Orthodox Alexithymia

David Hume once famously argued that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." What is interesting about that claim is that, particularly in the area of virtue and morality, modern psychological science has proven Hume to be right. And I wonder, what are the implications for theology?

To be sure, Hume stated his case too strongly. Reason isn't necessarily the slave of the passions. And we don't think it ought to be all of the time. But modern research has shown that cognition and emotion are interwoven systems, with emotion often taking the lead in helping us think correctly and virtuously.

This is a bit different from how the Greeks viewed the situation. For the Greeks emotion was error-prone and wild. Consequently, the wise person would use reason to subdue, tame, and guide the emotions. Thus the vision of the detached, cool, and cerebral philosopher.

We now know that the Greeks got this wrong. When emotion is decoupled from reason we have something that looks like sociopathy. At the very least reason needs emotion to do its work properly. I'm thinking here of work done with persons with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. People with damage to this area of the brain have trouble connecting emotion to how they make decisions or plans. Because of this these individuals can make long pro versus con lists but never reach a final decision. Cognitively these individuals have the ability to plan, and in great detail. But without emotion the cognitive system doesn't care about one outcome over others. And this caring, this emotional attachment, seems to be what breaks the rational stalemate and terminates the chain of calculation. In this reason is functioning as the servant, if not the slave, of the passions. It's as if Reason is saying to the Emotions, "Hey, I'll do all the calculation and accounting, but at the end of the day you're going to have to tell me what we really care about."

It is as Hume once provocatively argued. He said, "'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger." There is nothing unreasonable or illogical in preferring scratching your finger over preventing the destruction of the whole world. Yes, such a choice is monstrous and evil, but it's not illogical. The monstrosity goes to the issue of caring and emotion. What is broken in preferring scratching your finger over preventing the destruction of the world isn't reason, but emotion.

What does this have to do with theology?

Simply this. When theology and doctrine become separated from emotion we end up with something dysfunctional and even monstrous. A theology or doctrinal system that has become decoupled from emotion is going to look emotionally stunted and even inhuman.

What I'm describing here might be captured by the tag "orthodox alexithymia." By "orthodox" I mean the intellectual pursuit of right belief. And by "alexithymia" I mean someone who is, theologically speaking, emotionally and socially deaf and dumb. Even theologically sociopathic.

(Alexithymia--etymologically "without words for emotions"--is a symptom characteristic of individuals who have difficulty understanding their own and others' emotions. You can think of alexithymia as being the opposite of what is called emotional intelligence.)

Orthodox alexithymia is produced when the intellectual facets of Christian theology, in the pursuit of correct and right belief, become decoupled from emotion, empathy, and fellow-feeling. Orthodox alexithymics are like patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain damage. Their reasoning may be sophisticated and internally consistent but it is disconnected from human emotion. And without Christ-shaped caring to guide the chain of calculation we wind up with the theological equivalent of preferring to scratch a doctrinal finger over preventing destruction of the whole world. Logically and doctrinally such preferences can be justified. They are not "contrary to reason." But they are inhuman and monstrous. Emotion, not reason, is what has gone missing.

(In my opinion, hard-core, double-predestination Calvinism looks just like this. An icy, monstrous and alexithymic theology.)

In their defense, the orthodox alexithymics will emphasize the view of the Greeks: reason must tame the passions. We cannot discern the will of God if we allow our feelings to get in the way. Emotions are temptations. Therefore we must make our feelings submit to reason. Reason leads you toward God. Emotion leads you away from God. So put your feelings to the side. If a chain of theological reasoning starts to horrify you then you must repress those feelings. Stuff that horror, swallow it.

But in light of what we now know about the relationship between cognition and emotion this Greek-inspired defense is sounding more and more hollow. And dangerous. A theology that is repressing the emotions, we suspect, just like in other spheres of life, is more rather than less likely to lead us astray.

Theology, as an activity of reason, might not want to be a slave of the passions, but it might want to partner with emotion much more closely.

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57 thoughts on “Orthodox Alexithymia”

  1. Theologically sociopathic -- I've been thinking that of neo-Calvinism for a while now.  I once attended a roundtable talk on mental health recovery courts in our county (sponsored by my congregation's Church and Society group).  The counselor on the panel was asked whether any type of mental illness could *not* be rehabilitated.  He cited sociopathy, because these individuals are unable to care for others (or the harm that their actions inflict on others.)  He went on to say that, occasionally, a sociopath will care about his own potential for punishment enough to avoid the risk and play nice.  I thought about this in terms of theology and religion.  Are there individuals who really do best under such a system of beliefs?

    The concepts of "double bind" and Greek dualism also occurred to me in relation to this post...  I'm probably grasping all this at a very basic level, but find it fascinating nonetheless.  Always interesting reading over here at ET.  Thanks, Dr. Beck!  :-)

  2. Posts such as this are why I come here.  Thank you for this, Dr. Beck.  I can trace my roots back to the NE Puritans.  I come from a long line of Calvinists.  And in the particular (Baptist) church in which I was reared, the emotions were especially viewed as non-trustworthy, misleading, and even evil.  Feelings were -- for want of a better term -- at the core of the sarx, the Flesh (i.e., the "Old Man" -- that which required the New Birth).  Thus began my descent into Theological hell-on-earth.

