In the context of evangelical Christianity, self-deceit functions to develop and maintain the “false consciousness” that key beliefs are held because they are true and that devotion to God, or piety (however flawed or imperfect) is the Christian’s main aim. This false consciousness is a mask that we wear to obscure the real consciousness, which is that most evangelicals hold key beliefs because they are convenient and that narcissism, or extreme selfishness and devotion to self, is the actual true aim of most Christians, most of the time.
So with certain beliefs there is no justifiable reason by any Christian standards for any Christian to believe them. For example, that when reading the Bible s/he just “reads what’s there” (without needing to interpret) or that the Holy Spirit guarantees the “right understanding” (or even a sufficiently good understanding). Yet despite this, these views remain very popular in evangelical circles.
More so, should an attempt be made to persuade such Christians on the reasonableness of the evidence against their belief, my experience is that such discussions can be endless and yet go nowhere: no amount of evidence and no argumentation, no matter how sound, avails to change the minds of those who hold such views (or even to push them to re-assess their position).
Why? Or perhaps more to the point, what could this mean?
The logical implication, when sound argument and abundant evidence are completely unpersuasive, is that the belief is not based on either. In other words, when abundant evidence and sound logic are of no use for persuasion, this clearly indicates that the belief is not held for reasons related to its truthfulness. It is based on something else, or held for some “other reason.”
At this point we can return to my earlier point that self-deceit effects what and how we know. So, while claims to correct (and effortless) Bible-reading are not unfamiliar, any claims that runs contrary both to sound logic and available evidence are almost never simply about what they seem to be about. So where claims to correct yet effortless Bible-reading would seem to concern the claimant’s “theology” or “understanding of Bible reading,” or even their “theory of knowledge,” there’s definitely more to the picture. For below what seem, on the surface, to be the dominant concerns and out of sight lies the real concern: meeting one’s own needs (and covering it up through self-deceit). Once we become aware of self-deceit and attuned to the circumstances when it is likely to arise, this changes everything.
So instead of asking for justification for beliefs that seem plainly to lack a justifiable basis, an awareness of self-deceit leads us to probe elsewhere. We start by asking questions designed to reveal hidden reasons, or motives. For example, a) What are the benefits of holding such a belief? b) Who or what is served, or What needs or concern are met, by holding such a belief? c) What is the result from the perspective of the holder versus the perspective of others?
These questions, you will notice, are specifically not aimed at investigating the rationale or reasonableness of the belief but at uncovering the hidden—and likely true—motives for holding it. This is a crucial distinction, because an approach that focuses on evidence and logic assumes that—and so is only helpful in cases where—truthfulness is the reason for holding a belief (and therefore the standard by which any belief is judged). Yet where truthfulness is ruled out, as in this case, the second approach is indispensable. For only by uncovering the real reason for holding a belief can any type of productive conversation about the belief (or evaluation of the belief) occur.