much less. I don’t see much of this happening, but I am convinced that it is the major need of our day and something that we as Christians should be modelling. It is something I am trying to do.

The application is obviously wider than politics it also applies to evangelising, us seeking to share our perspective on overall truth. Reasoning by itself doesn’t work. We need to listen to others perspective, allow people to get to know us, to like us. Only then will people be willing to listen. We then need to go beyond telling people what the Bible says is right or wrong, we must explain why it is right or wrong.


Written by Tony Thompson



    So now we also know why elephants never forget! 😉

    Klazina Hofmann

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