Friday, June 11, 2021

Anger, Anxiety, Complacency, Passion in Intellectual Believing

Epistemic status: provisional, practical implications somewhat tested.

Alec Ryrie, in Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, traces two kinds of ways unbelief emerged in early modern Europe, two emotional regimes that produced it: anger and anxiety.

To simplify what he says: Angry unbelievers are angry at Christians and take it out on God by denying him. Anxious unbelievers are those who wish they could believe, but are afraid that they can't, and as their anxiety keeps them from trusting God, find that they can't.

I would add two more kinds of emotional regimes that can found unbelief: complacency, and passion. (There may be even more, but these are the two to add for this post.) Complacency might have been missed by Ryrie because he was studying how unbelief could arise in an overwhelmingly theistic society -- how theistic society could break its own theism. But complacency can motivate unbelief when unbelief is taken as an easy, available option. Passion, on the other hand, is neither complacency nor anxiety nor anger. One might disbelieve because it was apparently the right thing to do. A person could have a genuine passion for the truth and come out an atheist.

I'm not sure how to define passion, exactly. (What follows may need to be revised later.) Maybe it's like having a passionate hobby, or a passionate life pursuit. The truth can be something you pursue for its own sake, with more than just your thoughts. You can pursue truth in a fiducial way, in how you trust. You trust that path, but not in a way where you are primarily concerned with your own survival, comfort, or gain. Buber says that good is done with the whole soul. Maybe that is the best way to put it. Passionate truth-seekers pursue truth with their whole souls. Passion is trust, pursuit, and other-orientation.

At the same time, believers can believe out of anger, anxiety, complacency, and/or passion.

This post is concerned with epistemic or intellectual emotional regimes (epistemic or intellectual anger, anxiety, etc.). Anger, anxiety, complacency, and passion play out in other areas of life as well.

Which of these emotional regimes is most truth-conducive? One can easily see how anger and anxiety might not be. If you've ever been around someone when they are very angry or very anxious, you probably did not find their angry or anxious beliefs to necessarily have a faithful connection to reality. Complacency as well is something which disconnects people from reality. When you stop looking, or take an easy answer, then you're probably not in line with truth.

While passionate people can be wrong about things, their regime is that which is most plausibly aimed at, and capable of reaching, the truth. You aren't as much obligated to believe any thought or intellectual path in you that arises from anger, anxiety, or complacency -- perhaps each of the characteristically angry, anxious, or complacent mental movements are self-defeating. If you believe that there is no God, or that there is, for passionate reasons, then perhaps you are right. But the same belief, held for anxious or angry or complacent reasons, is not to be trusted, until you have left the state of anxiety, anger, or complacency.


If you want to be passionate in truth-seeking, you may find yourself wandering into anxiety. You want to know what really is? You have found your answer? Are you sure? That last question can trigger or express anxiety. Somehow passion can have high standards for the truth, without being anxious.

Perhaps we could look for cases in which beliefs mostly only seem to be held by anxious people, by contrast with passionate people, and those which are more characteristic of anxious people are not to be trusted as readily. And again, if you see a belief forming or recurring in you when you are anxious, especially one which is connected in some plausible way with your anxiety, then don't put too much weight on it, see if it makes as much sense when you are passionate again.

Can you passionately, as opposed to anxiously, think that you are in some danger of hardening? I think that if you are passionate, you are not hardened yet, and are not the closest to being hardened. Complacency and anger are much more dangerous. A hardness of heart and mind do not correlate with passion.

You may still be in some danger of hardening in the future, but as a passionate person, you would view such risks with awakeness (or something like it) rather than anxiety.

(Anxiety is less dangerous, with respect to hardening, than complacency and anger, but more dangerous than passion. You aren't convinced you're right, as you would be in complacency or anger, but if you are anxious, you find it difficult to trust God, and to the extent that you choose to be stuck in anxiety, you may be avoiding trust in God -- that disposition of avoiding being a risk factor for hardening.)


Incidentally, one could ask, which form of love is best, that which is founded in anger, anxiety, complacency, or passion?

If you want to be like Jesus, should you spend more time in anger, anxiety, complacency, or passion?

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