Author Archives: Gregg Monteith

Foundations 7: Introducing Self-Deceit (173)

This episode is in some ways the culmination of all of the previous episodes on “First Steps”—the point toward which they were all building.

On the one hand, the content of this episode directly addresses the most problematic aspect of evangelical dysfunction: its seeming invisibility to those that participate in it.  On the other hand, this episode offers the concepts needed to make sense of what may at times have appeared as “conflicting statements” on my part (such when I argue that evangelical Christianity is extremely dysfunctional while also affirming that evangelical Christianity maximizes human flourishing).

And this episode also offers content to make sense of the particular approach that I take throughout the Foundations of Flourishing program.  Namely, in Foundations of Flourishing participants focus first on learning about themselves and their humanity (rather than starting with the Bible and with God), an approach that likely seems foreign—if not problematic—by typical evangelical Christian standards.

So what is self-deceit?

Self-deceit is the propensity to develop (and maintain) what can be called “false consciousness,” which is the belief in a reality when in fact there is noneIn other words, where the reality I believe in simply does not exist.  Self-deceit powerfully impacts, and indeed directs, the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our motives (and about others and their motives).  And because self-deceit, as the term suggests is, well, unseen, self-deceit is not so much something that we do as something that we are—it is more a characterization of what it means to be human than a description of what a particular human might do.

As such, self-deceit is not simply the ability but the predisposition to perform “slight of hand” on ourselves by substituting one “reality” (reality in quotation marks) for another.  Or better, self-deceit is the human predisposition to keep the reality of a given situation from ourselves in order to believe something that is more comforting, self-promoting, or more incriminating of others than the actual situation or state of affairs would allow.

But wait: self-deceit is slyer still.  For its main functions is not to elevate our own self-image while debasing that of others, or simply to allow us to think better of ourselves than we ought.  No, skewing reality in our favour is only a smokescreen to facilitate the deeper purpose of self-deceit: to allow us covertly to “get away with” behaviours and views that, overtly, we claim to reject and stand against.

Self-deceit is most prevalent in those areas of my life that are most formative of my identity and most essential to my morality.

When self-deceit is framed in this way it becomes very easy to imagine how religious contexts can be rampant with self-deceit.  This is because religious belief makes significant claims relative to the identity and morality of its adherents.  Now such claims of themselves are not necessarily problematic.  Yet by their very nature they are especially open to the abuses of self-deceit.  And the more one’s religious beliefs are naïve and unexamined, the more this is the case.  For when the hallmark of belief is uncritical acceptance this creates a ideal context for the growth of something covert and elusive, such as self-deceit.

Foundations 6: Self-awareness and Experience (172)

Module 6 of “First Steps” addresses the development of self-awareness in order to become “full selves” and thereby, for non-Christians to better evaluate the value of Christianity and for Christians to reach maturity in their faith.  Yet the notion of “self-awareness” immediately poses several challenges.  First, the term is often used without sufficient definition, making it confusing or vague.  I will offer definition for the term, upcoming.

Second, when seen from within the current evangelical dysfunction, “self-awareness” seems optional at best.  In other words, self-awareness is often seen as unimportant by evangelicals because they are taught that the primary (and perhaps only real) task is developing what might be called “God awareness.”  God awareness—which means understanding who and what God is (in order to know how best to be obedient to God and promote God’s sovereignty)—is achieved through cultivating such things as biblical literacy and reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Yet the dysfunctional nature of most evangelicalism means that privileging “God-awareness” (again, by prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit as means of developing obedience and promoting divine sovereignty) means that Christians can actually come to view self-awareness as being detrimental.

This is because dysfunctional evangelical contexts typically present humans as servants whose role it to offer obedient service and present God as a divine sovereign whose role is to govern, or exert control over, the events and situations of human life.  So what is the link between the obedient servant / governing sovereign and cultivating “God-awareness” through prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit?

Next, if “self-awareness” often suffers from a lack of sufficient definition, what do I mean by “self-awareness”?

Insofar as self-awareness involves understanding and duly embracing what and who we are, then a large part of the “what” of being human is valuing—and so learning how to evaluate and validate—our human faculties and senses in the context of living our lives.  By “faculties” I am referring to such capacities as imagination, intellect, the will, memory, emotional responses and so on.  By “senses” I am referring to such capacities as sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Now within typical, evangelical culture only two faculties are valued.  First, our intellect (because the intellect is necessary for such things as understanding Christian teaching and doctrine and for engaging apologetically to persuade others of the validity of Christian belief).  Second, our will (because our will is seen as something that we “give over” to God in order become obedient to the teachings and commandments of the Christian Scriptures, and so live the Christian life properly).

Further, in many evangelical contexts most emotions are viewed with suspicion (or are outrightly viewed as negative), although not always (particularly so in more charismatic settings, where certain emotional engagement or responses are seen positively).  Yet typically this is the limit.  More problematically still, the imagination is typically viewed at best as being unnecessary, if not misleading and deceptive.

Another component of self-awareness is the key notion of identity.  Again, when viewed from within an evangelical Christian context, the notion of identity is almost always presented as one’s “identity in Christ.”  In other words, within evangelical contexts it is as though personal identity is neither necessary nor valuable given the need to maximize God and to develop “God-awareness.”

Yet when “identity in Christ” eclipses or undermines personal identity then this “Christian” notion has become dysfunctional.  For while elements of character and morality may well be in conflict with the character and morality that Christians are urged to adopt (such as a “Christ-like” character and a “Christian” morality, although neither term has an obvious meaning and both terms require definition), having an accurate sense of one’s personality and identity are actually key to becoming a mature Christian (and not detractors from such).

