Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reflections on the church's contempt of human emotion

Why is the Christian church so contemptuous of human emotions?

Is it because human emotions are not circumscribed by morality, by ecclesial regulation, by age or gender, or by any measure of control known tour species?

Like sexuality, another of the church’s taboo’s, emotions simply will not submit to extrinsic or intrinsic regulation…

If their horror at human emotions is not generated by the nature of emotions, being like the weather and climate, outside the parameters of human conscription, then is their anxiety based on something else: perhaps the frivolity (so called) of emotions, as not only unpredictable but also unworthy of the kind of veracity that warrants serious consideration?

Or is there another possible response to the question: that only poets, artists, composers and ‘free spirits’ (possibly including children) are permitted to experience and to express their emotions, and clergy, and by extension parishioners (adults), are expected to meet a higher standard of human behaviour and expression?

Is there some biblical injunction forbidding emotions? Or is it merely the heretical thinkers, writers and dissidents and defectors from the ecclesial discipline who have first found their emotional lives stunted, if not atrophied while attempting to serve within the church, and then, having rebelled and emigrated from under the spell of the religious life, have written and taught about the importance of human emotions?

Or, from another lens, is it that human emotions are historically and traditionally considered to be associated with the “feminine” while the church is dripping from saturation in a hard-nosed masculinity to which even the Messiah would have found impossible to submit. In that light, have the church ‘fathers’ so both imprisoned and emasculated their own faith (by emotional castration, in the long tradition of the surrender of male sexuality as a surrender to the reign of God) into a mere “grease spot” on the pilgrimage of human existence, as if it is analogous to the road-kill of some animal struck and killed by a passing night vehicle?

And this contempt of and disdain for human emotions, now known to be a measure of health, upon release, rather than repressed, restrained, constrained and constricted, as an act of ‘holiness’ and submission to the will of God, has so deformed the psyches and the spirits and even the bodies and the life-expectancies of thousands, if not millions. The repression of human emotions (as required and expected by the church) has also provided an illegitimate rationale for blocking the full development of human relations. Watching the Netflix series entitled, The Crown, prompts many of these questions, given the then growing gulf between the new Queen Elizabeth II and her “Duke” of Edinbrough husband, Phillip, over his distaste for the trappings of the monarchy, depicted as foil to her cool restraint.

As Head of the Church of England, one has to ponder whether the emotional “sin” predates the church, or emerges from the cultural traditions of Great Britain? So much of church “practice” is directly dependent upon, and/or descendant from the secular culture that one has difficulty separating their respective sources, whether from a theological or a sociological minefield of library stacks and political agendas.

And yet, perhaps all of these speculations are mere sophomoric, if the church has persistently linked human emotions and human sexuality, thereby attempting to justify an iron-fisted moral, ethical and religious chain fence around the whole “experience”. If such an approach was ever warranted, under only the most specious of Augustinian mea culpa’s, there is no longer a thread of theological justification for the “sinful” classification of both sexuality including sexual expression (between consenting adults) and emotional expression (barring harm to any person).

And the blind and perverse separation of sex/emotion from one’s spiritual life cannot be justified given the relevant insights of psychology, psychiatry, social gregariousness and social support systems. Human existence, by definition, includes, and perhaps is even dependent upon, a healthy and deep awareness of the subtle nuances of one’s emotional barometer. (Men, of course, are eons behind women in their (our) recognition and acceptance of the importance of our emotions and yet, there is no time like the present to open that door to the adventure of emotional intelligence, and spiritual growth, that can and will emerge from such a door opening.)

The human barbarian, long feared by the young and the weak among the human species, has not disappeared from our midst. And the repression of legitimate emotions, removing the verbal, the poetic the artistic and the literary expression while reverting to a physical display of raw emotions places far to much reliance and importance on the physical, that sphere in which males consider themselves dominant.
Not to dismiss the physical, as men are much more willing (un-self-conscious) to talk about themselves while they repair a carborator or a leaky faucet, but to begin to walk in at the beach of sharing feelings with trusted family members can and will only be a new ray of light in what before were dark corners.

It is not only gays who are coming out of their closet; it is also time for men, generally and specifically, to emerge from their self-imposed, church-sanctioned, corporate-demanded, and politically safe emotional “cave”….haltingly, nervously, gingerly and gently (both on their own expectations of themselves and on their expectations of others’ reactions).

This business of one’s spiritual life cannot be barbed-wire-fenced in and sanitized by keeping out those legitimate (and safe) expressions of both sexuality and emotion as alienated from the life of the human spirit and church “authorities” are doing themselves, their church and their own spiritual growth and development by refusing to include their emotional live as an integral component of spirituality.

Banned books, when the church was deeply committed to protecting the purity and the innocence of their parishoners, only magnetized those same people into avid readership of those very “naughty” books. Alcohol prohibition resulted only in a proliferation of stills, secreted away from the authorities, and a spike in both sales and the concomitant drunkenness. Repressing human emotions leads only to their untimely, unpredicted and often violent release, given the pressure that has built up in the repressed person. Human health, too, is enhanced by the honest, authentic and respectful expression of emotional responses to circumstances that jump out of the seas of daily interaction.

Complicity in repressing what is innately human, aggressive agency for policing what, if released, needs little if any policing, teaching that supports the “authority” of the church over those believers it is/has/and will continue to infantilize in areas of both emotions and sexuality….these make the church responsible, in part and in no small part, for the brokenness in millions of lives, millions of relationships and millions of emergency and long-term health complications.

Underlying all of these speculative questions is the anthropological fossil, still extant in some quarters, that emotions released indicate a kind of emotional imbalance, perhaps even a form of insanity, easily and historically linked to, if not equated with, mental illness, demons, and thereby evil. And whether this theme continues in any of the sanctuaries, monasteries, or church councils, only those in attendance can attest.

Nevertheless, the pace of adjustment to new consciousness, intellectual and scientific evidence and contemporary culture remains glacial (before global warming and climate change!). So too does the process of rendering all things “traditional” old and “permanent” as holy and sacred, just as another illusion originally designed and adopted, one has to guess, to initiate, sustain and preserve the power and authority of the church over its adherents. As even seminary students have observed, “revelation” of the deity is not a one-time occurrence, and continues even into the present and the future. And such a truth can be a monumental threat to the “stability” and the authority of the church.

None of this complicity of course carries any specific sentence, judgement or closure with which the church will comply. It is in the church’s own interest to take off its self-imposed blinders that have prevented its inclusion of serious matters of human existence from expression.

The greater sin, ironically, has been, and continues to be, that of the church authorities whose reduction of the range of the deity’s tolerance is so constricted as to mock the deity. And for their hubris/fear, there really is no explanation or justification.

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