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John F MacArthurOne of the things I have found most irritating over the years is the indirect encouragement of emotion by pastors, particularly famous Baptist ones, by using the word ‘heart’ with a tear in their eye.

However, John MacArthur tells us that heart in the Bible has nothing to do with emotion. Heart as used in Scripture refers to the mind. Mention of the gut — or bowels — in the Bible refers to emotion.

MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Strengthen Your Heart’, dated May 16, 1976, is about Colossians 2. It explains this distinction and tells us why we should not be ruled by our emotions.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Let me begin by citing the first three verses of Colossians 2:

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

‘Encouraged’ appears as ‘strengthened’ in some translations, which encompasses ‘comforted’. In our world, we see them as three separate concepts, but where Scripture is concerned, the three words go together.

Some reading this will find it hard to stomach the word ‘bowels’. They might do better to think of ‘gut’ instead, as in ‘gut instinct’.

MacArthur begins by giving us our definition of ‘heart’, i.e. linked to emotion, then the biblical one for the word, which means ‘mind’. That is how the Apostle Paul used the word:

Now when we talk about the heart, what do we mean? We have to make that clear, because otherwise we will not understand what he’s saying; because in the English language, the heart is the seat of – what? – emotion. “My heart cries for you,” we say. “I love you with all my heart.” The heart is the symbol of emotion. To the Hebrew it was not the symbol of emotion. Did you get that? In the English language heart represents emotion. To the Hebrew, it did not.

Now the Hebrews referred to two organs of the body, and I want to talk about these two. The two organs that they referred to many, many times in the Scripture are the bowels and the heart. Now we’ll take the bowels first. Don’t panic. There are many references in the Bible to the term “bowels.” They have been fairly well erased in the later translations, but the pure translation of the Hebrew indicates that that is the word.

Now it is used in the Bible to speak of the womb, of the stomach, of the intestines, and of several other abdominal organs; so it becomes a general term for the gut, if you will. When a Hebrew says, “My bowels such and such,” he means, “I feel it in the gut.” That’s what he’s saying. Now watch this. The Hebrews did not know anything of speculative thinking, and they did not know anything of interpreting things in abstraction. Everything to them was a concrete, experiential physical reality.

Turn with me to Psalm 22:14. And here is a description of Jesus on the cross; and this is a prophetic picture of Him on the cross. But I want you to notice how the psalmist expresses what Jesus feels. He’s dying on the cross. “I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint;” – a perfect picture of crucifixion; listen now – “my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” And here he means, “My whole abdominal area is in upheaval. I feel it in the gut,” is what He is saying. “I feel it, and my stomach is in knots.” A very experiential concept, not abstract at all …

I’ll show you another one. This is very interesting. Song of Solomon chapter 5 – and I know you’re all racing there. Song of Solomon chapter 5, verse 4. Now this is very interesting; just to give you an idea of how the Hebrew expressed his feelings. Now you’ve got to have the picture. The bride is waiting for the bridegroom. It is time to consummate the marriage. This is a great hour.

Now listen, the Hebrew says in verse 4: “My beloved put his hand to the latch of the door, and my bowels are moved for him.” Now you say, “Wait a minute. That’s in the Bible?” That’s in the Bible. You say, “What does that mean, John?” That means is that the bowels include that whole area, including the arousal of sexual desire in the human body. All of that area, even feeling in the genital area, was expressed by the Hebrews in that terminology. You see, they didn’t say, “And I began to sense great overwhelming passion.” That’s an abstraction. The Hebrew defined it in its lowest level of experiential feeling.

MacArthur says that the ancient Jews considered emotions — feelings from the gut — the lowest form of human experience:

Lamentations chapter 2, verse 11. Now Jeremiah, he was a patriot. I mean he was a real patriot, Jeremiah. But he wasn’t a blind patriot. He loved his country when his country loved God. In Lamentations 2:11, he says, “My country’s falling apart,” in essence. He’s seeing the death of his country. That’s why Lamentations is called Lamentations; it’s the weeping of Jeremiah over the death of his country. He says, “My eyes do fail with tears,” – and here it comes – “my bowels are troubled. I feel it in the gut again. The pain in my stomach is – I’m in knots.”

Now you’ve experienced that. He is having psychosomatic responses in his body to anxiety in his mind, but the Hebrew expresses it in terms of the psychosomatic symptom, not in terms of the abstraction. So emotions biblically, in the Old Testament particularly, are not experienced as abstractions, but at the lowest level of experience. And so now, watch this, in the cases of the bowels being used in the Scripture, they have reference to emotional responses, so that to the Hebrew mind, the heart is not the seat of emotion. What is? The stomach. The bowels

… it says in 1 John 3:17, “Whosoever hath this world’s good, and sees his brother hath need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how dwells the love of God in him?”

Boy, that is strange. That is strange. What is he saying? He is simply expressing what, in the Hebrew mind, is an obvious thing. He is saying, “Look, when you see somebody have a need, that need ought to cause a gut feeling in you. It ought to stir you up, and tighten up your stomach, and make you feel some real anxiety”.

Now notice, in every one of those passages that I showed you, the bowels are always responding. They responded to pain, in the first one I told you about; they responded to sex, in Song of Solomon; they responded to disaster, in the case of Jeremiah; and they respond to human need, in the case of 1 John 3. So that that in the Hebrew mind, the bowel is always that which responds. It is emotion. They felt it inside.

That isn’t to say that there is no reference to ‘mind’ in the Bible. Occasionally there is, Revelation 2:23 being a case in point, when the Lord says:

I will search the minds and the heart.

However, overall, the heart is used alone in Scripture. I have read the following passages that MacArthur cites and wondered why the authors did not use ‘mind’ instead.

He tells us why the authors used ‘heart’:

What is the heart? Listen to me. First of all, we see from that passage [Revelation 2:23] the heart is the place of responsibility. It’s the place of responsibility. “The heart is that which is wicked,” in Jeremiah 17. “The heart of man is” – what? – “deceitful above all things, and” – what? – “desperately wicked.” It is the seat of responsibility. It is that which God is going to judge. And He will try men’s – what? – hearts. It is that which is righteous or wicked. When God redeems Israel, He will take away their stony heart, and give them a new – what? – heart. It is the seat of responsibility; it is that which is judged.

I’ll take you a step further. It can’t be emotion then. It can’t be emotion. What is it? Let’s look at Revelation 18, verse 7. And here he’s talking about Babylon the Great, the destruction of the final world system in the tribulation. “How much she hath glorified” – Revelation 18:7 – “glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give her;” – listen – “for she saith in her heart, ‘I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.’”

