Moral Psychology, Orthodoxy, and Ritual (handout)

Notes for a talk on Orthodoxy, Ritual and Moral Psychology (YouTube video here)

Warning: I use the words “conservative” and “liberal” throughout this talk. I am not talking about Republicans and Democrats. If you think I am talking about politics your will miss the point of the talk. I am talking about psychology, morality, and Orthodoxy.

Introduction: Frustrations and Miscommunications

Examples of miscommunication: Gay Marriage; The Social Gospel; The Ordination of Women Priests or Married Bishops; Pussy Riot (these are different from “normal” issues, like abortion) 

A Restatement of the Problem

Orthodox Christians find themselves at an impasse when talking about important moral issues with heterodox liberal Christians. Learning real charity and respect will help, but there is a real division that needs to be healed.

Diagnosing the Problem I: Thinking, Fast and Slow

The first is the finding that most moral decisions and opinions are pre-cognitive.

Diagnosing the Problem II: Framing

For the purpose of today’s discussion, framing means providing the ideational context for an issue.

Diagnosing the Problem III: Moral Foundations Theory

  • Universal Moral Dimensions: Care vs. Harm; Fairness/Proportionality vs. Cheating; Liberty/Freedom vs. Oppression
  • Conservative Moral Dimensions: Loyalty vs. Betrayal; Authority/Tradition/Respect vs. Subversion; Sanctity/Purity vs. Degradation

The Orthodox Way (orthopraxis) is demanding and all inclusive. To the extent it requires loyalty (to Christ/the Church) vs. universality; respect for authority (the Church, Tradition, ecclesiastical authorities) and a desire to work towards purity (confession, fasting, holiness, sanctification, theosis), liberals will have a hard time. This is not to let conservatives off easy: their willingness to misapply moral concepts and misinterpret liberal opinions is wrong and turns people away. They have to remember that liberal motivations are real, true, and useful (albeit incomplete). So now what?

The role of ritual in developing and informing a full spectrum morality.

Further Reading/Exploration


  1. […]  Lord willing, I’ll be devoting more podcasts to devloping these themes.  Here are the notes for the moral psychology talk (alas it was cut short due to rain!). […]