What Evangelicals can Teach Democrats about Moral Development
Anthropologist Tanya Luhrman has a great essay in Today’s NYT, explaining the difference between the secular liberal approach to morality (based on care, given by government) and the evangelical approach (based on self-improvement, carried out within the family and the congregation):
When secular liberals vote, they think about the outcome of a political choice. They think about consequences. Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes.
When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become — what humans could and should be, rather than who they are. From this perspective, the problem with government is that it steps in when people fall short. Rick Santorum won praise by saying (as he did during the Values Voters Summit in 2010), “Go into the neighborhoods in America where there is a lack of virtue and what will you find? Two things. You will find no families, no mothers and fathers living together in marriage. And you will find government everywhere: police, social service agencies. Why? Because without faith, family and virtue, government takes over.” This perspective emphasizes developing individual virtue from within — not changing social conditions from without.
As I tried to explain in chapter 8 of The Righteous Mind, the utilitarian individualism of the secular left turns off most voters. The thicker, more binding morality of social conservatives is more broadly appealing. It may even be a better recipe for producing more virtuous, self-controlled citizens, who end up creating the best consequences for the nation as a whole. This is what I was trying to describe in chapter 11 as “Durkheimian utilitarianism” — it’s a way of maximizing overall welfare that takes human nature into account.