A few friends of mine have long kept a secret. I cry far more than my public persona would suggest. No, it’s not about bawling in the middle of the sidewalk with a scraped knee after a bike mishap. It’s more about walking past the pet shop and not being able to look without the site of imprisoned puppies making the best of their impoverished environment choking me up. It’s about crying in the theater after a good movie…preview. It’s about, in the middle of a private philosophical musing, shedding real tears of joy over the amazing progress of humanity and tears of sadness over its current state of confused adolescence.
It used to be different. A couple of lives ago as a Kansas cowboy, few things moved me. Or at least I tried not to let them. The reason may be counter-intuitive. I had far too many festering emotions then to let one breach my machismo shell. That was before I found myself in a healthy relationship with rational thought. Much of my mental life was spent in the exercise of dogmatism and the defense of a rather shallow identity. Emotions were the enemy.
I had a wrong concept of the relationship between emotions and reason. What I thought was reason was actually dogmatism. As a Christian, I assumed that the complexities of life could be reduced to a manageable size by a simple prayer-accompanied excursion into the Scriptures. Back then, anything meaningful and important was to be found in the leather-bound book that I grew up with. When someone suggested that the world was bigger, or denied biblical concepts, or introduced concepts that had no biblical origin, I grew annoyed at their delusional thinking. In my mind, no one could believe such falsehoods unless they were mentally defective or spiritually misled by Satan.
I was deeply locked into the convoluted method of reasoning that imperfectly plugged my emotions with unsubstantiated spiritual truths or promises. The cognitive dissonance was a constant frustration, and once in a while I would unload with an explosion of negative emotions that deeply hurt others. That would lead to immense shame and an attempt to rebottle those wayward emotions more deeply than before and create a rationalized narrative to explain why, as a Christian, I experienced such frustration.
Then I began to slowly leave Christianity. As I began to replace methods of Christian reasoning with rational thought, I also began shedding the vestments of a Christian image, and amazingly discovered my authentic godless self; a person who did not need mythical incentives to live a decent, purposeful and fulfilled life.
Another interesting phenomenon emerged. I was no longer afraid of my emotions. If I wanted to love deeply, it felt more authentic than before. When I felt compassion and assisted someone else, it felt much less mandatory and more fulfilling. If I wanted to cry, I could regardless of the reason. It was as if clear thinking had now defined my parameters of self, and I no longer had to tuck my emotions well-within those parameters. Paradoxically, while being more rational, I could also be more emotional since I finally knew who I was.
So today, I’m quite the bawl-baby. When I see an injured cat, I cry. When an underdog boxer takes out a larger opponent, I cry. When I feel all the cognitive confusion in the lives of those who are where I was years ago, I cry. I actually have to pull over on my bicycle sometimes till my eyes have stopped watering over the continuous joy of being a father, or over the despondency I see in the eyes of someone I just rode past. But now, I never lose track of who I am, and can let the emotions positively motivate me into a wise and compassionate response to the stimuli.
So if you ever see me cry, don’t worry. It’s just who I am now. It’s who I want to be.
I’ve noticed that many of my recent posts have centered around how I define myself now in contrast to my former Christian self. Please forgive this emphasis. Part of it has been my desire to assist anyone else who can’t quite put their finger on why Christianity does not seem to work for them, as I went through the same experience. The other side is that the transition of passing from Christianity to Agnosticism has been so interesting and amazing to me that I can’t help but write on it. -phil