Moral Foundation Theory and Biblical Ethics

Moral foundations theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain variation in human moral reasoning. It was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham. In more recent times it has been used to explain the differences between progressive, conservative, and libertarian views based on the different relative weights each group gives to the different moral foundations. Below I have selected verses from the Bible that correspond to each of the 6 moral foundations.

Care vs harm

Proverbs 12:10 – The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Genesis 50:20 – You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Fairness vs cheating

Leviticus 19:15 – Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.

Genesis 31:7 – yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me.

Loyalty vs betrayal

1 Kings 12:20 – When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Proverbs 11:13 – A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.

Authority vs disrespect

Leviticus 19:3 – Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.

1 Timothy 6:2 – Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers.

Purity vs degradation

Titus 1:15 – To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Liberty vs oppression

Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Deuteronomy 26:7 – Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil, and oppression

The Unconscious Mind in the Sacred Scriptures

Was the unconscious mind unknown to the prophets and poets of ancient Israel? Or were they aware our awareness had limits? No doubt it would be anachronistic to attribute a modern understanding of the mind to the ancient authors, but I think there’s evidence enough that they knew of dark recesses within themselves.
Consider for instance the words of the Psalmist, who cries, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12) and “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Though it is sometimes unclear whether the secrets of the “heart” being spoken of refer merely to that which is hidden from others or also to that which is hidden from self, phrases like “Who can discern their own errors?” seems to strongly suggest elements of self deception. As does the reflection of Jeremiah when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Then of course there are figures like Daniel, who unpack dreams that are obscure to the dreamers. “As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.” (Daniel 2:30)
An understanding of hidden depths to the self seemed to carry though into New Testament times also. The apostle Paul writes, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5) and “As the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God” (1 Corinthians 14:25) and “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being”. (Ephesians 3:16)
And yet, it would appear that we are not without their own resources, for the Psalmist also writes, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)


Working with the subconscious as a Christian

The subconscious seems to be a taboo subject in many western Christian circles. In some instances this aversion seems to be a relic from the Age of the Enlightenment, when rationality was regarded as the measure of all good. In some instances this aversion seems to have more superstitious roots, as if, as in ancient nautical maps, off the edges of explored territory there be only dragons and demons. But are these discounting and demonizing approaches to the subconscious the only approaches open to Christians?

I would suggest we consider a few things first:

  • That if everything we are is God-given, that necessarily includes our subconscious mind, or as some would put it, our peripheral consciousness
  • That the scriptures testify to God using dreams (as with Joseph and the Magi) and visionary trances (as with Peter and Paul), so the subconscious can’t be irredeemable
  • That the call to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” in Romans 12:2 should be interpreted holistically and not be artificially limited to the rational intellect
  • That the “self-control” spoken of in Galations 5:23 will not be our experience if our subconscious is running wild

In essence, not only would I say there is a biblical basis for working with the subconscious towards a renewed mind and improved self-control, I would say the subconscious can also be a powerful way through which God works in us and through us.

However, this does not mean I automatically endorse secular approaches to personal transformation, for the Christian understanding of healing differs to secular understandings. I would instead suggest a more Christ-centred approach, a more gospel-soaked approach. Only as the gospel permeates to our depths can our most habitual sins and darkest personal demons be brought into the light and uprooted.

The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic

If any of you would be interested in an engagement with the Hermetic Qabalah from a critical but sympathetic Christian perspective I would recommend “The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic” by Anthony Duncan as a fine place to start. Here are a few comments that struck me while reading the book:

Light and fire feature very prominently in the imagery of the Merkabah mystics

[The Qabalists believed] the world [was] created through the language of god: Hebrew

Evelyn Underhill has expressed the difference aptly by stating that ‘magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give’.

The mystic seeks God. The magician seeks the things of God. The magician uses his intellect, the mystic uses his heart.

Mysticism seeks only ‘to be’. Magic seeks ‘to know’.

Our Lord will not fit into the Tree of Life; it must fit into him!

It is, alas, only too manifestly true that the faith and devotion of much of the Western Church has seemed to stop short at the crucifixion.

The Qabalist cannot really grasp the understanding that the Christ has transcended and fulfilled every symbol that the tree contains.

Recognizing the Qabalah for what it is, a pattern of symbols and archetypes, a guide to the structure of both the macrocosmic collective unconscious and the microcosmic individual unconscious, the Christian can probably make considerable use of it. In the detachment which is possible to him because he is in the Christ and a partaker of his Life, he is able to accept the monism of the Qabalah because he is not committed to it as theology. It is merely an understanding of the relationship between the one and the whole within the created order.

