One of the biggest battles I face in discipling people is getting them to think. So often people’s views on issues, theological or practical, are determined by a combination of experience, feelings, and peers. I came across the following quote in Tom Wright’s Virtue Reborn (which I’ve already told you is excellent) which captures the modern mind well:
Furthermore, we often speak of our thoughts as if they were feelings: in a meeting, to be polite, we might say, “I feel that’s wrong.” Similarly, perhaps without always realizing it (which itself is a sign of the same problem!), we sometimes allow feelings to override thoughts: “I feel very strongly that we should do this” can carry more rhetorical weight than “I think we should do that,” since nobody wants to hurt our feelings. As a natural next step, we allow feelings to replace thought processes altogether, so that what looks outwardly like a reasoned discussion is actually an exchange of unreasoned emotions, in which all participants claim the high moral ground because when they say, “I feel strongly we should do this,” they are telling the truth: they do feel strongly, so they will feel hurt and ‘rejected’ if people don’t agree with them. Thus reasoned discourse is abandoned in favor of the politics of the playground. On the day I was drafting this chapter someone wrote to the newspaper I read to express a view about ‘assisted suicide’ – that is euthanasia. “That is how I feel about it,” he said after stating his opinion, “and I know a lot of other people feel strongly the same way.” I don’t doubt it was true. But his feelings were irrelevant to the question of whether the proposal was right or wrong. Lots of people feel very strongly that we should bomb our enemies, that we should execute serious criminals and castrate rapists, that we should abolish income taxes and let the fittest survive. Lots of other people feel very strongly that we should do none of those things. An exchange of feelings may tell us where the pressure points are likely to come, but it won’t tell us what is the right thing to do.
Wright captures well society’s self-justification for each man doing what is right in his own eyes. Sadly, not a new problem.