all decisions are emotional

AdamF Logic, spirituality 46 Comments

I always have to laugh when people claim we Mormons (or even believers in general) make our decisions based on “feelings.” What they don’t realize, is EVERYONE makes EVERY decision, at least in part (and often mostly) due to their feelings. Without emotions, we are literally not capable of making decisions. No amount of logical thinking, reasoning, or studying can lead to actual decisions without the influence of emotion: “Cut off from our feelings, the most banal decisions become impossible. A brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind.”

Emotions are not “irrational.” I think (and feel, haha!) they work hand-in-hand with reason, for better or for worse.

When someone accuses you of making a decision based on your feelings, go ahead and say, “Of course dummy! My decision also involved cognition, but emotion is what ultimately helped me make the decision.”

This is also part of the reason why I think some people can have very similar experiences in the church and end up staying OR leaving it, continuing to believe, or not. We can all think and study and debate endlessly about this or that point, but that will only take us so far. Emotion must be used to actually make our decisions.

This makes me think of the process some experience with the Spirit. They study something out “in their minds” and then ask God if their decision is correct. Then, God willing, they may receive a confirmation of their decision, and they make their choice. Whether you believe spiritual experiences are communication from Deity or just the effects of a frenzied mind (or somewhere on the spectrum), you have to agree, these experiences do come in the form of “feelings” for many people.

Ultimately, it’s emotion that causes something to “sink in” or resonate with us. Ultimately, we must rely on emotion to make a decision, whether it’s a “I don’t believe because it doesn’t add up” or “the gospel impresses me, and my own use of reason suggests that it may or may not be true, and it also is the source of (positive/useful experience, etc.) so I choose to exercise faith in it.”

Let’s put “feelings” on the pedestal they belong, right next to “thought” or “logic.” May we be more aware of our tendencies to favor one over the other, and be open to the fact that we make no decision without both. No decision is based entirely on logic or reason. Let us not succumb to the tyranny of rationality, nor let our decisions be swept up in waves of emotion.

Definitely Related Post: Andrew S on “Argument from Experience and Emotion.

Comments

comments

Comments 46

  1. I question whether all decisionmaking or judgment is equally susceptible to this analysis.

    I see the role of emotion and logic as operating in a three-stage process:

    1. Emotion guides us to choose the questions we want to focus on (from all the countless possible inquiries available to make).

    2. We then use our best reasoning to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each possible answer; however, in this process, emotion tends to influence how much weight we assign to each fact. Ideally, we recognize this, and do our best to minimize it.

    3. If the weighing of the factors results in a lopsided balance, then we ideally go with the more logically-supported alternative. The closer the case, the greater role emotion plays.

    The reason for maximizing the role in decision-making of reason versus emotion is that we live around other people. Where our decisions affect others, if our decisions are purely emotional — purely subjective, and therefore only truly accessible to us — then the other guy has no input on the process. And that’s ultimately a recipe for a kind of Hobbesian war of everyone against everyone. There can’t be deliberative discussion, in which people seek logically to convince and reconcile each other by resort to universal principles each person freely accepts. The more emotion reigns, the more the practice becomes “this is what I want, and if you don’t like it, tough.” Mormons with large families of closely-spaced young children will have some idea of how peaceful that is.

    Or, in religion, we have any number of One True Churches, whose adherents believe diametrically-opposed things because they intuit that they are true. As long as churches persist in holding it as an article of faith that your moral worth depends on what opinions you hold, this is going to be a recipe for quarrels.

    We’ve had some political and doctrinal discussions here that illustrate the dynamic very well. We fire logical arguments at each other that we find completely convincing, and tend to get annoyed when the other guy doesn’t assign them the same argument-closing weight that we do. So maybe rational debate is a fiction, and deliberative democracy is a charade. But it’s a useful enough charade, I think — having proven itself moderately stable, and producing only one horrible civil war in two hundred years, which is actually a pretty good record as political systems go — to keep playing at it. And that means at least trying to be reasonable, even when the judgment of reason conflicts with what our emotions tell us we want to think.

  2. Thomas, can I RAEBNC on that? 🙂

    One comment I do have I guess, is that emotions are more rational than thoughts. Thoughts can be (and often are) quite irrational. However, if you understand the context, emotions are always rational, imho.

  3. I agree that there is a component of emotion in all decisions we make. However, I do think that the reliance on “emotion” is overblown in the LDS Church, almost to the exclusion of someone who is “less” emotional. The core of belief in the Church is a “testimony”. This isn’t often a logical thing, and in fact, there are a lot of things that don’t make “logical” sense but they are accepted because of a testimony.

    My case: I have been a Church member my whole life. I served a mission including AP, etc. I was married in the temple. I have served in a number of callings. I have always paid my tithing. I have always had a temple recommend. I have read the BofM 10-15 times. I have prayed about it hundreds of times. But… at the end of it all, I have never felt an “answer”. I have never felt the “emotional” response that this is all true. I continue doing this because of familial reasons and for a hope that someday I will receive that emotional response which will give me a “testimony”. For now all I can say is “I hope…” My search for an answer has led me to investigate the Church to a very deep level. Logically, there is a lot about the Church and its founding that really bothers me. But, I’m still willing to go forward in faith, hoping for that “emotional” confirmation. It’s obviously not a very repeatable “experiment”. Some people do the same things and get such an emotional response that they “know” it is true regardless of whatever else may come in their lives. Others never get that response. But the CORE Mormon experience is essentially a pure emotional response.

