Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 1; Chapter 2 (Some Objections)

"Feelings", What are They Good for?

In this Chapter, Lewis' main objective is to show that this Natural Law is separate and independent of our human instincts.  However, it is his assertion that "strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses" which I want to examine today.

I am a feelings type of guy. I know, I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but what I feel, my impulses, are a huge part of my life.  Many philosophers, scholars, poets, and others have claimed for thousands of years that feelings, if not bad, should at least be cast aside and ignored, for they impair reason and are not representative of reality.  This has always irritated me--God gave us our feelings, therefore, they cannot be inherently evil, and must serve some purpose.  I believe that Lewis agrees with me!

First one note, I will be using the terms "impulses" and "feelings" interchangeably.  Lewis refers to impulses, but much of what he says can be used in light of "feelings" as well, and in fact, in many ways the terms are synonymous if not analogous.  Philosophically, they can be summed up by the words "passions or appetites"

Lewis uses the example of a piano.  There are two types of notes, right and wrong.  However, at some point in time every note will end up being the right note, and every note will end up being the wrong.  It depends on situation, the piece of music being played, to tell what is right and what is wrong.  I like to think of the old adage, "A broken clock is right twice a day".

Now, please don't get me wrong... I am not arguing here for moral subjectivism, we can't just judge for ourselves (usually) if a situation warrants valid impulses, there are absolutes.  I'm simply suggesting that the impulses or feelings themselves are morally neutral.

Take for example, the impulse of hunger.  It is morally good for one to eat when they are hungry, however, it is morally evil (in fact gluttonous) to eat when you are not hungry (for example, out of boredom).  The same can be said of "physical attraction"--in some cases (marriage) it is an appropriate impulse, whereas in [all] other cases it is morally evil.

Really what we are talking about here is the virtue of temperance--that virtue which moderates mans pleasurable and sensual appetites according to reason.  This is all fine and good, but I believe that this is commonly where the proverbial "rub" occurs--How do we integrate feeling and reason, two supposedly contradictory facets of the human person?

 The truth of the matter is this: God gave us BOTH reasons and feelings, so neither are evil, and they cannot be mutually opposed.  However, both are two sides of the same coin.  Feelings can be essential for things such as experiencing God, cultivating intimacy and relationships with those around us, identifying danger, and creating art.  In many of these areas reason can help, but will sometimes lack the same "spark" as passion does.  However, as useful as feelings can be, because of our fallen nature, they are particularly susceptible to error.  Reason must always be held as the judge of feelings.  We must always ask ourselves, "is it OK for me to feel this way? Are my feelings in accord with reality?  Will feeling this way lead me away from God?".  If we find these answers acceptable, then yes, these feelings can be used.  If, however, we find we are not "feeling correctly" we must try to change and be in accord with the appropriateness of the situation.  This is the hard part, for in modern society we are told that all feelings are valid, that all are true, and many dislike that intense action of introspection that comes with realizing you are wrong.  But, to be holy, it must be done.

Therefore, realizing that Lewis is indeed correct, that our feelings are neither good nor evil, let us challenge ourselves and others to continuously be aware about WHY we are feeling the way we are, and if those feelings are truly leading us to happiness.

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