    Perhaps this explains why I threw the baby out with the bathwater when leaving the church, and now for all these years trust only in reason (science) to explain reality.  I hate to admit the Calvinists had any hand in getting me to this place.  But it explains why C. S. Lewis became my favorite Christian apologist.  I still have trouble "trusting" my emotions, and therefore often my own instincts.  Perhaps this is exactly how I ended up on the Island of the Misfit Toys. 

  3. It seems to me that there is a huge danger of confusing emotions with passions. One of the things that I so love about Reformed and Presbyterian traditions, and higher church liturgical tradition, for that matter, is that they teach us how to distinguish between the two. They teach us to distrust emotions, but to cultivate passions. Right now my emotions are shaped by a huge range of different factors: by the lack of sleep that I had last night, by the attractive woman who just smiled at me, by the sugar rush from the epic slab of banoffee pie I just ate, by the impending deadlines that I have to work towards, by the kind gift of a friend, etc., etc. However, by focusing on passions, I learn to strip away the ephemeral and shallow feelings of the moment, and learn to focus upon those most important and deep driving passions that inform my profoundest identity. Rather than being tossed to and fro by the emotions of the moment, I feed and draw upon my deeper passion for enjoying God in his love and goodness, my passion to glorify him in what I do, and to serve others in Christ's name.

    Many people who look at Reformed churches or more liturgical churches from the outside generally don't get it. They think that passion is something that has to be fully seen on the surface and constantly on display in extroverted, bubbly, and emotionally demonstrative forms of church that many of us find so stifling, but which are de rigueur in many evangelical contexts. They judge emotionally undemonstrative churches to be cold, dead, or lifeless, when often nothing could be further from the truth. Many people also presume that outward emotional displays are proof of deep internal passion. While they often are expressions of such passion, shallow emotion really isn't that hard to conjure up and such shallow emotion can occasionally serve as a veneer masking a deeper absence. Paradoxically, it can often be our most powerful passions that we are least inclined openly to express in an emotional form, as this can be felt to trivialize or cheapen them.

    One of the things that I so love about the work of a theologian such as John Calvin is that one gets the clear sense of a deep-seated passion for Christ, a passion that, while undoubtedly there, is a signal that is hard to hear beneath the noise of fleeting emotions in many of the evangelical contexts in which I find myself, where the shrillness of the expected upbeat emotional expression tends to drown out the deep feelings and passions that one finds in the psalms and elsewhere.

  4. I had the same church/home experience, Sam. If I had a nickel for every time I was told, "You shouldn't feel that way" and "You're too sensitive." Emotions were blacklisted as the devil's tool.

  5. Looking back, I now see this as an issue of power/control.  All with the best of intentions -- for my own salvation, of course.  "Do not trust your feelings.  In fact, do not even FEEL your feelings.  Resistance is futile -- in fact sinful.  We will lead you to the Truth.  You shall be like unto us."

    I don't know whether I was a member of a church, the Democrats, or the Borg.

  6. Having emotion leaves you vulnerable, because it's like fresh blood to vampires in that environment, and believe me, they relish the kill. One of the listed characteristics of narcissists is being completely void of empathy. They never connect with another person at an emotional level. Although they sometimes fake it, to suit their own agendas. Kids being raised by such a parent have no concept of what should be allowed as normal emotion. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201203/differential-diagnosis-whining

  7. What is so ironic to me is that "authentic" is a current buzzword in church culture, and authenticity is, like life, pretty messy. But a sterile, carefully constructed "image" is often the real target. And image cannot be permitted to be messy.

  8. Nice post. I totally see where you're coming from.

    It's funny to me that you have seen this sort of Calvinistic, rationalistic religion as a major temptation of our age. Maybe it's the difference in our generation, but all I see are people who--the moment a line of argument doesn't "feel right" to them--immediately stop following it altogether. Ultimately, their theology is held hostage to their surface, culturally-conditioned emotions. It tends to express itself in a "I don't feel that God would. . . ." Maybe God didn't check with your feelings before deciding what to do!
    But occasionally, especially perhaps in some churches, I still hear the other imballance--and it's quite a shock. Keep up the good work.

  9. Wow--this makes me realize that it may be my wonderful parents who saved me from some of this stuff. Feelings were always valued in my upbringing. I remember when I first saw someone who thought he would be judged/ attacked for crying. It sort of shocked me--in a deep Pavlovian way, I've always associated tears with hugs and comfort. I'm not the world's best at empathy, but at least I understand that any lack of empathy is a failure on MY part, not anybody else's.

  10. I know you know this, but I just want to remind you that Calvinism appeals to people for a whole lot of reasons.

    We really do live in an age that is relentlessly anthropocentric (except when it's trying to put animals or vegetables even higher than humans), and relentlessly opposed to any Being who would claim to be more significant than how we currently feel about things. For some of us, this is really destructive at an emotional level--the focus on "feeling" has only led to a proliferation of bad "feelings," at worst a deep depression, at best a chronic funk. I swear that at times it has been comforting for me, in my funk, to occasionally hear the words: "It doesn't matter how you feel. It matters what is true."One thing I like about George MacDonald, a favorite anti-Calvinist often cited on this board, is his bracing rejection of emotionalism. For him, any right-thinking person would never want to harm another person--but "harm" is almost entirely disconnected to how you feel about it. The man who whips a horse in order to train it, the father who says "I would rather see my daughter dead than see her commit a sin," are for him the most tender and loving characters of all. The words, "You won't drown unless God wills it, and if God wills for you to drown, how could I think of wanting anything else for you?" are meant to be comforting and loving. I find these parts of his novels difficult but inspiring. 

