Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jonathan Haidt, Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics & Religion

This is a very fine book. It combines social science research, personal anecdote, and thoughtful observation & concern about the world in which he lives. Haidt's story, which he weaves into the book & which gives it some narrative drive to add to the insightful analytics. Jumping forward a bit, Haidt, a someone typical liberal, Democrat, non-religious academic, wonders why Bush ruled (so to speak). His research leads him into investigating the moral universes of liberals and conservatives (as understood in American politics). His conclusion: liberals have 3 areas of primary concern, but conservatives have five--authority and loyalty have an importance for conservatives that they don't have for liberals. Thus, liberals (think John Kerry), ignore the moral universe of a number of voters.

In addition to the moral universes, Haidt talks about how argumentation, not logic or computing drives our thinking. In other words, we decide what we think & then argue to justify it. Yes, I think so.

His other main insight is that human are not so much selfish as "groupish". In other words, we are very social animals.

Okay, I have to go, so I'll stop here. But this is a very insightful book. It rewards while also giving a great deal of reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Garry Wills, The Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine & the Mystery of Baptism

In this small book, Garry Wills comes back around to the most recurring subject of his varied writings, St. Augustine. Sharing stage with Augustine is Ambrose, the man who baptized him, and who, along with Jerome and Augustine, serves as one of the Fathers of the Western Church. Wills does an excellent job of bringing to life not only the ecclesiastical and religious issues of the day, but he also gives some sense of the political, especially as Ambrose dueled with the emperors who then resided in Milan. Wills also focuses on the meaning and significance of baptism as practiced by Ambrose, which consisted in an elaborate ritual during Holy Week, and he compares it with Augustine's later, more spare style of sacramental ritual.

One comes away from the book with a greater appreciation of what the world looked like at that time as far as religion and politics stood, and, of course, some of the interaction between them. Great intellectual debates were waged and the course of history took a different (how different?) turn because of them. Wills also does an excellent job of bringing to light the sacramental meaning and symbolism of baptism. And he highlight's Augustine's adoption of Ambrose's typology for use of the Old Testament in a New Testament context, a form of Biblical scholarship that has survived for centuries.

An outstanding book.