I've talked a lot about social psychology in dialogue with a theology of multi-faith engagement, but what about evangelical concerns for truth? After all, our passion for truth (usually thought of and presented with a capital "T") is a major priority for our tribe. We believe that God has done something unique in Jesus Christ, and that the truth claims of the Christian faith need to be proclaimed. While this is certainly important, we also need to understand the psychological processes that inform our understanding of truth, and how this shapes the way in which we relate to those in other religions. As we will see below, we moralize our doctrinal beliefs, and those who we see as holding wrong beliefs are viewed as violators of our sacred values, and therefore are understood as evil.
First, there's the moralization of truth. Craig Anderson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in his paper, "Truth, a potential foundation of morality," has argued that people moralize what they understand to be the right beliefs. He says that “[p]eople have emotional and visceral reactions to claims that the ‘wrong’ beliefs are true.” This takes place among religious and irreligious people. In the irreligious realm, atheists have a moralized view of truth wherein those who reject science (as they understand it) as immoral, particularly those who choose a religiously informed understanding of reality over science. Among religious people, Anderson discusses “the clash between religions” as an example of this moralizing of the concept of truth in relation to beliefs, and he says that a group’s strong emotional attachments to right beliefs help reinforce in-group moral foundations, including concerns for purity. His paper also theorizes that moral emotions may have become tied to ideas about truth “through the emotion of disgust,” an important emotion that I've discussed quite a bit previously. This moralization of truth helps bind in-group members together, and sets them apart from out-group members. While this binding process is a positive, with it comes a negative aspect. Out-group members elicit negative emotions among the in-group because they hold to the wrong beliefs. Anderson’s idea needs further research, but it seems applicable to evangelicals where right beliefs (orthodoxy) is certainly a part of our social identity, and which may also function as a significant moral foundation in addition to the five that social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have identified in their research. In the context of multi-faith engagement, “religious others” are understood as rejecting our moralized truth claims, and holding to wrong beliefs, which then results in disgust as they violate concerns for group purity.
With this in mind we can connect moralized conceptions of our doctrinal truth to the idea of sacred values violators and evil. In "Sacred Values and Evil Adversaries: A Moral Foundations Approach," Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt develop this premise: “[T]he elevation or ‘sacralization’ of a moral principle or symbol” based on a “group-level perception of threats to sacralized objects” “[i]s a major cause of evil.” In other words, recognizing a connection between sacredness and morality, groups understand their moral principles and symbols as sacred, and when these sacred values are perceived as threatened by others, then those outsiders are viewed as evil. In response, those who are seen as group values violators can be subject to idealistic "violence".
Graham and Haidt include a Table at the conclusion of their article that maps "Sacredness and Evil in Relation to Moral Foundations." I've taken their Table and modified it in relation to evangelicals and conservative moral foundations connected to multi-faith engagement. On the left hand column are the conservative moral foundations that we draw upon. Moving to the right, the second column lists the sacred values that are connected to these foundations. The third column identifies the sacred objects connected to these values. The third column attempts to identify those values violators and things identified as evil. The final column provides examples of idealistic violence, the actions in-group members can take against those perceived as evil values violators who reject moralized beliefs.
As noted at the beginning, truth is an important part of evangelical concerns. As a part of our theological reflections on truth we can also benefit from understanding how we moralize our beliefs, and how we understand those out-group members who reject our sacred values. Once again, social psychology provides helpful insights in understanding evangelical thinking and action in relation to multi-faith engagement.