Now notice something. To say “in her heart” is a metaphor for doing what? Thinking. “She said in her heart.” What does that mean? She thought in her mind. What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

In ancient times, you don’t find them referring to the brain. Listen to this one: “The fool hath said in his brain.” No. “The fool hath said in his” – what? – “heart.” Why? Because the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels represent the responding emotion.

You say, “Well how did they get to this discovery?” Well, it’s easy to know how they got to the bowels being connected with emotion, because when they got emotional they began to have what we have today: upset stomachs, colitis, and all those symptoms that we get, ulcers – right? – all right here.

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur says that it is important for us to be able to control our emotions, whereas the Baptist pastors I mentioned earlier seem to favour emotions running riot.

MacArthur says:

“I can’t control my emotions.” You know why? Because your emotions will only be controlled by your mind, because emotion is a responder. The key to controlling your emotions is filling your mind with divine truth. That’s the key to controlling your emotions. You see, the emotions respond to what the mind perceives as true. Did you get that? Your emotions will respond to what your mind perceives is true, even if it isn’t true. That’s right.

Have you ever been lying in bed, and all of a sudden you woke up with a jolt when you landed after falling off that forty-story building? You weren’t falling, but your mind perceived it, and your emotions responded to it. You know what that teaches me about emotions? Don’t ever” – what – “trust them.” Don’t trust them, because you can make your emotions do anything if you can just make your mind think it perceives that. And the only way to control your emotions is to make sure that your mind is filled with divine truth. Emotions are like bad little children, they’ll run amuck if you don’t control them. And you say, “How do you control them?” You control them indirectly by feeding the mind.

Let me take you to 2 Corinthians chapter 6 … And here’s what he says, 2 Corinthians 6:11, “O ye Corinthians, our speech to you is candid, our heart is wide open.” Now listen. “Corinthians, listen to me. My speech to you is straightforward, candid, pulling no punches; and my heart” – or my mind – “is wide open.”

“Listen, I’ve got all kind of truth to tell you. It’s in my brain, and my brain’s open. It’s in my mouth, and my speech is wide open and straightforward.” Now watch this. “But on our part, there is no constraint. But there is constraint in your affections.” You know what the literal Greek is there? “You are tightened in your bowels.” That’s the literal translation. “I would certainly like to impart truth from my mind to your mind, but you are all tightened up emotionally. You are straightened emotionally.”

Listen to this. The Corinthians had put an emotional attitude against Paul in the way, and they couldn’t receive the truth. Listen to me. When emotions get ahead of the mind, you’ve got a lot of problems. Paul says, “I can’t even tell you the truth.”

… Just think about the person who comes to church and has something against me. They can’t learn, can they, because they put their emotions in front of the truth. The emotions have stopped being a responder, and the emotions are running the show.

Here the Corinthians were putting emotions first. They wouldn’t accept Paul. They were emotionally upset at him, so they were all tightened, uptight, and they couldn’t perceive truth; they had it all backwards. When people start putting emotions first, then they really get into problems.

MacArthur cites a contemporary example of emotions running the show in church:

One classic illustration of that today is the Charismatic Movement, Pentecostalism. You know what they attempt to do? They attempt to start the emotions without the mind. And they get you there, and you’ve got enough hallelujahs going, and enough running around and waving going, you can bypass the mind and you can really get the emotions flying. The only problem is, the emotions are responding to something they perceive that isn’t the truth, because there hasn’t even been the introduction to the truth. What they attempt to do is short-circuit the truth, and let the emotions run wild; and that’s the opposite of the biblical pattern.

You see, emotions should always respond to the truth. The key then to behavior, and the key to the control of emotion is the heart, the heart as seen as the mind. We need to plant the truth in the mind, and it will control the emotional responses.

Therefore, when we read of the heart in the Bible, we should be thinking of the mind rather than of our emotions:

Proverbs 4:23 says – and this is good: “Guard your heart.” What does it mean? “Guard your mind, your brain, with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” You see? You want to control life; guard your mind, and don’t let anybody short‑circuit it. That’s 4:23.

Proverbs 22:5 further, says, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; but he that doth guard his soul shall be far from them.” The same basic terminology: the guarding of the mind, the Hebrew.

You find it in Proverbs 23:19: “Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way.” Guide your heart: guard it, and guide it, that it might hear and perceive the truth, and that your emotion might respond to the truth.

A beautiful passage, Deuteronomy 4:9. I can’t resist reading it to you. “Take heed to yourself; keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your” – listen – “heart.” I’ll read it again. Listen to this: “Take heed to yourself. Guard your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which you have seen, and they depart from out of your heart.” Don’t forget the truth. Guard your heart.

In Psalm 139, a beautiful portion of Scripture, in verses 23 and 24: “Search me, O God, and know my” – what? – “my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts.” You see, the heart equated with thinking. “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Guard the heart. Guide the heart. Ask God to protect the heart – that’s your brain, your mind.

“A good man” – said Jesus in Matthew 12:35 – “out of the good treasure of the” – what? – “heart brings forth good things.” All the goodness will come out of the mind. The mind must guide the pattern of behavior.

One other passage, Matthew 15:19. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” Jesus said in Matthew 12, “All the good things come out of the thinking process.” Jesus said in Matthew 15, “All the bad things come out of the thinking processes.” So the Bible says, “God, guard my thinking processes.”

Earlier, I mentioned the commonality between ‘encouraged’, ‘strengthened’ and ‘comforted’. Readers thinking that these sound like gifts from the Holy Spirit — the Paraclete — are correct.

MacArthur explains how the meanings tie together:

Now let’s go back to Colossians, and watch what this means to you now. “I wish you knew how great a conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their” – what? – “hearts might be strengthened.” What do hearts mean? Minds. Paul says, “Number one thing I want out of you is to be strong in heart.”

What about the word “comforted”? You say, “It’s comfort in my Bible.” Sure, parakaleō, parakaleō, a very beautiful word; a word used repeatedly in the New Testament, and a word that always contains the idea of strengthening.

In Ephesians 6:22 it says, “that He might strengthen your hearts.” In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, “Strengthen your hearts.” The word parakaleō includes in it the idea of comfort. It includes in it the idea of courage, it includes in it the idea of being strengthened, and it always carries all those aspects. In fact, we can look backwards into etymology and we can find the use of this word to mean specifically “strengthened.”

It means to provide a strong, courageous inner man; an intellect, and a will that will act heroically for God. A strong heart means a firm mind: a mind that has courage, a mind that has conviction, a mind that believes, a mind that has principle

He tells us how essential the Holy Spirit is in giving us a strong mind in all the right ways:

You say, “But how do you get strong like that?” I’ll show you. Ephesians chapter 3, verse 16 tells you in one verse. How do you get that mind, that inner part of me strong? Verse 16: “He prays to the Father that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power by His” – what? – “Spirit.”