    I contrast this with Buddhism, which I have also studied a lot recently and which has brought me a lot of peace. The “CORE” experience there is different. Buddha told people not to believe something just because he said it, or for any other reason. Follow the precepts. If they work for you, follow them some more. I have followed them as well. They make logical sense. And they brought me peace – which is also admittedly an emotional response, but I followed them based on logical reasoning.

    So, in my situation, Buddhism is much more rational than Mormonism. It has brought me greater peace. Do I become a Buddhist based on logic? Do I hang onto my LDS faith in the hope that I will someday have an emotional experience that will overcome some of the illogical aspects of Mormonism? I don’t know.

  4. One legitimate role that emotion can play in rational decisionmaking is in determining our individual preferences. For example, if I find cookie dough more pleasurable than chocolate chip, then the only rational thing for me to do when faced with a choice between them is to pick cookie dough. Without this sort of emotional valuation of alternatives, we would have no preferences and selection among alternative courses of action would be impossible.

    However, choosing a course of action is a little different than the case of deciding what is true. Assuming that we all emotionally prefer truth to fiction, we will want to employ the most powerful and reliable truth-evaluation techniques available. Hard experience suggests that what we call “logic” and “the scientific method” are more reliable than emotional preference when it comes to assessing the truth or falsity of a proposition. For example, no matter how much I want to believe that there will be no consequences if I do nothing but sit around watching TV and eating popcorn every day, it just isn’t true.

    Of course, the assumption that we all emotionally prefer truth to fiction probably isn’t true, either. There are some things many of us would just rather not know. In that case, it is perfectly rational to decide based on emotional preference– to choose the fiction.

  5. But what about the Vulcans??? 😛

    As a research scientist I have to come up with a hypothesis based on the results received. This is usually a ‘best guess’ scenario which does follow what I FEEL best fits the data. So logic does conform to feelings even in science. the hypothesis is there to prove or disprove and then another hypothesis is formed.

  6. Mike S – I agree with a lot of that, actually, although I think it is probably more accurate to say that we over rely on our cognitions related to our emotions. We can have all kinds of feelings, but it is how we interpret them that could be irrational. Putting those big emotional responses aside, just plain old everyday small emotions are used every time we make a decision based on logic or principles or whatever.

    Christopher – thanks for the comment – I think that what one determines is “truth” or “fiction” is made of up all kinds of things, which each person may give different weight to depending on their emotional response. For example, some people have a really negative response to certain things like the BoA, DNA, or even the downtown mall the church is building. These negative responses may be greater in them than they are in another member who may also feel negatively, but not to he same extent. They may resonate or have more positive emotions around other issues that seem to confirm truth to them, such as personal revelation, or the origins of the Book of Mormon, or their temple experience, or whatever. My point is not to debate the merits or truthyness of any of those factors, only that when evaluating overall the “truth” vs. “fiction” regarding religion, emotion plays a huge part, for those who decide it’s true and for those who decide it’s fiction.

  7. So, in a sense when an ex-Mormon tells a TBM that “you would leave if you knew the TRUTH” or whatever, what I’m actually hearing is “You would leave if you had the same negative emotional response that I have had” to all these issues…

  8. I was just reading some research on exactly this (can’t remember where though at the present moment). That we are mistaken when we think “rational thought” is the best way to go. They were able to show that decisions made without the emotional component actually were worse. It had to do with studies on people who have had some type of brain injury where their “emotional” ability was limited. I thought this was fascinating. If I come across it again, I’ll post it.

  9. I’ve been reading a book called Being Wrong: Adventures on the Margin of Error. It talks a lot about the decision making process. When we think we are being rational or logical, we are simply ignoring the things that prevent us from seeing the opposing view to the thing we want to believe (emotionally). There are several reasons we are blind to the opposing view:
    1 – we dismiss it. Confirmation bias at work. We easily see the flaws in the opposing view, but we are blind to the flaws in our own beliefs.
    2 – we ignore it. We are literally able to “not see it.” Not believing it can render contrary evidence invisible.
    3 – we never hear it in the first place. We surround ourselves with like-minded people. Everyone does. They reinforce what we believe.

    So, while we think we are being logical and rational, we are blind to our own predispositions. We think we’ve weighed the evidence, but we’ve been biased the whole time.

  10. #11: AdamF

    I like this comment. It really does come back to emotion as a basis for a “testimony”. There is admittedly MUCH in LDS history that is jarring to modern sensibilities. I know very few people who would look at someone marrying 14-year-old girls or someone else’s wife as “normal”. I know very few people who could accept some of the anachronisms in the BofM as “normal”. So it does come down to essentially a purely emotional response. For a TBM, they have had some sort of emotional experience such that they are willing to perform a “suspension of disbelief”, to borrow a term from the movie industry, and ignore/dismiss/etc. the questionable parts of our history. For people who haven’t had that emotional response, it all seems completely illogical and they wonder why everyone can’t see the “man behind the curtain”.

    I suppose my biggest question in this all is HOW do people get that emotional response, since that’s truly what is behind an LDS testimony. We promise that it will happen. I promised hundreds of people on my mission that it would happen (Moroni 10). But it’s never happened for me. Am I just a “non-emotional” person? Is it just God testing me?

