The sentimental is and is not

Stanley Hauerwas begins a recent post at ABC Religion and Ethics with the provocative statement that “nothing is more destructive to the Christian faith than the current identification of Christianity with love.”  Part of what seems to be going on here involves Hauerwas’s long battle against Christians’ temptation to sentimentality. For there is nothing sentimental about the cross and much that is sentimental about Christian proclamation of an easy and tolerant love, a “love,” for example, that makes Christians great customer service personnel for destructive corporations.

At the same time, to again follow Hauerwas’s lead, we should not think that this calls for some sort of emotionless obedience. Indeed, one of the problems with sentimentality is that it deflects and hides us from the emotion and desire that marks a true engagement with the self, others, the world, and God. In the interests of pushing towards a deeply emotional and fully desiring faith that does not stray into I have decided to present of list of examples of what sentimental is and is not.

The sentimental is:

  • “There is so much bad news these days. It’s a good thing that a vague feeling of goodwill towards all humanity means that the church breaks down the barriers of nationality, race, and gender. If I think it, then I know that I am a part of a global fellowship.”
  • “No, dear, I did not clean the house while you were away as I promised I would do. What matters, though, is that I love you very much.”
  • “Yes, I will help you to escape from this fire in a moment, but first I must find my wedding ring, which brings back so beautifully the perfection of my wedding day.”
  • “I don’t care what my baby sister says, Dad. I will not allow you to move into a nursing home. I’ve been in one once and I know what it is like. You mean too much to me. Now, if she doesn’t do a good job taking care of you this week, you be sure to let me know when I see you next.”

The sentimental not:

  • “The many stories of Syrian refugees that I’ve been able to hear over the last few months has deeply impacted me. I am quitting my job and initiating conversations to see what I can do to plug into relief and support for the current refugee crisis.”
  • “Thank you for making me smile now when everything seems so bleak. I just really appreciate having you around.”
  • “I weep uncontrollably for the loss of my friend. I am at a loss in the face of my grief.”
  • “This really good book has me in emotional turbulence.”

With both of these lists I could have gone on and on. But now, reader, it is your turn to flesh out the distinction between the sentimental and the emotional. What should be added to either or both lists? Be as snarky or as heartfelt as you like.

2 thoughts on “The sentimental is and is not

  1. The sentimental is:

    -Every single visual art piece from Ikea and all other big box stores that can capitalize on an artist’s creativity by purchasing their design at a low cost (but still “enough-to-get-by” for the aspiring artist) and still sell it at a low price so consumers gobble it up. The prices are often lower than the cost of a blank framed canvas for the aspiring artist. You can’t have a mirror-art, a visual art piece that shows the world for how the world is, that is mass produced with this kind of ethic underpinning it.
    -Every single re-print of plain text stating the a “virtue” word such as “hope” or “love.”
    -Thomas Kinkades’ quaint cottage paintings. He really is a very good artist and well respected by skilled artists – but he is respected for the work he does outside of what is mass produced – his kitsch and sentimental paintings of cute little cottages is what gives him money to do the interesting art that is worth investigating.
    -The entire Michael-esque scrapbooking industry.
    -The entire Martha Stewart crafting industry.
    -The third season of “The Mindy Project.” : ( #sodisappointing

    The sentimental is not:

    -The guardian/parent who wakes up too early every morning to prepare good food for their young child.
    -Jenny Saville’s paintings.
    -feminist politics.


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