Emotions, Moral Formation, and Christian Politics
This subject of this dissertation is moral formation, that is, the process by which people become more just in their interactions with others. Moral growth, then, refers to how the moral capacities of individuals are developed to facilitate right decisions and good actions. Additionally, moral formation here refers to the shaping of society in ways that bring about more just social arrangements. A key claim is that emotion is vital for both the moral shaping of individuals and society. Emotions fitting to the struggle for justice are developed through relationships and participation in communities of growth.This project is undertaken in dialogue with Karl Barth. I begin in chapter 1 by considering Barth’s theological anthropology grounded in God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ which contends that true humanity consists in living in covenant partnership with God and solidarity with fellow humanity. To more closely correspond to this determination is the goal of moral formation. Building on his relational conception of the self, I argue that Barth provides an account of moral formation in his treatment of the growth of the community. Moral progress is rooted in participation in the body of Christ that is growing as a hearing community and increasing in the practice of holy things such as worship and service. Chapter 2 and 3 argue that moral growth does not occur through rational capacities alone, but depends on the development of emotions. These interdisciplinary chapters turn to recent studies of emotions in the natural and social sciences and philosophy. After a survey of various debates, I argue for a relational and cognitive conception of emotions and highlight their critical role in regulating group and social relations. Emotions are fundamental to interpersonal interactions, to group relations, and for the reinforcement and disruption of social structures. While these disciplines provide insight into the nature and development of emotions, I return in chapter 4 to Barth for the project of constructing a normative account. While we must not attempt to supplant the command of God which decides the good, I contend that we ought to evaluate emotions by whether they engender communion with God, solidarity with fellow humans, and care for creation. This account of emotion is further developed in chapter 5 by turning to Barth’s apocalyptic account of the kingdom of God and the lordless powers. While we wait on God to bring about the consummation of the kingdom, Christians are yet to actively struggle for justice in anticipation of that day. This entails unmasking and resisting the powers. Barth’s account of unmasking the lordless powers draws attention to the ways they shape human emotions. He also underscores the importance of emotions, such as hope, in the human struggle for justice. Drawing on Barth’s earlier account of growth, I highlight the role of the church in forming these emotions. This account of moral formation and emotion is illustrated through the example of climate change. A community shaped by love for God, solidarity with other creatures, and a concern for all of creation leads to an awareness of hegemonic forces and fosters emotions shaped by the kingdom that enables the struggle for climate justice.