Thursday, February 03, 2011


A lot of people are calling for civil debate in the public square right now, and it has caused me to wonder exactly what we mean by and expect from civil debate. What do you think are the necessary components of a “civil public debate” and what do you think the outcomes ought to be?

Does civil debate necessarily include “niceness”? Can we deeply disagree with each other and still be civil? How?

I believe civility in the public square requires the presence of actual arguments. More often than not we hear personal invectives thrown about and we see emotions on sleeves, and I think discussions like that necessarily exclude civil debate. Civility may require a truth beyond the reach of our personal preferences so the discussion can reach beyond our emotions and avoid the ad hominem.

Is it possible to be respectful of a person with whom you deeply disagree and still vigorously disagree?

Another mistake we make too often today is equating disagreement with hate. If I disagree with the validity of your position or the morality of your behavior, that does not necessarily mean I hate you. It may in fact mean I am interested enough in your well-being to talk about our disagreements.

Do we expect the outcome of civil debate to always be agreement? A preponderance of agreement? A deeper understanding of each other?

Any (civil) thoughts?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

When is the Last Time You Thought About Self-Deception?

I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life
By Gregg A. Ten Elshof
Eerdmans Publishing, 2009.

It may happen more often than you realize, and you are probably aware of it more often than you are willing to admit. We deceive ourselves often, in many ways, and for all kinds of reasons. Ten Elshof has written a provocative book covering a character trait we don’t always deal with. It is a readable, insightful and even wise book. We need to think more often about how and why we deceive ourselves about our behaviors and beliefs, and we need to think more about how to handle our forms of deception.

But there is a twist. Is it possible that some measure of self-deception is not just a benefit, but a God-given benefit? Ten Elshof thinks so. I was originally leery of his attempt to defend a certain level of self-deception, but he handled the matter very convincingly. It now seems obvious to me.

The book opens with a brief overview of the matter of self-deception. Ten Elshof shows that it has been a long time since philosophers and the Christian tradition have paid attention to the matter, even though it used to be a topic of real concern. He sets the stage about our personal deal-making and then moves to five ways we self-deceive.

But we are not left without help. After a couple of rather deflating chapters (the honest reader will probably feel deflated), he begins to show us the ways through. First of all, self-deception may not be the end of the world – at least at first. And secondly, there are very good ways of working around self-deception to a healthy grasp of the truth about yourself.

Of particular value to me were the sections on avoiding group-think and the approach he calls, “Avoiding Hyper-Authenticity.” When Christians try to change their behavior through the imitation of Christ, are we being hypocrites? After all, we are behaving in ways inconsistent with who we “really” are. Isn’t that a form of self-deception as well? The hyper-authentic person comes “as is” and is brutally open and honest about who they are and what they feel. But is that just an excuse to avoid change for the better? Ten Elshof’s discussion at this point is very straight-forward and wise.

This is a great book on a neglected topic.