Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

’Cause people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion.

That title—if you want people to feel the Spirit, crank up the bass—is a joke I regularly make to the folks in my church. ’Cause it’s true. If the sound guy were to take all the lower frequencies out of the sound mix during the worship music, I guarantee you we’d have people in the congregation mutter, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I really couldn’t feel the Spirit today.” Whereas if we turned that puppy all the way up to 11, those same folks would tell everyone, “Man the Spirit was moving this morning!”

Bass, as any sound expert will tell you, makes people feel the music. Literally.
Yeah, I put this on Twitter.
The sound waves hit a frequency which physically vibrates your innards. Most of us are aware we hear bass, but aren’t always aware we feel it too. All we know is we feel something—and because music sparks emotions, often the bass will spark ’em too.

So because people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion, they’ll assume when it makes ’em happy, “my spirit is being uplifted.” When it makes ’em sad, “my spirit is downcast.” Just as often they’ll think it’s not their spirit, but the Holy Spirit making ’em feel happy or sad, content or anxious, excited or… well, not nothing. If they feel nothing it means he must’ve been absent.

I’ll repeat that statement in case you missed it: People don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion. And no, I’m not just talking about pagans, new Christians, or immature Christians. I’m talking about you. And me. And everyone. ’Cause I’ve caught very mature Christians making this mistake. I know better, and I still make this mistake sometimes. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who hasn’t slipped up on this one.

Spirit isn’t physical. Emotions are.

Spirit /'spɪ.rɪt/ n. A non-physical being.
2. [capitalized] God the Holy Spirit.
3. A ghost; the non-physical part of a human which survives physical death. (Regularly confused with the soul.)
4. The mood or emotion of a person or place. Usually positive.
[Spiritual /'spɪ.rɪ.tʃ(əw.)əl/ adj.]

Despite the fourth definition above, emotions aren’t spiritual. They’re physical.

When I see something which triggers an emotion, my brain loads me up with endorphins, epinephrine, dopamine, or whatever molecules I instinctively figure I need, just to get me through the next couple minutes. People think emotions are spiritual because they believe they’re not physical. But pump anyone full of the appropriate chemicals, and they’ll feel whatever emotion you want ’em to.

Actually we don’t have to inject anyone with chemicals. We can just emotionally manipulate them, and their brains will produce these chemicals on their own. It’s really not hard to do. Anyone can.

For that matter, anyone can manipulate their own chemicals. I can psyche myself into feeling happy, sad, angry, excited—whatever the situation requires. Most humans can. Most humans just aren’t aware we can, or how emotions even work. We never bothered to control them. We just assumed they can’t be controlled—or that the way to control them is through drugs or medication. Kids too wild for you? Don’t teach them how to exercise self-control; it’ll take too long and might never work. (And don’t bother to reduce their sugar and caffeine intake.) Just put ’em on Ritalin.

Yeah, I know plenty of Christians who consider psychiatry to be junk science. I’m not one of them. For them, emotional self-control—or as the scriptures describe it, gentleness Ga 5.23 —is a gift from God, and therefore wholly spiritual. After all, doesn’t God have emotions?—and he’s wholly spiritual. So they try to pray for emotional control, pray the bad feelings away, and miss the fact self-control begins with self. And miss the fact sometimes we need other people’s help. But I digress.

Ever heard how the Latter-Day Saints have their first God-experience? They psyche themselves into it. Seriously. They’re told to read their bible or book of Mormon, then pray God show them whether it’s true or not. Pray really hard. And God will answer by giving them an emotional experience. A “burning of the bosom,” some call it. It confirms he really is behind whatever they struggle to believe. So plenty of Mormons pray for, and get, this experience.

And of course they do. Everyone can psyche themselves into such experiences. I’ve done it many times. I’ve psyched myself into believing God was behind one thing or another. He wasn’t; I just wanted it so bad I fooled myself. I never sought proper confirmation. I just followed my own desires, got my emotions to confirm these desires, and tried to claim it was God nudging me in the direction I wished. Wasn’t God in the least. All me.