  11. In my family, a child's tears were met with such empathic expressions of  'love' as, "Stop that blame squawling!!!" Or sometimes just ridicule.  And hugs? Yeah, right.

  12. Brother Richardthis is Praveen from India, could not have agreed with you moreOrthodox Alexithymia will result in this - they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.- romans 1 thanks brother for your post

  13. Thanks for that, Patricia.  After reading the article, I am not sure that I have ever grieved the loss of my childhood.  As others here like to say -- I don't know how to "unpack" that.  I haven't grieved over the deaths of either of my parents, nor my pastor.

    My empathy comes by way of my disability.  I am not a sociopath because I have always been physically broken.  I have always understood people who wish that they had never been born, but never understood people who crave power, attention, fame, or control of others.

  14. When talking about the relationship between reason and emotion, perhaps we ought to recognize more distinctions. Emotion is primarily a state of consciousness and is related to a faculty of feeling. Reason, however, comprehends more than just our faculty of thinking, but generally includes the critical, external, and objective norms to which this faculty is ordered. Our minds are made subject and conformed to reason and to truth. Our minds must also submit to and be formed by communal practices of deliberation, debate, discourse, and disputation. An irrational mind, a mind preoccupied purely with its own fancies, or a mind untrained by the disciplines of public or communal discourse is of little use to anyone, least of all its owner.

    In saying that reason is privileged over emotion, what many people are actually objecting to is the fact that a trained, disciplined, focused, and formed faculty is privileged over one that is untrained, unformed, unfocused, and undisciplined. For many nowadays, emotion and desire are treated in terms of entitlement: instant entitlement to attention and immunity from challenge, criticism, or disagreement. Emotion (and the oft-demanded ‘empathy’) can be used to blackmail communities, shut down challenging conversation, render people or positions immune to criticism or disagreement, and halt any process of discipline. Any suggestion that emotion and desire ought to be conformed to an external truth, reality, or norms, or that one person’s emotions may be more valid, significant, or appropriate than another person’s emotions is greeted with horror. When it comes to emotion and desire, for some people 'self-expression' and 'authenticity' are the only norms recognized. While our emotions should always be our own, and we should not have an alien set of emotions and desires forced upon us unnaturally, or all emotion and desire stifled and crushed within us, we do need to develop and form our selves and emotions into more godly forms.

    This is one of the purposes of true worship. Good liturgy and ritual guides and shapes our emotions into fitting responses to God's self-revelation. An approach to worship focused on undisciplined spontaneity and individual self-expression can be problematic on this front, as the emotions can become feral. One of the benefits of singing and praying lots of psalms is that they are full of spiritually formed emotion. As we bring our emotion to them, our emotions are shaped by them. Our emotions are not crushed, but are house-trained. Such training is especially valuable for a society that can often be emotionally incontinent.

    The problem is that Christian traditions have generally valued passions too highly to leave them uncultivated, unformed, undisciplined, immune to criticism, and subject to no external constraints or communal practices. Like reason, formed passions are immensely valuable. However, the means whereby true and valuable passions are formed involves the learning of healthy emotional processes, the invalidation of certain emotional expressions, the loss of emotional entitlement, and the subjection of our emotions and desires to processes of communal discernment, formation, and judgment. This process of emotional growth and discipline, though painful, creates deep, rich, and powerful passions. Unsurprisingly this rankles with many nowadays.

  15. You've done it again. I read your title and immediately thought, "Orthodox... what? Yikes, this one's gonna be over my head." But you were brilliant. I understood, and it resonated. Thank you.

  16. Jlh11a, yes and I also recognize that Calvinism encompasses a range of beliefs/believers; it is the most extreme version -- which, unfortunately, has been celebrated and received so much publicity in recent years -- to which I responded.

    Feelings are what they are.  If a person is feeling an emotion, then it is true for him/her.  I don't know that it is healthy to assign a feeling to the good/bad, true/false category.  I think it's better to be honest about our feelings, and then work from there to figure out healthy, constructive ways of dealing with them.  Maybe impulsively acting on every emotion, without thinking through the consequences to oneself and others, is the real issue?  The way I figure it, God already knows what I'm thinking and feeling -- whether I say it out loud or act on it.

    I've not read any George MacDonald, except what has been quoted here and there at ET.  I'm sorry to be dense, but I don't know if I've understood you correctly in the last five sentences of your comment.  If you're saying what I think you're saying, then I'm in dissent.  ;-)  If I thought that God had willed my child to die, and that this should comfort me and strengthen my faith in God's goodness and "sovereign grace," I would certainly not be inspired to greater trust in the character of such a deity.  In fact, I would be hard-pressed not to abandon my faith altogether.  And this, as you may know from my previous comments here, is not a hypothetical scenario for me, J.

