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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Terror Darkness Waste Murder

“Like a tragedy, [the life and crucifixion of Jesus] stirs up pity and terror in us. 

Like a tragedy it requires us to contemplate the world’s darkness. 

Like a tragedy, it draws attention to waste. 

It shows us a life that need not have been extinguished being extinguished, without particular malice, by the normal processes of the world. 

It shows us that accident, injustice, spoilage, are all standard, all in the pitiably usual course of things. Here it’s important that Jesus’s death was an obscure one, when it happened. He’s not an Oedipus or a Prince Hamlet, someone falling from greatness. 

His death belongs beside the early cutting-short of the millions of lives of people too poor or too unimportant ever to have been recorded in the misleading story we call history; people only mourned by others as brief as themselves, and therefore gone from human memory as if they had never been.

Jesus dies like a migrant worker who suffocates in a freight container, like a garbage-picker caught in a slide, like a child with an infected finger, like a beggar the bus reverses over, or a father, husband, friend, murdered, shot dead with his baby girl on the streets of Plymouth.

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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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Propaganda

Two farmers were leaning against a fence staring intensely at the horizon of a field where you could just make out the sheep, and there seemed to be a problem, but they couldn’t quite see it, so one famer said to the other, “I’m going to go over there and ‘ave a proper ganda!”

A “proper ganda” in this South West England meaning is to have a closer look, to begin to see what is really going on. Propaganda, on the other hand, is precisely the opposite. It is designed to obscure, to blur and hide. And we humans are surrounded by propaganda all the time, not least in the heated culture wars of the West where Critical Theories have played their hand for decades and are now calling in the chips of chaos and disorder.

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Held by Love

A few years ago when I visited Cambodia with a team from church, I read Mike Higton’s excellent but demanding little book called ‘Difficult Gospel – the theology of Rowan Williams’. It really is full of profound insights and commentary and hightly recommended. I re-read a bit of it today (pg. 17-18) and share it here – wonderful stuff:


“We are all of us precarious creatures.  We live in environments we cannot control, and are hedged about by limits we cannot overcome.  We face frustrations, we face competition for scarce resources, and we are jostled in a confined space by the egos of others

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An antidote to a virtue of compliance

Here is an article from The Baptist Times by Baptist pastor Ian Stackhouse:

I confess that I have been quite vociferous in my disdain for the government’s persistent use of lockdown as a way of dealing with covid. In my opinion, the ‘collateral damage’ will be significantly greater than anything arising from the virus. I also have serious concerns about the restrictions on worship that we have endured this past year, as well as restrictions on civil liberties in general.

In stating these concerns, I have been accused of various things: recklessness, paranoia, and lack of compassion. But strangely enough the one that has irritated me the most is the charge that I am stuck in the past, unable to realise the enormous opportunities brought about by this crisis. Indeed, someone made a comment to me other day that my desire to regather Millmead in our new sanctuary might yet prove my Achilles heel, simply because the gathering of large congregations in one place is now regarded by cutting edge missiologists as something of an old wineskin.

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Storm Centres of History: Parliament and Brexit

BBC Radio Devon – Pause for Thought:  Storm Centres

During the Pause For Thought this week, I’ve been talking about 7 places I have been to:   Storm-centres of history.

Today, on our final visit, we will go to the British Parliament.

On Wednesday 27th March this year, I attended PMQ’s with my father at the Houses of Parliament (with thanks to Torbay MP Kevin Foster and his team for arranging this)!

 

This date was significant.  This was the Wednesday before the Friday of the original departure from the EU.  It was very exciting to be there, which in the end, turned out to be not quite the bear pit I had anticipated.  

 

 

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An Honest Spiritual Life

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“…what is an honest spiritual life?  Perhaps we should say that it is one in which the taste for truth (rather than sincerity) has become inescapable.  We don’t know what we shall be, what face God will show to us in the mirror he holds up for us on the last day, but we can continue to question our own (and other people’s) strange preference for the heavy burden of self-justification, or self-creation, and weep for our reluctance to become persons and to be transfigured by the personal communion opened for us by Jesus.”

 

 

Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes, pg. 60

‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor’

I recently discovered the writing of Anne Lamott, and just loved what she says both in this excellent, honest and funny  TED Talk ‘12 truths I learned from life and writing,’ and in this comment below, which is about writing in particular, but what she says about the curse of perfectionism in general, is spot on:

 

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