Doubts and questionings must always precede a newer, deeper understanding; the believer who has never doubted has never really believed; the ‘dark nights’ have a wider application than mere individual spirituality.

Prayer is an exercise of will; the self-surrender of the will to God in love.

Christian prayer is a dialogue of wills. The time of prayer is a time of giving the undivided attention of the will to God.

It is the opinion of the writer that nothing is likely to be more daunting to the occultist who seeks to become a Christian and to follow the Christian way of prayer than the utter lack of ‘experience’, the total absence of ‘results’ that is exceedingly likely to attend his attempts to pray.

The realm of the demonic is the collective unconscious.

What if church was more intuitive friendly?

intuitionSociologists have frequently observed that, for post-moderns, self identity is actively constructed and cultural association is actively chosen. That is, for post-moderns, identity and association are more matters of taste than tradition.

Few, however, have taken the next step and asked: where do these differences in taste come from? So I would like to offer this observation, based on my experience with different subcultures: a significant factor is personality type.

This has led to a further observation, that the personality trait that most predisposes people to isolation within, and alienation from, traditional church is intuition. In effect, intuitives are a “least reached people group” in post-modern contexts.

Which leads me to a final question: What if church was more intuitive friendly? What might it look like?

To glean the beginnings of an answer I would suggest first looking at the difference between Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) as defined in Myers Briggs tests. “Sensing and Intuition are two ways to take in information. Sensing (S) indicates a preference for more practical attention to facts and details. Intuition (N) indicates a preference for more abstract attention to patterns and possibilities.” People with an intuition preference are more interested in the “big picture” than “small details”, more interested with “innovation” than “tradition”, more interested in the relationship between facts than the facts in isolation (see diagram).

What would this look like in practice? What are some examples? As a person who is highly intuitive myself I would offer these: a preference for big picture analysis of the Bible over the cherry picking of isolated memory verses, a preference for contextual interpretation over reductionist interpretation, an openness to exploring theology from difference perspectives, a concern over the double standards that emerge when evangelical ethical teachings are examined in parallel, a preference for mind maps over bullet points, an openness to imagination and creativity in worship, an openness to dreams and heightened awareness of the unconscious, a preference for open community over restrictive community.

These are just a few examples to get the creative juices flowing. I would love to hear if you have more examples to ad.

I’m a Soul, Man

What is a soul? Is it something we have or something we are? This is a question that Delmar B. Epp explores in “I’m a Soul, Man: One Psychologist’s Reflection on Human Nature“.

The different options as he sees them are:

  • Radical dualism
  • Emergent dualism
  • Reductive materialism
  • Nonreductive physicalism

The fourth seems closest to my own view? What about you?

Intuitives for Jesus, Unite!

I was just reading Christianity Today’s book review of Introverts in the church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, which you’ll find under the heading of Introverts for Jesus, Unite!

Now, as an introvert I’m only too happy to see personality differences being recognized. But as someone who’s been researching personality types in new religious movements for many years, I have to say, I think Adam S. McHugh’s has picked the wrong type pair. Because my researches have led me to conclude the intuitive – sensor gap is far more significant.

Many years ago I conducted a number of informal spot poles amongst emerging church folk and invariably found 80% were intuitives, that only 20% or less were sensors. This gave me pause for thought, given you’d expect the figure to be 30% in the general population. Moreover, more recent studies have found that people drawn to mysticism tend to be intuitives. And you know, the deeper I looked the more clear it became to me that the emerging church in many respects represented a revolt of intuitive Christians against suffocatingly sensor Christian institutions.

But this personality type split is not healthy, not healthy at all in my opinion. Balanced community requires both sensors and intuitives. The problem is intuitives are not feeling respected. This is a challenge for sensors but also intuitive Christians as well. As an intuitive Christian myself, I have found discipleship of intuitives is very different to discipleship of sensors. Christians need to learn to adapt discipleship to the needs of different types.

Personality and Psi

Been doing some more research on the connection between personality type, tendency towards mysticism and involvement in new religious movements and found an interesting article entitled, “Personality and motivations to believe, misbelieve and disbelieve in paranormal phenomena”. Here are some pertinent extracts:

Paranormal beliefs and experiences are associated with certain personality factors, including absorption, fantasy proneness, and the Myers-Briggs intuition and feeling personality dimensions. Skepticism appears to be associated with materialistic, rational, pragmatic personality types. Attitude toward psi may also be influenced by motivations to have control and efficacy, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

When psi experiences have been examined without a bias for control, the primary effect has been found to be enhanced meaning in life and spirituality, similar to mystical experiences. Tensions among those with mystical, authoritarian, and scientific dispositions have been common in the history of paranormal and religious beliefs. Scientific research can do much to create better understanding among people with different dispositions. Understanding the motivations related to paranormal beliefs is a prerequisite for addressing questions about when and if psi actually occurs.

