NEW YORK — There's a new religion exploding on the campuses of American universities and colleges, says Thomas Cooley professor of ethical leadership at New York University, Jonathan Haidt. And if it isn't stopped, it might just be better to shut them all down in the next 10 or 20 years.
The religion of fundamental social justice sweeping across college campuses is so alarming, intense, and dripping with such extreme liberal fundamentalism, says Haidt, it has created an existential crisis for American academia while punishing heretics with public shame.
"There is an extremely intense, fundamental social justice religion that's taking over, not all students, but a very strong [space] of it, at all our colleges and universities. They are prosecuting blasphemy and this is where we are," Haidt warned an audience about the religion at a lecture billed "The American University's New Assault on Free Speech," organized by the Manhattan Institute in New York City this week.
In his most recent book, The New York Times best-seller, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt, a social psychologist whose research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, gives an account of the origins of the human moral sense. He shows how variations in moral intuitions can help explain the American culture war between left and right.
On Monday, he described how fundamental social justice is rapidly limiting free speech by cultivating "sacred spaces" for issues supported by increasingly fragile students attending colleges and universities today.
"So my research is on moral judgement, moral psychology, in my book the Righteous Mind, I give three principles of moral psychology. And the third principle is 'morality binds and blinds.' It's just a fact that as humans, we are really good at making something sacred. Maybe it's a rock, tree … book, a person," he said.
"We make something sacred, we worship it, circle around it, often literally circling. … When you do that, you bind yourself together, you trust each other, you have a shared sacred object and you go forth into battle," Haidt said.
When social issues like racism or sexism are treated as sacred, he says, it becomes difficult to have honest conversations about them.
"So if that's the basic psychology and as religion itself has been retreating and kids are raised in a more secular environment, then what takes the place of that? There are lots of sacred spaces. Fighting racism, a very, very good thing to do, but when you come to sacred principles, sacred, this means no tradeoffs," Haidt said.
"There is no nuance, you cannot trade off any other goods with it. So if you organize around fighting racism, fighting homophobia, fighting sexism, again all good things, but when they become sacred, when they become essentially objects of worship, fundamentalist religion, then when someone comes to class, someone comes to your campus, and they say the rape culture is exaggerated, they have committed blasphemy," he said.