    As Dr. Beck has stated with regard to Universalism, *theodicy* is the root issue with other theological "systems" -- neo-/hyper-Calvinism, in particular.  Double predestination:  God created the majority of human beings for eternal damnation.  We're asked to believe and be saved, but if God has not "willed" or elected for us to receive this gift, then we can't, theoretically, believe or act in any way that will change our destiny, which is ECT in hell.  Is it rational to believe that this god is good, loving, or worthy of worship?  This defies all logic, at least the level of logic at which I am capable.  My heart (emotions, passions, soul) tells me this is not real or true.  If I believe this is the nature of God and his plan for humankind, does it make me a better person and cause me to love others more?  For me, J, it just doesn't work.  I respect that it has been a better fit for you.  If you are inspired to love and serve God, and in turn your neighbor, more wholeheartedly within the framework of Calvinism (hopefully a less extreme version, not as hard-core), then it's good (you're good) as far as I'm concerned.  I just don't share those particular beliefs, on the whole.  ~Peace~

  17. "The prophets of such a God take all the glow, all the hope, all the color, all the worth, out of life on earth, and offer you instead what they call eternal bliss -- a pale, tearless hell ..." -George MacDonald, #215 Mean Theologies, An Anthology

  18. Patricia, stoicism was implicitly and explicitly taught in my family, too.  The harshest adult authority was my step-mother.  As a child -- heck, even to this day! -- it was/is impossible for me to adopt a deadpan expression.  My face betrays my emotion(s).  I vividly remember, trying with all my might to hold back tears and my step-mother "disciplining" me to "stop that pouting!"  Oh God, that woman was impossible.  On the other side of my family, I was praised for being so grown-up and brave -- evidenced by the fact that I did not often cry or need much comforting.  HA!  What were they thinking???!!!  Can you relate?  HUGS to you, my friend.  ~Peace~

  19. You're welcome Sam. Grieving childhood is a process, but like she says, it does make it possible to go forward with more optimism and strength, for the same reason we have funerals, to set aside a time to honor and acknowledge what was lost to us. From what I've gathered, the difference between a sociopath and a narcissist is that a sociopath has no conscience whatsoever. They could kill you as easily as look at you. A narcissist isn't likely to be criminal, just cruel in whatever ways it serves themselves. Just from what you've shared here and on your blog,  I don't think you could be either one..

  20. I can absolutely relate. If I had ANY emotion for any reason, I was criticized for "wearing my heart on my sleeve." You know who saved me from that? My husband. He was never shamed for showing tears, as I was, and over nearly two and half decades of marriage, has lived out, patiently, helping me to feel safe with him to feel anything again.And yet I still struggle. The old distrust that I'll be castigated again.

  21. also brother Richard
    Orthodox Alexithymia-
    Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,- 2 timothy 3.

  22. brother Richard
    Orthodox Alexithymia -----
    But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 

  23. Oh, don't get me wrong--I'm not a Calvinist. I'm merely someone who sees truths in various parts of the church, and doesn't like dismissing them without a fair hearing. This sense of empathy with all sides gets me called "gadfly" and "devil's advocate."

    Of course feelings aren't wrong--yet feelings do (in my experience) claim for themselves more than is valid. People do not just say "I am depressed"; they also say "Life is not worth living." They do not just say, "I am angry at a God who allows suffering"; they say "such a God is not worth worshipping." These might be deep and true insights which arise from our passions/ feelings. But they might be mistakes. As long as we simply use feeling words, on the other hand, we can't be making mistakes--we're just being honest.

    I quoted these lines from MacDonald, not because I fully agree with them or even fully understand them, but because I sense in them a deeper wrestling with God's sovereignty than I often see among typical American non-Calvinist Christians. MacDonald, no Calvinist, thinks that God will bring all to heaven (universalism), that our sufferings come when we resist God (free will), and that God's intentions are based in love. Yet MacDonald still argues boldly about the "tools" which, in a world that resists God, may be part of God's loving intentions.

    You and I may be right in our heart (emotions, passions, soul) in thinking this that God does not plan pain and loss for some higher, loving intention. But we may be wrong. If I had never heard of surgery, my heart (emotions, passions, soul) might tell me that cutting someone open cannot be a loving thing to do. My heart would not be wrong to feel grieved, pained, bewildered. But it would be wrong in telling me I knew more than I did about the intentions of the surgeon--or even which actions were right.

    Accepting that the surgeon was doing rightly would not, by the way, tempt me to go out and cut people open myself, in the odd belief that this would be a loving thing to do. It would, however, give me a bit of confidence as I set about doing what I can do (bandaging wounds, giving someone aspirin)--I might feel encouraged to know that I was cooperating with a healer who could do far more than I could for the patient.

    MacDonald's confidence that God is doing good to us even when we suffer, reminds me that there are two reasons for me to help my hungry neighbors:
    1. God, who is doing good for them and for me, wishes to do good for them and for me by my sacrificial service;
    2. their hunger cannot be a good thing, and if I do not help it then God is not doing good for them.
    The first gives me a healthy sense of mission to the world; the second give me an anxiety-ridden, ego-tripping, compulsive mission to the world.

    Of course, there are other ways in which MacDonald's view is surely wrong and your heart (and mine) are right to think that God's sovereign will did not simply choose to kill a child for the parent's good.

  24. One of the "parenting" things my wife and I have discussed is when to teach our son "bravery"--the ability to brush off minor hurts and keep going, keep enjoying, keep having fun. Yet in our experience, a full and free offer of comfort ("if it hurts too much, you can just sit on my lap") has actually given him the confidence not to need comfort unless he is really hurt. In other words, children aren't spoiled by love! I wonder how much of stoicism is an unwillingness to give children attention.

