Life is more than feelings Photo by kyle glenn on unsplash
Our feelings are the appreciator of what is true, good and beautiful.
God’s glory—and the glory of truth, beauty and goodness that flow from God–are meant to elicit the emotions of joy and sorrow, of awe and wonder.
A gospel tract in an earlier era pictured facts as the engine that drove the train of life. Faith was the coal car that carried the fuel to power the engine, and feelings was the caboose that appreciated what was true.
Today, feelings lead the way. Love is merely an emotion, as opposed to an act of the will, a choice made based on a carefully established covenant.
We “fall in love,” more accurately, infatuation, and we easily “fall out” of love. How often have I gotten up on the wrong side of the bed and not felt love for my wife, children, or a friend? How often have I had a misunderstanding or been angry with a friend or child and acted on emotion to the detriment of the relationship?
We all have known the temptation to act on our feelings in ways that jeopardize the relationship. Some divorce because they no longer feel “in love.” Lives and relationships are destroyed when feelings run wild, when they trump facts, when they determine—inaccurately—what is good, true and beautiful.
This is true in public life as well as private. When feelings trump truth, public institutions and communities can be destroyed.
From private to public
Our feelings are influenced by the cultural air we breathe. Tom Hoopes, Writer in Residence, Vice President for College Relations, and Adjunct Professor at Benedictine College, writes, “But this trust in feelings can also shape the world we live in by infecting public institutions and actions — as in the recent Senate battle over the nomination of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court. Today feelings have become tyrants.”
Hoopes illustrates from the 2018 confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Brett Kavanaugh’s face-off against Christine Ford in front of a Senate committee was ostensibly meant to determine whether or not he was guilty of sexually assaulting her as a teenager.
But that’s not what really happened. The question wasn’t: Can we discover what happened at that Georgetown Prep party? The question was: Which feeling will the public find more compelling? Ford’s claim to the pain of being victimized or Kavanaugh’s claim to the pain of being falsely accused?
There it is! Truth and facts are shoved aside and replaced with feelings. The most compelling narrative wins. This shift from truth to narrative is a dangerous transition from freedom to tyranny.
Peggy Noonan, writing for the Wall Street Journal, picks up this theme of emotionalism in public life in her article, “A Magic Pony Is the Wrong Horse to Back.” American voters elected the first black man and the first business tycoon to the most powerful political office in the world. Noonan suggests perhaps neither Obama or Trump had the requisite backgrounds. Voters were tired of politics as usual and rolled the dice for what she calls the Magic Ponies, hoping for a better outcome.
Presidents? Or magic ponies?
Noonan contends that, while both head and heart must be brought into political decision making, we have moved too much to the heart.
Here is my concern: Politics is part theater, part showbiz, it’s always been emotional, but we’ve gotten too emotional, both parties. It’s too much about feelings and how moved you are. The balance is off. We have been electing magic ponies in our presidential contests, and we have done this while slighting qualities like experience, hard and concrete political accomplishment, even personal maturity. Barack Obama, whatever else he was, was a magic pony. Donald Trump, too.
Obama and Trump, according to Noonan, connected with a “mood” or what has been called the spirit of the age. People were tired of dysfunctional government. They wanted change, not someone to manage the bureaucracy, but a “magic pony,” a different kind of person. They wanted hope and change. Wanted to make America great again.
Messrs. Obama and Trump represented a mood. They didn’t ask for or elicit rigorous judgment, they excited voters. Mr. Trump’s election was driven by a feeling of indignation and pushback: You elites treat me like a nobody in my own country, I’m about to show you who’s boss. His supporters didn’t consider it disqualifying that he’d never held office. They saw it as proof he wasn’t in the club and could turn things around. His ignorance was taken as authenticity.
Feelings win out over wisdom
Our public life needs balance, competency as well as touch, substance as well as style. Noonan argues that we are out of balance, favoring feeling over wisdom and sober judgement.
We are highlighting emotions in our public life at the expense of meaning. And again, emotions are part of life and part of us, but only part, not the whole.
Politics isn’t only a feeling, it’s about thought and judgment, it’s about matters of the head and the heart. …[S]ober judgment, serious accomplishment, deep knowledge and personal maturity are most important in our political leaders, because of the complexity of the problems we face.
But this should not surprise us. We have entered the post-truth, postmodern era. Emotions, moods, and feelings dominate. Feelings have supplanted facts, narrative has replaced reality. “My truth”–read my opinion–has replaced objective truth. Evil has become good. Novelty has replaced beauty. We have written about these things in our posts on the Toxic New Religion and postmodernism.
Thankfully, Christ did not allow his feelings to override his will. In Gethsemane he cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus wanted to live. But he was committed to his Father’s will. He did not want to die; he willed to die.
Hoopes captures the revolution Christ brought: “Christianity is a great antidote to the life of feelings. By coming to earth and dying on the cross, Jesus flipped all the narratives that make feelings over-important.”
Will feelings guide your life?
Will the postmodern tyranny of feelings control the life of the nation? Will it control your life? At this moment this tyranny is overwhelming human sexuality, driving people to mutilate their bodies, to attempt transitioning from one sex to another. Corporations are writing policy to manipulate their stakeholders, and local, state and national governments are passing laws to force the public, in speech and even in thoughts, to embrace the postmodern, transgender ideology.
What will guide your life? The tyranny of feelings, or the hard reality of the cross–the culture of the kingdom of God, marked by truth, beauty and goodness?
Reflect well. Your decision will shape the rest of your life. It will create waves that move through out both space and time.
– Darrow Miller