Unmasking our own self-deceptions

3. Subtle Exclusion Disguised by Self-Deceptive Rhetoric: ‘Climbers’

Third, worse than stigmatising by naming would be discriminating structures of judgement and exclusion cloaked or disguised by a politically correct rhetoric about inclusion or about ‘attempts’ to be inclusive.

This is where somebody is sinned against, but the rhetoric denies it. In other words, ‘politeness’ replaces relationship and love. The ugly thing about this is that, even though no sinful language is used, there is still favouritism, rejection, structures of exclusion, and hence implicit stigmatisation by naming going on at the level of practice. Thus, potentially, a leader could say to himself, ‘I have not actually said to so and so that they are such and such – I have been very careful in my speech’. But both John and James point out the hypocrisy of being polite in our speech but failing to love with our actions.

What is happening here is that the leader’s ‘politeness’ is functioning as a self-deceptive device that hides from himself his lack of love for, or stigmatisation of, somebody. The leader is effectively ‘climbing into’ his own rhetorical world of self-affirmation and believing the rhetoric to be true of himself in place of confessional honesty. But, as Gerhard Ebeling writes,

“According to Luther, the Word of God always comes as adversarius noster, our adversary. It does not simply confirm and strengthen us in what we think we are, and in what we wish to be taken for… This is the way, the only way, in which the Word draws us into concord and peace with God”.

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Labels as manipulation

  1. Labelling as the Very Definition of Manipulation

First, there is the clue of self-deceptive and manipulative ‘labelling’ of others. For example, if a congregation member writes a letter about an issue to the church leadership, and they are either ignored or labelled as ‘God’s awkward squad’, then an attitude of superiority has been assumed.

If the reply is given, ‘but they really are from God’s awkward squad’, then the chances are that the self-deception on the part of leaders concerning their own ‘more mature’ status is even more deeply ingrained and subconscious. Thiselton reminds us that Gadamer, a very important philosopher, defined ‘manipulation’ in terms of

the reduction of people to passive objects, subsuming them beneath a ‘prior netting’ of imposed categories, assumptions, stereotypifications, artificial constructs, closed statements, superficial generalising explanations, or pigeon-holes.

This is a way of ‘apprehending’ somebody without listening to them. In short, we cannot tell what or who a person is until we know them very well. Whenever we ‘label’ somebody before we know them very well, then we are committing the sin of false testimony. This is not ‘a’ way of manipulation, but the very definition of manipulation, according to Gadamer.

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You can be blind and see; You can see and be blind

From Wrong Forms of Critical Judgement to Right Forms of Critical Judgement

So then, on the basis of Jesus’ teaching, it seems to me that self-designated church ‘traditionalists’ should be trying to be self-critical before pouring judgement on any view they oppose. Conversely, they also should be trying to be self-critical before pouring judgement on the self-designated traditionalists.

When any debate polarises in the way the debate on the church and say, homosexuality, or any other divisive issue has, then it is a sure sign that both sides are ignoring Matthew 7:1-6. When this happens, there is a prevalence of pre-critical judgmentalism (the blind claiming to see), squabbling over trifles (straining out gnats and swallowing camels), self-deception (legitimising our own sinful interests), finger-pointing (evading self-criticism and categorising the other as ‘worse’), and refusing to be confronted (attacking one’s critics whatever they say).

Jesus’ response, however, by implication, is surely to call us to the opposite of these things: critical awareness through education, focusing on the most important things, rigorous self-criticism to unmask our own self-deceptions and sinful interests, refusal to scapegoat the other as a ‘worse’ category of ‘sinner’, and welcoming wise confrontations.

Jesus says, ‘once you’re doing these things then, by all means, make a judgement, because it will probably be a good one – though not to pigs and dogs!’ Matthew 7:1-6 does not align with the person who says it is wrong to make judgements of any kind, since this is usually a strategic manipulative technique in itself in order to close down or control a potentially healthy conversation. However, it does say that we should begin with self-criticism. So, I must begin with a critique of my own perspective and church tradition.

Once again, Jesus is correct!

Ryoji Iwata

How not to be a pig or a dog

The Choice: Self-Criticism First, or, “Pigs and Dogs”

So, it is largely an absence of self-criticism that Jesus is largely attacking in Matthew 7:1-6.

For if, in the case of ‘honour’, we lift up the other first and ourselves second, then it is the other way round with criticism. We are to criticise ourselves first, and only then can we see clearly to remove the speck from our brothers’ eye. And even if we number among the few who have gone through rigorous self-criticism, then it is still not right to pass comment on the speck in my brother’s eye in every case.

Sometimes, the ‘brother’ in question, Jesus says, is like a dog or a pig (how’s that for political correctness!). Unlike humans, dogs and pigs do not have the capacity for self-reflection, and so they do not mind returning to their vomit or to their mud-wallowing.

Further, dogs and pigs are unclean in Scripture. So then, a brother who is like a dog or a pig is unreflective about their own uncleanness. They refuse to be self-critical. Whatever you say, however wise or sacred, they turn and tear you to pieces so that you are too afraid to confront them.

