Four years ago, I met with a pastor who talked about problems in his church. I asked him what he thought he should do. He said, “Watch it! ‘Thinking’ puts you into the devil’s territory.” (He really said that; I kid you not.) His answer hinted at one of his church’s problems.
I figured he was an anomaly, like when you phone Comcast, and a real person answers the phone. But a few months later I attended a retreat and the speaker said, “Before I was a Christian I used to think. Now I realize that the life of the Spirit rejects the limits of the mind.” He continued, “Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties.”
Then I read a book on connecting with God, and the author said the first step towards hearing God is to shut down our analytical thinking and lean into our unconscious intuition. He said, “Connecting with God requires our right brain; it only works when we turn off our left brain.”
This modern spiritual thinking (oops, I mean “feeling”) is completely contrary to Scripture where: repentance means to “change our minds,” and Mary “ponders these things in her heart,” and Jesus commands us to “consider the lilies.”
Yet scores of Christians today claim that thinking is spiritual kryptonite.
Is Thinking So Bad?
Let’s not base intimacy with God on the popularization of a decades old, unscientific theory. The right-brain/left-brain idea came from Roger Sperry, who studied epileptic patients whose brain hemispheres had been surgically split to reduce seizures. Sperry himself claimed the idea had no broader value beyond those unique patients.
Numerous studies disprove the modern right-brain/left-brain myth. Research shows that the analytical (left-brained) person analyzes better when also using the right brain, and the creative (right-brained) artist creates better when also using the left brain. God wants our whole being: feeling, sensing, talking, stillness, creativity, intuition; and thinking.
Besides, if bad thinking can deceive us, can’t we be just as deceived by bad intuition?
Why Are We Suspicious?
Ancient Greeks highly valued reason. Plato, Aristotle, and hundreds of philosophers (“lovers of wisdom”), taught the worth of thinking to search for truth. Yet, over time, orators began to use this “logic” to manipulate people, replacing “love of truth” for love of personal gain.
The scheming of rhetoricians corrupted the idea of thinking, and by the time of Christ, “logic” was mere hair-splitting. That is why Pilate infamously and cynically scoffs, “What is truth?”
The Enlightenment (late 1600’s to 1800) rekindled a love for reason, but its version of thinking divorced the head from the heart. Descartes famously declared, “I think therefore I am,” but later that day he lit a candle to the Virgin Mary at a local church. His action famously split the intellect from anything to do with spiritual life.
Over time, the cold, abstract, impersonal intellectualism of the Enlightenment failed to satisfy the human heart, and the Romantic era was born, which mistrusted reason in favor of feeling.
Buddhism doubted thinking from its birth. The way to its own Enlightenment was to empty the mind. While Buddhists had Scriptures, they were not interested in the wisdom contained in those books. They sought “salvation by rotation of sacred writings” because they did not believe in words. Their goal was to reach silence through sound-without-sense (or mantras).
My friendship with my wife is based on mutual understanding, which comes from sharing, which involves talking, which needs words, which requires thinking. Thinking!
If Christianity is about a relationship with God, it too rests on talking, words, and thinking. We reject the European Enlightenment’s ivory-tower, impersonal thinking, but we also reject the Eastern Enlightenment’s mindless mindfulness, feeling-without-thinking.
Those Enlightenments may have divorced us from our hearts, but this feeling-oriented culture wants to chop off our heads. Both approaches undermine our ability to function. Dismissing the heart doesn’t help us think better, and a spiritual lobotomy doesn’t help us hear God better.
God wants whole people, neither heart-deprived Tin Men nor a lobotomized tomatoes.