Following-up on yesterday’s post on emotion and discipleship: I’ve been dwelling on this lengthy-but-imporant quote by Adam Miller:
I take it for granted that moods, emotions, and affects are not just existential window dressing. They don’t just add a little subjective “color” to what would otherwise be an accurate, dispassionate, objective experience of the world. Rather, I take it for granted that moods and emotions are crucial neurological mechanisms for focusing human perceptions and driving human actions. As a result, I understand moods and emotions to be fundamental to any human experience of truth and meaning. Human experiences of any kind—including those we describe as objective—are all impossible without moods and emotions. (p. 34)
Moods and emotions are modes of perception. They make truth possible. They disclose the world. They are fundamental forms of attunement and orientation that operate a notch lower than conscious thoughts and decisions. Like the dial on an analog radio, moods tune the mind to certain stations of perception. They select relevant slices of sensation and information from the pressing static and chaos of the wider world.
Moods and emotions are a body’s initial, gut-level read on what, in that moment, is relevant. They function as filters and, thus, make meaning possible. Meaning depends on having some criteria for screening what information is currently relevant and what is not. Moods and emotions sort and prioritize information, they bring a particular profile of experience into meaningful focus and they motivate us to act on that information.
It’s clear that someone who feels angry, someone who feels fear, and someone who feels compassion will experience the same situation in profoundly different ways. The elements of the situation that stand out as relevant will vary widely and, in turn, the sorts of motivated actions that seem appropriate will vary widely. Though the situation may be otherwise identical, anger will filter perceptions and shape actions in one way, fear will filter perceptions and shape actions in a second way, and compassion will filter perceptions and shape actions in a third.
Given how crucial moods, emotions, and feelings are to experiences of any kind, it should come as no surprise that they are also crucial to religious experience. Moreover, if discipleship turns on reshaping and reordering human experience at the deepest levels, then moods and emotions ought to be doubly crucial to religious experiences. It should also come as no surprise, then, that recognizing the baseline persistence of a certain mood in Mormon’s own life is crucial to recognizing how his life brings key elements of Christian discipleship into sharp focus.
Understood in these terms, discipleship doesn’t just depend on a certain way of acting. It depends on a certain mood or bearing. It depends on a certain way of holding time as it passes, on a certain tendency of thought to circle back to the same bare and quiet space, on a certain unclenching of the mental fist. It depends on a continual tilting of the soul, regardless of what thoughts and feelings play across the surface of the mind, toward a certain primal mood. Sobriety is a good name for this baseline Christian mood, for the disciple’s default inclination of heart and orientation of mind. Divine melancholy is another. Mormon embodies this melancholic sobriety and his attunement to the Spirit—to life and light and suffering and loss—is, as a practical matter, grounded in this bearing.Adam Miller, Mormon: A Brief Theological Introduction, pp. 34-36; emphasis added
I’m not 100% certain that the “baseline Christian mood” is sobriety or divine melancholy. I think there’s scriptural support for arguing that it’s more… upbeat? A sober hope, perhaps, or a serious praise. But I recognize that a seriousness is required, especially in times of real loss around us. (Paul Kingsnorth’s Substack captures this sobriety well, especially given that his life’s question and his writing’s work has revolved around the same question Adam Miller is circling around: “How do we abide losing what we love, when we can’t stop the loss?”)
But I am 100% on-board with a recognition that emotion plays an important role in our lives, and in our path towards God. We cannot be indifferent. We cannot feel less than we should if we want to progress the Kingdom, and within it.