Broughton (1991, p. 10) noted that surveys typically find that over half of the population report having had a psi experience, but closer examination of the cases suggests that only about 10% to 15% of the population have had experiences that appear to be possible psi. This estimate is consistent with early surveys (Rhine, 1934/1973, p. 17) and with later studies (Haight, 1979; Schmiedler, 1964). At least 70% to 80% of the people reporting psychic experiences appear to be misinterpreting the experiences.

The purpose of this article is to summarize and discuss some of the key personality factors and motivations that appear to be relevant for understanding why people believe, misbelieve, and disbelieve in the paranormal. Of course, innumerable personal, social, and cultural factors may have a role in attitude toward the paranormal. The present discussion is intended as a starting point focusing on selected prominent factors. These factors are diverse, and the possibility of conflicting motivations should be recognized.

Paranormal and mystical beliefs are closely related. The personality factors most consistently associated with paranormal beliefs and experiences are the interrelated cluster of absorption, fantasy-proneness, and temporal lobe symptoms. All three of these personality constructs involve a high degree of imagination and fantasy. These factors generally correlate in the .5 to .6 range with each other and with mystical and paranormal experiences (summarized in Kennedy, Kanthamani, & Palmer, 1994).

Based on his work with the Myers-Briggs personality model, Keirsey (1998) stated that people having intuitive, feeling (NF) personality types are mystical in outlook and often explore occultism, parapsychology, and esoteric metaphysical systems. Those with NF dispositions aspire to transcend the material world (and thus gain insight into the essence of things), to transcend the senses (and thus gain knowledge of the soul), to transcend the ego (and thus feel united with all creation), [and] to transcend even time (and thus feel the force of past lives and prophecies), (p. 145)

Research studies have found that belief in paranormal phenomena is associated with the N and F personality factors (Gow, et. al., 2001; Lester, Thinschmidt, & Trautman, 1987; Murphy & Lester, 1976). In a study of a technique attempting to induce a sense of contact with someone who had died, 96% of the participants with NF personality types reported after-death contact experiences, whereas 100% of the participants with ST (sensing, thinking) personality types did not have these experiences (Arcangel, 1997). In a survey of parapsychological researchers, Smith (2003) found that the F factor was associated with experimenters who were rated as psiconducive. Temporal lobe symptoms have been found to be associated with the N and P Myers-Briggs personality factors, and to a weaker extent with F (Makarec & Persinger, 1989). Thin boundaries have been found to be associated with NF personality dispositions (Barbuto & Plummer, 1998).

Taken together, these findings indicate that certain people have innate interests in and motivations for mystical and paranormal experiences. Behavioral genetic research indicates that absorption, the Myers-Briggs personality types, and interest in spirituality all have significant genetic components similar to other personality factors (Bouchard & Hur, 1998; Cary, 2003; Hammer, 2004; Tellegen et al., 1988).

Unconscious. Psychical and mystical experiences are both thought to arise from an unconscious or higher part of the mind and to be facilitated by efforts to still the conscious mind and to reduce superficial unconscious activity. Both types of experience are viewed as a link or doorway to a higher realm of interconnectedness. In fact, the primary difference is that psychical experiences provide information about the material world whereas mystical experiences provide information about the higher realm of interconnectedness itself. William James (1902/1982) noted that the knowledge revealed in mystical experiences may pertain to sensory events (e.g., precognition or clairvoyance) or to metaphysics.

Skeptics also tend to have a greater internal locus of control (belief that they control the events in their lives) than those who believe in psi (summarized in-Irwin, 1993). This is consistent with a stronger motivation for control by skeptics or possibly with less belief in supernatural influences.

The motivation for control may contribute to both skepticism and belief in psi. Research on various aspects of the motivation for control and its interaction with other psychological factors is needed to understand its role in attitude toward the paranormal. The initial evidence suggests that skeptics may tend to have a greater need for control. In fact, the speculations that an illusion of control is a significant factor in psi beliefs have primarily been proposed by skeptics and may be projections of their own needs for control.

If one moves beyond the motivation for control and looks at psi on its own terms, a different motivation emerges as prominent. Many people report experiences of ostensible spontaneous paranormal phenomena that occur without attempting to elicit or control the phenomena (Rhine, 1981; Stokes, 1997). Even a casual review of these reports indicates that the experiences do not seem to be guided by self-serving, materialistic motivations or needs for control.

