August 28, 2009

When Our Feelings Mislead Us

Let's Talk About Feelings album coverImage via Wikipedia
Have you ever felt very strongly about something, acted on your feelings, and then turned out to be completely wrong? Yeah, me too. Whether it was that relationship you stayed in longer than you should have out of love or the gadget you bought because it seemed so exciting at the time, I think we can all relate to this experience. Clearly, our feelings, beliefs, and the like can (and often do) lead us astray. Most of us know this and try to take various precautions. For example, one of the things I've learned to do to prevent impulse buys is to force myself to wait a week before buying a big ticket item. But what about those who are not able to distinguish between their feelings and reality?

In a recent post at Cubik's Rube, we encounter those objecting to an atheist ad that reads simply, "You can be good without God." It is easy to imagine that many religious people would disagree with such a statement. It is equally easy to imagine that some opponents of free expression might oppose the right of an atheist group to publicly display such a message. What is not at all easy to understand are those who insist that such a message is offensive.

And yet, we will find the answer to this puzzle in their inability to distinguish feelings from reality. Confronted with such a ad, some Christians claim,

I feel it’s an outright attack on Christianity.
Okay. One can certainly feel this way, but that does not make it so. Here's the thing, religious people, feeling a certain way or believing something does not make it true, real, or accurate. Just as belief does not equal truth, feelings do not equal truth.

The statement above indicates only that the speaker feels a certain way. It has no bearing whatsoever on the reality of what the message of the billboard does or does not contain. If you choose to interpret billboard as an attack on Christianity, you may certainly do so. But your doing so does not change what the billboard actually says; it merely reveals something about you.
I feel like the language of it is inflammatory.
Yes, I believe you when you say that you feel this way. But the fact that you feel this way does not mean that the language is in fact inflammatory. It merely means that you are interpreting it this way.

Most educated adults understand how this works, and this includes most religious adults. Unfortunately, many of them seem all too willing to forget or willfully disregard it in matters of their preferred religion.

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