Arguing and Other Weird Sports
When I was a kid, the BBC televised one of the weirdest sports you’ve never heard of. It’s called lawn bowls and it is not played much in these United States. The aim is to roll four wooden balls (called ‘woods’) across a very large lawn towards a small white ball (the ‘jack’). The player whose ‘woods’ end closest to the ‘jack’ scores points. There’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. Think of 10-pin bowling, without the fast-food, on a beautifully flat and gorgeously manicured piece of grass.
(This wasn’t the only odd sport the BBC covered. They also broadcast weekly sheepdog trials, in which border collies corralled flocks of bemused sheep from a hillside into a pen, being guided only by the whistles of shepherds.)
What made lawn bowls interesting for the viewers on their couches was the nature of the ‘woods’. One side of the ball was heavier than the other. So, when the ball started to lose speed, it would drift left or right, depending on which side of the ball was the heavier. The skillful bowler would use the ‘bias’ in the wood to curl it around an opponent’s ball and leave it nearer the jack. (It’s more fun than it sounds. Really.)
As a sports-mad kid, that was my introduction to the concept of bias. Bias is the weight in a ball that stops it moving in a straight line. In lawn bowls, the player who is better at controlling their biases wins. So, too, in life generally.
An NYU sociologist named Jonathan Haidt has done some helpful thinking about why good, moral people with the best intentions, end up seeing issues so differently. So, a devout, godly, faithful Christian can, with the best of intentions, believe one thing about a moral topic, and another equally virtuous Christian can, with the best will in the world, reach the exact opposite conclusion.
Haidt, who describes himself as a ‘political centrist’, thinks it is all about which moral foundations a person believes are most important. He claims there are five moral foundations. Everyone builds their morality using these foundations. However, Haidt says that each person a natural bias, and will consider one or more of these foundations more important than the others.
The five moral foundations are
- Authority; and
Think of a moral issue, e.g. the use of nuclear weapons…
Now think about how you view the issue… would you condone their use in certain limited circumstances or do you believe they could never be used in a way that is moral?
According to Haidt, people who are naturally politically conservative tend to base their moral decisions on foundations 3-5 above – loyalty, authority, and purity. People who are politically liberal tend to base their moral views on the first two foundations – care and fairness.
Which is correct? Duh. All of them. That’s the point. They’re all Christian virtues and we are called to honor each. When we do, we will find ourselves understanding each other better across the political divide. More importantly, we will assume good motives in the other, rather than judging each other as evil. That is a marvelous starting point for the true empathy, love, and unity, which our country so badly needs.