Research indicates the primary effect of psi experiences is an altered worldview and an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life and spirituality (Kennedy & Kanthamani, 1995; McClenon, 1994, 2002; Palmer, 1979; Palmer & Braud, 2002; White, 1997a, 1997c). For example, Dossey (1999, p. 3) describes how a series of unexpected paranormal experiences changed the direction of his professional career. Similarly, a survey of people who were interested in parapsychology and reported having paranormal or transcendent experiences found that (a) 72% agreed with the statement “As a result of my paranormal or transcendent experience, I believe my life is guided or watched over by a higher force or being,”

The transformative psi experiences appear to guide a person rather than the person guiding psi. This is a significandy different world view than the assumptions of experimental parapsychology. These types of cases may induce an attitude of a humble seeker rather than a sense of control. Dossey (1999, p. 3) characterized his series of psi experiences as: “It was as if the universe, having delivered the message, hung up the phone. It was now up to me to make sense of it.”

Keirsey (1998) described the sensing, judging (SJ) personality types as materialistic, distrusting of fantasy and abstract ideas, and tending to feel a duty to maintain traditional rules of right and wrong. These personality types focus on external authority and tradition rather than internal experience.

People with STJ personality types tend to rise to positions of leadership and authority in hierarchical organizations (Keirsey, 1998; Kroeger, Thuesen, & Rutledge, 2002). Fudjack and Dinkelaker (1994) noted that the masculine “extraverted/rational-empirical/pragmatic/ materialist” ESTJ personality is prominent in western culture and tends to prefer hierarchical organizations that emphasize power and control rather than creativity and flexibility. Kroeger, Thuesen, and Rutledge (2002) administered the Myers-Briggs personality test to over 20,000 people in all levels of a wide variety of corporate, government, and military organizations. Across these diverse groups, they found that 60% of 2,245 people in top executive positions had STf personalities (ESTJ or ISTJ). The proportion of STJ types increased as the level on the management hierarchy increased.

Research indicates that the S personality types are associated with conservative religions that emphasize institutional religious authority and tradition whereas the intuitive (N) types are associated with more liberal, subjective, experiential approaches to religion and tolerance for religious uncertainty (Francis and Ross, 1997; Francis and Jones, 1998,1999; Macdaid, McCaulley, & Kainz, 1986). Similarly, greater dogmatism was associated with the S and J personality types (Ross, Francis, & Craig, 2005).

Other personality models describe related factors like authoritarianism, traditionalism, or right-wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1996; Carey, 2003, pp. 395-398; Spilka et al., 2003, pp. 467-468). Altemeyer (1996) argued that fundamentalism is a religious manifestation of the authoritarian personality. Monaghan (1967) described “authority-seeker” as one of the main motivations for attending a fundamentalist church.

Fundamentalist religions often consider mystical or paranormal experiences as delusions or dangerous events. Pentecostal and charismat
ic religious movements emphasize “gifts of the spirit,” including prophesy, healing, recognition of spirits, performance of miracles, wisdom, and knowledge (Roberts, 1995, p. 370; Rosten, 1975, pp. 591-592). Christian fundamentalists frequently have conflicts with Pentecostals and charismatics because fundamentalists give primacy to the inerrant authority of the Bible rather than to direct spiritual experience (Roberts, 1995, pp. 370-371).

Tensions between those who give primacy to the authority of tradition rather than to direct mystical and miraculous experiences have occurred for centuries, as would be expected if personality dispositions have a role. The life and death of Jesus were based on conflicts between those who maintained rules, authority, and superiority of past traditions versus proponents of inspired teachings supported by claims of paranormal phenomena. Such tensions were also apparent in the reactions within Christianity to the desert ascetics and in the Protestant Reformation (Woodward, 2000). One argument that goes back to at least the sixteenth century is that the miracles described in the Bible were real and were needed to establish the authority of the Bible, but once that authority was established, miracles were not needed and claims for post-biblical miracles are fraudulent or the work of the devil (Mullin, 1996, pp. 12-16). The variation in beliefs among individuals and groups should also be kept in mind. Some of those who focus on authority also believe that supernatural interventions sometimes occur in post-biblical times.

More subjective forms of spirituality can also provide a means for establishing a hierarchy of superiority. Characteristics and criteria for determining who is more spiritually advanced are often proposed (e.g., White, 1972; Wilber, 2000). The claim that one is among a small minority of highly evolved people and that everyone should strive to be like him or her is a common symptom of the drive to achieve a sense of superiority.

Some people build superiority hierarchies in the material world and some build them only in their minds. Those who build superiority hierarchies in the material world tend to have more negative attitudes toward the paranormal. Paranormal and mystical experiences may sometimes be pursued or claimed in an effort to achieve a sense of superiority. Tensions between people with authoritarian and transcendent dispositions have occurred throughout history and appear to underlie many religious and social conflicts.