In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) Jonathan Hardt examines how we think about what is right and wrong has changed in recent decades.
He has devised the following matrix
Liberal secular thinking give priority to the first three sets of items, whereas conservative religious believers put greater stress on the last three.
In other words, what the Western liberal is most concerned about is avoidance of harm (“If no-one gets hurts, how can it be wrong?”). Also important in this mind set are freedom for the individual and equality with others. The secular liberal call is to ‘be true to yourself’; hypocrisy is detested.
The second group of three factors are more important to religious conservatives than to liberals. Christians talk regularly of holiness, sin, and authority (e.g. of the Bible). They see those who depart from their ethical norms as betraying the cause, and resent attempts to ‘subvert’ the teaching of Scripture.
Haidt’s matrix helps us to understand how secular liberals and conservative religious people think so differently on ethical issues. Appeals of the latter to God’s view on sin, to the authority of the Bible, and to the need to remain loyal to God’s word fall on deaf ears.
Christians, therefore, will do well to use all parts of the moral matrix – not just the categories they are most comfortable with.
So (writes Ed Shaw) if, for example, we’re speaking into debates around sex change operations, let’s be talking more of the potential harm it does than just what we think the Bible says.
Ed Shaw, ‘Life in a foreign country’, in True to Form, FIEC, 2016.