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Is Self-Deception Always Bad?

Not necessarily, says Gregg A. Ten Elshof.
2009This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.
I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life
Author
Publisher
Eerdmans
Release Date
June 22, 2009
Pages
160
Price
$16.00
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How many people set their alarm clocks 15 minutes ahead in hopes that when the alarm goes off, they'll be terrified of being late and jump out of bed? How many justify questionable decisions by rallying friends and family for support? How many focus their attention away from gross financial inequality, sexual slavery, or racial discrimination in their own lives?

Whether in minor or major ways, self-deception plays a part in everyone's life. As Gregg A. Ten Elshof notes in I Told Me So: The Role of Self-Deception in Christian Living (Eerdmans) , what's puzzling is that the deception works.

Where do we find self-deception? To answer this question, Ten Elshof, chair of the philosophy department at Biola University, effectively uses philosophical, literary, hypothetical, and personal examples ranging from the ancient Greeks to Flannery O'Connor. For example, he admits that he considers himself a better-than-average professor, but notes that so do 94 percent of all professors. How can this be? Ten Elshof says that it's more satisfying to believe good things about oneself than to face the truth. In these situations, life cuts you a deal: believe the truth or deceive yourself ("It's not so bad"; "I'm still a good person"; "I didn't really want that"). And on it goes.

For self-deception to work, people need to see themselves from the perspective of someone who doesn't know how they fail. If this "perspective switching" doesn't work, then people might try rationalizing their behavior: "I need to lie on these financial forms so that I can feed my family." Or, people can avoid a difficult decision altogether by procrastinating: "Sure, I'll contribute to your cause, but only after I check with my spouse, accountant, and bank."

People ...

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