Sentimentality and Truth

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There’s an interesting paradox that’s emerged in my view of feelings and how they should influence my life. When the anxiety started last summer and I struggled to remain “happy” as I’d told myself I was and would always continue to be, getting in touch with my real emotions was a very important and necessary step. “Feeling my feelings” was my mantra for awhile.

However, as I got a grip on my anxiety and started to reflect on life, I found myself drawn to what I know to be true, namely, Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection, and the freedom of living as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. One of the things I love about the Lutheran faith, and our congregation specifically, is the way faith and reason are united. As our Pastor once said (I’m paraphrasing):  A leap of faith is stupidity. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he died and rose for our salvation because of documented, verified, historical accounts in human history. Christ got out of the grave and appeared to hundreds in his resurrected state. That’s why we believe.

So, returning to feelings. Emotions are not logical or reasonable. They are simply feelings passing through our body for a certain period of time. While our emotions can tell us important things like whom and what matters to us, when we need to take action to improve situations, etc., emotions should not dictate our actions without relying upon logic and truth also.

I’m currently reading a fascinating book by Theodore Dalrymple called Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality. His argument is that modern society (Britain in particular, but with clear implication to America), emphasizes the importance of feelings over logic and reason, to the detriment of all. The definition of sentimentality, according to Dalrymple “is the expression of emotion without judgment.” This statement alone will cause our politically correct trained ears to pause on the word judgment because at the core of sentimentality is the cultural virtue that no one has the right to judge anything.

christChristians are told in Matthew, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). This command speaks to the tendency of people to point out the sins of others while posing as if they are without sin. When, in actuality, we are all sinful and fall short of God’s glory. However, the current cultural virtue of not judging extends to forbidding any rational thoughts about another person’s actions or feelings. If someone expresses a feeling, it must be accepted without question.

As these ideas have been percolating in my mind this week, I realized that the elevation of feelings above logic and reason is directly related to a secular world that believes there is no truth.  As the secular world rejects the idea that human life is directed toward the ultimate goal of reconciliation with God, there is a huge void of meaning to life.  If there’s not a truth, there are infinite meanings and nothing by which to say one meaning is more true than another. When truth becomes relative, then reason and logic can easily be disregarded. What is left? Feelings. Emotions and their expression reign supreme and the individual is elevated above family, community, or (dare we say) Kingdom.

Dalrymple describes this dichotomy perfectly in another book on my to-read list: Our Culture: What’s Left of It:

“The loss of the religious understanding of the human condition—that Man is a fallen creature for whom virtue is necessary but never fully attainable—is a loss, not a gain, in true sophistication. The secular substitute—the belief in the perfection of life on earth by the endless extension of a choice of pleasures—is not merely callow by comparison but much less realistic in its understanding of human nature.”

I understand this statement to mean: when the truth of humanity’s need for a Savior to reconcile us with God’s perfect Law is rejected, society is left with the hopeless idea that life on earth is ultimate and therefore human happiness is the highest and best goal.

So, the paradox of feelings is that human beings are actually more fulfilled when they recognize the truth that their feelings are not ultimate. Lasting happiness comes from living a life of value. While I lived as if maintaining positive feelings was my ultimate goal, I struggled. Freedom and peace came when I could accept my feelings and redirect my focus on the truth that I am a sinner living in a state of grace that Christ won for all.

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