Manipulative preachers—who may not always realize that’s precisely what they’re doing—can psyche you into such experiences. They can speak fast, or slow. Louder, or softer. Fervently and emotionally—and lots of people are empathetic, meaning they quickly psyche themselves into having the same emotions as someone they’re watching. If the preacher seems sad, they make themselves sad. Joyous, and they ramp themselves up with joy. Anxious, and you can watch their posture change in their seats as they twist themselves into anxious positions. Some throw themselves into the preacher’s every cue. Others not so much. But everybody feels something…

…That is, everybody but the skeptics, who sit in the back of the room and say, “I can’t believe everyone’s falling for this. What sheep.” But put these same skeptics in a room with a speaker who says what they wanna hear, and in that room they’ll become sheep too. Nobody’s immune to this. Well, nobody but sociopaths, or people with psychological traumas and disorders who can’t control their emotions.

And when people don’t recognize they’re in charge, they assume the Spirit’s involved. Especially when they come out of those rooms feeling really positive about God, or Christ, or religion, or other people. Or, depending on the message, distressed and fearful about sin.

Skeptics mock it, and call it manipulative mass psychology. They’re absolutely right. If these Christians were legitimately feeling the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t just see emotion. We’d see supernatural. We’d see signs and wonders. We’d see fruit of the Spirit. People would do for one another. People’d be loved and encouraged, be cured of diseases, be prophesied over. There’d be changed lives, not just warm hearts. If all we have are warm hearts, God may have been there… but people were listening to their own hearts. (Which lie to us. Jr 17.9) Not so much God.

“Spiritual, not religious.”

When pagans and Christians describe ourselves as “spiritual beings”—particularly when they claim, “I’m spiritual, not religious”—in fact they mean they’re emotional. They feel. Maybe they act, but not necessarily.

They can’t articulate what “spirit” means—and they can’t really articulate which emotions they’ve just had. Or why they had ’em. Usually they don’t know the words for it. Or they think words are inadequate: The love they have for their family is so powerful. The awe they have for nature’s beauty is so powerful. The lust they have for their significant other is so powerful. The desire they have for the new iPhone is so powerful. You see where I’m going. All these things (except maybe coveting the iPhone) will be described as “spiritual.” They’re short on vocabulary, so they’ll just use “spiritual” wrong.

Yeah, these feelings aren’t spiritual. Or supernatural. Or unique. Everybody on the planet feels like that. Doesn’t make us spiritual. It means we feel. We’re not emotionally dead inside. That’s a good thing, but it’s not spirit; it’s endorphins.

When people reduce our “spiritual” component to nothing but emotion, no matter how great emotion will feel, we’re actually limiting ourselves. We’ve reduced “spirit” to a materialist view of the universe, and cut ourselves off from a true spiritual view. Not to mention God himself. If the only way we recognize God is the way he makes us feel… well, anyone and anything can futz with that. And not always with our best interests at heart. We’ll be busy chasing warm fuzzies while the real God passes us by.

Unless, as God often does, he works with what little he’s been given, and uses our emotions to truly draw us to himself. Still, we’re not gonna go too far if we never get past the false definition.

You see, we don’t need to feel anything to pursue God. (We usually will. Joy’s a fruit of the Spirit, remember?) Our emotions aren’t the gauge as to whether something’s of God or not. If our only motive to follow God is that we feel, or the only reward for good deeds is an emotional payoff, we’re not really Christians: We’re endorphin junkies. We don’t love God; we love the emotional high. And just as addicts will do whatever depraved thing they can to get high, “spiritual” people will do whatever twisted things they can to feel “spiritual”—including things God can’t possibly approve of.

Don’t listen to the Jedi. Don’t trust your feelings. Jr 17.9 Seek truth. Trust God.