Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Emotions, Reason, and Fear:

This summer I have the opportunity to take a class with J. P. Moreland.  Professor Moreland is most known for what he refers to as "The Kingdom Triangle", and as such, I had the opportunity to read his book as one of the requirements for the class.  (Just so you know, his writing style is far from...let's say, Donald Miller.)  Anyway, throughout the book he argues against naturalism and postmodernism, and instead of solely using theology, he uses a great deal of philosophy to counter both.  It's a hefty read, and one I'm not sure I would recommend to most.

However, I also had the opportunity to read Dallas Willard's "Renovation of the Heart". This book is fantastic!  In fact, I look forward to reading it again later this year, because Willard makes so many good points throughout the book it's difficult to grasp each of them fully.  Of all the "how to" books on growing stronger in one's relationship with God, "Renovation of the Heart" is probably in the top 3 for sure.

And while it's difficult to remember everything he writes about, one of the arguments Willard makes in the book has stuck with me: the differences between Emotion and Reason.  While it would be impossible to condense all of what he says into a simple blog post, he essentially writes that many people today base their thoughts and beliefs on emotions instead of reason.  Even those in "intellectual circles" (which, he notes, we're all a part of these days) form their beliefs outside the realm of reason, and well inside the realm of emotions.  For this reason, he writes:

"This explains why it is so hard to reason with some people.  Their very mind has been taken over by one or more feelings and is made to defend and serve those feelings at all costs.  It is a fearful condition from which some people never escape.  We have noted how thoughts generate feelings.  If we allow certain negative thoughts to obsess us, then their associated feelings can enslave and blind us -- that is, take over our ability to think and perceive."

From my observations, Dallas Willard is right on.  Far too often people become obsessed with a certain thought because it's how they "feel" about a certain subject.  If asked about why they have a certain belief, I've discovered it's generally based on a personal experience, an experience of another person, or some other emotional factor.  Scripture doesn't matter.  History doesn't matter.  Philosophy doesn't matter.  Wisdom, it seems, is thrown right out the window.  But if their belief or conviction on a certain subject makes them "feel" good, then it's most likely the correct conviction. "God is good," they say, "so my belief in this area must be correct."  When tough questions are asked, the conversation ends, because they don't really want to wrestle through questions that may inevitably make them feel differently.

All in all, when a belief system is based on feelings, it is, as Willard notes, a fearful condition.  It's ultimately a system based on fear.  One is afraid of potential consequences based on a change in their belief/s, but instead of attacking the fear head-on, they allow the fear to drive them.  They feed off fear and their emotions and due to this, they are never truly set free.  They may feel good about their beliefs, but they're still living in fear...and therefore, are living a life in bondage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that emotions are bad in any way, as our emotions are a gift from God.  And we have the freedom to turn to Him whether in times of gladness or sorrow.  But I'm not sure we should have a belief system based on how we feel, but rather, on what we know.

So I'm wondering: Is our relationship with God based on how we feel about Him, or is it based on what we know about Him and what He's done for us?  Is there anytime when it would be OK to have a conviction based on feelings instead of reason/knowledge?

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