  25. brother richard
    ANTI-Orthodox Alexithymia

    Do not be afraid, just believe - Mark 5 (the Lord to Jairus after his daughter died)

    Spurgeon on Rev 1:17- do not be afraid
    “Do not be afraid” is a plant which grows very plentifully in God’s garden.
    If you look through the lily beds of Scripture you will continually find, next
    to other flowers, the sweet “Do not be afraids” peering out from doctrines and
    teachings, even as violets look up from their hiding places among the green

  26. Brother Richard
    ANTI-Orthodox Alexithymia

    Spurgeon again (on Rev 1:17)
    As we observe the Scriptures we perceive that “Do not be afraids” are
    scattered throughout the Bible as the stars are sprinkled over the entire sky,
    and when we come to Isaiah we find constellations of them. When I was a boy, I
    studied Dr. Watts’s book on the principles of Christianity, and I am glad I did.
    One of the questions that it asked was, “Who was Isaiah?” And the answer was,
    “He was that prophet who spoke more of Jesus Christ than all the rest.” And it
    is for that very reason-that he spoke more of Jesus Christ than all the
    rest-that he is the richest in comfort to the people of God, and he continually
    says, “Do not be afraid.” Here are a few of his cures for the fever of fear:
    “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, Do not be afraid.” “Do not
    fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” “Do not be
    afraid, I will help you.” “Do not be afraid, I have redeemed you.” “"Do not be
    afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be
    humiliated”; and so on. So abundant are these “Do not be afraids” that they grow
    like the daisies, and other sweet flowers of the meadows, among which the little
    children in the springtime delight themselves. As to gathering them all up, no
    one would attempt the task. The field that is fullest of these beautiful flowers
    is that which Isaiah has given us; go there and pluck them for yourselves.

  27. I feel like in your piece here, you are making the mistake of making what Julia Galef called a "straw Vulcan" argument (
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgNZ9aTEwc). Basically, you (and Hume, for that matter) are running under the presumption that it is somehow reasonable to make decisions decoupled from emotion. However, that could not be further from a rational reaction. As creatures with emotion, it makes perfect sense to choose things that will increase our emotional well-being, both as individuals and as a species. I suppose there are plenty of people who read the world or their faith as you suggest (I'm not embroiled in much of it, so I can't say for sure), but the suggestion that emotion and reason are at opposite ends of some spectrum either misunderstands reason or attributes to it qualities that simply don't exist.

    That all being said, I would agree that theology should be coupled with emotion, but not despite reason. Rather because being reasonable demands dealing in reality, and as such that includes emotion.

  28. As strange as this sounds, I would give Calvinists and the Reformed sector credit for being relatively consistent/predictable in this regard.  Having spent nearly 20 years in a charasmatic environment, I find it more creepy to interact with veteran church people who seemingly have no problem expressing their faith emotionally (over the top at times),  yet  not suffer the slightest cringe when contemplating "many others" spending enternity in a fiery hell.  After all, "it's all in the Word bro" and it's there they suddenly get "objective" and apply the axiom "faith is a choice and not a feeling brother".   The "Spocks" of theology, I get.  But those who reveal a capacity to demonstrate outward emotionalism, then on a dime, display alexithymiac behavior concerning the prospect of eternal doom for  many others is ...   creepy!  And WTF, I ate dinners, hung out, with these people for nearly 20 years - shows how f'd  up I was .... am.

    Gary Y 

  29. When it comes to theology, the best way to merge reason with passion is to repent of one's sins.  Such a response to the Holy Spirit's conviction places "being right" (since we truly are sinners) as high as "being trule sorry" (sorry enough to turn around and walk toward the light of heaven both here and in the future.  Religion without repentance is religion without Jesus. 

  30. Glad to see you are back after a short hiatus...I always look forward to reading your comments on this blog

  31. I think you are right, in that a parent's unwillingness to comfort a child is a lot more about "grooming" a child not to be too demanding on the parent's time or energies.

    I've learned a lot about emotions by living through and attempting to understanding the grieving process.  Most of the unhelpful things that people do and say in an attempt to "comfort" a grieving person are for their own benefit--to ease their own discomfort in being confronted with such strong emotions in another person.

    Allowing your son to need comforting from a physical injury, and then giving it, is admirable.  There are plenty of parents who do not allow even that, especially in their little boys.

    My own son is a very active, all-out, athletic type.  When he fell off his bike a few years ago and broke his arm, he did not cry one tear from the physical pain.  However, when he learned that he wouldn't be able to go swimming, run, or play as normal for several weeks, he cried BIG sobbing tears.  He was lamenting the loss of normal fun with his friends.  My husband and I got it, and comforted him.

    More recently, my son's feelings were hurt when his best friend spoke some careless, unkind words to him.  When he came home and was upset (expressed as anger), I listened to him -- all his anger and hurt, and yes, finally, tears.  Because I didn't shame or invalidate his feelings, in time (after about a week) he felt ready to speak to his friend again.  I was really proud of my son.  He told his friend that those words had really hurt his feelings.  His friend told him that he was sorry, and he would not say that ever again.  They remain close friends.