In other words, within a dysfunctional evangelicalism the notion of “identity in Christ” is yet another way to diminish and minimize oneself—the Christian as a person—and thereby substitute that unique, believing person for a generic object: “the believer.”

Foundations 5: Conceptual Toolbox (171)

The Foundations of Flourishing program is designed to assist Christians to recognize and overcome the entrenched dysfunction within evangelical Christianity and to assist non-Christians to decipher and evaluate the accessible, ‘here and now’ value within Christianity.  This dual approach overcomes two related problems that, left unattended, create alienation between (and potentially within) each group.

First, it helps Christians to overcome small-mindedness and fear-based living in order to become well-rounded and fully functional.  It does so by empowering them better to understand and embody their faith through lived experience and extra-biblical information sources.  The serendipitous result is that their beliefs become more biblical while their practices become more credible to outsiders.  Second, it allows non-Christians to reconsider the cultural consensus that Christianity is irrelevant.  It does so by empowering them to engage with Christianity on terms that make sense to them (rather than being told to “believe what Christians believe” in order for Christianity to make sense).  The serendipitous result is that investigating Christianity promotes becoming one’s “best self” through love relationships that are truth-based.

Finally, because this program holds love and truth / truth and love to be co-equal and co-central to both human flourishing and to the character of the Christian God, Foundations of Flourishing is equally open to Christian and non-Christian perspectives (while nevertheless arguing that a particular, functional form of evangelical Christianity maximizes both truth and love in tangible, understandable ways).

In this episode, Gregg discusses how being a faithful Christians means becoming conversant and skillful with concepts: developing “conceptual fluency.”  In other words because understanding is key to both Christian belief and Christian living, how (and how well) we understand life, the Bible, etc. depends on the ideas and concepts that we view to be relevant to such matters and on our willingness and ability to bring them to bear properly.  The result is that our breadth of understanding is limited: one, by the range and nature of concepts that we have at our disposal; two, by where we’ve been taught that they apply; and three, by how (and how well) we have been taught to use them.

So for Christians, growing one’s “toolbox” of concepts—and learning how to use them well and apply them appropriately—is nothing short of essential, to the point that Christian maturity depends upon becoming conversant and skillful with concepts.

Revamping Untangling Christianity (170)

“. . . in key ways, the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade those outside that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being.  To put it in Christian terms, in my view the evangelical church essentially fails at both discipleship and the great commission.”

Last episode, #169, I made this is a massive statement.  It’s a bombshell, really.  To clarify my position, I defined this brokenness as “dysfunction” and then presented one example of this dysfunction, that being the inability and / or unwillingness of church leaders to accept challenge, critique, or even engage in productive dialogue with those who hold dissenting views.

So why am I repeating points that I made in the previous episode?

I am repeating these points because it may appear that my views are in conflict with each other, such that this fairly all-encompassing critique of evangelical Christianity seems to contradict my strong affirmation of the value of Christianity in general, which has been a main focus of the podcast.  Particularly, my comments of last episode are far bleaker and more negative than any that I have offered on the podcast to this point.

On the one hand this is due to the format that the podcast has taken, where John Poelstra and I began first by reviewing several books written by evangelicals and following this our later podcasts maintained a rather discussional format, with John typically raising issues or bringing questions upon which I offered commentary and perspective.

And of course, this format also helped our discussions remain in keeping with the podcast’s tagline: we examined (and I offered perspectives to defuse) “destructive ideologies” and to unsnarl “confused ideas” within Christian belief and practice, and we considered Christianity from a perspective where love and truth, truth and love are co-central.

So my goal in repeating the key points of last episode is to highlight a new focus for the podcast, one that began last episode and will become increasingly prevalent as I go on.  This new focus is to clarify the origins of the fundamental flaws in evangelical Christianity (and the entrenched dysfunction that results)—in other words, to present “the problem” as fully and convincingly as possible—and to present, in response, the solutions that I believe are necessary to overcome (and eliminate) the sources of these flaws (and their outworking, as systemic dysfunction).

Why Evangelicalism Fails (169)

The intention of this episode, the fifth episode on the Foundations of Flourishing curriculum 1, was for it to be a “round-up” of the previous four podcasts with a goal of highlighting the most important or perhaps under-exposed aspects of the first half of the curriculum that they present.

However, over the course of producing this series of podcasts and considering the aims and focus areas of the “Foundation of Flourishing” program, I have come to understand that there is a larger issue that needs to be presented as part of presenting this “First Steps” curriculum, which is the initial curriculum of the “Foundations” program.

Let me begin by explaining that the “Foundations of Flourishing” program—and the entire Integration Project of which it is a part—is not primarily an educational effort.  In other words, it is not mainly aimed at providing information or at teaching techniques or strategies.  Instead, it is above all a response to a problem—to what I see as a major and critical problem within evangelical Christianity.

To put it simply, the Integration Project (and the “Foundations of Flourishing” curriculums) are not designed to make what is currently a “good thing” great or even to make an acceptable thing better.  They are instead designed to make an essentially dysfunctional thing functional—to make something that is broken actually work.

Now it may take a moment or two for the full implication of what I am saying here to sink in.  I am actually saying that evangelical Christianity is not simply in need of some improvement “here” or “there.”  I am saying that it is fundamentally broken.  I am of the opinion, in other words, that the evangelical church by and large cannot carry out its role as either imaging Christ or as offering a viable and valuable embodiment of Christianity.

So in key ways the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade outsiders, at least based on its current presentation of such, that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being.  To use Christian terminology, in my view the evangelical church patently fails at both discipleship and the great commission.