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Friday, April 13, 2012

Emotions, Christianity's Great Failure

The weakest link in Christianity is that it doesn't really deal with emotions beyond the most superficial commands that lack any hint of an instruction about how to follow the command. "Be angry, but sin not." Super. That's about as useless as a gallon of salt water to a person dying of thirst. "Righteous anger" and other similar nonsense is not only undefined, but a terrible idea. Love is talked about as desirable, more in its agape and brotherly/sisterly forms than in the romantic sense, but again - no instructions whatsoever, just commands to love one another. As a result of this profound lack of instruction in the Christian arena, I hear the most absurd things about emotions from the lips of Christians. In our culture, it seems that everybody is angry, and I hear Christians saying those who are angry have a right to be angry and have a right to their feelings. As far as that goes, I agree completely - but what's often missing is anything beyond the right to our feelings. There's no talk of dealing with feelings, of transforming those feelings, of responsibility for those feelings. It's as if it is perfectly fine to be an angry young man or an angry young woman and never seek to transform that anger - no doubt because Christianity never speaks of transforming anger. The result is that we currently have a nation full of angry people with no resolution in sight.

Fortunately, those of us whose spiritual journey straddles Christianity and Buddhism know better. Our practice calls us to transform emotions, and recognizes that the seeds we water are the seeds that grow. If we water the anger in our consciousness, we become more angry. If we water the peace in our consciousness, we become more peaceful. It sounds simple, and the theory is indeed simple, but it takes practice and commitment. It requires the willingness to really examine ourselves honestly and do the hard work of transformation. That transformation doesn't happen overnight and it usually isn't dramatic. No fireworks are likely to accompany our change. Gradually, however, we notice that we don't get hooked as easily, that we don't respond quite as quickly and aren't provoked quite as easily. Our "buttons" are harder to find and harder to push. We become kinder and gentler.

Nobody has the "right" to walk around acting out their anger. Rather, we all have the responsibility to transform our negative emotions and recognize them for what they are - unskillful responses to stimuli. We would do well to spend less time judging our attitudes and feelings, and more time transforming them. If we are to have peace on Earth, that peace needs to begin in each of us.

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