    My son is a very expressive, extroverted individual.  So in many ways, healthy emotional and social "being" is easy for him.  If I, as a parent, don't mess with that natural intelligence of his.  :-)

    My daughter, on the other hand, is very sensitive and introverted.  I have had to work much harder with her by listening and helping her articulate the emotions that she's feeling.

    That's all I know about that...  :-)  ~Peace~

  32. Here's what I think, J:  Life on this planet is complicated, as is our understanding of God and His ways.

    * Stuff happens.  Some of it hard, painful, confusing, etc.
    * Does God directly cause all that stuff to happen?  I find that theory problematic.
    * Does God have the ability to bring something beautiful out of the ashes of our "bad" stuff?  Yes!  And blessed be His name...We are Easter (Resurrection) people.  :-)
    * Is God "with" us, especially in the messy, hard, suffering "stuff" of life?  Yes!  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us to reveal the extent to which God would stoop to reach and love us--especially in the icky, suck-y times of life.
    * Why do we care to share in the suffering "stuff" of others?  Simply because that is the Way of Jesus.  If we love Him, we follow and imitate Him.  If He is "in" us, love flows outward.

    If a neighbor is hungry, and we simply respond to that need, what is the point of analyzing internal motives from a theological perspective of "rightness?"  I get the sense in your scenario #1 that God has set up the neighbor's hungry situation just so the respondent can experience God's good(ness) in the sacrificial act of meeting their need?  That is a cold and calculating view of God, isn't it? 

    Scenario #2 sounds vaguely familiar to me...  Let me see if I understand it right:  If I see a neighbor's hunger as *not* good for them, and in fact sent *from* God for their good, -and- my helping is the means by which the individual experiences God's help (or, conversely, my *not* helping limits God's ability to help them), then...  Wait, what?  This is a twisted logic, if you ask me.  I also don't think it is an accurate explanation for the heart and deeds of those who respond to hungry, needy people because of their faith in Christ.  Maybe there are some who fit this general description, but I don't think it is true of most.

    I'm beginning to question George MacDonald's theology, whereas I have had a wholly positive opinion of him up to now, based solely on Dr. Beck's and Patricia's recommendation of his writings.  I am, admittedly, confused.  No big deal, though; this is fairly par for the theological course for me.  :-)  ~Peace, brother.~

  33. That's all fine. You are where you are.

    I suppose I started this conversation to think through whether we, as non-Calvinists who let our feelings drive our theology, are actually missing part of what the church has learned about God. We rightly see God's love when God's love is relieving human suffering. But we may be too unable to see God's love when God's love is not relieving human suffering--may even be causing, or purposing, human suffering. I'll call this the "anaesthetic" view of God's love--suffering is always bad, God never causes it, that's what love means.

    I respect those Christians (including most Calvinists, but also universalists like George MacDonald) who simply don't accept this--not with their minds, not with their guts. Again, there are some medical situations where doctors and surgeons (and physical therapists) know that "lack of suffering" and "good for the patient" are not synonymous. And our tendency to "feel" that suffering is always bad, that a treatment plan which involves suffering must be "cold and calculating," may be emotionally valid--but not the only view of the situation.

    So if we feel that God would never will human suffering, we can ignore Calvinists. We can ignore George MacDonald. We can ignore broad swaths of the Bible, and of Christian tradition. And we can intimate that all of those who thought otherwise felt wrongly--may even have been sociopathic.

    Or we can begin to suspect that there are things going on, in the love of God, that don't feel right to us. Of course, we should test this suspicion by asking ourselves whether the broad Christian consensus (that God can and does sometimes inflict suffering) makes us love our neighbor less. But I haven't found that it does, for some reasons that I tried to explain (however poorly) with the example of feeding the hungry. I have found that wrestling with the broad Christian-Biblical consensus might--might--actually work better, for my active love and my healthy passions and my holy emotions, then simply being content with my initial description of how I feel.

  34. "Simply being content with my initial description of how I feel"?

    If, in your own suffering, you understand this to be from God, out of his goodness, love, and sovereignty, and, this is a comfort to you, then that is "where you are."  I do not see the broad Christian-biblical consensus as confirming that understanding in me, in the context of my own suffering.  Is the threat of punishment (either in this life or ECT in hell) to be understood as significantly different than God causing our suffering as a loving reward?  I will have to ponder on that for a few thousand more years, J.  I'll get back to you when I have a well-reasoned answer.

    Have you read 'The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience', J?  I think we are proving Dr. Beck's point.  :-)

    Love is the greatest...  What does that mean, and how does love look?  It seems that this is the question we are grappling with here.


  35. Fascinating discussion.  I have found it wonderfully simple to assess my theology by its "fruit" in my heart and mind--and ultimately in my outer life.  As you have both indicated--does it fan the flame of love toward God and neighbor?  If so, said theology is "working" for me and in me.  If not, then I do not embrace it.  If it works for others in that arena, I am happy for them to embrace it.  Theology is like food--there are certain concoctions to which I am allergic.  They make me break out in spiritual and emotional hives.  

  36. Hi Coachsusan, This is exactly my point.  What good is a "right" theology if inwardly and outwardly I'm not moved to greater love for God and others?  Frankly, after a long and tedious exploration of the two dominant and competing theological "systems" the need to systematize my beliefs and convert anyone else to my view isn't involved in my dialogue.  In fact, I am a self-professed failure as an evangelical/evangelist, in the sense of winning anyone over or converting them.  An environment which is hyper-Calvinist is worse than hives to me -- death and hellish torment come to mind.

