25.1.13

Orthodox Alexithymia?



Richard Beck, in his blog, tackles the idea of doctrinal dependence, where it becomes the fixer of anything that might be considered otherwise, only wayward emotion. He says:


The orthodox alexithymics will emphasize the view of the Greeks: reason must tame the passions. We cannot discern the will of God if we allow our feelings to get in the way. Emotions are temptations. Therefore we must make our feelings submit to reason. Reason leads you toward God. Emotion leads you away from God. So put your feelings to the side. If a chain of theological reasoning starts to horrify you then you must repress those feelings. Stuff that horror, swallow it.


But in light of what we now know about the relationship between cognition and emotion this Greek-inspired defense is sounding more and more hollow. And dangerous. A theology that is repressing the emotions, we suspect, just like in other spheres of life, is more rather than less likely to lead us astray.


Theology, as an activity of reason, might not want to be a slave of the passions, but it might want to partner with emotion much more closely.


It is this wonder over 'partnering with the emotions' that I suspect influences many of our approaches to current debates... the most recent being the one about human sexuality. The "Orthodox Alexithymic" presents a persuasive and reasoned point of view, those who partner with emotion and articulate viewpoints based on love and toleration can be as equally persuasive and also seem as equally orthodox. The former seems less to partner with emotion but then that all depends on how 'love' is defined. Orthodox Alexithymics might 'reason' love too.


Last night, in company, I watched Sir Trevor McDonald take on the controversial assignment of interviewing murderers on Death Row.The 72-year-old news reporter spent time in Indiana maximum security prison, which holds 2,200 men, some of whom are America's most notorious serial killers.


After this programme, there ensued not a little heat as we debated whether the death sentence is compatible with a Christian world-view. Had we decided that those of us stirred by the horror of crime, appalled to such an extent that the death sentence was legitimate, were stirred only by emotion over reason, ignorant by choice, selectively and suddenly of the biblical mandate not to take a human life? Had we decided that adherence to this mandate and its defence was only another symptom of some kind of temporary Orthodox Alexithymia? We never really reached a conclusion but it went on late into the night.


As a small group of missional leaders meet in my home for prayer and nurture of one another, we have decided that 2013 will see us debate some of the 'big questions.' Death, interestingly is the one we kick off with next time we meet.


What is it?


What happens?


What does the Bible have to say about it?


...and so this sense of whether it is ever right to take a human life will become one of the key questions that we discuss.

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