Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Syria, and Running on Emotion

Aug 31, 2013

I could have entitled this piece, “Let my people think” except I believe I have already used that one before. On a regular basis I find the need to write such articles. We expect those in the world to run with emotion over thinking, but regrettably we find it in the churches far too often as well.

Instead of using our God-given brains to actually reflect, assess, think carefully, and rationally judge all things – just as we are commanded to do in Scripture – so many of God’s people simply live by their emotions. They run with what feels good.

Instead of carefully weighing things up, they live on emotional kneejerk reactions. They really could not be bothered with doing some hard thinking and evaluating – they prefer to just jump at whatever emotions are flowing through them at the time.

I encounter this all the time. Indeed, just yesterday I put together a PowerPoint talk called “The Importance of Truth”. In it I said that truth has nothing to do with how we feel or our own subjective experiences and emotions. Truth is always objective and absolute, and is not about our fleeting emotions.

Yet on so many issues the believer will simply fall back to the default position of emotional reaction. Plenty of social issues will bring this out big time. I have already written about how hot potato topics like abortion, homosexuality, or gun control really result in all the kneejerk responses:

Well the current mess in the Middle East is another such case, especially the current situation in Syria. I have had all sorts of Christians go ballistic here, suspending the use of their critical facilities, and running on pure emotion instead.

They have insisted that we ‘must do something’ as they react emotionally to the situation there. The chemical weapon attack for example has provoked yet more kneejerk reactions from some of these folks. They insist we must act now.

Yet when I have pressed these folks, they admit they have no idea what is really happening in Syria, nor do they have any clue as to who actually were using these weapons. But that did not matter – all that matters was that something – anything – must be done, and must be done immediately.

So they were fully ready to jump on the Obama bandwagon, and go to war in Syria, simply because it made them feel good – at least they were “doing something”. But what happens if what we do in fact is counterproductive, and actually makes the situation worse?

I told some of these folks that if a shooting occurred in their home, the wise thing for the authorities to do was to first carefully and rationally seek to determine who in fact did the shooting. Simply dropping a bomb on the home as a kneejerk reaction would help no one.

And that seems to be the case here. As I already wrote in my recent piece on Syria, it is not clear who was behind the attacks, but plenty of bits of accumulating evidence point to the rebels there. And reports continue to come in pointing in that very direction.

Consider this just in: “As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit. Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.

“The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was ‘a judgment … already clear to the world.’

“However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the deadly gas attack. ‘My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,’ said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

“Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a ‘tube-like structure’ while others were like a ‘huge gas bottle.’ Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.”

You are invited to read the entire article (see link below). Yet our friends who run on emotion would have had Obama go in, possibly topple Assad, and allow the very ones who were doing the gassing to take power. That would be really helpful thanks. But for these folks it does not matter. They will not take responsibility for their actions. They had an emotional reaction which had to be acted upon – instantly.

Commentators like Thomas Sowell write about this all the time. He reminds us that good intentions are never enough. All of us, especially politicians, need to make sure that the outcomes of our intentions in fact do some good, and do not further damage the situation at hand. I wrote about this elsewhere:

Let me cite just one article of his. In “Good intentions, bad results and intellectuals” he talks about the power of ideas, and how bad ideas – no matter how well-intentioned – can cause a great amount of damage. He reminds us that “both secular and religious ideas have moved the emotions of many — and have moved leaders who moved armies.”

He continues, “If there is any lesson in the history of ideas, it is that good intentions tell you nothing about the actual consequences. But intellectuals who generate ideas don’t have to pay the consequences. Academic intellectuals are shielded by the principles of academic freedom and journalists in democratic societies are shielded by the principle of freedom of the press. Seldom do those who produce or peddle dangerous, or even fatal, ideas have to pay a price, even in a loss of credibility.”

We are all to put hard thinking and critical reflection ahead of mere kneejerk emotional reactions. Christians of all people should know this. But plenty do not it seems. No wonder the church is in such a bad way, and we tend to cause more harm than good in so many areas.

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20 Responses to Syria, and Running on Emotion

  • Thanks for posting the truth.

    Jo Deller

  • You as usual are right again Bill, about running on emotion rather than on Truth. Years ago I generated the saying “The Road to utter destruction is paved with the sum of all good intentions not having been acted upon” now from your Post I am going to have to modify the saying so that it now reads “The Road to utter destruction is paved with the Sum of all good intentions having or not having been acted upon”

    Thanks for the Reminder Bill, as I never considered it in the context in which you presented it. One needs to be in possession of all the facts, before one can ever hope to reliably make a proper Judgment. In fact Wisdom is not the Sum of a Man’s intellect or how much he knows, but it is endowed in how that he uses his knowledge and intellect, that is his Wisdom or lack of Wisdom.