Who is the strengthener of the heart? Who is it? It’s the Holy Spirit. And we need it. We live in a world with a weak heart. People don’t have convictions. People don’t believe in things. People don’t know the truth. People don’t learn the truth: they don’t pursue the truth, they don’t mine the truth. And he says, “I want you to be strong in it. I want you to be courageous. I want you to be comforted, encouraged, and strengthened by it.” All of that’s in the word parakaleō. And the Holy Spirit is the one that can do it.

You say, “How does it happen, John?” I believe as you yield to the power of the Spirit of God, as you walk in the Spirit, He strengthens the inner man. I think that’s what he’s saying here. You give the Spirit of God control of your life on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis, and the Spirit of God will feed that inner man. The Spirit of God, by the revelation of God, will feed your mind, and strengthen your mind.

As we yield moment-by-moment to the presence of the Spirit of God, we’re strengthened. Paul is a perfect illustration of that. In Acts 9 he tells us that he was converted, and immediately one of the things that began to happen after he was converted was that he began to be strengthened. Acts 9:19 says, “He was strengthened.” Acts 9:22, “But Saul increased the more in strength.”

He became stronger, and stronger. It wasn’t that he was lifting weights, and it wasn’t that he was eating a lot of food. It was that he was being equipped by the Spirit of God, and he became so strong in his heart, he became so solid in his confidence, he became so unflinching in his ministry, that in chapter 20, verse 22, he said, “I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem. I don’t know what’s going to happen, except I hear that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things” – what? – “move me”

If the word parakaleō means to strengthen, it is the very same word that is used in John 14, 15, and 16 as the name of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the Holy Spirit being called Paraklētos, the Paraclete? That’s the identical word. You could just as well translate those verses this way.

John 14:16, this would be accurate according to the meaning of the word. John 14:16, Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Strengthener.” Verse 26, “But the Strengthener, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things.” John 15:26, “But when the Strengthener is come.” John 16:7 “If I go not away, the Strengthener will not come.” It’s the same word.

MacArthur brings us the methods of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in practical applications:

If you’re going to be strong in heart, then you’re going to be strengthened by the Strengthener, and that’s the Holy Spirit. And I’ll tell you what makes a weak Christian: that’s a Christian who walks all the time in the flesh. Right? Listen. Every step you take walking in the Spirit is a step like spiritual weightlifting, just that much stronger in your mind, in your convictions, in the things you know and believe about God.

Now I want to go a step further. Although the Holy Spirit is the Strengthener, He uses human instruments. He uses people like me to strengthen you, people like you to strengthen each other. Listen to Acts 18:23, “And after he had spent some time there,” – that’s Paul – “he departed and went over the country of Galatia and Phrygia” – now listen – “strengthening all the disciples.”

What was he doing? What was Paul doing? What did he do to them? He went in there and he poured into their minds divine truth, and that strengthened them. God uses human instruments empowered by His Spirit to strengthen.

Did you ever read 1 Timothy 6:2 this way? Paul says to Timothy at the end of the verse, “These things teach and strengthen.” Same verb. You know what strengthens people? Teaching. “These things teach and strengthen.” It is the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God, whether it’s directly as he ministers to you, or through a teacher that strengthens you.

… “Beloved, when I gave all diligence” – Jude 3 – “to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful of me to write unto you, and strengthen you that you should earnestly fight for the faith once delivered to the saints.” He says, “I had to write you to strengthen you.” “What do you mean?” “I had to impart to your brain knowledge to make you strong.”

MacArthur says that emotions are a sign of weakness. May our minds prevail in God’s truth via the Holy Spirit:

Listen. People don’t get strong by exercising their emotions. Do you understand that? You must understand what it says. “I want you to have strong hearts. It doesn’t mean I want you to have over exercised emotions. What it means is that I want you to have the input of the Spirit of God and the truth of God in your mind.” And so it will come from the Holy Spirit who is the Strengthener; and it will come from other instruments, such as Paul, such as Jude, such as me, such as anybody. And you know something, it will come from you; because if you’re strong, you’ll be able to pass that truth on.

I can think of a world-famous couple who have done a lot of damage — and continue to do so — by relying on their emotions rather than cool-headed, rational thinking.

They caused rifts within a tightly-knit family, rifts which might never be mended. They also caused ongoing anxiety in the matriarch of the family, who was already ill and grieving. She died this month and was buried exactly one week ago.

They did it by putting their emotions first and foremost.

We mustn’t be like that couple.

Instead, let us pray for increased knowledge of the eternal truth via the Holy Spirit, as the matriarch did during her long life of service and devotion.

May our minds be ever strengthened and at peace in Christ Jesus via the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John F MacArthurIn writing this week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post on Philippians 2:14-18, I used, as per usual, John MacArthur’s sermons.

‘Stop Complaining, Part 1’ begins with his view of an overly indulged, complaining generation.

He says that the problem is getting worse, rather than better.

Emphases mine below:

Let me sort of ease in to our subject a little bit, if I might.  We’re in Philippians chapter 2 verses 14 through 16.  And I titled the message, “Stop Complaining.”  There’s a reason for that, and it’s fairly obvious if you look at verse 14 where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” which are really two ways of saying stop complaining And as I was thinking about this very pertinent message about living your Christian life without complaining, it became very apparent to me that we live in a very complaining society.  And I really believe we are breeding a generation of complainers, and they seem to be getting worse with each passing generation

And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions, it is a curiosity to me that the most indulged society is the most discontent society, that the more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have and the more complaining they seem to be.  In thinking about this, and there would be many ways to approach it, I was just inadvertently flipping on the radio this week and I heard a speech by a sociologist that was quite curious to me and quite interesting The sociologist made a very interesting point.  He was talking about the young people in our culture, talking about their discontent, talking about their complaining attitude, their resistance to responsibility, and how that nothing is ever the way they would like it And they go through life with a kind of sullen discontent, kind of rejection of things the way they are And he had an interesting thesis What he basically said was this: that in many ways this discontented generation of young people is a product of small families His thesis was that where you have families where the average is two or less, of course the average family now in America is 1.7 children, which is kind of strange to think about; as one brother said to his sister, “I’m the one and you’re the point seven.”  But every family seems to come out at about 1.7.7.  We realize that families are getting smaller and smaller and moving toward one child families, if that.  Most families in America have either none, one, or two children …

And the difference is where you have a small family, the system bends to the child Where you have a large family, the child bends to the system And so, what you have, he said, is young people growing up in an environment where the system bends to them And you have child-centered parenting.

