Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too: The Harmless Desecration of Cerro Torre

JEREMY A. FRIMER, CAITLIN E. TELL, JONATHAN HAIDT
SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY & PERSONALITY SCIENCE (2015). ADVANCED ONLINE PUBLICATION. doi: 10.1177/1948550615597974

Abstract: Are social conservatives the only ones who use concerns about sacred objects or practices when making moral judgments, such as when they defend the “sanctity of marriage”? Or do liberals condemn sacrilege too? A third possibility is that all talk about sanctity and sacrilege is merely post hoc justification of moral judgments based solely on the perception of harm to sentient or anthropomorphized beings. We present evidence that liberals, like conservatives, morally condemn harmless violations of their own sacred objects. In most cases of liberal sacrilege (e.g., environmental destruction), sentient beings suffer. To deconflate desecration from harm, we examined a context in which someone altered an object that was lifeless yet sacred to a group of liberals—the mountain Cerro Torre. Three studies found that liberals condemned the alteration of the mountain as a harmless desecration. Defending sacred values may bind group members into a cohesive moral community.