    Leigh D Stebbins

  • Exactly. That is how abortion, gay marriage, and other dangerous ideologies and movements are all making headway – because the liars who promote these things turn them into emotional issues about “denied rights” and viciously attack as “bigots” anyone who actually considers and speaks about the implications of these things and their overall impact on society in the long run.

    I talk to Christians all the time who have support these kind of things and who frequently try to overpower the conversation with emotional rhetoric but who, when I question them, have no idea how many abortions there are in our society, how many women are affected by post-abortion depression, what is happening to freedom in countries where marriage is redefined, suicide and substance abuse rates in the GLBT community, what is happening in the Middle East and what Islam actually teaches.

    The same goes for the asylum seeker issue. These Christians never seem to have any knowledge of essentially the worst ongoing persecution of Christians in history at the hands of Islam in middle eastern nations today. Sometimes they even get offended when you suggest that we should care about refugees who happen to be Christians. They are the ones who also like to ask condescending questions like “do you actually know any Muslims” or “have you actually been there” when I tell them about Islamic ideology and its impact in the middle east and places like Scandinavia, France and The Netherlands. Middle eastern Christian sure know some Muslims and they live there – does that count? I wonder if these Christians know any Nazis or if they just have a bigoted view of the Third Reich without actually living through it?

    No surprises, they are the Christians who get offended that you raise these issues in conversation rather than at the reality that these things are actually occurring in our society and around the world. “Sorry to disrupt your comfortable western lifestyle with pesky abortion statistics!”

    It’s frustrating when Christians hold the same views on these issues that I used to as an anti-theist secular humanist hedonist and they insist their views are biblical dogma.

    I pray that these people would stop getting their news and biblical views from secular humanism – it doesn’t actually believe the scriptures despite its insistence on interpreting them.

    Simon Fox

  • In an article today John Hawkins covers a number of similar points about how lefties operate:

    7) Intentions are much more important than results: Liberals decide what programs to support based on whether they make them feel good or bad about themselves, not because they work or don’t work. A DDT ban that has killed millions is judged a success by liberals because it makes them feel as if they care about the environment. A government program that wastes billions and doesn’t work is a stunning triumph to the Left if it has a compassionate sounding name. It would be easier to convince a liberal to support a program by calling it the “Saving Women And Puppies Bill” than showing that it would save 100,000 lives.

    9) All solutions must be government-oriented: Liberals may not be as down on government as conservatives are, but on some level, even they recognize that it doesn’t work very well. So, why are liberals so hell bent on centralizing as much power as possible in government? Simple, because they believe that they are better and smarter than everyone else by virtue of being liberals and centralized power gives them the opportunity to control more people’s lives. There’s nothing scarier to liberals than free people living their lives as they please without wanting or needing the government to nanny them.

    11) Feelings are more important than logic: Liberals base their positions on emotions, not facts and logic and then they work backwards to shore up their position. This is why it’s a waste of time to try to convince a liberal of anything based on logic. You don’t “logic” someone out of a position that he didn’t use “logic” to come up with in the first place.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Saul Alinsky’s 12 rules for radicals appears to be the go-to manual for lefties (and by default unreflective Christians) in all Western countries. To whom the book is dedicated says it all.

    Mike McMeekan

  • On how lefties and rudderless* politicians operate:

    I have noticed over the years that sometimes the liberal side of the argument is pressed by people who seem more intelligent then the conservatives involved. At the same time it has been clear that the leftists are much stronger on invective, refusal to listen, refusal to answer questions in a straight manner and lack of real argument. With the more intelligent ones it must only mean malicious intent.

    On the question of not answering questions, I don’t know whether Kevin Rudd is a leftist because he certainly has no idea what he is (actually I do think I know what he is, but that’s another story), but in last Wednesday’s debate he asked Tony Abbott to “give a straight answer” to a question put by Mr Rudd. If ever there was a politician who was more nauseating in the way he avoids answering, or gives a long irrelevant preamble before equivocating, it would have to be Kevin Rudd. And as a very bright man he has no excuse whatever.
    (See my letter in Friday’s SMH.)

    If what I have just written is somewhat beside the point, I’m only weakly following the example of our great principled leader, the PM. I’ll take any chance to make thinking Christians wonder how they could possibly vote Labor at this election, a position I have never taken before.