MacArthur grew up in a large family, where choice was not an option:

I know as a child myself, one of the reasons I wanted to grow up was I wanted freedom I lived in a totally conformed society.  I ate what they gave me I don’t ever remember going shopping with my mother, everI wore whatever she brought home I never picked out a thing, never.  I don’t even remember going to a department store clothing section as a young person.  My mother brought me what I needed, and I put it on.  And I conformed to the system.  And I looked forward to adulthood so that I could be free to make my own choices The reverse is true now; children grow up controlling the family and they don’t want to become adults because that means conformity Then, they have to go to work, and nobody at work says, “Now, how would you like your office decorated?  And what time would you like to take a break for lunch?”  Nobody says that.  They put you on an assembly line or they put you in a place where you are forced to conform, so what you have then is a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up.

And this sociologist said on the radio, you ask the average high-school kid, what do you want to do when you get out of school?  What’s his answer?  “I don’t know.”  You ask the average college student, what do you want to do when you’re out of college?  “I don’t know.”  And the reason he doesn’t know is because he is postponing responsibility because responsibility means conformity to a system, whereas childhood for him has been absolute freedom Eat what you want when you want, wear what you want when you want, and your mother will take you anywhere you want to go whenever you want.  And so, you breed a generation of young people who are irresponsible And when they do get a job, they get a job simply to finance themselves so they can enjoy their indulgences, and then when they’re 28 years old their license plate says, “He wins who has the most toys.”  And the whole idea of adulthood is to collect toys, boats, cars, vacation trips, on and on and on.

Now, what you have in this kind of thing, said this sociologist, is breeding moody discontent And you build young people who cannot conform and cannot be satisfied, over-indulged kids who don’t want to be adults, continue to push off responsibility; they grow up in an environment they control They don’t like being controlled And they become discontent They don’t want to take responsibility.  They don’t want to work And their adult years are sad.  They become sullen, very often, they become complainers And I really believe that he’s right in many cases.  One of the curses of our culture are overindulged childish kind of adults who are really complainers about everything Nothing is ever enough.  That’s why we have a whole society with a critical mentality, constantly attacking everything.

The church environment is no different:

Now, I want you to know this has found its way into the church And the church is full of its own complainers, and what is really sad is many of them are run by their children’s discontent People leaving the church because their children don’t like it Can’t imagine such a thing, unless their children control the family.  The church has its complainers.  And here we are with so much, so much.  How in the world could we possibly complain just because every little thing in life isn’t exactly the way we want it?  Frankly, I would suggest to you that few sins are uglier to me and few sins are uglier to God than the sin of complaining.  Frankly, I think the church at large does much to feed this thing by continuing to propagate this self-esteem, self-fulfillment garbage that just feeds the same discontent There’s little loyalty There’s little thankfulness There’s little gratitude.  And there’s very little contentment.  And sadly, what happens eventually is your griping, grumbling, murmuring discontent is really blaming God because, after all, God is the one who put you where you are So, just know who you’re complaining against.

He discusses how famous people from the Bible railed against God, from the very beginning:

Now, having said all of that there is a sense in which this complaining is part of our culture There’s another sense in which it’s not new at all Who was the first complainer who ever walked the earth?  Who was it?  The first complaining human being who ever walked was the first human being whoever walked.  And what was Adam’s first complaint?  “God, the woman You gave me.”  We are in this mess because of this woman.  He didn’t blame Eve; he blamed God.  Eve had nothing to do with it.  God made Eve.  Adam wasn’t married; he woke up one morning he was married.  God could have picked anybody He wanted, He picked her.  Why?  It’s God’s fault.  She led the whole human race in sin.  The woman You gave me, complaining.  Cain complained to God about God’s work in his life, Genesis 4:13 and 14 Moses complained to God for not doing what he wanted Him to do when he wanted Him to do it, Exodus 5:22 and 23 Aaron and Miriam complained to God against Moses, His chosen leader and their own brother in Numbers chapter 12.  Jonah complained to God because he was mad at God for saving the Ninevites, Jonah chapter 4 verses 9 and 10.  And it is still a popular pastime to complain at God And may I say that all of your complaints in one way or another are complaints against the providential purpose and will of God.

There’s a new book out called “Disappointment With God,” very popular and being promoted very heavily.  It seems to me to make complaining against God okay It sort of tries to define God as a lonely misunderstood lover who is really trying to work things out, but is really kind of a victim of all of us and we shouldn’t complain against Him, we ought to love Him What a strange view of God.  He is not some lonely misunderstood lover; He is the sovereign God who has ordered the circumstances of all of our lives And to complain against God, to grumble against God is a sin and we must see it as such.

In the ninth chapter of Romans verse 20, “O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”  Who in the world are you to answer back to God?  What an unthinkable thing to do.  And when describing the apostates in Jude 16, it says they are grumblers finding fault following after their own lusts All they want is what they want when they want it, they don’t get it, they grumble and find fault.  It’s characteristic sin of the proud and it is characteristic sin of the wicked.

Now, the tragedy of this particular sin is that it is so contagious Let me take a minute to usher you back into the Old Testament, chapter 13 of Numbers.  And I want you to follow me and we’ll at least get through this little introduction and I think set the stage for what is ahead of us.  This is really very, very interesting and very important.  We go back to the number one illustration of grumbling, murmuring belly-aching griping people the world has ever known, namely whom?  The Israelites.  Numbers 13 just gives us a little insight in to the potential power of this attitude to spread.  Verse 30 says, “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, we should by all means go up and take possession of it for we shall surely overcome it.”  Joshua, you remember, and Caleb came back from spying out the land and they said we can do it; God is on our side, we can take it.  “But the men who had gone up with him said, we are not able to go up against the people for they are too strong for us.”  Which is nothing but doubting God.  “So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out saying the land through which we have gone in spying it out is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”  And then, they said this, “Also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so were we in their sight.”

So, they come back with this complaining: we’ll never do it, we can’t make it, we can’t defeat them.  It’s a bad report.  It will fail, it will never make it.  Prophets of doom, they are.  And they’re really complaining against the fact that God has told them to go in.

God hates complaining as much as He hates sin.

God killed complaining Israelites. The wages of complaining were death:

Now, go over to chapter 14, watch what happens in verse 36, “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation,” what?  “Grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land,” follow this, “died by a plague before the Lord.”  You know what the Lord thinks of grumblers?  He killed them because they spread a brooding discontent against God That’s the issue.  These people complained against God, they complained against God calling them to go into the land, they complained because the odds were against them humanly speaking.  And in their disbelief and complaining against God, they caused the whole nation to grumble, and as a result God killed them with a plague Grumbling really spreads, and your discontent, and your critical spirit, and your grumbling attitude, and your murmuring complaints will infect other people.