    And most importantly, is there a role in the LDS Church for people who haven’t had that emotional response?

  11. re 15:

    Mike,

    not going to address everything in your post, but I’d also suggest that different people have different emotional reactions across the board. For example, you have pointed out one of the more obvious areas — people can have different responses to things like Moroni 10:4, Alma 32, and those kinds of test.

    But I’d argue as well that people can have different emotional responses to other issues, like the “anachronisms,” or the “questionable parts of our history.” In other words, you have to have an emotional reaction to finding out that the BoA didn’t really come about in the way that you always thought it came about. But I’d say that such an emotional reaction (e.g., betrayal, shock, etc.,) doesn’t happen to everyone…other people can easily say, “Well, it’s still inspired. A translation by inspiration.” etc., It’s not necessarily the case that they are suspending disbelief because of an emotional experience elsewhere…it could be the case that they don’t have the emotional experience that would introduce disbelief in the first place.

    To summarize, it seems that just as the idea that “everyone who prays sincerely about the BoM will get a confirmation of the church’s truth” is false, it is also false that “everyone who discovers x fact about church history, policy or doctrine will have doubts of the church’s truth”

  12. Came to know an Iranian man who been a military officer during Shah of Iran era. When fundamentalist took over he was in prison for 8 years and severely tortured at times. During that time he had a dramatic spiritual conversion to christianity. After getting out of Iran he went to Vatican and there had a deeply emotional/spiritual experience and KNEW that Catholicism was true. Then came to america and KNEW that being a Baptist was true when he had another emotional/spiritual experience speaking with those who shared the Bible. Then when I knew him someone gave him a BOM and had another emotional/spiritual experience and came to KNOW that Mormonism is of God. I baptized and confirmed him. Great spiritual story. Couldn’t give up smoking and in shame quit coming to church, lasted only a few weeks in the faith and I suspect he has moved on to other emotional/spiritual experiences and knowing something else is true. The reality is that he has suffered a lot and was/I suppose still is very emotionally charged when he hears the words of Christ/love/charity–and attaches that feelings to whomever he is with or where he happens to be at the time. makes sense…we have emotions and attach it to the nearest object or institution of faith??

  13. As to how emotions affect our decisions, I think Christopher Smith’s point (#07) was spot on.

    As for the claim that Mormons base their faith on “feelings”, this is a bit of semantics. To me it is a lot like the claim that “Mormons aren’t Christian”. Again a semantic statement that is both true and false depending on what one means by the word “Christian”. Mormons profess a belief in Christ, and therefore insist on being labled as such. Other Christian groups correctly note that within Mormon teachings many core aspects of Christs character and attributes are substantially different from mainstream Christian beliefs. Rather than articulating the argument this way however, we simply argue back and forth over the application of title, refusing to acknowledge each others perspectives and addressing the correct distinction between groups. The same thing applies to the faith argument. I seriously doubt anyone from the “Christian” camp is debating the role of emotion in human decision making, rather they are challenging what they see as an overly simplistic conversion process based soley on individual experience. I will be the first to say that those same Christians fail to see the inherent flaws in their own thought process, but they will claim that their beliefs can be founded on solid science, such as Biblical archaeology. They will then point out the dearth of BoM archaeology, to argue that Mormon faith based on experience is therefore illogical. I recently watched a youtube presentation from a Catholic group which was discussing how to talk to Mormon missionaries. A good point made by the presenter was that while Mormons teach of a great apostasy, they really can not explain it from a historical perspective, in any detail. I think this is correct. Outside of the assertion that when the last of Christs apostles died – the Church fell away, I don’t think I could argue how and when this actually occurred. As a general culture of Church, we don’t infuse acadamia with theology the same way that other faiths often do. At the same time, just because we can unearth ancient Biblical sites, does not mean we can unearth proof of the resurrection – so I’m not persuaded that other Christians have a better approach. This also fails to acknowledge that while yes, as a general observation the general Mormon population may be less acquainted with Biblical archaeology, within the Church we also have access to some of the best Biblical scholars and University caliber research in the world. Long and short though, this argument is generally an attack on the simple appeal to emotion as per Moroni’s challenge. It is not about one side being completely logical “vulcan style” vs the other being completely emotional.

  14. #14 Hawkgrrl, clearly those factors are always with us, but (as with the poor, who are also with us) that doesn’t mean we should just accept them as something we can do nothing about. We can strive to minimize bias, just as we strive to minimize whatever atavistic tendencies that make us prejudiced against our fellow beings. Our success in this will never be perfect or anything close to it, but what is?

    For instance, I’ve been working on what I thought was an absolutely brilliant legal argument, that could recover a boatload of money for my frivolously-sued client. I have a rule, that when I run across something that confirms what I want to believe, I subject it to extra scrutiny — because I know that my excitement to see what I want to believe potentially confirmed, may blind me to good reasons not to believe it. Well, wouldn’t you know, yesterday, I ran into one inconvenient fact that cancels out all the reasons I’d found to support my pet argument. Crud. Emotionally, I’d love it to be otherwise — but logically, it just isn’t the way I want it to be, and so that’s that.

