25 September 2014

The Tyranny of the Affective in Contemporary Religion

I ran across a short survey on the Biola website that I thought would be fun, so I dived in. The survey was called, "Are You Intellectually Humble?" As soon as I started, I noticed something amiss, which was ironic since the website is the blog for the Center for Christian Thought. Here are the questions, with my responses in italics...see how quickly you pick up on what was amiss:

   Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong? Yes. (Though I don't usually consider 'feelings' to be logically held ideas.)

    Do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation?  Yes. (But truth cannot fear or not fear...it is not an ontological being.  I'm interpreting your question to be about my own fear.)

    When someone disagrees with your beliefs, do you view it as a personal attack? If so, why?  Sometimes, because sometimes, it is a personal attack. These are not usually hard to identify.

    Think of a recent time you became defensive when someone disagreed with you. What may have been underlying your feelings in that moment?  This is a slippery slope. 'Defensiveness' is not necessarily a fully emotional response but can be, and inserting emotions in the place of logic is always dangerous. But I often do have an emotional reaction to poor logic and poor assumptions, or the use of falsehoods in place of facts. These destroy the ability to have a civil debate about an issue.

    Do you reserve the right to change your mind? Or do you feel weak or ashamed to change a strongly held opinion? Yes. No, as I've done it on occasion when I've been wrong.

    Is it difficult to respect people whose beliefs differ from your own? Sometimes, depending on the belief itself. For example, I don't respect those who view killing unborn children as an amoral decision. I don't respect those who, in the name of religion, cut peoples' heads off on camera.

    What is a specific step you can take to better understand someone who disagrees with you on an important issue?  I ask them to explain their position, logically. I protest anytime emotion comes up in the discussion.

    Do you feel insecure when others disagree with you? Again, this is asking about an emotional response to an intellectual problem. I'm not that concerned with how I feel, but with what I know, think, or believe. When someone I respect holds a different opinion, it makes me rethink my own opinion and how I arrived at it. 'Feeling insecure' is a juvenile response to someone disagreeing.

    Do you feel like you need to hide past errors in your thinking?  No, nor present errors. (But it's not about what I feel, it is about what I know.

    What would it take for you to feel more comfortable acknowledging to others when you’ve been wrong in your thinking?  Why all the 'feeling' questions? I thought this was about intellectual humility. It is easy to acknowledge being wrong; the feelings don't matter unless you allow them to control you. When did Christian Thinking become primarily affective?

    Do you feel less worthy when you realize you’ve made a mistake in your thinking? Another 'feeling' question. Do you feel that maybe this survey needs some work? Are you sure you are getting at the information your title proposes? Perhaps you should change the title to, "Are you emotionally humble?"

    Do you approach others with the idea that you might have something to learn from them?  Yes, always, and I usually do.

    Are you open to learning new things every day? Even if it means changing previous ideas?  Yes, but I have a standard that doesn't change (scripture). I am willing to re-interpret my ideas of what scripture says, but I am not willing to throw out two millennia of orthodox Christian thought in order meet current cultural demands. Two million Frenchmen can indeed be wrong, and often are.

After pulling this together, I was browsing other sites I like to read, and found this on the Gospel Coalition (The Gospel Corp?) website.

Why has the affective (the emotional domain) become central in contemporary Christianity? Might this shift explain much of the weirdness we see in evangelicalism these days? Folks, the gospel is a story, about historical people, places, and events; it is not an emotion. Faith (belief) is not an emotion either. Certainly, we might have emotional responses to a hearing of the gospel, or to our faith, but when we make the emotion the primary measure of our faith, we don't understand the gospel. Faith has content. We must have faith IN something (someone, actually); otherwise we make faith a work.

I don't have a problem with emotional responses. I have them. When I hear about unborn babies being killed for 'any reason or no reason at all', I get angry. Hatefully angry. When I watch what our central government is doing to our freedoms, I get some other emotional response that I can't name. When I worship, whether it be through song or listening to the preaching of God's word, I have emotional responses that are somewhat complex. But these aren't the focus of my faith, they are responses to my faith.

This whole thing bothers me greatly.

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