Here were the children of God They had been led out of Egypt.  God had parted the Red Sea for them They had seen ten plagues, miraculous plagues at the point of their deliverance And as soon as they got out of the land of Egypt they started to complain, and it never really ended Can I take you through a little trek?  Go back to Exodus and let’s go back to where it started in the Exodus.  Verse 11 of chapter 14, “Then, they said to Moses,” and they’re out in the wilderness now.  “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  They said, “What do you bring us out here for, because there weren’t any graves in Egypt?”  Which is a mocking statement.  I mean, wasn’t there a place to bury us there?  You’re going to have to take us to the desert to bury us?  “Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”  Here’s the complaint, it’s not like they want it.  They’ve left Egypt, it’s not the way they want it Pharaoh is moving after them, and they begin to complain.  Of course, God did a marvelous thing, He opened the Red Sea, drowned Pharaoh’s entire army and saved them.

Go to chapter 15, they come through the Red Sea, they’ve been delivered, and in that great 15th chapter, the song of Moses sings of God’s great deliverance And it’s no sooner than they’ve done that, verse 22, then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days and they didn’t have any water, three days.  And they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the waters of Marah, they were bitter therefore it was named Marah, so the people what?  Grumbled at Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”  Again, the same attitude.  Chapter 16, by the way, God provided water for them You remember it.  Verse 27 of chapter 15, 12 springs of water and they camped there and 70 date palms and they had a feast.  “Then, they set out from Elim and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt, and the whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.”  Nothing is ever enough.  Part the Red Sea, provide the water, more grumbling.  “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, we would have been better off there when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full.”  Boy, this is a crass crowd, right?  They don’t care about anything but food.  “We’re all going to die of hunger.”  Boy, they’re real deep, aren’t they?  Real deep people.  “And the Lord provides again.”  It’s absolutely incredible.  God sends quail, God sends manna down.

Then, you come to chapter 17 “Then, all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin according to the command of the Lord and camped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water that we may drink.”  See, here’s more complaining, griping, grumbling, quarreling, disputing.  “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?  He is the one who has ordained the circumstances.  But the people thirsted there for water and they grumbled against Moses and they said, why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Well, Moses is getting to the end of his rope.  So, Moses cried to the Lord, and I’m sure it was loud, “What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they’ll stone me.”  Some group, huh?  So, the Lord said, “Pass before the people, take with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go.  I’ll stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you’ll strike the rock and water will come out of it the people may drink Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel, he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”  It doesn’t take very long for people to forget the provision of God.

Now, go over to Numbers for just a moment or two because I want you to see this pattern.  Now, they’re at the other end of the 40 years They’re ready.  Time is ready to go into the land.  And it’s not much different Verse 1 of chapter 11 of Numbers, “Now, the people became like those who complain.”  You ought to underline that.  “They became like those who complain of adversity.  Complaining of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.”  That’s where their complaint really was directed.  “And when the Lord heard it His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp The people therefore cried out to Moses and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.  So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the first of the Lord burned among them.”  40 years later, and they have been complaining the whole time about everything.

Verse 4 says, “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and the sons of Israel wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish and the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, and we’ve got nothing but manna, crummy manna.”  Day after day, this is typical complaining.  Chapter 14, God keeps on providing.  God sends the spies into the land.  And what happens?  They come out, they give this evil report, we can’t do it.  Verse 27 of chapter 14, “How long,” the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?  I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me.  Say to them as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you.  Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men according to your complete number from 20 years old and upward who have grumbled against Me.”  God says I’ll kill the whole lot of you, you’ll never enter the promised land, and He did it.  He did it.

Chapter 16 verse 41, “On the next day,” what next day?  The next day after God had just punished some people for invading the priesthood The next day after God’s object lesson about serious treatment of His law, “All the congregation of the sons of Israel,” verse 41, “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and they’re saying you are the ones who caused the death of the Lord’s people.”  And the Lord was furious.  Verse 45, He says, “Get away from among this congregation that I may consume them instantly.  Then, they fell on their faces.”  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in a fire from the altar and take incense in and bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord, the plague has begun Then, Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold the plague had begun among the people so he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he took his stand between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, but those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah,” where the ground swallowed them all up God just starts slaughtering thousands of them because of their grumbling, complaining, discontent.

You find it again in chapter 20 You find it again in chapter 21 I won’t read them to you.  I suppose the summary of all of it could be in Psalm 106, just listen to this, verse 25.  It says, “They didn’t believe in His word but grumbled in their tents.  They didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord.  Therefore, He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness.”  And that’s exactly what He did.

I read with interest and thought that this must be quite a recent sermon.

How old do you think it is?

MacArthur delivered that sermon on January 15, 1989!

Let’s return to our generation of complainers from that era, 33 years ago, as I write in 2022.

Their parents would have been born in the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, in most cases.

Those young adults, their children, in 1989, would have started getting married and bearing their own offspring in the 1990s.

Here we are, three decades — and three generations — later.

I have an update on today’s youth from Saturday’s Telegraph, July 30, 2022: ‘Our fixation with feelings has created a damaged generation’.

The article is about British youth. Post-pandemic, the main topic that appears in many news articles and parliamentary debates is mental health.

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘mental health’ in parliamentary debates between 2020 and 2022, I’d be living in Monaco right now.

Not only do we have a new generation of complainers, they say they are suffering.

They are suffering because they are too introspective.

Feelings are the order of the day. A dangerous solution to that is the Online Safety Bill currently in the House of Commons. Pray that we can put an end to it, because it has provisions for ‘legal but harmful’ speech. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — currently Nadine Dorries — can decide what is ‘legal but harmful’ speech.

Whoa!

That is a very dangerous route.

Even more dangerous are the voices coming from Labour MPs, who say that if they are ever in government again — a likely possibility — they will clamp down on whatever free speech remains.

Even worse, the legislation has not been passed, yet, here are Hampshire Constabulary just last Saturday, July 30, 2022, arresting a military veteran for tweeting a meme. The person who complained said that the meme caused him or her ‘anxiety’.

The police don’t ordinarily go to people’s homes to investigate crime these days. Yet, they are all too ready to look into social media.

Five officers attended this man’s residence and arrested him. It appears that no charges stuck, possibly because of the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox’s video of the incident. Perhaps the police were embarrassed?

