Sed Contra: More Than a Mood

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2002

In our recent “Christianity From the Outside” symposium (May 2002), Emmy Chang remarked that she is tempted by faith when she feels expansive emotions—the sight of a dearly loved friend makes her ready to believe that God exists. Yet she worries about a faith that is undermined by subjectivity and “conclusions that are arrived at emotionally.” She has a point.

If the 18th century is described in textbooks as the “age of reason,” the 20th century may one day be described as the age of sentimentality. Emotions have usurped the place of ideas to such an extent that many of us have reacted by trusting emotions less and less.

But just as many of us, including nonbelievers, find ourselves considering the possibility that God exists when we are face-to-face with what we love most. When human desire starts rolling, it doesn’t want to stop with partial satisfaction—it naturally seeks completion in perfect love.

Take the risk of love, for anybody or anything, and you risk following wherever love takes you.

It is difficult to base an “argument” for God on the experience of love because emotions appear to lack an “objective” ground. And let’s face it: Most displays of religious enthusiasm don’t exactly bolster one’s confidence in what believers profess to believe. On the contrary: Hyperemotionalism suggests insecurity, a lack of reasoning, and the need for self-validation.

People commonly, and regrettably, describe faith as a “feeling,” and many seem to believe it is nothing more. If we polled Catholics on this issue, I would guess that nine out of ten would describe faith as some kind of emotional state. The confusion is rampant.

Faith is an “exercise of thought” (Fides et Ratio); its content is both personal and propositional, beginning with the person of Jesus Christ and spreading out through the creed and the entire “sacred deposit.”

Of course, once you consider certain truths to be absolute and a certain person to be the Son of God, how could emotions not play a role in the dynamics of your faith? Faith is not cold-blooded.

When Sinead O’Connor tore up a photograph of the Holy Father on Saturday Night Live, millions of Catholics were predictably outraged. I myself was livid at an unwarranted public attack on the head of my Church. Conversely, when the teaching of the Church is unexpectedly supported in the public square—whether by our president or in a Hollywood film—I, like all Catholics, am delighted.

In this sense, emotions are signposts: They can signal when we are on course or when we make a wrong turn. They also indicate, though not perfectly, what we care about and what we don’t.

But the meaning of emotion cannot be reduced to that which we already know, a reflection of our personal status quo. Emotions can play a role in recommending a purpose beyond what we already have consciously in mind. If emotions were purely self-referential there would be no surprises in life—no “falling in love,” for example.

Though they are not themselves concepts or propositions, emotions can help to convey a concept by forcing it to our attention. The philosopher Jacques Maritain struggled to describe this phenomenon in his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry with the idea of “intuitive pulsions.” These pulsions, he argued, are emotions used by intuitive reason; through them, our very nature speaks.

Heightened emotion may open someone to consider a notion—such as, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”—in a fresh way. Intensity and passion provide no certainty of truth. But in putting up our guard against the culture of sentimentality, we might make the opposite mistake of aspiring to a state of pure, disembodied, intellectuality.

The poet Wordsworth offered good advice in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” when he argued that the best poetry was based on emotion “recollected in tranquility.” I think that most converts, including myself, find that emotion does often incite recollection, the result being not a poem but a new life.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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