  15. Ralph wrote:

    >> As a research scientist I have to come up with a hypothesis based on the results received. This is usually a ‘best guess’ scenario which does follow what I FEEL best fits the data. So logic does conform to feelings even in science. the hypothesis is there to prove or disprove and then another hypothesis is formed.

    As a historian, I often begin with a sort of gut feeling about what interpretation is most probable or best fits the data. In my opinion, this gut feeling is not so much something other than logic or reason as it is the product of logic or reason that is operating on a subconscious or intuitive level. However, I have also found that I cannot allow myself to be satisfied with such gut-level assessments. As I raise the underlying logic to the level of language and awareness, one of two things may happen. First, this logic may become more persuasive to myself and others; second, I may discover flaws or contrary evidence that falsifies it. The latter outcome is quite common.

    What you describe is a similar process. You allow your feelings to play a role in the formation of a hypothesis, but not so much in proving or falsifying that hypothesis. For that purpose, you are operating in the realm of explicit rational and scientific methodology. You are, in a sense, raising subliminal intuition or “feeling” to the level of conscious awareness and subjecting it to rational analysis.

  16. AdamF wrote:

    >> I think that what one determines is “truth” or “fiction” is made of up all kinds of things, which each person may give different weight to depending on their emotional response. For example, some people have a really negative response to certain things like the BoA, DNA, or even the downtown mall the church is building. These negative responses may be greater in them than they are in another member who may also feel negatively, but not to he same extent. They may resonate or have more positive emotions around other issues that seem to confirm truth to them, such as personal revelation, or the origins of the Book of Mormon, or their temple experience, or whatever. My point is not to debate the merits or truthyness of any of those factors, only that when evaluating overall the “truth” vs. “fiction” regarding religion, emotion plays a huge part, for those who decide it’s true and for those who decide it’s fiction.

    I agree that this is more or less how religious decision-making operates for most people, but not that it is a particularly effective way for it to operate, as you seemed to argue in the OP. My experience suggests that we should weigh evidence of truth or falsity based not on the emotional impact the evidence had on us, but on the relative probabilities of alternative explanations. Sometimes these probabilities can be mathematically calculated, and sometimes they can only be estimated. But again, the most reliable estimates– and therefore the most reliable conclusions– will result when we can raise the reasons for the estimate to the level of explicit awareness and subject them to rational analysis.

  17. “You allow your feelings to play a role in the formation of a hypothesis, but not so much in proving or falsifying that hypothesis. For that purpose, you are operating in the realm of explicit rational and scientific methodology. You are, in a sense, raising subliminal intuition or “feeling” to the level of conscious awareness and subjecting it to rational analysis.”

    Well put.

    I’m concerned sometimes that in the Church, we may go beyond what ought to be a healthy recognition of the limitations of reason, towards a kind of fideism. We’re proclaiming a universal truth, which is hard to do when you start talking about epistemologies of subjectivity. We sometimes seem to have more in common with postmodernists than we would like to admit.

    I love John Locke’s line (paraphrasing): “All religions will make use of reason as far as it supports them, but when it contradicts their doctrines, they say “‘Tis matter of Faith, and above Reason.”

  18. I agree that it is semantics and that our perception of the world is unavoidably colored by our perceptions/prior experiences/emotions. It is just how it is.

    So my question is: what makes a “testimony” of the LDS Church being correct, or what makes someone want to be Mormon? Is it an emotional response? Is it tradition? Is it intellectual? I suspect it is all of the above, but I would argue that given the inevitable conflicts, emotional response trumps all. If there is an apparent conflict between science and religion, our “feeling” that the religious answer is correct trumps the scientific evidence that might say otherwise. If there are unsettling historical things, our “feelings” trump those issues and we put them on a shelf. In my opinion, emotion forms the basis of a “Mormon testimony”.

    But the inevitable issues still remain:
    – What if someone never has that “emotional” response despite following all of the requirements of the LDS faith for another reason? Do they have a testimony?
    – What is, as mentioned above, someone has the same emotional response to a different faith. Does that mean that, for them, that is the path they should follow? This has the implication that the LDS church is NOT the “only” true church but perhaps just a way for some people to return to God.
    – What is someone doesn’t have an emotional response to really any faith, but a different faith than the LDS Church in which they are raised makes more logical sense? Should they change?
    – Why do we teach Moroni’s promise as if it were a scientific experiment – ie. if you read and pray, you WILL know it is true? This obviously isn’t true for everyone. Or is there some way this promise can be answered besides emotion?

  19. Thomas 19 – yes, I agree we should work to minimize bias. However, that requires something most people lack: awareness.

    Mike S 23 – I think those that teach the Moroni promise as a scientific experiment do so because they are more comfortable with it being logical, scientific, whatever. But that’s just semantics of course.

  20. Mike S:

    As a thought excercise, in addition to individual emotion, we must also consider the intertia derived from critical mass. In other words, I would venture that the social influence is probably one of the key motivators for faith. It would be very interesting to take the same people who profess most assuredly of Mormon spiritual experience, and place them into a social religious vacuum to see if they would still feel so strongly. Would they be as convinced if they did not have the backing of their society. I doubt it very much, but alas, this test could obviously never be performed. However, we can try and get just a perspective on this if we take into consideration the number of people whom Elder teach on regular basis, compared to those who have spiritual experiences and later convert. The perspective becomes even more interesting when we consider how many of those who do convert actually remain “active”. While I cannot speak to the experiences of another, I can observe that influence of a supportive community has tremendous impact on relative proportions. In other words, I would think that society has a greater overall impact on a persons testimony than “experience”. Of course, this is not a real experiment, just a shot from the hip as to how I see and interpret subjective data, so perhaps these are just emotions at play. If I were to guess I would say that the two emotions at work here for me are my religious biases fueled by an awful hybrid of inquisitiveness and laziness.

