Saturday, February 9, 2013

Whet, Suppress, and Reorder – Aiming Virtues at Emotions

Dr. Pence writes:

The original sin of Adam disassociated man from the ordering vitality of sharing in God’s life. This darkened our intellects and weakened our wills.  A light bulb is dysfunctional – not depraved – when it is disconnected from the electrical current for which it was made. The filament only works properly in relation to an external current.  That is why babies need baptism, not because they have chosen sin, but because they are disastrously disconnected.

Grace, faith, and religious education are all aimed at enlightening our intellects.  No serious Christian accepts the darkened intellect as his static life-state.  But with our slackened wills – our puny love for God, and all the disorders of appetites and affections that follow that paltriness of spiritual desire – we make peace. We take our desires as givens, and discipline our wills to become bludgeons instructed by the intellect to suppress our excessive passions.  We conquer our defective emotional drives with “will power.”  This leaves us desiccated men who no longer commit certain sins of passion, but are incapable of the magnanimity of soul which marks the person who "loves much."

Where your heart is, there is your treasure. Blessed are those who hunger for justice, and thirst for righteousness. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife or goods. These are all commands to order our appetites, affections, or emotions.

The virtue ethics movement (see Servais Pinckaers, O.P. and Romanus Cessario, O.P.) and the lucid work on Aquinas and emotions (The Logic of Desire discussed in this taped talk by Nicholas Lombardo, O.P.) are present-day Dominican contributions that refocus our virtues on the training of our emotions.

Deficiency of desire for God can be whetted; deficiency of desire for one’s wife can be rekindled; disordered desire for one’s neighbor can be repressed; apathy in the face of evil can give way to daring; and a disregard for Satan can be overcome by a cultivation of hatred for that vile serpent.

If certain well-regarded acts of the atheistic sexual revolution no longer cause physiological and moral aversion in one’s stomach and soul, then the emotional battle that decides group elections has been won by the other side. My modest proposal in the battle to awaken and reorder our desires and emotions is to learn virtue theology from Dominicans, and another set of lessons from Jewish and Islamic culture.  Both have long-standing traditions ("Stoning the Devil" and "Scapegoating") which cultivate those less popular but utterly necessary hatreds and aversions needed to expose, isolate, and cast out the Evil One.

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