Do Emotions Distort Knowledge? Pt. 2

Read Part 1 here.

By He Li, Class of ’17

This danger of distortion, however, is only present when emotions sway the receptive mind during the reception of an idea. If the listener does not heed to such temperaments during the receptive process, then he is at no risk of obtaining distorted knowledge. The active and receptive intellects necessarily correspond with each other when they are free from emotion. The intellect is in fact the only receptive faculty used in human communication. Emotional faculties do not receive emotions; they respond to input received by the intellect by producing emotions. Both emotions and intellectual ideas are received by the intellect. Stephen’s executioners were not blind to the saint’s temperamental communication only because their emotional faculties were impaired by rage-their rage actually rendered a part of their intellect unreceptive, namely the one that receives emotions. When an intellect receives both emotion and intellectual ideas during communication, the listener is able to grasp the full essence of the speaker’s message. If the receptive process remains free from emotive distortion, then emotions produced in the listener after the receptive process do not enable the distortion of knowledge. This is so because they are informed by the complete intellectual-emotive idea conveyed by the speaker.

If we read the words of Christ in the Gospels with preexisting sentiments of enmity and scoffing, we will never be able to perceive the full depths of His precepts, and our rejection of the message is therefore grounded in ignorance rather than impiety in full conscience. If the same feelings arise after we receive these verses in an undistorted manner though, then our hearts are spurning the spiritual beauty of God even after understanding both its intellectual and emotive aspects. Perhaps this is why it is said: “…whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” [Matthew 12:31-32 ESV] Words spoken against the Son of Man are only directed against the the intellectual aspects of the Messiah’s teachings-the workings of his moral rationale and his claims to the Sonship. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, works within the heart of the listener to create divine feelings of joy and certainty that affirm Christ’s words. These otherworldly sensations guide us to notions of supernal existence and eternity, providing us with a firm foundation on which we are able to set our faith. To speak any words against this very experience of God, then, renders us liable to damnation without forgiveness.

I have previously mentioned that the emotions of a human speaker and listener do not necessarily correspond with each other. This is not the case if God is the speaker. God is sovereign over all things, and he certainly holds dominion over our feelings. If he wills to communicate with us, he will ensure that our emotional condition during the receptive process allows us to receive his missive in the most complete and most arresting manner. When the receptive intellect is influenced by preexisting emotions that do not correspond with the active intellect, then our perception of the emotions of the speaker is weakened. But when the receptive intellect is influenced by preexisting emotions that do correspond with the active intellect, we receive the speaker’s message in a manner that is all the more striking. A receptive intellect subject to preexisting emotions aligned with the emotions that active intellect intends to convey is able to receive the communication in a more compelling manner than a receptive mind not influenced by any emotion at all. Thus, God may stir us up in spiritual ecstasy before we meditate on the Beatitudes when He wishes to positively reinforce our faith, or he may humble us with dejection so that we may wholeheartedly receive His message of admonition as we read about the coming tribulation. How, then, is it possible for anybody to receive His word with “preexisting sentiments of enmity and scoffing?” I answer that it is because God wills precisely so for some; it has been said that “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” [Matthew 13:12 ESV]

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