    *weak pun intended

    David Morrison

  • Many people are easily brainwashed by the liberals who appeal to the emotion in spreading their malicious propaganda. I find that it is usually people of minority groups who support them because they represent themselves as the “saints” who can save them from the dark forces of the “mean-spirited”, “harsh” conservatives who have “dinosaur”, “archaic” views. It is just too bad how minorities ( or people who think they are) are too emotional and weak to attempt to think logically about moral issues.

    Janice Tooh

  • David Cameron, Obama and Francoise Holland talk about the evils of germ and chemical warfare.

    The bare faced hypocrisy of these gentlemen weeping crocodile tears is beyond belief, when they are forcing on their own people and the rest of the world the virus of homosexuality and abortion. Abortion alone has claimed a quarter of the World’s population since the 60’s and homosexuals spreading AIDS, HIV and a dim sims menu of sexually transmitted diseases account for more than half of all such diseases, even though they only represent only 1-1.5% of the population.

    When Obama also says, “I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” who does he think he is kidding, when he has driven through the American constitution as a whale goes through a net?

    David Skinner, UK

  • “No wonder the church is in such a bad way, and we tend to cause more harm than good in so many areas.”

    Sounds like Paul castigating the Corinthian church over the Lord’s Supper (Ch11), and for the self-same cause – they besmirch the good Name of God, and are a terrible witness for the Gospel!

    John Angelico

  • I am not usually prone to copying large chunks of someone else’s work but hope that the following will provoke some really to THINK and all to pray. It is from the Barnabas fund newsletter on the persecuted church and can be accessed via .
    As Islamist groups grow in power and take over new territory, the plight of Christians in Syria is worsening. Around 15 Christians were killed in an attack on a predominantly Christian area that had previously been a safe haven for the displaced. Two young volunteers with a Barnabas Fund partner were amongst those killed when opposition fighters attacked Ein al-Ajouz in Wadi al Nasara (“Valley of the Christians”) on 17 August. The volunteers were shot dead in cold blood as they tried to assist a family who had also been targeted.
    This is the first anti-Christian attack the Wadi has seen. The community has been plunged into shock and grief by the atrocity, in which armed militants first killed soldiers at a checkpoint and then went on a shooting spree that targeted Christian civilians holding a celebration at a hotel. A Barnabas partner in the area said, “Wadi al Nasara was in deep deep sorrow to lose so many people in one day… I cried a lot seeing the photos of the innocent who were killed in cold blood.”
    Elsewhere, the Christian community in the city of al-Thawrah has been driven out since the al-Nusra Front, an Islamist brigade, seized the city in February. The rebels confiscated the Christians’ property, threatened them with death if they did not comply with Islamic laws and destroyed one of the city’s two churches. Recognition is growing of the dangers posed by Islamist rebel groups, with some of the revolution’s original activists saying that they feel their campaign has been hijacked.
    Christian leaders continue to be particular targets for Islamic groups. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a prominent Italian church leader, went missing in Raqqa on 29 July. It is feared that he was taken captive by al-Qaeda-linked militants, who control the area.
    Please continue to uphold our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria in prayer. Pray that the Lord will enable them to stand strong in their faith despite the constant danger that many of them are in. Pray that they will find comfort at this desperate time in the knowledge that their true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Ask the Lord to provide for all those who are displaced, and to protect Christians in areas that are especially prone to attack.
    The actions of Western governments at this crucial time will greatly impact the future of the Church in Syria. Pray for wisdom for all those involved in making decisions on this issue, and ask the Lord to guide believers among them. Pray that any decisions taken will be made with all Syrians and particularly vulnerable minorities in mind, and that the country will not fall into the hands of the Islamist groups that are targeting our brothers and sisters.

    Note the first sentence of the last paragraph. Christians in Islamic countries are, almost without exception, targets for reprisal after Western action.
    Katharine Hornsby

  • When sentimentality replaces moral absolutes, it is not long before very idealistic people begin to invade other people’s lives, homes and nations in the name of human rights and to destroy human lives in the name of humanity. This is the Marxist’s dream of re-moulding reality into a less unkind condition. Like Nero they weep over a dead parrot, badger or some far off tribe that is about to be made extinct, but then inflict unspeakable evils on their own families, the unborn, the elderly and their own neighbours, all in the name of the collective good and political correctness.
    Not wishing to minimise the sufferings of the Syrian people, no matter which side is guilty of this latest crime against humanity, the chattering classes can get all emotional and weepy over the plight of Islamists trying bring down a sovereign nation, albeit run by a tyrant, and yet in the name of mulitculturalism can turn a blind eye to the Christians being ethnically cleansed by those same colourful Islamists using quaint, diverse, alternative and exotic methods of liver eating and decapitation