The man tweeting this — unrelated to the incident — is former firefighter Paul Embery, a GB News panellist and Labour Party member who is active in unions, someone concerned about freedom of expression:

Guido Fawkes has more on the story and points out (emphasis in the original):

Arresting people for causing offence or anxiety, all while Hampshire recorded 8,000 burglaries in the last year, probably isn’t the best use of police time…

How did we get here?

The Telegraph article consists of an interview with Gillian Bridge, 71, who is an addiction therapist, mental health advocate, teacher and author of many years’ experience in schools and prisons.

Now you might think she makes all manner of apologies for today’s youth.

Au contraire!

Gillian Bridge was aghast to find that the BBC put great emphasis earlier this year on how young Britons were reacting to the war in Ukraine. She said:

there was this expectation that they were going to be enormously distressed – and about something that was not affecting them directly. Meanwhile, what were they doing in Ukraine? Living in bomb shelters; giving birth in cellars. But we were supposed to worry about the ‘anxiety’ young people were experiencing here? Frankly, I found that terrifying.

She said that this was not surprising, because in our post-pandemic world, feelings in a world of short attention spans are the only thing that matter.

As such, Ukraine is less important now. It shouldn’t be, but it is:

Terrifying, but “not surprising”, she adds with a sigh. “And you’ll notice that just like other political subjects that have prompted huge emotional outpourings on and off social media of late, things have now gone very quiet on that front. Once we’ve had these ‘big’ emotions, we are no longer particularly interested, it seems.” She cites our celebration of the NHS as another example. “People were virtually orgasmic about their pan-banging, but how many of them then went on to volunteer or do something tangibly helpful?” It’s in part down to our gnat-like attention span, says Bridge, “but also the fact that a lot of the time we’re not interested in the actual subject, just the way we feel about it.”

Mental health problems, real or otherwise, have spun out of control over the past few years, even pre-pandemic:

the 71-year-old has watched our “fixation with feelings” balloon out of all proportion, eclipsing reason, and predicted how damaging it would be, especially for the young. However, even Bridge was shocked by figures showing that more than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are now written for teenagers in England each year, with NHS data confirming that the number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds has risen by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.

Child mental health services are reported to be “at breaking point”, with referrals up by 52 per cent last year and some parents even admitting that they have been sleeping outside their children’s bedrooms in order to check they are not self-harming. There is no doubt that we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis – one that was definitely heightened by the pandemic. “But Covid cannot be held responsible for all of it,” cautions Bridge. “And while antidepressants can be very effective, we need to be asking ourselves how we reached this point? Because whatever we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Bridge blames this on too much introspection:

At the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2019 Bridge told the 250 independent school heads in attendance what she believed to be the root cause of this mass unhappiness: “This focus on ‘me, myself and I’ is the problemIt’s taking people who are vulnerable to begin with and asking them to focus inwards.” And in Bridge’s ground-breaking book, Sweet Distress: How Our Love Affair With Feelings Has Fuelled the Current Mental Health Crisis, the behavioural expert explains why too much emphasis on emotion is as bad for our health as a surfeit of sweet treats. Indeed the “empty calories contained in some feelings” have only helped our “sense of self-importance to grow fat”, she says. Hence the “emotional obesity many are suffering from now”.

Cancel culture and censorship are part of this dreadful focus on feelings:

The book – which kicks off with Bridge’s assertion, “We’ve been living in a gross-out world of personal emotional self-indulgence and sentiment for decades now … decades which have seen the nation’s mental health worsening” – is a succession of equally magnificent declarations. Magnificent because she has pinpointed the cause of a whole range of societal problems, from mental distress and the determined fragility of the young to the woke chaos of universities and cancel culture.

Interestingly, Bridge believes that this toxic focus on feelings began in the 1970s. MacArthur and the sociologist he cited spoke in 1989The timing makes sense.

Bridge told The Telegraph:

Certainly the touchy-feely approach to things had already started in classrooms back in the 1970s.

From there, it gradually expanded, year after year, decade after decade:

Flash forward to today, when every boss can be silenced by an employee starting a sentence with: “I just feel that …”

Whereas you could do so in the old days, it is now taboo to downplay someone’s feelings, and that is not a good thing:

The great value of feelings today, Bridge tells me, “is that no one else can ever deny them … so if you feel offended then someone has genuinely harmed you”. Celebrity culture has promoted this new way of thinking as much as social media, “where you can witness people actually gorging on themselves, getting high on the strength of their own feelings just as they do on sugar – self-pleasuring, basically. And listen, it may feel good in the short term, but it’s very bad for us in the long run.”

People can convince themselves that their feelings are the truth, their truth, anyway. That omits fact, what really happened. Bridge mentioned Meghan Markle’s complaints:

Take the Duchess of Sussex, she points out, and her litany of “heartfelt” complaints. “Just last week there she was explaining that she didn’t lie to Oprah about growing up an only child, because she felt like one, so it was, as she put it ‘a subjective statement’.” Bridge laughs; shakes her head. “We really are tying ourselves up in knots now, aren’t we? Because it’s all about me, myself and I, and someone like Meghan has made it so much easier for people to follow in her footsteps, when the reality is that feelings are not immutable. They are not fixed, an absolute. They are not fact. And they are certainly not something that must override everything else.”

Yet there is a natural neurological process whereby the brain is able to turn feelings into fact, Bridge explains. “If you revise, rehearse, repeat and reinforce, then you create a fact, and that fact will then be embedded in your memory: ‘your truth’. Going back to Markle, that’s crucially a truth that no amount of counter-evidence can challenge.”

Bridge says that encouraging children to emote and focus on their feelings is unhelpful for them and for society at large. The focus on feelings originated in the United States, the source of all bad ideas in our time:

“The worst possible thing you can do with a child is to give them a fixed idea that they are feeling a certain way,” she says with aplomb. So those “emotional literacy” classes that started in California and are now being taught at schools here in the UK? The ones using a “traffic light” system, with pupils as young as four being asked to describe their “happiness levels” accordingly? “A terrible idea,” Bridge groans. “Feelings are simply physiological sensations mediated by cultural expectations; they go up and they go down!” Yet thanks to the pervasive narrative that every feeling should be given weight, “instead of enjoying the limitless health and optimism of youth” many youngsters “are now entrenched in their own misery”.

Bridge then tapped unknowingly into what MacArthur preached about in 1989, the notion that there were once roles for us in life, conformity to social expectations:

The desire to feel significant (either by embracing victimhood or by other means) is hardly new where young people are concerned, Bridge reminds me, and her tone is notably empathetic. “Let’s not forget that people used to have a role in life assigned for them within their communities. You might do an apprenticeship and then go and work in a factory or go into your father’s firm, or you might be preparing to get married and have babies. Now people have to find their role, they have to choose an identity, and that is much more complicated for them.”

