Age of Emotion

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Listen to the MP3  

We live in an age of emotion. Society is always in flux, changing, moving, and it is the same with emotion, and its counterpart reason. The last few hundred years have been called the age of reason as until very recently, reason was the dominate of the two. But over the last several decades reason has retreated back, and emotion has come to the forefront.

 Where it use to be very common when seeking someone’s opinion to ask them what they think on a given subject, now it is far more common to ask how they feel.  Asking how we feel about something is not the same as asking what we think, as the two can be, and even at times should be, different.

 For example, consider for the moment that a favorite pet of many years is suddenly sick and suffering with no hope of a cure.  While our reason tells us that the humane thing to do is to have the pet put to sleep, our feelings will almost certainly be telling us the opposite.

 Parents also know this conflict. Their emotions simply want to make a child happy. But their thinking tells them that always giving a child what they want is not in the child’s best interest. One of the signs that we are in an age an age of emotion is the large number of mothers and fathers who interact with their children more as friends than as parents.

 The new dominance of emotion is everywhere. While the Spock of the 1960s TV show Star Trek was completely logical, the Spock of later movies was a more emotional Spock, a Spock more in touch with his feelings.  Whereas the hero of movies used to be the strong silent type, now they frequency struggle with family problem, death of a loved one or some other emotional issue.

 To be clear, this is not an attack on emotions. God created us with both a heart and a mind. With feelings and intellect, and both are important. As with so many things in life, the question is not one of either-or, but of finding the right balance.  While too strong an emphasis on the intellect can lead to cruel and heartless actions, so can too much emphasis on emotions. The right balance can be difficult if not impossible, to find. In fact if you think you have the right balance, it is probably a good indication that you don’t.

 One good indicator of where society is can be seen in the actions of politicians campaigning for office. Whatever you think or feel about politicians, in an election they have one overriding goal: to win; and to do this they have to appeal to people to vote for them. While those in safe districts where their election is assured don’t have to worry about this, those who might lose have to pay very close attention to what people are thinking or how they are feeling as the case may been. 

 While there are frequent complaints about all the negative campaigning and calls to stick to the issues, the simple fact is that for the most part politicians only do what works. If people really were turned off by negative ads, there would be very few negative ads.  If people really wanted discussions about the issues, that’s what politicians would do. In fact they do frequently give such issue oriented speeches when before groups that want them.

 Politicians long ago figured out the emotional age we are in, and have adapted their campaign accordingly.  Thus candidates make a point of not wearing suits all the time less people get the feeling that they are not one of us. Their appeals are laced with words and phrase that will bring about positive feelings about them and negative feeling about their opponent. 

 The Church is not immune for these cultural shifts.  The shift between reason and emotion can most clearly be seen in the struggle between the Praise and/or worship part of the service, and the sermon.  Not too long ago, the sermon dominated, preceded by a song or two.  In many churches the praise and worship now dominates, and even the sermon is, like the politician’s campaign pitch, aimed more at making you feel good.

 Josh McDowell has documented some of the results in his book, “The Last Christian Generation.” McDowell reports a marked increase in the percentage of young people who also leave the church when they leave home. (pg 13) In fact, many young people see church as just a series of events with little impact on their spiritual life. (pg 59 – 61)

 Even when they stay connected to a church, they may not be that much better off.  A Barna survey in 2005 found that only 8% of Protestants actually had a Biblical worldview, Evangelicals did better but still half did not have a biblical world view.

 Part of this is the emotional emphasis of many services, services aimed more at getting an emotional reaction rather than intellectual respond. Both are good and both are important. But an emotional reaction is temporary and disappears quickly once the source is gone.  In short it may not last much beyond the parking lot of the church.  An intellectual response however, is much more lasting, for it changes how a person thinks, and thus how they live.

 So how is your Church doing? Does it have the right balance? Think about it.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Jan 18th, 2008

Comments are closed.