Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 29, 1970

The Revolt Against Reason


We are living in an age of irrationalism — literally. The emphasis in our day is on the sensory, the emotional, the irrational and subconscious far more than on rational and intelligible communication of thought. It is the age-old confrontation of the emotion against the intellect, or non-reason against reason, of the mystical and sensory against the historical and real. The modern youth, growing up under the overwhelming sensory impressions of television wants to act, to feel, to experience — but not to think. He rebels against the hard discipline of reading and study and the methodical work involved in thinking.

This all calls to mind a taunting little jingle we ran across somewhere with which the more impious boys in the universities of England used to ridicule the followers of John and Charles Wesley just when Methodism was getting started. The Wesley's and their friends were trying to strengthen their "inner awareness of God" by a long list of "rules" and "methods" which they followed rigorously each day — so many hours for meditation, so much time for "spiritual conversation" a certain amount of "benevolence" practiced each day in helping the poor, etc. Their disrespectful fellow-students, unaffected by what the Wesley followers were attempting, began to chant something like this: (we quote from memory):

"By rule they eat;

By rule they drink.

By rule do everything

— But THINK!"

The emotionalism which the Wesley's generated was a well-known aspect of our American frontier religion; so much so that "shouting Methodist" became a common appellation for them, much like "blue-stocking Presbyterian," "hard-shell Baptist," and "square-bale Campbellite." (That last one was only common in those areas where the cotton gins packaged their cotton in square bales rather than the oblong style. Anyway you stacked the bales they were always the same. It became a common saying that "any way you stack a Campbellite, he is always the same.")

We are witnessing a return to the "emotionalism gone to seed" with which our grandfathers had to contend. The modern craze for tongue-speaking is but a part of it; the wild, irresponsible, animalistic passions of the student rioters, bombers, arsonists, weathermen and panthers is another aspect of the same basic phenomenon. In religion it tends to tongue-speaking, "sensitivity training," with great emphasis on love, concern for others, Christian brotherhood, etc.; in politics it runs to rioting and arson, with hi-jacking of plans and threatening of hostages the ultimate expression. . .

It is all an outgrowth of "feeling" rather than reason and thought. There is certainly a place for "feeling" and emotion both in politics and in religion. Indeed, one great criticism of religion through all the ages has been its very lack of feeling. Jesus clearly emphasized this in his stinging rebuke of the Pharisees of his day for their unconcern for the poor and needy while they meticulously observed the ritual. Amos found the same problem in the Israel of his day, as did many others of the prophets of God. Cold formalism is lifeless and deadly. But the other extreme, unrestrained emotionalism can be equally fatal to the truth as it is in Christ. We have little doubt that this white-hot emotionalism was perhaps the basic ingredient in the failure of so many of our fellow-Christians to know what the score was when the "orphan home issue" came to the front some twenty years ago. Thinking, reason, a calm and intelligent appeal to the written word of God brought light and understanding to many thousands of honest and sincere people who had up to that time vigorously championed and supported the orphanages as a work of the church. But others responded emotionally; their reaction was visceral rather than intellectual. All they were able to see was hollow-eyed, starving orphan children, with bellies distended from malnutrition, limbs shriveled and ribs protruding..... while the "anti-orphans" lived in luxurious preacher-homes with green grass (well fertilized) growing on the lawn.

Emotionalism has its place in religion. It is the "steam in the boiler." Truly, faith without works is dead. But zeal without knowledge is equally dangerous. The Christian is balanced between the two. His zeal is strong and flaming; but it is always and in all things governed by a "thus saith the Lord."

— F. Y. T.