  21. Interesting discussion on emotions.

    While Mormons are prone to rely heavily on emotions for their testimony – and I’m not going to attempt to jump into the lexiconical (I made that word up just then) gymnastics to adapt that to this post – the scriptures are littered with examples where certain people asked for “proof” from God as opposed to just an “emotional” response.

    Moses had the burning bush…a physical object, a common object. A sign, if you will. A sure way of knowing that he wasn’t relying solely on an emotional feeling. Gideon (Judges 6:36-40) had his faith confirmed by mere dew and a sheepskin. The bible (and early parts of the Book of Mormon) are replete with examples of the casting of lots or similar events. History is likewise filled with examples similar to the casting of lots (divining arrows and their parallel to the Liahona being one). Each story contains a “physical” dimension to a spiritual conundrum. While it seems as though our Western Civilization has been quick to throw such activities under the bus as either inane or uninspired, or do away with them entirely, there’s a lot of historical information to suggest such activities can confirm our emotional reaction through divine processes.

    Here’s a good write-up by someone else on our reliance on emotions (hope the powers that be here at MM don’t mind):

    http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/08/2-nephi-28-26.html

  22. Hi Adam!

    So, which comes first, the cognition or the emotion? If you talk to people who have left the church more (ha ha) you’d learn that many leave the church not by seeking what they already believe to be true (or false) but sheerly by accident. My sister was doing her genealogy when she discovered the, shall we say, moral discrepancies of certain progenitors of the Faith. She had no emotional response UNTIL she learned the facts that caused said response.

    When I left, I didn’t leave because I was offended or outraged or seeking emotional solace from other groups (or from coffee). I left based on logic: “Is there ANY reason, morally, to avoid coffee?” No; in my opinion, no. Ignoring your fellow man, having no compassion and empathy–these are immoral acts. Coffee? Notsomuch.

    And how does a believing Mormon tell the difference between warm fuzzies of emotion and The Spirit? Is there some sort of litmus test? “Hm, that feeling had a little extra ‘ooomph’ to it; must’ve been God.”

    If a person seeks after feelie-goods when he or she prays, attends church or any other “sanctioned” behavior, they will find them. They are, in a sense, only participating in confirmation bias. To truly go in with an open mind to a church would be really hard, assuredly. If we believe going to an “R” movie is a sin, we’ll feel guilty and “loss” of the Spirit.

    So I guess what I’m saying is–can’t we all say we’ve been “led by the Spirit” when in fact, it was pure emotion, nothing more? Doesn’t this sort of nullify emotion as a way to determine truth? And if it was the Spirit, why does it avoid so many people who honestly and sincerely seek out Truth? You say feelings are to be honored, but then why are the feelings of former Mormons ignored and discounted while the person is labeled “fallen” and “in darkness” by believers?

    I know you’d said that cognition needs to be used in concert with feeling, and I agree. But when faced with certain facts, people in the Church seem to ignore logic and go purely on feeling, aka “faith”.

    This is where I get stuck. I call it “The God card”. You talk with a believer about their beliefs, you ask them a question to which there is no logical answer, and they pull the God card: “We aren’t meant to know the answers to all things; only God can know for certain.” This defies logic AND emotional intelligence!

    What’s really disconcerting is that when people DO find out things that make them want to leave, their emotions are manipulated: Fear, vilification, loss of community, loss of family…these are all used to scare a questioner into submission. I should know, I got it all. Why not use cognition and emotion rather than pure emotion to bring them back?

    As people like me begin to question, there comes an emotional dissonance between what we *feel* is true, and what we can prove isn’t. This dissonance creates a fissure and we learn, ultimately to not trust our feelings at all.

    ~JulieAnn

  23. Adam of the F,

    Let us not succumb to the tyranny of rationality, nor let our decisions be swept up in waves of emotion.

    Look at the underlying emotional subtext to this sentence: Rationality is Hitler and Stalin, emotion is the ocean of Mother Earth, just don’t get caught in the riptide when you are cavorting in the waves. Oddly enough there seems to be some reverse gender bias thrown in as well. You even fall into the old Mormon canard of putting women, excuse me, feelings on a pedestal.

    Most good arguments utilize emotion to attempt to win over converts. Every trial lawyer is trained to present the facts as a story that is the most emotionally compelling to the jury, yet lawyers are the quintessential stereotype for no emotion. See Thomas #19. Yet, no rational person, even a lawyer, would attempt to separate emotion from the human experience. Which is why it makes it interesting to view the writing and the comments from a combination of emotional and rational expectations of the writers.

    #11 So, in a sense when an ex-Mormon tells a TBM that “you would leave if you knew the TRUTH” or whatever, what I’m actually hearing is “You would leave if you had the same negative emotional response that I have had” to all these issues…

    Your emotional (and rational?) prejudice is showing. Maybe the ex-Mo is saying “You would leave if you had the same positive emotional responses I had.”

