In describing the relationship between the cognitive process and the emotional state, Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Righteous Mind”, uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The rider (our intellect) might be able to get the elephant (our passions) to lean in one direction or another, at times – but just as often the elephant is likely to take its rider on a completely unplanned excursion. And even though the rider might like to think of himself as being in charge — the sheer girth, force, and volatility of the elephant, would suggest otherwise.
This is a truth, of which, advertisers and politicians have long subscribed – they don’t really need to convince your intellect, in order to win you over . . . they just need to feed your elephant what it already wants to eat. It is a diet involving two basic food groups – what we fear and what we desire . . . as these are primal passions that we respond to pre-cognitively — on a gut level. This is how the politician can take you from “everyone panic — it’s a crisis!” to “. . . and I have the solution”. And how the advertiser can take you from “I didn’t even know I needed it . . .” to “. . . I can’t live without it”. And this was how Satan took Adam and Eve from being comfortably contingent upon God, to wanting to become their own god. (Genesis 3:1-5)
This is not to suggest that the serpent is somehow responsible for the choice that Adam and Eve made – it was always their choice. And if we examine this choice at its most basic premise, it is ontological – as it fundamentally challenges the very nature of existence. If you believe that God exists, and that everything exists in him, then you know your own existence to be inextricably contingent upon God’s existence. But once you begin to entertain the idea that the nature of existence is a concept up for grabs – then it’s not that hard to imagine yourself as being your own god.
This is how we accept the lie of self-existence – not as an intellectual conclusion, but rather, as a pronouncement of will, having no basis in reality, whatsoever. It is a contrived choice, created entirely out of fear and desire. We fear an existence that we can’t control – so we desire to control it. In this way, every sin of man is an ontological disavowing of his own existence. Even the rational mind of the non-theist ends up placing its faith in the theories of science to assuage the fear of being contingent upon a meaningless universe – inventing both the predicament and its imagined solution.
So inescapably, the confessions we make about existence will always dictate how we experience our existence – therefore, if your confession is at odds with reality, your experience of reality will be at odds. And even though your elephant rider may fully appreciate the logic of this fact — depending on the diet of your elephant, it won’t make a bit of difference. This is why it is the confession of our Christian faith that we fear God, and nothing else, and we seek to make him our preeminent desire – so that every other desire can be rightly placed into proportion with what it means to exist in him.
. . . and eventually you realize you’re gonna have to serve somebody.