Self-DeceptionGreg Ten Elshof just released an interesting book titled I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life.  Greg is a professor of philosophy at Biola University, and did his doctoral research in the area of self-knowledge and self-deception.  During an interview with the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Greg offered a great definition and explanation of self-deception:

To be self-deceived is to intentionally manage one’s own beliefs for some purpose other than the pursuit of truth. It’s worth noting that, given this characterization, one can be self-deceived in believing what is true. One can even be self-deceived in believing something that is true and for which one has evidence. Self-deception occurs most often when there is an emotional attachment to believing in a particular direction. It often involves the management of attention away from evidence that would disrupt the desired belief. And it seems to be capable of achieving greater distances from truth and rationality in groups than in the individual. It was Nietzsche, I believe, who said that insanity is rare in the individual but the rule in groups.

How true this is!  That is why I am a strong proponent of the virtues of intellectual honesty, openness, and integrity.  We cannot get so emotionally attached to any doctrine that we are unwilling to consider the possibility that it may be mistaken, and unwilling to examine evidence against it. 

And like Greg noted, self-deception is even greater at the group-level.  I have found this to be true in my own life.  There are certain teachings common to my religious organization that are not well-evidenced, but they are believed tenaciously by its members.  People are afraid to question these teachings because the group accepts them as being true (and why question the group), and questioning/abandoning those teachings could impact their continued involvement with the group.  I have seen people become emotionally disturbed when presented with evidence against these teachings.  They often ignore the evidence contrary to their belief—going on as if they never heard it—so that their involvement with the group will not be negatively impacted. 

I have even seen people go to great lengths to defend ideas and doctrines that no reasonable person would defend if they were not part of a group of people who believed and practiced such things.  Humans have the tendency to want to justify the beliefs of the group they belong to.  I have done so myself, and truth-be-told, I am probably doing this in certain areas even now.  That’s the thing with self-deception: not only do we deceive ourselves in regards to specific issues, but we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not deceiving ourselves when we do so.  Lord, expose us to our own self-deception so we can see the truth more clearly!