At this point I would like to bring in two new and purely hypothetical characters from Glynn Harrison’s ‘A Better Story’ to help us see some of the processes we have been identifying at work.
Picture with me a hypothetical grandmother and her beloved grandson.
As you might expect, the grandmother has grown up ‘believing’ that homosexuality is wrong. If she is honest the idea is repulsive to her. She hasn’t weighed up lots of evidence, done lots of research and formed a well thought out, logical case against the practice of homosexuality. Nor has she made a deliberate decision to submit to the teachings of any faith group on the matter out of trust in God’s wisdom and goodness (or that of any other deity or guru). She just ‘knows’ it is wrong. For most of her life this has ‘worked’ for her. Her friends agree with her, it is sad that the world seems to be changing, but she doesn’t have to change with it. Her basic gut reaction – established within the culture in which she first interacted with the topic in her youth – remains unchanged.
Now picture the scene in which her beloved grandson finally plucks up the courage to tell his grandmother that he is in a gay relationship. In all likelihood, given some time, the gut reaction that told her that homosexuality is wrong will simply start to tell her a different story. And why wouldn’t it? Why should her gut have a deeper allegiance to what she now sees as an out of date, restrictive convention dictated by the old ‘THE WAY WE DO THINGS AROUND HERE’ than to her own flesh and blood and the happiness she sees him experiencing? Particularly when she is surrounded and supported by an ever more vocal, brand new ‘THE WAY WE DO THINGS AROUND HERE’.
From the vantage point of my right leaning elephant I could never understand how people could do such a blatant u-turn without so much as a blush. But – armed with a greater awareness of our powerful, visceral, gut-reactions and Haidt’s spectrum – I now have to ask myself – has our hypothetical grandmother actually done a u-turn?
Well, certainly not an intellectual one. as she didn’t never occupy an intellectual position in the first place. Her gut is still her guide on the issue – it is simply guiding her in the opposite direction. She grew up at the right hand end of the spectrum where tradition and the good of the community weighed heavily, now the weight has shifted to the left – both in society around her, and more importantly in her love for her grandson.
My normal gut reaction to this type of hypothetical scenario is to find myself preparing for an intellectual, black and white battle.
Picture if you will a medieval jousting tournament!
However, having the above dynamic opened up to me has challenged that. It has shown me that strong and long-held gut-reactions do not necessarily spring from deeply held convictions. Or to put it another way – they don’t necessarily represent the conclusions (or absence thereof) of the rider on top of the elephant.
In the garden I think it is generally true that the strength of the plant above the ground is determined on the depth / extensiveness of the root system below. In contrast in the world of our gut reactions – what can look very similar above the surface, the leaves and fruit of the plant if you will, can spring from a vast variety of differing root systems – both shallow and deep.
Not that some people are shallow and fickle and while others are deep and constant. It is what we find ourselves being deep and shallow about that varies. In other words, the central issues of our life – where we put down our deepest roots – vary.
Imagine a window sill with a line of flower pots on it. There are a variety of flowers growing in the different pots. One flower may be the ‘how I feel about gay sex’ flower. Originally it was planted in a rather ugly pot clearly labelled: It’s wrong and unnatural. The seed was planted in that pot, sprouted, grew and flowered there for many years. Recently however the plant has been re-potted. It now flowers in a pretty pot labelled: Everyone deserves to be happy. What hasn’t changed is the window sill the flower pots sit on. It is a stone window sill and beautifully carved into it are the words: Loving my family. The flower pots may change quite dramatically, but the ledge they sit on is there for good and it is at that ledge that I need to meet her.
As I look to love and relate to this hypothetical granny the key question is not – “How can that 180 degree turn around sit comfortably with her?” but rather: “What is so precious to this loving granny that she has ‘re-potted’ her feelings about this?” “What is the non-negotiable window sill on which her feelings about things sits?” And most importantly: “How can I bring Jesus to her there?”
Stop and think about the window sills you see in the soul-houses of those you know and love. What words are carved into them? Loving family? Fitting in? Success? Popularity? Saving our planet? What about your own window sill?
By God’s mercy and grace, carved on mine are the words: HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME, YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE. However, persistent bits of graffiti keep appearing. Being right, being noticed, and being accepted are all regular interlopers for me. What about you?