    #12 Without the reference, I don’t find this fascinating at all. I know way too many people with head injuries and I can tell you this with certainty — a head injury impairs your decision making capabilities and a study on a group of people with head injuries to have any real validity the injuries would have had to all happen in the exact same portion of the brain — not possible.

    Which really brings me to my problem with this whole thread which is trying to separate out emotion, thought and logic. I have no problem having the three work in concert, but Mr. Marsh stated that the intellect was the horse, not the cart and if emotion, thought and logic are the three horses, what is the cart then?

    First, I’d add an additional horse that everyone has discussed on the periphery, but in our individualistic viewpoint always omit from the argument: Besides being emotional and rational creatures, humans are social creatures, like ants only a little bit smarter. Many of our emotional and rational responses come to insure that we remain within a community that is protecting us. A strong emotional and rational reason for remaining within the church or leaving the church is to maintain that sense of connectedness to a culture. Clearly, this was the main emotional and rational need for the tortured Iranian in Comment 17. It is also the unifying factor for this blog. We all come from the same community, it is what draws us here and the emotion we seek by posting and commenting is to connect with our “group”. Lots of interesting studies have been done on the impact of the group or community that the individual belongs to effecting the individuals psychological treatment, ie Vietnam Vet heroin addicts cured by returning to their non-drug enclaves or the impact of home life on mental health treatment.

    So we are driven by thought, emotion, logic and community, who is driving? Back to my brain injury comment, once you have seen first hand how the brain operates before and after it is damaged, the driver of the meat machine that is a human is undoubtedly the brain. It is the source of our emotion, our logic and our sense of community. The brain is our God and our Devil.

  24. Re: bias (Hawk & Thomas) – I think we can work to lessen the influence of bias as well, although some people are probably more capable at doing so than others. A lot of it to me seems to be personality as well – for example, I have a good friend that prides himself on thoroughly researching any issue and making sure he’s covered all the ground before really forming an opinion on say, politics. However, this process then blinds him in the future, because anything that contradicts his “air-tight” and “bias-free” conclusion is then discarded because of his surety.

    Mike S
    “HOW do people get that emotional response, since that’s truly what is behind an LDS testimony.”
    For many people it may be that way, but for many others I would argue the “emotional response” or “burning in the bosom” is not the foundation of an LDS testimony, at least not IRL. Other people talk about personal revelation, guidance, results (fruits of the gospel) as bigger parts of their testimony, it seems. I think there is definitely a role for people who haven’t had that “emotional response” as long as everyone else doesn’t blame them for not having it.

    16 – Andrew S – You describe this process how I wanted to – how much we resonate to whatever issue is a big factor. For example, the BoA, polyandry, DNA and etc. didn’t really cause any big negative emotions in me, not even close to other issues, such as prop 8. Some people REALLY get worked up over the SLC mall. Okay. I don’t. Whatever.

    Ron M
    “we have emotions and attach it to the nearest object or institution of faith??” – This is why emotions alone aren’t enough, although we should probably clarify “emotions” as “big emotional experience” because again, we have emotions all the time, with every decision.

    27 – JulieAnn – Love your comments – “which comes first, the cognition or the emotion?” – This is (as you know I’m sure) a big debate in the mental health arena. I think that there are cases where cognition comes first, but in most of the work I’ve done with people, and in my own experience, the emotion is MUCH faster. Re: your sister who learned facts and THEN had the emotional response, I would argue that she learned the facts (cognition?), had the emotional response, and THEN had cognitions around whatever those facts meant to her. I would also argue that leaving based on logic necessarily requires emotion – not some big negative emotional experience per se, but one would have to feel something based on their logic in order to carry through the forming of the opinion/making the decision. Andrew explains this better than I do though.

    “And how does a believing Mormon tell the difference between warm fuzzies of emotion and The Spirit?”
    I’m not sure a lot of people can, but I can’t speak for them. Personally, I don’t rely on finding “the objective truth of historical matters” based on a little emotional oomph. I also wouldn’t take every negative emotion to be the “loss of the Spirit” although I did earlier in my young life (almost 30!).

    Ulysseus – AH! You figured me out. Actually, I am totally sexist. I do like women more than men. My brand of feminism says that men should become more like women (more emotionally accessible, responsive, and engaging) than the other way around. Although, I think men and women really are from the same planet emotionally, men are just socialized to chronically avoid sadness, fear, etc. I put women on a pedestal because many men (NOT all) are indeed emotionally blunted.

    Thanks for the comments!

  25. Ulysseus:

    I certainly agree that all of these things are in our head, but I wonder why we in the West, in our culture, more than any other past or present, devalue some btain “curcuits” more than others. Emotions work very well for a lot of mental processing, or our ancestors probably wouldm’t have lasted long enough in natural history to stand on two legs.

  26. True, all human decisions are based to some degree on emotion. Once we accept that as fact, we have a couple of choices regarding how we can use that information:

    1. Decide that — since everyone is biased — there’s no need to worry about your own bias, since what you want to believe is just as valid as any other proposition, or
    2. decide that — since everyone is biased — you will make a sincere effort to understand your own biases, and deliberately try to compensate for them when analyzing questions that potentially have right and wrong answers (or questions that have good/better/bad/worse solutions).

