Thursday, March 27, 2014

Which is the tail and which is the Dog?

Last night I saw a link posted by my sister on facebook and it brought up something that has been percolating for some time. I was talking to my sister about our very different experiences of conservative Evangelism and how to bridge that gap, and also about our differing epistemological worldview, me more modernist and her more post-modernist. She asked me about the setting for starting constructive conversations about doctrinal disagreements. As I looked back, I realized my initial response didn’t cover this likely pitfall in the language used to start a discussion:

If I was to go to my pastor and say, "I'm really struggling with my feelings about doctrine X and I'd like to talk to you about this," I would mean:
1) I am totally convinced of the truth of doctrine X.
2) I have concluded that Y is the right attitude to take in response to the fact of X.
3) My actual feelings do not match Y and I would like you to help me change my feelings so they do.
Allegory of Reason, photo by Vitod Muratov

So the correct reaction of the pastor to me would be to help me work out ways I could modify my emotional reaction. But I suspect my sister might use the same phrasing to mean something totally different, that it didn't make advance that X could possibly be true based on it being so to the way things should be as demonstrated by her feelings. She would be expecting a discussion of whether X was really true and might feel horrified and insulted if instead she got advice on how she could change her feelings.

We have these differing meaning to the same words because we reason about things in different ways. For my my own emotions are a tertiary, almost epiphenomenal concern, so I wouldn't be addressing them unless I considered the relevant facts on metaphysics and morals to be settled.

Reading Rachel Held Evans’ Blog about the reversal of World Vision’s decision what struck me was the word “disdain.” People on the liberal side of this discussion are perceiving the reaction as as being driven by emotion and are are experiencing this situation as all the more hurtful because of that. When I was reading the initial reactions on Tuesday I perceived logical reasoning about facts doctrine and moral implications, with a little sorrow and disappointment at where the logic was going trailing along behind. Going back today to a few posts I missed that were pointed out as inflammatory that’s still what I see.
Fragile Emotion, photo by Don

Its a huge gap to communicate across, difference between starting with emotion and assuming it’s the basis for action and seeing emotions as coincidental side effect. But for a long time the gap was almost invisible to me. It’s still hard for me really get my head around such a different way of thinking. But I think the start of clear communication is going to be understanding and considering that difference.

As for World Vision, the fact that they reversed themselves so quick indicates that they did not understand the predictable reaction that they would get. This indicates that they are deeply, deeply clueless about how the broadly conservative strain of Evangelicalism thinks. But then that’s common view and a misunderstanding that’s easy to make.