Christianity and the Appeal to Emotion

Don’t go tugging at my heart strings

Once again, we turn our attention to Neil Carter and his blog post “How Faith Breaks Your Thinker”. In previous posts in this series, I’ve demonstrated that it is Neil’s “thinker” that has been broken by his atheism and demonstrated, in his own words that he often commits the exact same logical fallacies, and more, in making his assertions. In this post, we’re going to look at the accusation of appeal to emotion. 

Appeal to emotion is a logical fallacy that attempts to, “…use emotion in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument. It is a type of manipulation used in place of valid logic.” Neil begins his accusation by writing,

I’m not sure how much I need to explain this, but appeals to emotion happen most effectively in settings where an audience’s emotions can be manipulated in order to render them susceptible to spurious claims which would otherwise be rejected in the absence of the right mood.

Well, he’s already stumbling out of the blocks by using a non-standard definition. Definist fallacy, anyone?

He continues, 

Growing up in church, I learned that if you feel insecure, guilty, or ashamed of something, that is God trying to speak to you. Therefore you should open your heart to whatever the minister is about to tell you. 

Yeah, I heard some of that too, but it’s bad advice, not “appealing to emotion”.

Are you lonely? Fatigued? Worried about your future? Has he got good news for you!

That’s simply bad psychology, and bad theology, not an appeal to emotion. 

Get ready to walk down the aisle and make a lifelong commitment to something right now because the church believes that it is while you are the most emotionally compromised that you are in the best position to make that kind of decision.

Now, there’s just so much here to be unpacked, but let me just be brief: if you feel guilty in the presence of the gospel, it’s because you are guilty before a holy and just God, that’s why the gospel is being proclaimed. Now, “walking the aisle”, that’s the first step and should always be treated skeptically. I’ll agree, some churches, some preachers, do engage in emotional arm twisting. I’ve seen it. I condemn it. The gospel is enough. 

As I’ve written before,

[Our] faith is intellectual and is not blind. Our bibles embrace two distinct levels of record: historical facts, and historical miracles. God’s works in his creation are a matter of public record: look at your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, in the mirror, at the world around you, this is the record of fact. The record of miracles requires something more than historical fact, it requires you and me to say, “I believe not because it is possible in my understanding, but because it is in line with who You, God, are and have represented in the historical record”; it requires faith, that faith is in trusting in who God is and what he has done and in loyalty to him as king. Faith is that part which chooses to accept those facts which are crucial to salvation.

Neil is simply confused, or abjectly ignorant, of what he is arguing against, not to mention the amount of emotion that he’s pouring into his own charges. He and I would both agree that it is wrong to play with people’s emotions, but he’s misapplying the charge of argument from emotion here. As I said, his atheism has broken his thinker. 

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