In this chapter, Harris is going to tackle the idea of “guarding your heart.” In the process, he misinterprets the word “heart” in the Bible and encourages emotional repression(whether intentional or unintentional).
In this chapter’s opening story(almost every chapter I have read starts with a story like a sermon), a woman named Jessica develops her own standards of courtship, and Harris describes her as like, “a modern day Moses come off Sinai with the Ten Commandments.”
Jessica easily casts off the affections of bad boys who wear Metallica t-shirts and have bleached hair, but once she goes to a Christian college, she finds it more difficult to deal with those sexy Baptist boys, or how the book puts it, “godly handsome men” who are clean cut. Jessica becomes confused regarding her feelings and her standards.
Harris then argues from this example that we need to keep our heart(emotions) tied to a chair and put under close watch, because our hearts are deceitful. He contrasts our hearts from our minds.
The problem with this argument is it doesn’t fit the biblical definition of the word heart. When Harris uses the word heart he is thinking of emotions, much like how Disney tells us to follow our hearts.
The Bible defines heart as the center of both our emotions and our intellect. It is the central object that moves us. When the Jews would talk about someone lacking insight, they would say, “That person lacks heart.” The heart is the “center” of us that determines our thoughts, feelings, intellect and desires. So when Proverbs 4:23 says guard your heart, it is speaking about guarding who you are as a person, because who are you will determine how you speak and act. It is not talking about some kind of mind/emotions dichotomy, nor it is speaking of emotional repression.
In modern terms, it would be something like, “Examine yourself carefully because the person you are deep down WILL come out.”
Harris moves forward by addressing three pollutants in our hearts: infatuation; lust; and self-pity.
Harris makes a claim that infatuation can become idolatry when it replaces God as the chief longing of our hearts. He encourages readers to not feed into “fantasy” when you are attracted to someone, which leads to infatuation.
I both agree and disagree with his sentiments. I agree that we should not put others on a pedestal and expect them to complete us or allow them to take God’s place as the center of our lives. HOWEVER, the Bible is also quite clear that Adam wasn’t complete with just him and God, so God made him a woman because “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Infatuation is a natural reaction that ensures humans stay together long enough to make a baby. The honeymoon phase, as it is popularly known, is a period of infatuation. When done in moderation, it is a good beautiful thing. However, because infatuation naturally fades, there also needs to be something more than infatuation to keep the relationship going, whether that be a deep spiritual commitment, maturity or a conscious decision to love each other even when you don’t like them right now(a la Relient K).
Moving along to lust, Harris defines lust as any type of sexual desire that God has forbidden. For Harris, this is any type of fantasy regarding a woman, including a future spouse. Once again, I am torn on Harris’ definition. On one hand, we all know fantasy can get out of hand and lead to fetishes, objectification, etc.
On the other, it is difficult for me to get a clear understanding of the Biblical idea of lust. The basic idea Jesus seems to present in his parables is that desires lead to action, so lust for another man’s wife leads to adultery. Song of Solomon always presents a great deal of sexual desire, some of which may not be within the realm of marriage.
The NT, as I see it, applies the golden mean standard of Greek thought to sexuality. In Greek thought, the golden mean was the key middle ground between pure abstinence and consumption, whether that be with sex, food, work or anything else. For some activities or emotions, the golden mean might lay more heavily on the side of abstinence or consumption. The NT uses the golden mean standard when it argues to ignore teachers who teach that marriage is wrong but also to avoid orgies and sexual excess. Even when Paul argues his case for singleness, he admits it’s his own opinion, not God’s opinion.
Jewish thought also varies on sex. Some admit that sex outside of marriage is bad, others claim that it is not bad persay, but just not as good as unmarried sex.
That being said, let’s move on to the final point: self-pity
I agree with Harris that self-pity is problematic, as it leads people to be unsatisfied with their lives. We all know someone who is desperate for a significant other. We should not be so focused on finding a significant other that we miss the value in being single. This is one point that I do give Harris credit for.
At the same time, I have seen others dismiss people’s very real emotional problems as just being “self pity” or “over sensitivity.” We should recognize the difference between self pity and real emotional issues.