Scott Peck liked to distinguish between existential and neurotic emotions. The way I like to put it is that emotions like guilt and fear can either be existential, which I like to call life-giving & relationship-enhancing, or neurotic, in other words, life-destroying & relationship-detracting. If we're walking down the railroad tracks picking brown eyed susans and a train is coming, our sympathetic nervous system will kick in and our adrenal rush will place us in fight or flight mode. If one uses that fear to quickly run away from the tracks, then we'd call it an existential fear. If we're sitting in the front row of a movie theater and a train is hurtling at us on the big screen, our bodies will react the same way with the same neuroendocrine responses. If one uses that fear to run from the theater, then we'd call it a neurotic fear. If our neuroses get even worse, then we might call our response psychotic. Interestingly, then, it is not our feelings but our behaviors that earn us one label vs another. segue back to Warren's weekend leit motif of whether or not and how gospel love interacts with government: Another distinction that is worthwhile is that between moral evil and ontic evil. Some call ontic evil - nonmoral or premoral or even physical evil. But those terms all draw on the same distinction. A moral evil is a complex reality that takes into account "act, intention and circumstances." An ontic evil (or good) evaluates whether or not any given act tends to frustrate (or enhance) human potential. Because we are finite, ontic evils are unavoidable. That's the evil to which we refer when talking about killing in self-defense, just war, surgical pain or even that "necessary evil" called government. So, when people object to Thomas Paine's characterization of government as a necessary evil, often they are not distinguishing between moral and ontic evil, between what is morally wrong and what is simply unfortunate (but unavoidable). No one is suggesting that government, in and of itself, is morally wrong; correction: "few" would say that! ;) But its unavoidable use of coercion, whether for taxing, policing or military intervention is clearly unfortunate, as with any other sacrifice of individual freedom for the common good. It is love, in and of itself, that is free & cannot, by definition, be coerced. But does love, itself, ever coerce? Sure it does. So, the means of government and of agapic love can overlap, and so can their desired ends. The end can justify the means if an ontic evil is in play, but such evil is to be avoided as much as possible. The principles of limited government and subsidiarity are grounded by moral reason. Still, religion mostly informs our aspiration for the higher goods, which can be enjoyed without measure, while government is preoccupied with the lesser goods, which require moderation. If any given people ever truly "got religion," 1
then we'd witness NGOs (nongovt orgs) taking over the government's job w/o any coercion and wholly on a voluntary basis. That would be a Kingdom that is simply "out of this world"!
Published on Jan 22, 2012
Scott Peck liked to distinguish between existential and neurotic emotions. The way I like to put it is that emotions like guilt and fear can...