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The Blending of Reason and Emotion or Throwing the Baby with the Bathwater



Someone humorously reminded me that I have become emo kaayo for the past few days, meaning, quite into emotions lately, not emotional which means crying and being depressed. “Into emotions” or being “emo” is an emerging trend nowadays as modern people seek to recover their hearts. But no matter how great the trend is now, a defiance perhaps of Descartes, still the theology of these emerging churches are not catching up fast enough to make them recover fully their humanity.

Become alive

I am actually in agreement with NT Wright when he says he does not believe in justification by faith. He is of course just saying our present belief of it is a mere caricature of what Paul really meant by it. Wright’s thinking is that a Christian cannot hide behind the doctrine of justification to be saved when in fact he is not following Jesus, to the death. And I sort of agree with him there. We cannot really believe in justification by faith if our hearts have been cut off from our bodies, if we already have premature deaths. We must become alive first before we can die.

Distrust of emotion:

For a long time, the West have had quite a distrust of emotions. Emotions are unstable, deceptive, fickle, and totally unreliable. The Western evangelical church has in fact thrown away emotions completely out of the window. This is the proverbial throwing away of the baby with the bath water. This has created a monster inside Christianity but perhaps the monster has long been inside, since the renaissance. Scientism became a fad and people became more cognitive. God became less an experience and more an idea, an abstraction. Someone said that American theology is engaged in too much speculative thinking.

Christianity thus has become wooden and dutiful, bereft of experience, and the bible is merely a bunch of propositions and no longer the Word turned flesh. We don’t come to the Word in order to encounter Jesus, to enter into his presence but simply to analyse, diagnose, dissect, dichotomize, and syllogize.

No more community:

Because we have lost this part of our spirituality, we also are now unable to build community. It may not be for lack of trying as much as it is now the vogue in town. To be modern is to be alone, the American rugged individualism of pulling yourself up with your own bootstrap according to Scott Peck, a Harvard psychologist. Modernity has isolated people and fragmented society and religion seem a willing lackey, giving up her innards just to be with the trend.


Part of being cartesian is also to pit things one against the other and this was noticed by John Stott when he said we should not pit evangelism with social action as though the two were in conflict with each other. Nowadays, we have also pitted emotion with reason as though the two were at each other’s throat – we can only have one, not both. either we are emotional or rational, but never both. they are contradictory to each other. This is the either or logic of scientism.

Lost our humanity:

Because of this divorce of emotion and reason, the Word also no longer contains any passion. We read for example Psalm 150 about making a joyful noise and dancing but we hardly lift up our hands, we hardly even move or speak out louder than a whimper of amen. Everything is left to be soaked up by the brain. With this emphasis on the mind, we have also dispensed with reading the Word out loud and are content with reading it directly. All the gospels, Matthew Mark Luke John were meant to be read aloud. There is a huge difference receiving the Word by its being read aloud to us, that we hear, versus being read by us with our eyes. The Psalms especially were meant to be read aloud during worship and this no longer has any meaning for many.

God speaks through our emotions:

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught us more than 500 years ago about the blend of reason and emotion. Fully aware of the danger of working with emotions, he devised a way to journey through the labyrinth of our soul, in his book the Spiritual Exercises. His premise was brilliant. God’s work table is our emotions. He speaks to us through it. It is through our emotions that we know God’s presence, His love.

Reason and the Word:

There is a place for knowing God through our reason and intellect, through a thorough study of the Word, but nothing can replace the practice of the presence of God as a spiritual discipline. We can say based on Ignatius that our reason is like the skillful hand of the surgeon and the Word is the scalpel in his hand. He is going to slice through the metastasis of cancer which we call the emotions. The surgeon is careful to cut out the bad tissues and leave behind the good tissues but that takes a lot of discernment which is what Spiritual Exercises is all about.

Surgeon’s knife:

The Word is a sword, a sharp two-edged sword that can cut through bone and marrow to reveal the thoughts of the heart, to reveal what the heart conceals, the motives. When we become alive, when we recover our emotions, we can now read the Bible, for only people who are truly alive can read the bible correctly. A numbed, bato, person who has cut off his emotions cannot in any way read the Scripture. When God said, you shall be holy for I am holy, was it a command or an invitation? An invitation to share in His Holiness for he knows full well we cannot be holy on our own. What was the expression on the face of the father when he held the prodigal son? Was he sad, joyful, smirking, disappointed? When we see the masterful painting of Rembrandt of the prodigal son and look at the facial expressions, do they present a solid biblical theology to us? Was Rembrandt accurate? Is the last prayer of the saints, maranatha, expressed joyously, triumphantly, neutral, sadly, desperately or humorously?

Scientism in the Bible:

We all start our bible studies with, “what does the verse day?” This automatically sends the Word to our minds, our reasons take over and we begin the scientific process of analyzing, dissecting, dichotomizing, etc. and Jesus then becomes an idea, a lifeless corpse to be examined in a microscope. Ignatius begins his bible study with, “what did you feel when the Word was read to you?” We need to come alive too in order that we can build community. Without our hearts, community and the Word die.

Emotion is a basic part of who we are:

We cannot throw away emotions because we don’t know how to make it work. It is a very fundamental part of our being, the way God made us. It is also a vital part of the way we develop intimacy with others. You cannot experience the love of God anywhere else but the heart. It is a feeling. I have been so hurt many times being told that it does not matter what you feel, just do it. They tell me love is not a feeling. These are only half-truths. The bad thing is it promotes numbness, deadness.

Love is more than an emotion:

Psychology also lent a hand in the destruction of emotions. Love or joy or grief, these are more than just feelings. We trivialize them when we label them as emotions. They are in fact dynamos that drive us. We should listen to the reminder on the street, “whoever said rationality was the determinant of things.“ We are mostly moved by our emotions, we are not rationale beings although we do try to be one, to be a vulcan like Spock. OR or operations research for example is merely a mask to hide what is the true basis of our decisions in the huge corporate world, which is our guts. We have overplayed reason and downplayed emotions; that’s what we have done.

We act base on our emotions more than our reason:

The reality is that we rely more on our emotions than on our reason. There is now a comeback of EQ, rising from the grave. Emotional intelligence is now touted as superior to IQ. Of course, it is cognitive thinking that has opened the way to modernity, internet, laptops, rockets, PET CT scan, and others. But science has its place and certainly it is not in religion, or in community building. Let’s put Descartes in his place and let’s wed reason and emotion together in a wonderful dance of humanness.

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