Many of us in western cultures have been suffering from a kind of “Cartesian hangover” ever since Rene Descartes argued that our bodies—including our brains—were human machines run by our minds, which were (rather strangely, when you think about it) independent of our brains. Symptoms of that hangover have prominently included a distrust of or ignorance about emotions. Emotions, the argument went, were signs that our minds weren’t doing especially good jobs at controlling our bodies because minds are rational and emotions are . . . well, carnal.
Thankfully, the hangover is passing. Contemporary work by varied scholars like Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, Robert Solomon, and Martha Nussbaum are helping us realize that the old either-or’s (reason or emotion/thought or feeling/mind or body) are wrong. Feeling isn’t the opposite of thought; it shapes how we think. Just read popular contemporary writers like Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) or David Brooks (The Social Animal) to see not only how important our emotions are to understanding who we are, how we think, and how we behave but also how revolutionary it is for us to be getting over Descartes.
Even more thankfully, all this new attention to the role of the emotions in human life has opened up fresh understandings of a book chock-full of emotional behavior: The Bible. In this edition of @ This Point, we get to hear from not one but two biblical scholars who have been thinking about the relationship between faith and feeling in the Bible: Matthew Schlimm, whose article leads off this edition, and Columbia Seminary’s own Christine Yoder. They are joined by George Stroup (theology) and Skip Johnson (pastoral care), both of C.T.S. and both careful and insightful thinkers in their own areas. Collectively, their perspectives and their feelingly insightful wisdom make this a strong and provocative edition of the journal. And C.T.S. graduate Kathy Wolf Reed has contributed helpful curricular materials for the use of the essays in adult education classes.
Collectively, they give us a lot to think—and feel—about, and we’re better off for it.