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Saturday, March 26, 2016

God, Intellect and Emotion

A series of comments appearing on some of the blogs which I follow, along with some comments from friends on things I've posted here, have inspired some thoughts on the relationship between intellect and emotion in understanding, explaining and experiencing Christianity. To be sure, I'm definitely not the first to discourse on the topic. In fact, I think one would be justified in characterizing this as one of the central philosophical questions relative to the study/topic of religion! Yes, the debate over the relevance of faith vs reason or faith vs rationalism is an old one with a distinguished pedigree (consider Plato, Aquinas, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Kant, et al). As such, some of you will probably find the current discussion presumptuous and narrow; but I hope that a few of my readers will find something of value in what follows.

To begin, it will not have escaped the attention of most of my readers that I have chosen words (intellect and emotion) which are not commonly used in this context. Hence, a word of explanation is in order, because I can assure you that I chose them with careful and delibeberate intent.

If we Google both terms, the reasoning behind the use of these words will be made more apparent. Emotion is defined there as "a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others" and as an "instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge." Likewise, we find there that intellect is defined as "the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially with regard to abstract or academic matters." From these definitions, we can see a clear contrast between the two concepts. Indeed, much of the previous commentary on this topic has framed the discussion in terms of a competition between the two - with folks giving the supremacy to whichever term fits their particular perspective or thesis.

The Armstrong Church of God culture (with which this blogger was previously affiliated) certainly had a perspective on the subject. They ridiculed the emotionally charged atmosphere apparent in Traditional Christianity. They made fun of the notion of "giving your heart to the Lord." Many of them berated other groups for "wasting" their time and financial resources trying to feed, clothe, house and educate the poor. For them, the church was primarily responsible for preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. For them, their understanding of the Bible was of preeminent importance. The understanding and acceptance of their teachings/doctrines was evidence that one had (or was being led by) God's Holy Spirit. In other words, spiritual enlightenment was equated with intellectual understanding. Everything they believed "made so much sense" when compared with the emotionally charged dribble offered by Traditional Christianity.

Moreover, it is clear that this same perspective/attitude is still apparent within many of the current members of the culture and some of those who have left it behind. They are enamored with logic and reasoning - alternately employing them to "prove" or disprove the doctrines, depending on their particular perspective. For these folks (on both sides of the fence), emotion is still clearly inferior to intellect.

Nevertheless, if Scripture offers any insight into God's perspective on the subject, then it is clear that "He" believes that emotion is more important than intellect. The Bible is literally preoccupied with classifying emotions as good or bad, ranking their importance at both extremes and encouraging the cultivation of good emotions by God's people. In this regard, consider Christ's and Paul's numerous statements about the central and preeminent role of love in the lives of God's people. Notice also that Paul listed a number of emotions as evidence/proof/fruit that one has God's Holy Spirit or is in the grips of the sinful nature.

Indeed, in his first epistle to the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote at some length on this very subject (the relative importance of intellect and emotion to Christians). We read there: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." I Corinthians 2:1-5

Unfortunately, many Fundamentalist Christians have used these and other scriptures as an indictment against any reasoning that interferes with their doctrines or appears to contradict anything in the Bible. My former church was fond of using Proverbs 14:12 in that capacity. Instead of a warning against choosing a path to follow based on a superficial or insufficient evaluation of the evidence, it was used to berate anyone who came to a different conclusion from the one which they had reached.

Likewise, for far too many folks, emotion is incompatible with reason. For the fictional character of Spock from the Star Trek series, logic was preeminent. Later on in the series, however, Spock came to understand that "Logic is the beginning of wisdom...not the end." - (13 Pearls of Spock's Logical Wisdom by Jesse Ferreras at Huffington Post) Indeed, modern scientific research seems to support this conclusion. In his article at www.fastcodesign.com, Eric Jaffe writes "Far from the enemy of reason, emotion may well be a friend." After all, we all know that emotion sometimes tempers the cold heartlessness of logic.

And, in the final analysis, emotion is the best justification for Christianity and it's continued existence. Doesn't the inspiration and motivation of people to help and care for others provide the best "proof" of its efficacy and legitimacy? Where are the intellectual arguments that one could marshal to compare with that?

The Worldwide Church of God (my former affiliation) failed in both the intellectual and emotional appeal of their theology. Having failed on both fronts, I think that it is fair to wonder what justification could possibly be offered for continuing to adhere to such an ideology?

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