The tyranny of emotionalism

I’ve been watching with some interest the … um… dialogue (?) between a friend of mine and a woman from California, on a popular Catholic web site.

It started out as a friendly banter; I almost would have thought she was flirting with him: “You’re going to Mass?” she wrote him, “Give my love to my sweet Jesus for me!”

Now it’s deteriorated into something ugly. My friend has become “mean.” “Disgusting” is one of the nicer words she’s used.

What in the world — !

Well, the thing is, my friend is a deliberate Catholic. That is, he’s done a lot of reading over the years, and he knows the Church’s teachings on many subjects (not least of all, abortion, euthenasia, capital punishment and other life issues), and he’s made the deliberate choice to yield his opinion, emotion, and intellect to the wisdom of the Church. And he’s doing an extraordinarily good job of presenting the Church’s teachings and requirements to a woman who is — on the basis of her own emotions — determined to find offense in his steadfast presentation of the Church’s teachings.

War is a horrible thing, the Church acknowledges, but sometimes it is not only just, it is necessary. Capital punishment is a horrible thing, also, but sometimes it is just and necessary. Abortion, however, is never ever ever right, and it is the moral and religious duty of every Christian to oppose the diabolical slaughter of millions of unborn annually, to oppose it with might and main — and with vote.

She resents this. She wants to demonize the Bush administration and the Republican party as a whole for the loss of visible lives through capital punishment and the war in Iraq, establishing her outrage as a higher priority than the far greater wrong – greater morally and numerically – of the invisible losses of abortion and euthenasia.

And now she’s demonized my friend (who has presented fact and principle with far more gentleness and kindness than I might have been able to do under similar circumstances) for refusing to honor her fine feelings as a greater authority than the teachings of the Church.

A woman’s emotions are a powerful thing. I don’t think I overstate the case when I suggest that, often, our emotions are our reality. We are swayed by them, governed by them; our energies are at the mercy of them more often than not.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They can be our great strength. Our hearts make us keepers of hearth and home, for instance, cause us to be passionate champions for not only our families and loved ones but also, through the centuries, for causes of morality and justice. It was Pilate’s wife who, because of her sensitive feelings, begged her husband not to have anything to do with the controversy that was the conviction and crucifixion of Our Lord.

But our emotions are also our weakness. Without the development of will and intellect, of strong moral conscience, a woman’s emotions will lead her into unholy alliances – carnal relationships with unworthy men, or to become proponents of terrible wrongs (like abortion or euthenasia or sometimes even justice and morality in more general terms) solely by the influence of sentiment.

I was raised in word to follow what is right, but in practice to follow what felt best to me at any one moment. Of course, how I have felt has been at the mercy of everything from what I did or didn’t eat for breakfast, how others have behaved, and not least, hormonal (horror-mones) influences. I know too well, too painfully, the sad consequences of a life lived in obedience to emotion.

I’ve also been immensely blessed to have received a good education, at Guilford College that, despite its extreme liberalism, did much to develop my mind. It’s largely been an exercise in self-education, but I am learning to recognize my feelings for what they are; I try to test my intuition wherever I have the opportunity, and I try to recognize the pull of emotion and to base my decisions on more reliable factors.

This is a constant struggle, and I am distressed by the lack of stronger moral training for women in this morally relativistic — this increasingly morally atheistic — culture in which we live.

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