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Sentimentalism in the Church: a modern epidemic

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Involvement in the Christian Church should never be characterized by self-centeredness. Christianity, by definition, is a religion that emphasizes sacrifice and selflessness. However, a recent shift towards religious sentimentalism raises questions about the desire for truth in the modern-day.

In his article “A Church drowning in sentimentalism”, Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, writes about the dangerous trend toward sentimentalism in present-day Christianity.

Gregg begins by introducing a term for sentimentalism: Affectus per solam, which means: “By Feelings Alone.” Affectus per solam, the opposite of hyper-rationalism, “is an exaltation of strongly-felt feelings, a deprecation of reason, and the subsequent infantilization of Christian faith.” Christianity in Western countries is widely infected by this dangerous, selfish way of viewing and practicing religion.

Gregg notes that Affectus per solam sentimentalism “rears its head” in numerous areas in modern Western Christianity. For example, Western Christians today will often describe sins as “regrets” or “sad mistakes,” which removes the gravity of what sin is and the damaging effects sin has on humanity.

With regards to hell, “Sentimentalism simply avoids the subject.” How scary it is to think that many modern Christians are not considering such an essential spiritual reality, “the possibility that any of us could end up eternally separated from God.”

However, modern Christian sentimentalism does not seem to root itself in the seriousness of eternal spiritual implications. Rather, “The sentimentalism infecting much of the Church is all about diminishing the gravity and clarity of Christian faith,” Gregg notes.

Gregg identifies three primary causes of how the Church ended up “sinking into a morass of sentimentalism.” He points to contemporary culture, the prevalence of a “feeling faith” (one in which the focus is on how I feel, rather than what is truth) and “efforts to downgrade and distort natural law” as main catalysts for Affectus per solam ideology.

How should the Christian church face this epidemic of sentimentalism? Gregg shares the antidote at the end of his piece:

“The solution isn’t to downgrade the importance of emotions like love and joy or anger and fear for people. We aren’t robots. Feelings are central aspects of our nature. Instead, human emotions need to be integrated into a coherent account of Christian faith, human reason, human action, and human flourishing—something undertaken with great skill by past figures like Aquinas and contemporary thinkers such as the late Servais Pinckaers. Then we need to live our lives accordingly.”

Read the full article here.

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Allyson Wierenga

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