Saturday, March 04, 2006

Emotion and Rationality

     I read with interest a doctoral work by Dr. Bahnsen last night on what I would term self deception. The work very scripturally analyzes the facet of human self-deception. The article is probably too lengthy for general interest, but if you like the link is here. At any rate, one of the intriguing contradictions of the modern day world and our apostle Paul is where in Romans One, Paul says that all know God, having seen him clearly in nature.

I believe Paul. The scripture is very plain and couldn’t be clearer. But there is a huge problem; men deny knowing God by the millions, and other millions claim to know him but have made up a false god whom they worship. How can this apparent contradiction be explained?
     In thinking about it last night in bed (that is where I have all my really good ideas) I thought that it might be best explained by postulating that man is an emotional creature. He is not a rational creature. In my lifetime, very few times do I manage to bring people away from their beliefs by arguing for rationality—people are far too emotional to give much credence to rationality. The recent riots by Moslems over cartoons are a good illustration of people working from the basis of emotion rather than reason, but our history is replete with many hundreds of examples of emotion ruling us rather than reason. The ripple of high emotion governing our acts as an American people after 9/11 is but one ripple in a never ending tide of human emotion.
     Rationality seems to be an unlikely end for mankind; witness the emotion throbbing through the greenhouse effect debate. But more than just an abstract debate, emotion pervades our daily actions. Most of what we say and do is based first in emotion—the smile I have at work for someone I genuinely like is different from my “being nice” smile I reserve for those I do not like. I suspect that the unwritten communication of those smiles do transfer to the recipients in spite of my desires. But that is a discussion for another paper--that of the strength of nonverbal communication. I do think that nonverbal communication is strongly underestimated.
     But the point is that we are emotional first and rational second. We decide we like or dislike, and then build our rationality around those likes and dislikes. Dr. Bahnsen’s paper kept coming back to one very good analogy. Let me repeat the gist of that analogy here. Johnny is a child at school who has been caught stealing. The teacher has caught Johnny, the kids have implicated Johnny in stealing, and even the principal has caught Johnny. Well and good, except for the fact that Johnny’s mother does not believe her son would do such a thing. Her perpetuated mythical son becomes stronger than the real son that she knows she has.
     Let me even carry the analogy a bit further. Johnny’s mother is missing money from her purse. This is not the first time it has happened. Johnny’s mother rationalizes the missing money saying that she must have forgotten that she had spent it somewhere. In no place in her mind does she allow herself to face the obvious: Johnny is stealing her money. She carefully builds an artificial environment that precludes that one fact that in her deepest recesses she knows is true. She carefully nurtures the myth of her angelic son.
     This analogy is so commonplace among teachers that if I were to share it, it would be thought too obvious. Anyone who has been teaching sees the pattern of overly defensive parents refusing to deal with real problems exhibited in their children. My point is that in real life the problem is not limited to parents defending their children, which we would all understand to be a normal even if deplorable reaction. I would submit that it is in virtually everything we do.
     Spiritually all know God without even being told, but all of us are like Johnny’s mother. We find ways to deny and rationalize that which we do not want to face. Some of us see the evil and wickedness and tragedy of the world and construct a paradigm for ourselves. Surely a good God would not allow such a world to exist, we reason, therefore such a God does not exist. All the while we are fooling ourselves, for we know God exists. He just does not conform to our definitions. He seldom does because he is God. It is our emotion which dictates our rationality when we deny God.
     All of the above discussion was started from Bob’s blog, which is an excellent place to investigate.


Deborah said...

Hey Dad -- I like your new profile photo! It looks more like the real you -- very handsome :)

Mr. D said...


Deborah said...

This is a great post, Dad.

Reality is in the eye of the beholder -- or so we try to convince ourselves!

I always shake my head at the mamas who declare about their caught-red-handed-serial-killer son that he must be innocent!

Kathy always told me the hardest part of teaching for her was the difficult parents.

I'm going to get a shirt that says, "I'm not talking to myself, I'm having a parent/teacher conference." LOL - Homeschool humor :)

Mr. D said...

Thanks daughter!
I need to remember that saying. I think it would be fun to repeat at lunch to the other teachers.

Deborah said...

Don't repeat that to the other teachers! They most likely already think all homeschoolers are nutso -- don't use me to prove them right :)