Remember when we older folk — the 60+ group — were taught resilience at home when we were children? ‘Tomorrow’s another day’? It meant that today’s setback was temporary and, sure, we were hurt or upset, but better times were on the way. And, sure enough, they were.

Parents and schools are not teaching children about the temporary nature of setbacks. Therefore, today’s children lack resilience, which gave all of us who learned it so long ago hope for the future:

“The reason ‘everything will look better in the morning’ is so important,” says Bridge, “is that just like the children who did well in [Walter Mischel’s famous 1972] marshmallow experiment, they were able to predict the future based on their past.” That ability to delay and see the bigger picture is closely associated with the development of the hippocampus, she explains, “which is memory, navigation and good mental health. Yet by immersing ourselves in feelings and the now, we’ve blotted out the ‘OK so I’m feeling bad, but tomorrow will be another day’ logic, and we’re trusting the least intelligent part of our brains. As parents, we should all be discouraging this in our children. Because a child has to believe in tomorrow.”

Developing resilience is good for brain health, and it helps us to survive.

Bridge says that altruism also helps our brain health. We look out for others, not just ourselves. She says:

Studies have shown that it protects us from mental decline in our later years, but that the self-involved are more likely to develop dementia.

She cautions against cancelling or revising our history, whether it be factual or cultural:

Learning and a sense of history are equally important when it comes to brain health. “Yet again we seem to be distancing ourselves from the very things that we need to thrive. We’re so threatened by history and its characters that we try to cancel them! When you only have to read something like Hamlet’s ‘to be, or not to be’ speech to understand that it encapsulates all of the issues and irritations we still suffer from today. And surely knowing that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of context, continuity and, crucially, relativity?

Alarmingly, Bridge says that some young people believe that suicide is a melodrama, not a final act:

they don’t actually realise it’s the end of them. Instead, they are almost able to view it as a melodrama that they can observe from the outside. Which is a deeply distressing thought.

Scary.

Bridge warns that too much introspection can lead to criminality:

Although it’s hard to condense everything she learnt about the criminal brain during those years down to a tidy sound bite, “what was notable and important in this context,” she says, “was their fixation on themselves. So the more a person looks inwards at the me, myself and I, the more they’re likely to run afoul of everything, from addiction to criminality. In a way, the best thing you can do for your brain is to look beyond it.”

She tells me about a prisoner she was working with “who came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got mental health’ – as though that were a disorder. Because people have become so ‘into’ the problem that the phrase is now only negative. That’s surely one of the most worrying developments of all. And it’s why I refuse to use or accept the term ‘mental health’ unless it is prefixed by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Incredibly, with all the misplaced importance on feelings, Bridge says she has never had a bad reception to her talks:

… she stresses she “has never encountered negativity anywhere I have spoken”. Yet another reason why Bridge isn’t about to dampen her argument.

She thinks there might be the seeds of a turnaround, based on news items over the past few weeks:

“I think people understand that it’s time for some tough talking,” she writes in Sweet Distress. “There is increasing evidence that families, schools and universities are being overwhelmed by an epidemic of mental ill health.” So whatever we are doing isn’t just “not helping”, but harming? “Absolutely. But I am seeing more and more people speaking up about this now. The narrative is changing. Just look at what the Coldstream Guards fitness instructor, Farren Morgan, said last week about body positivity promoting ‘a dangerous lifestyle’. He’s right.” She shrugs. “It’s no good saying ‘it’s OK to be any size you please’ when we know that if children have bad diets, that can in turn lead to obesity – which in turn makes it more likely that they will suffer both physically and mentally later on.”

She mentions the new smart dress code implemented by the head of Greater Manchester Police – the one that, according to reports last week, helped turn the force around into one of the “most improved” in the country. “These officers were performing better at work because they were dressed smarter. So what does that tell us? That if you have a disciplined life and if you accomplish the things you set out to do, that gives you self-esteem – which makes you happier. But of course none of this happens if we are just sitting around ‘feeling’ things.”

She suggests that a good way of getting young people out of the cancel culture narrative is to point out that, someday, they might be cancelled, too. Also note the final word:

How do we get people out of themselves when they are so entrenched, though? How do we root them when they are flailing to such an extent? “By giving them a sense of being part of history! By getting them to see that if they want to cancel someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago, then in 50 or 100 years’ time someone may have entirely ‘valid’ reasons to cancel them. By building the inner scaffolding that will keep them standing throughout life’s ups and downs. And you know what that inner scaffold is called?” she asks with a small smile. “Resilience.”

Get Gillian Bridge into the new Government, coming soon, as an adviser. The nation needs someone like her. She would be perfect in helping us to defeat our mental health pandemic.

Continuing my series what’s on Episcopal priests’ minds, the Anglo-Catholic FrKeithV posted a succinct tweet on inclusion in the Church:

I couldn’t agree more. We should be transforming our lives through the gift of faith and God’s infinite grace: becoming more Christlike and rejecting the bondage of sin.

It is unclear whether his next tweet is related to inclusion, but one of the reasons people find inclusion upsetting is that a handful of those who wish to be included do tend to demand it, rather than approach the Church in humility and goodwill.

One remedy for this is to rely on Scripture rather than one’s personal feelings — emotions:

It is hard being a Christian. Sometimes we love our personal baggage, which often keeps us in a sinful cycle. Satan can readily supply us with any number of excuses not to grow spiritually, to remain in his snare.

Our emotional resistance — wilful disobedience — to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is one of the devil’s best tricks. Don’t fall for it.

For the past 20 years, I have made a conscious effort to articulate views in conversation without saying ‘I feel’, instead using ‘I think’ or merely making a statement.

I knew a business professor at the time, now retired, who often introduced his conversational opinions with ‘I feel that …’ He said it so often that I began listening for those words from others, including friends, acquaintances and colleagues. There was a lot of ‘I feel’ among them as well as in television interviews with famous people.

SpouseMouse also noticed this.

Were we the only two who had?

We had a long wait, but, finally, it now emerges that other people have had enough of ‘I feel’. Before exploring their criticism of those words, let’s look at a bit of background from the late 20th century to today.

Thinking is being

Until recently, secondary school and university students took an introduction to philosophy course.

They read René Descartes, the French philosopher who wrote in his Discourse on the Method in 1637:

Je pense, donc je suis.

In 1644, he wrote the statement in Latin in Principles of Philosophy:

Cogito ergo sum.

Translated in English, it means:

I think, therefore, I am.

