Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reason and Emotion in Religious Thinking

Another sample from The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel.  This one is taken from Part II, Chapter 3: "The Philosophy of Pathos."

We have been trained to draw a sharp contrast between reason and emotion.  The first is pure spontaneity, the drawing of inferences, the ordering of concepts according to the canons of logic.  Emotion, on the other hand, is pure receptivity, an impression involving neither cognition nor representation of the object.  Such a contrast, however, is hardly tenable when applied to religious experience.  Is religious thinking ever to be completely separated from the stream of emotion that surges beneath it?  Religious reason is more than just thinking, and religious emotion is more than just feeling.  In religious existence, spontaneity and receptivity involve each other.  Is there no reason in the emotional life?

True, if emotion is unreasonable, it tends to distort a person's thinking.  But emotion can be reasonable just as reason can be emotional, and there is no need to suppress the emotional roots of one's life in order to save the integrity of one's principles.  Receptivity and spontaneity involve each other; the separation of the two is harmful to both.

Reason may be defined as the capacity for objectivity or as a person's ability to think in impersonal terms.  To think in personal terms, or subjectivity, is to be exposed to bias and error.  In the light of such a definition we have to exclude reason from the nature of God, Whose Person is the truth, and ascribe only emotion to Him.  Impersonal reasoning in God would mean an operation in ideas devoid of divinity.  Furthermore, pure reason comprehends a concrete fact as if it were an abstraction, a particular being in terms of a generalization.  But it is the greatness of God according to the Bible that man is not an abstraction to Him, nor is His judgment a generalization.  Yet in order to realize a human being not as a generality but as a concrete fact, one must feel him, one must become aware of him emotionally.

Is it more compatible with our conception of the grandeur of God to claim that He is emotionally blind to the misery of man rather than profoundly moved?  In order to conceive of God not as an onlooker but as a participant, to conceive of man not as an idea in the mind of God but as a concern, the category of divine pathos is an indispensable implication.  To the biblical mind the conception of God as detached and unemotional is totally alien.

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