The Partisan Mind vs. the Convictional Mind

It’s been a couple of weeks, and my excitement over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has not abated. Innocent lives have been saved this week because of this decision. Thousands more will be spared in the future. The culture of death took a mortal wound last week. Righteousness prevailed. Christ prevailed over the false idols of convenience, autonomy, and choice. The One who will triumph ultimately allowed us all a glimpse of that victory in real time. The seed of the woman crushed the head of the serpent again.

But as I’ve celebrated righteousness and truth prevailing, I’ve also caught myself finding perverse satisfaction in the anger of the other side. It kind of feels familiar—like the way I feel when I watch reruns of the “Kick 6” Iron Bowl, and the camera shows the misery and shock on the faces of Alabama fans in the crowd. Except this is real life, not sport. And I don’t think my glee is godly. I will never apologize for celebrating the victory of Christ. Anytime righteousness, truth, and beauty prevail, Christ prevails. But rejoicing in the misery of others is something different. It’s rooted in pride, and it’s not neighbor love. I also think it reflects what I’ll call here “the partisan mind.”

Let me try my best to explain what I mean by “the partisan mind.” In his insightful book, The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explains how political opinions, far from being the result of careful reasoning about the issues, are usually “badges of social membership.” We wear our political opinions on our car windows the same way we placard stickers in support of our favorite sports teams. We want the world to know that we belong to a team and that we’re loyal.

To show how this works in action, Haidt recounts a study conducted during the 2004 presidential election that analyzed the brains of partisan voters on each side of the political aisle while they were exposed to slides indicating hypocrisy of both their favorite candidate as well as the opposing candidate. Unsurprisingly, the brain scans did not reveal objectivity. Information about their own candidate’s hypocrisy activated emotion-related brain areas often associated with negative emotion and response to punishment. Information justifying one’s favorite candidate resulted in hits of dopamine—the reward center of the brain.

Haidt’s conclusion: the partisan brain has been trained out of objectivity and may be addicted to the emotional reward of partisanship.

Issues aside, the partisan mind will derive immense pleasure merely from the result of its team winning and the other team losing. If partisanship rules, issues of truth and justice may no longer matter. The fundamental values and principles that initially led the person to declare loyalty to a specific side will cease to matter over time, and blind loyalty to the team will eventually take over.

The partisan mind is evident when you are forced to be silent about the ethics and principles you used to defend because your team now violates them regularly. The partisan mind is evident when you respond to credible accusations against your side by pointing out the greater problems on the other side. You might be a partisan if you automatically jump to defend any criticism leveled against your team before considering any of the evidence.

For non-believers, I understand the appeal of the partisan mind. We all want to belong to something larger, and sadly, partisan politics is as high as some will allow themselves to go. But for Christ’s people, we follow a Savior whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Christ’s kingdom alone deserves our unreserved loyalty. We may be able to partner with political parties when they are on the side of truth and justice, but no party does that perpetually. Every political party will merit our critiques as well.

The partisan mind sees life as a seesaw. My side wins to the degree that the other side loses. The convictional mind, however, looks to the righteousness of God as the only standard for evaluating every human institution. Our lies don’t magically turn into truth because our political enemies tell bigger ones. We don’t get to label our team’s folly and vice “righteousness” because we’re not as bad as them. God’s righteous truth stands objectively as judge over us all. The standard does not change to allow us to get our guy or gal elected.

I will continue to rejoice over the Dobbs ruling. I’m unapologetically thankful that the highest court in our land boldly chose justice, and my family will celebrate June 24 every year as Life Day. But celebrating that day has nothing to do with owning the libs and everything to do with Christ’s ownership of the universe. May his party alone prevail.

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