Wikipedia explains:

This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.

St Augustine of Hippo wrote similarly in the 5th century in his works The City of God and the Enchiridion, in discussing the errors of sceptics. By being alive, we are prone to error:

… one cannot err who is not alive. That we live is therefore not only true, but it is altogether certain as well …

Other philosophers and great thinkers also addressed the certainty of our existence, which revolves around the ability to think and to reason.

My point here is not to engage in philosophical discussion but rather to point out that thinking was seen as the foundation for rational expression.

When I was growing up, my parents asked me to substantiate my opinions with facts. Facts require thought in order to process the information therein. Facts give us solid reasons to support certain perspectives.

Thinking is not emotion. As my parents used to say, ‘Any fool can feel. You’re supposed to use the God-given gifts of thought and reason.’ To some that will sound tough, but it will produce critical thinking.

The therapeutic era

Most people under the age of 35 or even 40 will have encountered a therapeutic approach to language rather than a rational one.

If this approach to linguistics does not begin at home, it will certainly be taught at school.

Everything must be couched in inoffensive terms. Prefacing an opinion or even a fact with ‘I feel’ is understood to be more acceptable than using the more definite ‘I think’ or making a direct statement.

Defenders of ‘I feel’ think they and others who use those words are demonstrating humility, gentleness and openness towards others. ‘I feel’, they say, signals a willingness to change one’s mind if a good case can be made to the contrary.

However, there is also a manipulative side to ‘I feel’ when it is used by people who self-identify as victims. It is a passive-aggressive way of saying, ‘I’m a delicate little flower. Therefore, please don’t contradict me, because that will invalidate my feelings. Truth be told, I am not interested in what you have to say, anyway, unless you agree with me.’

The case against ‘I feel’

On May 1, the SundayReview in The New York Times featured an article by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a contributing editorial writer to the NYT. Worthen’s most recent book is Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

Her article, ‘Stop Saying “I Feel Like”‘, is a must-read for both supporters and detractors of that perspective. The accompanying illustration of a woman opening her mouth with flowers falling out of it makes the point perfectly.

Worthen begins by saying she has been hearing people opine on the presidential candidates this year. Too many of them make statements similar to the following:

Personally, I feel like Bernie Sanders is too idealistic

or, as someone said of Rafael ‘Ted’ Cruz, the ex-Canadian:

I feel like I can trust that he will keep his promises.

Worthen points out (emphases mine):

The imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates that “I feel like” became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for “I think” or “I believe” only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve, and curmudgeons like me are always taking umbrage at some new idiom. But make no mistake: “I feel like” is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument — a muddle that has political consequences.

Although women use the phrase more often than men, she says that among her own students:

male students begin almost every statement with “I feel like.” The gender gap is vanishing because the cultural roots of this linguistic shift were never primarily a consequence of gender.

Some students Worthen interviewed are making a conscious effort not to say the words:

Jing Chai, a senior at the University of Chicago, said: “I’ve tried to check myself when I say that. I think it probably demeans the substance of what I’m trying to say.”

As I said above, ‘I feel’ can be a passive-aggressive conversation stopper. Worthen agrees:

“I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.

When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.

You know, we can’t have that these days. The atmosphere on campus is meant for victimhood rather than learning. Worthen says that Bradley Campbell, a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles, has written about the shift:

from a “culture of dignity,” which celebrates free speech, to a “culture of victimhood” marked by the assumption that “people are so fragile that they can’t hear something offensive,” he told me.

People like that should not even be at university, regardless of their intelligence. University is for people who can think critically and encounter new ideas. It’s a place for well-reasoned, tempered debate and discussions which result in learning. Yet, for all their linguistic kindness, today’s university students, sometimes aided by lecturers or professors, violently shut down opposing viewpoints. Think of the Chicago ‘protests’ (assaults and vandalism) a few months ago by university students — encouraged by radical professors — which prevented a Trump rally from taking place. Elsewhere, earlier this year, one student purposely damaged a Trump supporter’s laptop because he couldn’t stand looking at the bumper sticker on it. Trump aside, many universities — including those in the UK — have had to cancel certain speakers’ appearances because they are not politically correct. This is in response to student protest and threatened violence. The wimpy ‘I feel’ is, in reality, manifesting itself as physical harm or damage. But I digress.

Worthen also interviewed Christopher Lasch’s daughter Dr Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, who is carrying on her late father’s fine work in social commentary. If you have not read Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, you are missing out on a treat. I read it in the early 1980s and it analyses our society to a T.

Of ‘I feel like’, Lasch-Quinn told Worthen:

It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.

In 2001, Lasch-Quinn’s book Race Experts lamented that no real improvement is being achieved with equality or economics. Instead, the Left focusses on sensitivity training. ‘I feel like’ is part of this pattern:

a means of avoiding rigorous debate over structures of society that are hard to change

Cultivating the art of conversation goes a long way toward correcting these things,” Dr. Lasch-Quinn said. 

Her father wrote about what, today, Americans call ‘self care’. Worthen explains:

“self-care” — can lead to what the writer Christopher Lasch called “pseudo-self-awareness.” It can leave us too preoccupied with personal satisfaction to see the world clearly. “The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety,” Mr. Lasch wrote in his 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” “He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life.”

Unfortunately, times have moved on. In the 2010s, it is all too apparent that those who are emotionally-driven actually do seek to inflict their own certainties on others, either by shutting down opposing viewpoints or threatening people. ‘I feel like’ is a contributing linguistic factor to this phenomenon.

Although philosophers have for centuries acknowledged emotion as essential to thinking, we can take our feelings too far. When Worthen spoke to the neuroscientist Dr Antonio Dimasio, who teaches at the University of Southern California, he agreed that ‘I feel like’ is:

“bad usage” and “a sign of laziness in thinking,” not because it acknowledges the presence of emotion, but because it is an imprecise hedge that conceals more than it reveals. “It doesn’t follow that because you have doubts, or because something is tempered by a gut feeling, that you cannot make those distinctions as clear as possible,” he said.

The best gift parents and teachers can give children is to get them to figure out why they like or dislike and agree or disagree with something or someone. Insist that they think about it and articulate it factually, without one-word answers or labels. Furthermore, when they see a soundbite from someone they disagree with, ask them to research further. Did they understand the full context in which a statement was given? Did they read or hear the full quote?

Saying ‘I feel like’ prevents our getting the full story. Using ‘I think’ or — even better — doing away with the first person preface altogether will produce sharper thought processes and a more reasoned point of view, easily articulated to our listeners and readers. Children should learn that as quickly as they can. It will serve them well in life.

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