Fact vs. Feeling

emotion icon

Emotions: Not what the Truth is about. … (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

In at least one crucial way, religion is no different from any other aspect of life: You need to be wary of emotions.

Emotion has its place, in religion and in the rest of life: family celebrations and other festive occasions are times to crank up the fun factor; funerals and memorials are times for grieving and mourning; Halloween is a time to indulge a healthy amount of suspense. Emotions, however, have a downside: there’s always the danger of letting your feelings dictate your actions, in spite of any factual information telling you otherwise. If I’m wronged in some way (whether the wrong is real or perceived), I may feel like hauling off and smacking someone—but doing that could get me in a lot of hot water.

This issue is especially of concern in the area of religious belief, perhaps primarily because a good chunk of the subject matter deals with things not physically evident or empirically verifiable. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t a set of facts regarding the spiritual realm. Consider it logically:

  • Either there is a spiritual realm, or there isn’t; it can’t be both.
  • Either there’s one God, multiple gods, or no gods; it can be only one of these options.
  • If there is a God, He either cares about us or He doesn’t; it can’t be both.

And so forth.

Many people like to say that politics and religion are strictly a matter of opinion, but that’s false. I won’t comment on politics here, but religion, as I began to demonstrate in the above examples, has a set of facts about it, just like any other subject in human experience. So whatever you decide to follow or not follow as far as spirituality/religion/faith is not simply a matter of personal preference or a case of “what’s true for you isn’t true for me”; there’s a set of spiritual facts, and only one faith system, at most, can be correct on the most crucial points. A simple side-by-side comparison of the major doctrines of the various religions confirms this: Christianity and Islam and Mormonism and Scientology and Buddhism are all at odds with each other on major points of doctrine, so common sense says that only one of them, at most, could be right.

Many people, unfortunately, don’t like to bother with the facts, but instead like to go with whatever “feels right,” whatever system tells them what they want to hear. Case in point: Mormons and the “burning in the bosom.” Mormons like to tell people to ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, and that if you do this, you’ll experience a pleasant physical sensation in your chest—this “burning in the bosom”—signifying God’s affirmative answer. Not only is the power of suggestion in play here, but people are giving zero consideration to whatever facts are involved.

And in the case of Mormonism and other non-Christian religions, some of the facts being ignored or missed are downright absurd, making one wonder how these religions ever got any followers. Why does anyone subscribe to Mormonism when its founder’s lifelong pattern of fraudulent behavior is a matter of public record? Why does anyone follow Scientology when its inventor was a science fiction author? Why does anyone follow Islam when its founder was nothing more than an attention-seeking warmonger with an inferiority complex?

Really? You trust these guys? These facts don’t matter to you? Does a “burning in the bosom” or some other emotional experience outweigh the truth?

Even more unfortunately, some Christians groups fall for this same thing. I’m reminded of all those charismatic preachers who make a habit of getting the crowd worked up and emphatically push on the foreheads of their congregants, who seem to always faint and end up needing to be dragged offstage. I’m also reminded of megapreacher Joel Osteen, who always has a smile plastered on his face, apparently never having had a bad day in his life. His church is the biggest in America—and it’s no wonder, because the only thing his congregants ever hear is “the positive motivational speech”; you’ll never walk out of one of his services feeling anything but elated, believing that a material and financial windfall is just around the corner.

And don’t even get me started on “the Holy Ghost laughter.”

There is much to enjoy about God, and a relationship with Him certainly involves some pleasant emotions, but emotions aren’t the be-all and end-all—God, the Truth, is.

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