    I find Universalism to be an intriguing, alternate "explanation" of how God might work everything out.  And yet I'm reluctant to commit to any systematic theology.  I am committed to Jesus Christ, and what I know of God through Him will have to be enough -- probably until I die and find out the truth about what I got right, and what I got wrong.  Meanwhile, let me focus on learning to love well.  ~Peace~

  37. I agree Richard. My mentor in theology taught that we perceive objectivity IN our subjectivity. This is not the same as everything being subjective. It's not that one rules the other; just that they are ordered in this way. Another way I explained it to my engineering students is that there are "no monopoles". Objectivity and subjectivity are woven together.

  38. Right on Richard! This also raises the intrinsic link between emotions and ethics - between emotions and ethical thinking and judgement, whether it be more on the intuitive side, or whether it be more consciously reasoned. And of course, emotions and ethical behavior, because as you state, often emotions inform and even precede moral choices in behavior. Anyway, you article is very helpful, thanks so much!
    Alexander F Venter  

  39. John Owen who is a fairly hardcore Calvinist, agrees with you here (though I imagine disagrees on Double Predestination). I'll quote from the Glory of Christ (a book he wrote) below, but I blogged about it as well here because Owen can be slightly hard to understand.: http://thegroveisonfire.com/2008/09/cake-and-biscuits.html 

    This is the just temperature of a state of spiritual health, — namely, when our light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ does answer the means of it which we enjoy, and when our affections unto Christ do hold proportion unto that light; and this according unto the various degrees of it, — for some have more, and some have less. Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality or atheism; and where affections outrun light, they sink in the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures, or the like. But where things go not into these excesses, it is better that our affections exceed our light from the defect of our understandings, than that our light exceed our affections from the corruption of our wills.

  40. See R.R. Reno's Public Square article, "Our One-eyed Friends" in just-out June/July 2012 issue of FIRST THINGS, on Jonathan Haidt's theory of morality as a result of emotional reactions rather than reasoned responses.  He tested his theory by developing stories designed to evoke taboo responses and presented them to working-class people at a McDonald's and to students at U. of Pennsylvania.  The former group had strong emotional responses to the effect that certain things are just not okay even if done in private without harming anyone; the latter group suppressed their emotional responses to the effect that "it's perverted, but if done in private, it's his right."

  41. The funny thing?  My dad's saying "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about!" actually made me cry more.

  42. Wow. You would fit right into my former church. I think you are over intellectualizing emotions, and thus disregarding them. I am so disenchanted with all these old theologians, because of their worldview. And they disregard women as a group because they are women. You hard complementarians are missing the boat, not seeing the forest for the trees. I love theology, but when you see such a gap in the actual lives of the people, then they are missing the voice of God. My former pastors daughter created an internet scandal, and yet he lectured me on how to raise my daughter. I can't give you any more information than that because I'm sure you have seen her in the news. This man is well versed in Greek and Hebrew, the works of Calvin, Piper, and the rest, but he can't relate to the world or help women with real problems. And he is responsible to understand my spiritual state? Uh, no thanks.

  43.  This comment and your previous one are like a breath of fresh air amongst some of the other comments and accusations/conclusions here, particularly concerning calvinism... I think part of the problem is finding balance. Society as a whole throughout spans of history has always been like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other (in this case, emotionally stifled logic vs. emotional overdose).

    It is easy to see in the life of Jesus how he demonstrated what you discussed, which is living with passion and reason in balance. The Bible even says that the heart is wicked and full of deception, so purely "listening to your heart" and the fleeting emotions from it alone would be dangerous. But harnessing passion through reason into healthy, spiritual, and life-giving channels allows us the opportunity to both enjoy appropriate emotions spurring from our passions, as well as their enjoyment from the knowledge from our reason and logic that they are in the right context and direction.

    This is not a world of black and white. Emotion alone is dangerous. Logic alone is dangerous. We must find the middle. This, of course, requires the work of Jesus since we cannot be perfect by any of our own doing. The bottom line is, whether you lean toward being a very strict logitician or an emotional free-wheeler, if you are seeking hard after Jesus and striving to live like him, allowing him to influence you heart and mind, then you can trust that he will work out the details.

    Oh and a note for readers in general: Logic and reason are not the same thing. Reason, like someone said, is not without emotion; it takes them into account without letting them take over. Logic is the process used by reason to reach its conclusion. You can use logic to reason out a very emotional decision by taking the emotions and putting them in context or quantifying them. That is not at all the picture of "emotionless reasoning" painted by some comments. Logic can be applied to anything and does not have to be separate from empathy. One commentor mentioned Spock in particular. What made him so great a decision maker was that he could also take other humans' emotions into the equation, even though he did not experience them himself. So you see, there is not a separation of logic through reason and consideration of passion/emotion.

    Want to see a picture of someone making purely emotional decisions that if, had reason been present, would have been avoided, to the health and benefit of the decision maker? Look at drunk college students who ruin their careers by "going with the moment", making emotional decisions that seriously damage their future, all because their reason function is blocked by the influence of chemicals. Now tell me you want everyone in the world to live purely "slaves" to emotion alone.