So then, even if you are one of the very few who have been self-critical enough to face your own worst sins, even then you must not always share your wisdom, because some people simply cannot hear it. They have made a lifestyle out of resisting confrontation. If you even hint at a criticism they explode with anger because they have utterly refused to process guilt.

As A.C. Thiselton might put it, they have a ‘pre-disposition of readiness for conflict’. In such cases, you can forget nice words like ‘conversation’, ‘dialogue’, or ‘discussion’. You can even forget more robust terms like ‘debate’ or ‘argument’. At best, you end up in a quarrel, and at worst you get murdered. Forget all attempts to reason with such people, says Jesus.

Once again, Jesus is correct!

How not to swallow a camel

Wrong Forms of Critical Judgement

Matthew 7:1-6 says that it is wrong to judge others in four senses.

First, Jesus says, we are blind but claim to be able to see. How can we see when we have a great big plank in our eyes? So often, in a pub or a restaurant, we overhear conversations between opinionated types – full of judgmental assertions, lacking all argumentative rigour, and embarrassing to listen to. This is what Jesus is on about.

Second, we judge small issues but fail to see big issues. We focus in on a small speck, and yet ignore a large plank. So often, in public places, we overhear people impatiently squabbling over trifles. At a distance, however, it looks like an entire relational pattern has gone wrong, that the trifles themselves are not the issue. Gnats are being strained out, but camels are being swallowed. Jesus is speaking about this too.

Third, we set up a Kangaroo Court to legitimise our sinful interests. Somehow, it isn’t the plank that’s the ‘real’ problem to us, which is why we don’t bother to remove it. This reminds us of the way powerful countries legitimise the exploitation of Third World countries whilst at the same time passing criticism on their patterns of government. Similarly, Jesus attacks the Pharisees, calling them white-washed tombs. The Pharisees had believed their own show of righteousness and were deceived about the truth of their sin.

Fourth, we emphasise others’ sin in order to hide our own. The whole point about focusing on the speck in our brother’s eye is to create a diversion from self-criticism by relativising our sin compared to the ‘much worse’ sin of others, who become our scapegoats. Thus, in the breakdown of relationships sometimes, each thinks it’s the fault of the other, and neither attempts to be self-critical before they point the finger. Some are great at confessing others’ sin from the front of the church under the guise of ‘sharing a difficult experience’. But often their own sin, including their taking revenge on the person being talked about, is far from the spotlight. In the same way, the Pharisees looked down on ‘sinners’ and ‘tax-collectors’, but Jesus said that because the latter often admitted their sins, they would be entering heaven before the Pharisees who were not facing theirs.

Once again, Jesus is correct!

The Wall

It occurred to me in the last few days that there is a comparable situation between two unlikely events, that can end up producing similar outcomes.

At the turn of the millennium, I was a YWAM missionary, first training in the UK then in the Middle East.  Part of my own research and study involved coming to factual terms with what is termed “culture shock,” which is a very real, dynamic and potentially dangerous event.


Different cultures operate in different ways.  Hot climate cultures differ from cold climate cultures.  Even one hot climate culture may differ quite dramatically from another hot climate culture, to lesser or greater degrees.  Most people who go abroad will know in tiny part what I mean.  We go for a week or two, enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere, enjoy ourselves.  Laugh or frown at the driving, customs, language or principle mood of the place, but in the end, the return ticket is in our pocket.  We’re going home, and we know it.  Imagine going to a place so alien in language and custom, not to mention temperature and (from a Western perspective), hygiene – with a single ticket.  You’re there for the long-haul and you’ve got to deal with what comes your way.  And anyone who thinks or assumes this is easy has not experienced what I am attempting to articulate. 

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Self-Awareness as Discernment

Below are the teaching video’s of the great spiritual writer Richard Rohr, as he explains the Enneagram and its implications.  Wonderful stuff, and a few hours WELL SPENT.  



Here is the superb book that gave rise to the lectures.

And here is the link to his website, The Centre for Action and Contemplation.

And the page that offers the Introduction.

And the page where you can pay to take the Test.


The Enneagram: What It Is and What It Isn’t

The Enneagram is a dynamic system. It was developed primarily in an oral tradition, in the context of relationships between students and teachers. A “dynamic system” is one that recognizes that humans are far too complex and nuanced to fit easily into simple categories; it supports the evolving, maturing human journey.

The Enneagram is not a strict law or code. Its categories are not meant to bind or restrict you to a certain way of being and living. People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes.

The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation. But it shouldn’t be your only tool. The Enneagram is most helpful when used in conjunction with other practices like study, meditation, spiritual direction, and life in community with others.

The Enneagram is not just a personality typing system. Yes, there are tests and quizzes  that help you identify your primary Enneagram type, but that is often just the first step. This tool is meant to help you over a life-long journey.

While self-discovery is important, it is not the Enneagram’s final objective. The Enneagram’s purpose is to help us uncover the traps that keep us from living fully and freely as our True Self so that we will use our unique, authentic gifts for the good of others and the world.


Don’t skip the introduction.  Set aside plenty of undisturbed time and take it in.

Continue reading “Self-Awareness as Discernment”

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