Recognizing Our Own Deceit (138)

In this episode John and Gregg talk further about Gregg’s Sunday morning “Discussion Group.”

John wonders: How is the “back and forth” within the group affecting Gregg? Gregg notes that he is learning to pay attention to how some participants habitually “detract” from or even contradict his perspectives without actually engaging with the material, and to plan in advance for these types of responses.

Gregg also explains how, in past, he saw the church as a culture of trust (relative to Christianity / Christian beliefs) where he is more accustomed to working in cultures that are suspicious of Christianity / Christian beliefs.

Now he is coming to understand this church as also being a culture of naïveté and credulity (where “credulity” is an over-readiness to believe something or a willingness to believe on insufficient evidence and “naïveté” is the view that something is relatively free from complexity, and so is easy to understand and manage. The opposite is a culture of “sophistication,” where people are aware of the complexities inherent to their beliefs, and inherent when these beliefs interface with the other areas of their lives.

Gregg further notes that other participants seem uniformed about some basic aspects of their faith.  So Gregg is seeing a) the need to educate people on certain matters and b) how much his desire for dialogue makes his uncomfortable when he is forced to “push back hard” against those who are impose their views on the group without engaging with the discussion.

John returns to the topic of self-deceit, the focus of the Discussion Group, and wonders: How is self-deceit identified? In Gregg’s opinion self-deceit is not actually visible: we only see it through the “traces” it leaves. Further, self-deceit is not about disagreeing (with someone or something) but is failing to recognize something that is right in front of us for what it is. Specifically, we fail to recognize because we are aware, at whatever level, that the implications of recognizing would be frightening, threatening, or painful

John again wonders: How easily can self-deceit be taken to an extreme, such as a “radical distrust” based on our sinfulness. The exception John sees to this radical distrust is Bible-reading, which for many Christians plays out like Gregg’s “Magical Jesus.”

Gregg agrees that a gross excess of suspicion—and lack of trust—can be paralyzing, but in Gregg’s view unless Christians are aware of the fact that they can read the Bible in instrumental, self-serving ways, then this is not truly an awareness of self-deceit but of human incapability. Instead, evangelical Christians misplaces suspicion, which is the best tool for uncovering self-deceit, on “sins” that we are aware of and, by so doing, actually domesticates the very idea of sin!

So if Christians have problems with their Bible readings then it is not simply because they are lazy of lack “biblical literacy” but that, because people are “wired” toward self-deceit, it should be unsurprising that Christians read their Bibles in ways that validate the very practices that we claim to disavow (and we hide the truth of the matter from ourselves).

And as Gregg notes, the shocking thing is that people outside of the church can see this, even though the Christians within the church can’t! This is particularly the case where bible-readings driven by self-deceit become a normative practice within a church or, even, a standards of faithfulness.

John wonders: How does self-deceit occur for Gregg? Gregg finds a number of examples in his family life, such as when Gregg claims he can’t do something because he’s “too busy” when really it’s because he thinks that he’s too important. In Gregg’s view the best way to combat self-deceit is to become self-aware and to understand our propensity to be self-centered and self-serving.

For example, Gregg advocates counseling (though not “biblical counseling,” which he does not believe is a valid or helpful means of self-assessment), courses in anger management or communication, travel (and particularly living in a foreign culture), take inventories of one’s belief (why do I believe, what do I value about my beliefs, how do I know that my Bible-reading is incorrect, etc.). Lastly seek “neighboring perspectives,” such as seeking advice from practitioners of other denominations or even faiths. Gregg identifies all of these as de-centering practices.

Gregg highlights three areas in which we are more likely to be self-deceptive: when dealing with fears, with problems, or with enemies. So we wish to comforted in our fears, I want my life to convenient for me, and I want my adversaries accused and brought to justice (without facing justice myself).

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