  27. Exactly – and I would add something to the second option that many people leave out: Once you have deliberately tried to compensate for your own biases, and have come to a conclusion or decision or attitude, make an effort to remain open to new information, and freely admit that you may still not have it right at all, despite all your careful process.

  28. I think one of the tragedies of the day is that we don’t allow people to change their minds, as well as discounting emotions as viable sources of information.

    Had I trusted my emotions more, I would have saved myself a great deal of trouble.

  29. Agree that an emotional response is the basis of essentially any religious tradition – we do what we feel is “right”.

    One thing that is hard for me to accept is “confirmation bias”, for lack of a better term. If someone “feels” that the LDS Church is right and joins, we ascribe that to the Holy Ghost confirming truth. But if someone honestly and truly feels that another Church is right and has that same experience towards that denomination, why are we so quick to discount that as either being “misled” by Satan or else just a “partial confirmation” of the “limited” truths that someone else may have. We don’t accept that as being as valid as confirmation of the LDS Church’s validity.

    I have felt truth resonate with me when I read the BofM. I have felt the same feelings with the Bible. Some might call this the grounds for an LDS testimony. If I had never read anything else, I would suppose that that would form my testimony, based on my emotional response. But I get the EXACT same feelings when I read the Qu’ran or the Bhagavad Gita. I actually get a STRONGER response to truth when I read Buddhist teachings, the Dhammapada for example.

    So, if my emotional response to truth is my guiding light, and if I’m truly honest with my inner feelings, should I leave the faith of my fathers and become a Buddhist? If I should instead discount the emotional response I get to Buddhist teachings, then why shouldn’t I also discount the response I get to LDS teachings? Can we pick and choose which emotions are “good” and “bad” when they all feel the same?

    This is my problem with using emotion as a basis of a “testimony”.

  30. Mike S,

    I believe there’s a lot to D&C 46: 13-14 that needs more emphasis in the church. The experience by which one “knows” a profound spiritual truth by way of testimony is something to be sought after and coveted. But those who, like you, believe in the words of those who have had those experiences, also have a spiritual gift, and it’s not a lesser one. I believe that those who know they’ve had a confirming witness have much to learn from those who simply believe something enough to act upon it. Both camps approach things differently but edify one another.

    As to having what you suspect are spiritual feelings while reading texts from other religions, I don’t doubt that’s exactly what you’re feeling. I find a lot of truths in Buddhism and Hindu teachings, and a lot of true principles taught in Islam and elsewhere. (Still haven’t read the Qu’ran, but I plan to.) I’ve felt spiritual feelings while reading passages from Emerson and Thoreau as well. To me, it’s just confirmation of the teaching that the Lord speaks to all nations. Truth is truth wherever we find it. Even if we don’t agree with every piece of other religions’ frameworks, I’m amazed at how much of the “actionable” information they’ve gotten right.

    My experience has been that many folks with a strong intellectual bent have a stronger tendency than others to struggle with trusting or discerning spiritual impressions that come via non-intellectual channels. For many of us, our strengths and gifts and our weaknesses and frustrations can be two sides of the same coin. That’s the case with me, anyway. You appear to have intellectual gifts, which is great. You also appear to have the gift to believe on the words of others, which makes your intellectual gifts useful to the rest of us.

    I think the Lord often gives us one gift but not another we want so that we can be humble and rely on those who have different gifts. Ether 12:27 seems to point that way. When it says that weak things will strong if we are humble, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get the spiritual gift we covet. It means that if we persist in humility, we’ll get from others and GIVE to others that which we all need to endure faithful to the end.

    Anyway, I wish as a church we emphasized more that the AMBITION of a spiritual witness is to be worked for, but that this testimony is not always granted via the same spiritual gift.

  31. #29: “I have a good friend that prides himself on thoroughly researching any issue and making sure he’s covered all the ground before really forming an opinion on say, politics. However, this process then blinds him in the future, because anything that contradicts his “air-tight” and “bias-free” conclusion is then discarded because of his surety.”

    Good point. Another example: I have a fairly severe case of Catholic envy, inasmuch as I perceive the Catholic Church to possess a philosophical tradition and depth that absolutely nukes pretty much all of its’ competitors. And yet I believe that very intellectual depth, sometimes (often?) leads the Church to “marry its fortifications,” i.e., to hold as tightly to bad philosophical concepts (like many of the “proofs” of God’s existence, or much of Social Teaching) with nearly as much firmness as good ones.

    Same with the secular philosopher John Rawls’ idea of “public reason,” which (briefly summarized) is that only ideas that can be rooted in universally-applicable philosophical arguments (as opposed to those rooted in “comprehensive belief systems”) ought to be aired in the public square. The problem with this, as AdamF noted, is that once people get emotionally involved, it’s hard to tell where public reason begins and subjective faith ends. And more often than not, believing your ideas to be rooted in Pure Reason makes you more inflexible than you are, when you recognize the influence of your subjective intuition on your thinking.

    And that ties in to #32: “Once you have deliberately tried to compensate for your own biases, and have come to a conclusion or decision or attitude, make an effort to remain open to new information, and freely admit that you may still not have it right at all, despite all your careful process.” Exactly. “With firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right. The second clause, or course, implies less-than-perfect certainty, and so recommends humility.

