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 none. In 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.