Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Passion vs. Sanity

Yesterday I read a purpose statement from a committee at a church.  The purpose statement included a line that said that its deliberations would be conducted in an atmosphere conducive to dispassionate discussion. I looked up the definition of the word “dispassionate” at dictionary.com. This is what it said: free from or unaffected by passion; devoid of personal feeling or bias; impartial; calm.

I also read yesterday a meditation on the death of Adolf Eichmann, written by Thomas Merton. It’s long, but thought-provoking:
                One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it at all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing. If all the Nazis had been psychotics, as some of their leaders probably were, their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand. It is much worse to consider this calm, well-balanced, unperturbed official, conscientiously going about his dark work, his administrative job which happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state. He served his government very well. . .
                The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.
                It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea, aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep hem far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chains of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.
                We can no longer assume that because a man is ‘sane’ he is therefore in his ‘right mind’. The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be ‘sane’ in the limited sense that he is not impeded by his disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly ‘adjusted’. God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself. . .
                I am beginning to realize that ‘sanity’ is no longer a value or an end in itself. The ‘sanity’ of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane. . . perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally ‘sane’.

I wonder if sanity and rationalism is too highly valued in the church. To consider that a committee might have dispassionate discussion worries me. Should we not be passionate about that which pertains to the body of Christ? What if Christ had acted sanely and dispassionately? I mean, what he did made so sense—dying when he could have used his power to bring about a new kingdom right then and there. Instead he spoke to people on the outskirts and he died just as he was becoming known in Jerusalem. His passion for God, and his passion for us motivated him, not numeric goals and strategic plans.

Until our churches are driven by a mad, passionate love for Christ, the Christ who loves us madly and passionately, I’m afraid we will continue our decline, despite all the “dispassionate” planning we do. Churches in Africa, China and Korea are growing exponentially. Until we get away from the secularized business model and instead become led by the Holy Spirit and by our passionate love for Christ, we will continue to wring our hands and wonder why we are dying.

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