Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A sketch of a Christian theory of emotions

I think that it would be interesting to lay out a Christian 'analysis' or 'theory' of emotions, in the style of secular psychologists', but from a Christian point-of-view.

Here's Robert Plutchik's categorisation of emotions (a secular psychologist) to get an idea of what I mean:

Primary emotions (stronger to weaker versions):

Ecstasy / Joy / Serenity
Admiration / Trust / Acceptance
Terror / Fear / Apprehension
Amazement / Surprise / Distraction
Grief / Sadness / Pensiveness
Loathing / Disgust / Boredom
Rage / Anger / Annoyance
Vigilance / Anticipation / Interest

Second order of emotions (more complicated combinations of the first order):

Love = Ecstasy + Admiration
Submission = Admiration + Terror
Awe = Terror + Amazement
Disapproval = Amazement + Grief
Remorse = Grief + Loathing
Contempt = Loathing + Rage
Aggressiveness = Rage + Vigilance
Optimism = Vigilance + Ecstasy

The reasoning behind this secular categorisation is that, first of all, we have emotions due to evolution, and now we want to find out how our emotions fit together in a hierarchy. All emotions seem to have equal status and come from the same source indiscriminately, which is evolution. The best marker for identifying them would be through a) how intense they are, and, b) whether they are a result of any combinations or whether they are 'primary'.

Now take the Christian view. The Christian view must be different. We don't necessarily disagree that emotions come to humans through evolution (I don't), but the point of them is to reflect the emotions of God. Ergo, our emotions may have evolved, but they evolved to reflect what God's consciousness is like and what emotions He feels.

I'll get to why a 'God' would feel emotions later. Before that the Christian has the problem of morally bad emotions, like pride, envy, and so on. How do we explain the existence of morally bad emotions if God is perfect?

The answer from a Christian view must be of course that not all emotions are on the same level. Our good and morally neutral emotions come from God, but our morally bad emotions come from sin. That's how God doesn't have morally bad emotions, and yet we do even though our emotions are made in God's image.

So you would construct a Christian hierarchy maybe a bit like this:

Emotions that come from God (morally good or morally neutral):

Primary emotions:


Second order of emotions (a more complicated expression of the first emotion, from 1 Cor 13):

Desire to relate to others as equals
Desire to serve others and not oneself
Anger only when seriously provoked
Always forgiving
Delighting in love and truth
Urge to protect others
Sadness, grief at loss
Diligence when it matters
Carefulness when it matters
PLUS, all other morally neutral emotions (won't bother listing them)

Morally bad emotions that are not felt by God, but come through sin:

Unjustified impatience
Cruelty/desire to inflict pain
Short temper
Delighting in misfortunes/evil
Disliking the truth/lying
Being willing to give up on important things too quickly
Insensitivity to pain, loss, grief

This is basically just a morally bad flip-side of the first list.

Let me make clear that when I say 'morally bad emotion' I don't mean a negative emotion like sadness, I mean a morally bad emotion. It's perfectly possible to be really depressed about life and stuff in general and be morally perfect.

Basically the Christian view would be something like this:

God has only good or morally neutral emotions. The ideal state is for us to only feel the emotions that God feels.
Humans sin.
Which means:
We have the ability to feel bad emotions.
Free will + emotion = the freedom to feel emotions that don't reflect God's nature, but which God allows us to feel to give us the freedom to reject Him and the love that He represents.

Another way of putting it is this:

Free will + emotion + doing the right thing = feeling only the good and morally neutral emotions that God has (e.g. love).
Free will + emotion + doing the wrong thing = feeling a morally bad emotion, which God did not originally intend minds to feel, like e.g. unjustified hatred of someone, or envy and pride.

So this would be a different hierarchy or system of categorisation than in the secular world. In the secular world no emotions are 'out-of-place' for a human to feel. It depends on the situation. For a Christian, morally bad emotions are not in our true nature, which is why a) God doesn't feel them, b) why they can only be felt if you choose to sin and, c) why they damage our psychological well-being, unlike loving emotions.

So why would God feel emotions at all? Aren't emotions physical things?

I think it must come from the trinity in some way - God for some reason exists as one being in a community of three persons, and our name for the relationship between them is 'love'. God then gave this love to us. This (somehow) must be the case in a way that we just can't understand with finite reason (more on this here.)

One way of looking at it is that when God made us in our image He gave us something (a mind) that is meant to be love in some way like God.

So just like being physical is part of our concept of 'a stone,' so loving and rejoicing in doing the right thing is part of what it means to be a 'mind' or 'conscious.' Love and goodness is to consciousness what being physical, or existing in the universe, is to a rock. Mind/consciousness is a kind of substance or thing that follows different rules to physical stuff. One of these aspects of mind, different to rocks, is loving and being good. So mind is love.

So why are we tempted to have morally bad emotions in the first place?

Because our mind is localised in a brain, and the brain isn't 'love.' Our mind pulls us in the direction of loving others unconditionally. But since we use our brain to think, and the brain isn't love, we are pulled into thinking thoughts that aren't loving. Our mind gives us the free will to follow either side. This means that humans have to fight our (non-mind) brain to love in accordance with mind, whereas mind by itself is so loving that it IS love (God is love).

The question is: why did God make us brain-Minds instead of 'Mind' by itself? Couldn't God have taken away the possibility of evil? The answer is that to be pure mind you basically have to be God, I think. So the above setup (which makes sin very likely) needs to be the case.

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Blogger linsi said...

i think we have to distinguish between the brain and the mind in a more complicated but detailed analysis. the brain is the structure which is visible, the mind is the invisible entity which is sometimes referred to as the soul. when we refer to people with mental illness it scientifically meant illness of the mind not the brain-


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