It used to be called head and heart: now it is called left and right brain, but the effect is the same, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The heart reflects our feelings, emotions, and indeed our sense of morality, while the head calculates, assesses, weighs up and in its way fives form to our feelings. The rational part may be cold and clinical, but it gives some kind of coherence to our feelings.
Each is necessary for us to be whole, and neither on its own is sufficient. The issue perhaps is the weight we give to each, and their priority in our overall sense of being. We can be rational but cold to the point of being clinical, or we can be emotional to the point of incoherence. So far, so good, for this is conventional thinking.
The issue becomes more complicated when we ask how they interact as we make our choices, express our preferences and decide on our actions and priorities. That includes the details of our personal lives and the way we cast our ballots at election time. Since we are half way through the parliaments at Westminster and Holyrood, this cannot really be regarded as a political reflection, and certainly not intended to influence the way votes are cast. But it does lead us into a series of related questions. When we look at the state of the nation, the heart asks who is to blame while the head asks how to put it right. The heart asks who benefits and who bears the costs, while the head asks how the whole will be influenced by our choices. The heart is moved by personal and indeed emotive appeals while the head responds to reasoned arguments, and may prefer to ponder on all points of view before making a choice.
In one sense we need to look at both sets of questions in order to be whole, and we need to assess the balance between their respective appeals. Nevertheless this is the area where we have to be most aware of ourselves and our motives. Do we want our society and economy and political system to flourish, or are we content to let certain parts of them atrophy? If there are to be losers and people who are to bear the greater burden of our choices, do we still value them as members of our community or are they more useful as scapegoats? Are we judging by appearances and personal appeal, by presentation and perhaps glossy marketing, or are we looking within and beyond what is said to what may be meant?
In the “Lord of the Rings” Gandalf, when asked about a particular problem usually gave a response from the heart – but normally an appeal to what the questioner felt deep within, as opposed to an appeal to selfish interest. In the New Testament, several things are said. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressed the exhortation –
Do not be children in understanding; however in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.” (1 Cor 14: 20)
Jesus, when pressed about loyalties and the payment of taxes said –
“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
The point is that we can never yield to expediency or self-interest what belongs to God, who must have the first claim on our hearts, thinking and lives. Where a campaign seeks to subvert from God to itself these things, no matter how slick and persuasive the presentation, then here we must be ready to discern what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report – from what is not.