  44. Richard,

    I agree that reason without emotion is destructive and verging on pathology. Emotion without reason is equally dangerous. Then we come to the core question: are we to temper reason with emotion, or emotion with reason? The most compassionate double predestin-
    arians do the former,while the most disciplined charismatics do the latter. Those most compassionate double predestinarians have diffi-
    culty integrating theology and passion.
    IF we allow reason to dominate we have a cold, insensitive religion that demands a legalistic formalism in place of a willing servant's heart; if we allow emotion to rule, we have a weak response to sin, or a legalism of division (the Church of God). To build a community which exemplifies both God's great love for His creation and His demand for surrender, we need to look closely at Jesus' teaching, at the Epistles, and at Revelation. There is a clear division between those who choose Christ and those who reject Him, and there is emotion (sadness) at rejection.

  45. "'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger."

    What kind of reason is Hume talking about? He sounds like a madman to me. Only a megalomaniac would think an itch in his finger is of greater significance than the existence and well being of the world.

  46. "'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger."

    If that is not contrary to reason, nothing is. Reason will plainly know that the existence and well being of the world, which includes my finger, is far more worthy of preservation than the comfort of my finger.

    What was Hume smoking?

  47. It's true. When it comes to physical pain, when my sons get hurt, they come to me and I let them cry. Once they are comforted, then I can ask them what happened. When other people are around and start pummeling them with questions they kind of bewildered. I always let them release that energy (wow I sound new age here, but just roll with it). I have found, that as they grow, they come to me less and less, only when they are really hurt. Otherwise, they just brush it off and keep playing. I'm sure the same applies emotionally and spiritually.

  48. I really appreciated this post. As a Myers Briggs intuitive feeler, one of the primary ways I increase in understanding is through what most would describe as a feeling or emotion, that then is run through all the mental checks I can think of. Related to this, I really appreciated what Alastair Roberts said about the need for massive, often painful, development in understanding what emotions are healthy, how to check them, how they are to be employed or expressed, and how to understand them with respect to the larger consensus of the Body of Christ, both historically and with respect to denominational breadth.

    The post about biblical study and the need for emotions within it also made me think of something from Abraham Heschel's book "The Prophets". In his introduction he is, as they often do, discussing his epistemology and framework for the book's discourse on the prophetic figures of Scripture. He writes of how it is actually necessary to be emotional in study to actually comprehend the message and figures of the prophetic texts because the messages ARE of an emotional substance.

    As he writes comparing an approach to understanding the prophetic texts and prophets of "mental objectivity" from "involved emotionality" he says, "Unless their [the prophets'] concern strikes us, pains us, exalts us, we do not really sense it. Such involvement requires accord, receptivity, hearing, sheer surrender to their impact." Or similarly on true comprehension of the phenomenon of the prophets of Scripture he writes, "To comprehend what phenomena are, it is important to suspend judgment and think in detachment; but to comprehend what phenomena mean, it is necessary to suspend indifference and be involved." This is another angle of how effective study of Scripture truly requires emotions. If a person does not actually feel what is being said, there is a enormous and even dangerous extent to which that person does not comprehend what is being said, for what is being said is often composed of emotions.

    To understand biblical passages composed of emotions one must receive that emotional substance within their own faculties. To truly know the meaning of original words written, the emotional substance of those words must find the kind of "nerve-endings" in the student that can actually receive and process that substance. Similar to the way certain physical nerves in the body detect certain dimensions of reality (some pain, some temperature, some touch, some sight, some sound, etc.), the emotional faculties of the biblical student are necessary to receive true understanding fully, as part of each text is often without question composed of emotional substance.

    Oh the tragedy and danger of the person who stands at the top of a mountain perceiving a glorious view with only his hearing.

  49. Dr Beck, I would assume that the horror we feel by say, the genocide of the Canaanites relates to an emotional response that has been formed by hearts softened by the Gospel. We, who have been shown mercy, and instructed by Christ to show mercy to others in kind, have a hard time attributing such texts to Divine inspiration. It would seem like reverting back to our own, selfish, survivalist tendency- that fear of death that you so eloquently wrote about in your excellent series. Ethnic cleansing as the result of scapegoating, the projection of our own sins upon the monstrous other. Yet I see many skewing the issue as the liberal tendency to cut a holy God down to our image or the over emphasis on feelings attributed to Pentecostal worship. A weak an uninformed emotionalism. Do you have any thoughts?  

  50. http://lajuntablog.blogspot.com/2013/02/orthodox-alexithymia.html

    I forgot Piper. I should have included him in my admittedly very incomplete list of examples, but I didn't, I'm sorry to say.

    @046e2694ae0f567c0ad7c1cc9a2fcb70:disqus  - I agree on the 'over-intellectualizing' emotions. Emotions are visceral, not intellectual; this is why the Church finds emotion so useful. It's why many evangelicals and especially Christian fundamentalists, like their Islamic brethren, are so hostile toward the sciences. Emotion doesn't require intellect; it does not require thinking. Thinking gives one a pain between the ears, you see.

    @Sam - 'Power and control.' Yah, you betcha. Right on the mark, bruddah.

  51. You're mixing reason with judgment. The core of his point is that the concepts "logic" and "reason" have nothing to do with preference or well being. Reason is a means to an end, not the end itself.

    I call the the "Spock Fallacy"

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