  32. #35: Thanks your your discussion of D&C 46.

    Often, when that section is used to comfort people who never got the full Moroni Ten-Four assurance, the impression given is that with respect to the gifts identified in Verses 13 and 14 — i.e., knowing by the Spirit that Jesus is the Christ, or believing on the words of others who know — everybody gets either one or the other. If you don’t have the gift to know, you must have the gift to believe.

    But of course the list of spiritual gifts continues for several verses more, which makes me think it’s possible that God may even intend that not everyone get either of Gifts Nos. 1 and 2 on the list. Further down the list:

    “And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom. To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.”

    I believe even people who lack the gift of express belief, may have received the gifts God intends for them. And if they magnify these gifts — if they develop aptitudes for wisdom and knowledge, for their own sake and not for self-aggrandizement — they are serving the cause of the Truth, and thereby the cause of God. The other gifts can follow in God’s own time.

  33. I think those of us who are thinkers also don’t recognize the gift that certainty is. It’s easy to become hamstrung or locked in analysis paralysis when we stick to logic. While I personally try to compensate for my biases, and I never quit questioning my assumptions (or try not to), I also try to value following my gut in taking action, even if I can’t justify it. For me, the trick is admitting that’s what I’m doing rather than pretending it’s justifiable when it’s really not so clearcut.

  34. #35 Lorin

    Thank you for your comments – they were very good. I do think I run into that problem. I’m wired with a fairly intellectual approach to life. I suppose my biggest issue is that I don’t feel I have a “testimony” in the way that is continually talked about in the Church. I can’t say “I KNOW” that the Church is true, because for me to say I KNOW something is a fairly high bar. I’m actually accepting of that fact that there isn’t much that could happen in my life to cause me to say “I KNOW” short of some miraculous or overwhelmingly spiritual event, so I’ll likely never “KNOW” in mortality. Perhaps the biggest issue that raises for me is that I haven’t born my testimony for years. I don’t know that the average ward would be very accepting of “I certainly hope that this organization to which I’ve devoted decades of my life and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations is true.” I don’t know that people want a bishop or stake president who can’t say, “I know that the Church is true. I know that JS was a prophet of God. Etc.” I don’t know there’s really much place for people like me. But it is what it is. Perhaps someday God will see fit to give me some experience, emotional or otherwise, to let me know that this is actually true. Perhaps not. It’s not in my hands anymore, as I’ve done all that I can do.

    As mentioned, however, perhaps there is truth in many places. Perhaps there is more than one path to God. Perhaps the LDS Church isn’t the path for me. Maybe my uncertainty about the LDS Church and the peace I find in other faiths is God telling me that my path is different than the one I’ve followed my whole life. I am a very rational person and, unfortunately, to answer this question relies more on emotion than I am accustomed to doing. But my emotional and spiritual experiences of the past little while have been leading me AWAY from the LDS Church. For someone raised in the Church with all that that implies, this is a very strange position to be in. It would certainly cause consternation for my family and those around me were I to follow my heart and follow what gives me the most peace. But it does seem to becoming more and more clear. It is happening very slowly, but it is very different from the emotional confirmation that I would have expected – that found in Moroni 10 and that which we taught on my mission – that the LDS Church is the “one true Church”. It will be interesting to see where God leads my path.

  35. “I also try to value following my gut in taking action, even if I can’t justify it.”

    As you say, “the trick is admitting…(something)”. The challenge to that trick is when you operate under the assumption that this gut reaction is The Holy Ghost. Being presented with a choice, “do I go right or left”, and going left because 1) I have no logical reason to choose one alternative over the other; 2) each holds equal probabilities from your standpoint; 3) because I have some type of urge, call it intuition, compelling me left; is more than an appropriate solution to the problem. On the other hand going left on intuition when 1) Right has compelling evidence (even mild); 2) When turning right has a higher weighted probability of success; is just plain dumb. This becomes even more difficult when enters the dynamic of ambiguity – “I’m not sure why I feel like turning left, it may be the Holy Ghost, or it may not but I will act as though it is – just in case”. While it sounds nice that The Holy Ghost will never lead us astray, we are back to the same uncertainty if we can’t be certain when the Holy Ghost is operating. Not being able to justify intuition is less important than the more common issue where intuition conflicts with logic and reason.

  36. Cowboy – I think the trick is to avoid attributing our internal feelings to an external source (creating God in our own image).

  37. Mike S – “perhaps the biggest issue that raises for me is that I haven’t born my testimony for years. I don’t know that the average ward would be very accepting… I don’t know there’s really much place for people like me.”

    I think there IS room, or at least I sure hope people like you make a place for yourself. We REALLY need room for members who speak from the heart, whether that’s the “I know ____ is true” or “I hope ____ is true,” or “I believe ____ and _____. I bore my testimony a few months back and I don’t think I said “I know…” about anything and it was very well received. Hawkgrrrl a while back made a good point on here to focus on what you believe, rather than what you disbelieve or are unsure of. Personally, I LOVE to hear people speak genuinely on what they believe, for example, when they even just talk about God or their basic beliefs.

  38. “Cowboy – I think the trick is to avoid attributing our internal feelings to an external source (creating God in our own image).”

    Agreed.

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