Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Emotion, Reason, and Pastoral Care

I want to posit a few aspects of my theory of the primacy of human emotion. The purpose for this article is that I am currently developing, as a part of my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency, both a theory and theology of Pastoral Care. I am well aware that this project is rife with paradoxes and irony… such as that I am attempting to use reason to discuss emotion, when I posit that emotion is primary to reason in humanity. I’ve spoken before that I am not only comfortable with such paradoxes, I believe when valid paradoxes appear in a project it is a sign that you are doing good work… as the human condition is itself rife with such paradox.

Here are some of the basic points about emotion, reason, and human nature that I am currently working with, both in theory and in my clinical practice:

1. Every human act of reason (or rationalization) rests upon an emotional foundation. To be able to work with the reason (or rationalization) in a productive way, you must first understand its emotional foundation.

2. Human society (perhaps just Western society) has taught a practice of devaluing emotion, and raised an ideal of reason (or rationalism) into primacy. Many human beings are caught in believing they should be primarily rational, while their basic nature is emotional. This causes not only confusion, but guilt and shame at their emotional nature.

3. The devaluing of the human emotional nature causes many emotions to be driven into the subconscious, where they profoundly control human behavior in ways that are unaware, unintentional, and often unproductive.

4. Human interconnection and relationship is primarily and profoundly built with an emotional bridge, not a rational one. Human communities are built upon emotional ties, not ties of reason or interest. The devaluation of human emotion has caused a continual devaluation of human community and relationship.

5. Though useful in this particular discussion, the human being is not a dualism of emotion/reason, though our culture has taught us to think in these terms. The human makeup also includes intuition, inspiration, revelation, and imagination. All of these have been suppressed by the primacy given to reason and rationalism in western human culture. An aspect of my pastoral and clinical practice is to bring these more in balance, with the validation of human emotion given preference.

6. The reason that human emotion is given preference among all other types of human cognition/being is that, if suppressed, repressed, and un-communicated, human emotion can be the most destructive. When human emotion is regularly expressed, explored, and validated, it becomes a healthy and integrated part of our being. When it is suppressed and unacknowledged, it often acts as a poison to the human soul.
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7. Suppressed or invalidated human emotion always seeks an outlet. Often the outlets of such suppressed or invalidated human emotion occurs in ways that he human being is unaware of. Just as often, such suppressed or invalidated emotional outlets are destructive. A primary part of my pastoral practice is validating emotion and supporting the exploration of emotion, so that the emotional parts of ourselves can be integrated within our whole existence.

8. When human beings connect, we do so with our emotions, not our reason. This leads to human beings in groups being primarily motivated and understood by the emotions they connect with, not any reasons or rationalizations that might accompany (or provide cover) for those emotions. Understanding the behavior of groups requires one understand them as emotional systems. This applies to all human groups.

9. One of the paradoxes of the human raised in western culture is that we seek to repress or invalidate our emotions so that we are not controlled by them. The paradox arises in that such generic for imitrex injection repression or invalidation of emotion drives that emotion into our subconscious, where it has more profound control over our lives than if our emotions are integrated and validated in our conscious selves.

10. Sensing the ultimate failure of controlling emotion purely by repression, society has created “safe” ways that emotions can be released in controlled environments. Some religious movements, political movements, and even sporting events are designed for this purpose. However, un-integrated emotions defy control even through periodic release, and sometimes explode beyond the bounds of the “safe” containers we have created for them. The results of this explosion are almost always violent.

11. The primary work of my pastoral practice, in the parish as well as clinically, is to promote the integration and validation of our emotional selves through the lens of human religion. In critical and emergent settings, this is by modeling and guiding. Sometimes it can involve direct interventions. In non-critical and longer-term settings (such as the parish) it is through teaching and modeling a practice of integration and awareness of our emotional natures with all that we are as human beings (including our rational selves). The goal of the second part of the practice is to teach a practice of emotional validation and integration that not only has a positive effect upon daily life, but also provides emotional resilience in times of emergent crisis.

12. In both emergent and non-emergent pastoral care, the primary tools I use to access and work with human emotions is narrative theory and family system’s theory. One of the few areas of human culture were the primacy of reason has not been overly successful in penetrating is storytelling. Understanding human interactions as an emotional system and using storytelling to sidestep the primacy of reason creates a path to connect with emotional selves in non-threatening ways. Religious scripture as storytelling is the primary tool I use in this work.

As I said, this is a very early draft of the ideas that are going into the theory section of my theory and theology of pastoral care. Those who have done Clinical Pastoral Education or studied family systems theory will see its roots, but I’m not going to expound upon them here. Much of my anthropology is based in understanding humans as primarily emotional creatures, and so I am willing to admit that there is indeed an emotional foundation even for this article that seeks to use some reason to understand emotions (paradoxes are so cool!).

For me, that emotional foundation is the struggle through my own deep feelings around certain traumatic events in my life, and having to “make friends” with those feelings (integrate them) or be consumed by them. The work of integration is a life-long journey, and most of it seeming uphill. I am not claiming to be some super-integrated human being… but I am claiming to at least see the path… and my pastoral practice is centered on helping others to see it to… as someone once helped me.

I also want to acknowledge some of the other understandings of human nature that I have worked with, and have had an influence upon this theory, but are not directly related. These include Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, evolutionary anthropology, cultural anthropology, Twain’s Iron Law of Human Self Interest, Jungian theory, and others. However, in each of these and the other concepts of human anthropology and psychology that I have studied I see an underlying emotional foundation, and it is from this foundation that I am choosing to work.

I look forward to your thoughts and engagement on the ideas I’m working with for this paper. Let’s see how much reason and emotion might come before us…

Yours in faith,


2 Thoughts on “Emotion, Reason, and Pastoral Care

  1. Donald Wilton on Monday April 19, 2010 at 17:39 +0000 said:

    I guess that I see emotion as rational and as a means to achieve both goals and process. I use Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy to bring my emotion in line with my preferences for what rational means to me. When I used drugs my emotions and internal imagery were rational for smoking dope. Smoking dope was irrational for the purposes of achieving non-dope smoking goals, but the feelings that I had were rational for the then current behavior. I don’t see the emotional cutoff that you do. I see that people who are out of touch with their life’s goals or refuse to admit that they are responsible for having and achieving goals in life (and their feelings are rational for that), and that they will feel their feelings consistent with that responsibility. I don’t think that you can cut off your feelings.

    I can see that if people are unwilling to accept that they are responsible for their goals to drink themselves to death, or continue to hold onto answer rather than question based theology, or that the marriage that they exist in and that isn’t perfect, then they will define themselves as cut off from emotion. As long as America is an Empire there will be people who prefer a set of goals other than the ones that they live with to fit in. If the goals that they have and are responsible for are at odds with the emotions that they would prefer to feel, then they can lie to themselves about how their feeling are out of whack. They can blame others for how they feel differently than what they would prefer, but that doesn’t change the biology of when and how their feelings exist. Perhaps the first step to feeling feelings that you prefer is to either accept that we live in an Empire and figure out how to fit best given your circumstances, or change your faith to one that gives you the latitude to have goals that are consistent with what you prefer. I also recommend the use of REBT to change your thinking and thus your life. You can find out more about REBT if you Google SMART Recovery.

    Love (a rational emotion),


  2. Pingback: The Ties That Bind: Buddhism And Depression | God Discussion

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