    David Skinner, UK

  • What is often overlooked is that Assad has done more than any other ME leader to offer refuge to Christians fleeing persecution, and prior to this war, Christians in Syria enjoyed freedom to practice the faith. Given that, it is hardly credible to attach the use of biological weapons to Assad, knowing that inevitably Christians will die along with others. I believe it is fair to assume that chemical weapons have been used by the rebels & insurgents to further foment international support against Assad.Given Obama’s pro-Islamic stance, his current stance is understandable. as usual Obama has not interest in the truth.

    Dallas Clarnette

  • Folk seem to think that Obama is a Muslim; he insists that he is a Christian, but in reality he is a Marxist who uses both Muslims and homosexuals, running on parallel tracks, to bring down the Church, the family and national sovereignty. He does this in order to gain personal power.

    I am not sure whether Archbishop Welby is a Marxist but he is certainly a “Useful idiot” and friend the Marxist Desmond Tutu:

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill, I am in full agreement with you when you say “it is not clear who is behind the attacks”. So I was slightly puzzled when, a few paragraphs later, you referred to the rebels as “the very ones who were doing the gassing”. Sounds pretty unequivocal.

    Like you, I also hope the US doesn’t intervene in Syria. I think it would be counter-productive. But I’m just trying to remember whether you and those of like mind were just as outspoken in opposition in the lead-up to the full-scale invasion of Iraq (or Vietnam for that matter). My memory isn’t perfect so forgive me if I’m mistaken.

    Rowan Forster

  • People seem to think ‘democracy’ will solve everything.
    But the issue is not democracy but the moral character and integrity of the people. It is said that people get the government they deserve. Clearly Egypt and Syria are better off with strong non democratic leaders that are capable of confronting the unresolved insanity of barbaric elements, bent upon plundering (Civitas) the common good. Righteousness (not democracy per se) exalts a nation!
    Yankees and Aussies both have governments that need to be flaushed asap. Meanwhile what is to be done with the new generation of “useful idiots” that a duped Western Media has become?

    Phil Brabin

  • Thanks Rowan

    It is a true statement that not everyone agrees as to who did the gassing. But it is also true that if the sources I named above are correct, then things point pretty clearly to the rebels.

    As to your question, I actually dealt with that in my related article: “In sum, I am not at all opposed to using military might to remove evil dictators on occasion. I think we were right to go after Saddam for example. I am not a libertarian nor a neo-isolationist, but Obama’s war in Syria – which is effectively siding with the Christian-killing Islamist rebels – is not something I can support at all.”

    See here:

    So I am not a pacifist, as the overwhelming majority of thinking Christians throughout church history have not been. There clearly is a place for just wars, as in standing against Hitler. Standing against the tyrannical communists who wanted to take over all of South East Asia was clearly another justified conflict. But I certainly am not going to rehash here all the arguments as to why it was morally legitimate to seek to dump Saddam. I made the case elsewhere of course, and it is now history:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • If those people with the knee jerk reaction to ‘just do something now’ really want to help, they should start working to help some of the displaced refugees coming out of Syria. You so desperately want something done, pack your bags, sign up to a charity and help do it yourself….

    Meredith Gemeren


    Maybe John Kerry can bluff ’em with more confidence than an cowed Colin Powell had with a spear in his back, but he will never have the spine of an Adali Stevenson. This is not a matter of high moral ground when there is no ground to stand on.

    Jason Porter

  • “The penalty good men and women pay for indifference to public affairs, is to be ruled by evil men & women.” – Plato

    Jo Deller

  • Sadly the quote “If there is any lesson in the history of ideas, it is that good intentions tell you nothing about the actual consequences. But intellectuals who generate ideas don’t have to pay the consequences. Academic intellectuals are shielded by the principles of academic freedom and journalists in democratic societies are shielded by the principle of freedom of the press. Seldom do those who produce or peddle dangerous, or even fatal, ideas have to pay a price, even in a loss of credibility.” is applicable to Global Warming/Climate Change, Coal Seam Gas, Boat People, etc ad infinitum almost.
    The academics and media will likely never have to face the music – in this life at least.

    Peter Newland

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