Wickedness and Self-Deception

One of the triumphs of postmodernism is that it has shown us that we are not rational, unbiased observers. The modern man used to think that he was something like a scientist in a lab coat, adding a few drops of red to a small pitcher of blue and “poof!” Purple. Turns out that the world doesn’t work like that. I mean the cause and effect part, not the colors part.

None of us are unbiased, we don’t dispassionately look at evidence and follow it where it leads. Instead, we find where we want to go, and we accumulate evidence that will take us there. Why does Fox news not sound like MSNBC? Do they use different cameras? No, we are masters at changing evidence to fit what we want to see

But where does this distortion come from? The Arbinger Institute came out with a great book (with some unfortunate terminology) called “Leadership and Self Deception.” The great part is, as the title suggests, is that it exposes how we distort reality. In our interactions with others, we perceive both our own virtues and other’s faults as exaggerated. Arbinger argues that this happens after we do what we should not do, and the self-deception is a means to justify ourselves. Now, like I mentioned above, Arbinger unhelpfully labels this act of treating others badly, “self betrayal.” The argument, as they would put it, is that we have a sense of what is good, and in going against that sense, we betray ourselves. Not the worst way to put it, but the Bible has better language.

You see, the Bible talks a lot about evidence and self-deception. My favorite passage to go to is Matt 12:38-40. The Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus for a sign. But here is the kicker: Jesus had been doing signs, in fact, the Pharisees had previously conspired against Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath. (Matt 12:13-14) And then Jesus heals a man who was blind and mute, and the Pharisees said that Jesus was casting out demons by the prince of demons.(Matt 12:22-24) So, the issue with the disbelief of the Pharisees was not a lack of miracles, it was their evil heart. They did not want to believe.

John writes about the people who rejected Jesus this way. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19 ESV) Our wickedness distorts. And the scary part is that we don’t know how much that it distorts. We may have a conflict, and be completely in the wrong and never know about it. We are not unbiased.

There are only two ways out, repentance and community. Psalm 19:12 is a prayer that we should pray more often. “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” (ESV) God may, in his mercy, forgive our hidden faults. But how do we see them? The answer is community. Prioritize honesty and courage over insightfulness. It is probably not too hard to find someone who can see your faults. It is much harder to find someone who is courageous enough to tell you what those faults are. And respond well when someone tells you something bad about yourself, it’s the only way to get them to say something again.