Posted by: gcarkner | August 19, 2012

Self-delusion or Deep Honesty?

Is Religion a Form of Self-delusion?

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Some people caste Christianity aside, because they see it as a hospital religion, irrelevant to them, the young and healthy majority of society. See Richard Dawkins for instance. Sigmund Freud believed something similar. Many consider it something of an outpatient clinic for those who can’t cope with real life, symbolized by the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter. Is it nothing but a crutch for the desperate, or a delusion to avoid harsh aspects of reality? Much hangs on the answer and therefore it bears deeper scrutiny.

Perhaps we have grown too accustomed t0 a multiplicity of modern props, with the massive growth of the social sciences and the self-help movement. Contemporary 21st century men and women are prolific in the production of artificial  and sometimes dysfunctional support systems. We see all around us a desperate search for emotional and economic security. Greed, consumerism and acquisitiveness have become a national sport. In society, we see an extreme quest for intimacy and pleasure which entails huge risks and painful heartbreak. Need we mention our current alcohol and drug dependency, or addiction to a personal psychiatrist in the middle class? Some of us are even addicted to our own narcissism. Crutches are indeed real and abundant for late moderns.

Not all props are so obvious. Many people rely on a good job, a nice house in the suburbs, or even romantic relationships for their security. Families can be sacrificed to power, ambition and big salaries. Others turn to social activism, the power of positive thinking, or developing their human potential. In ways such as these, people try to meet their basic needs for meaning and fulfillment, or to neutralize the dullness and ineffectualness of their lives. Where is fantasy and reality, the false and the true self (Parker Palmer) in the midst of all this?

Some view church attendance and the Christian faith as just another way to prop up a broken life, a form of escape, or a place for non-vital citizens without any direction to park their lives. But the healing Jesus provides goes beyond superficial bandaid treatment. Christianity is a restorative religion; it is far from a crutch. Its aim is deep healing, renewal and wholeness, not simply coping for another day. The claim of Jesus’ identity and mission is much deeper and broader. See the statement below on how he is the Yes, the affirmation of life, calling and direction.

The Christian faith challenges its adherents with a whole fresh approach, a new vision for life. Character is improved; relationships develop depth; community flourishes; self·understanding increases; virtues are pursued as robust achievable goals. Nothing less than a vibrant relationship with the living God is offered through Jesus Christ,  issuing in vital human community (Ephesians 4). There exists another paradigm.

Many of the best minds and strongest conlributers to society are found in the Christian community. These people are nol limited to any single walk of life. But some 40% of scientists are believers. The Christian faith promotes excellence in women and men of all ages, races, classes, and educational backgrounds. Some are leading nations and shaping human rights, asking for responsible stewardship on global climate change .

But this does not mean that Christians are perfect. Not at all. At their best, they have the humility to admit that they are needy, narcissistic  people, that they need to change, that they need others. They are subjects in process of change. This stance requires courage to face the games we play with ourselves, the false public constructions of self that we project in pretence. In fact, the recognition of brokenness is the first vital step to genuine healing and discovery of our true, integrated self. Alcoholics Anonymous has demonstrated this to so many.

But some of us find it too threatening to examine our wounds at any depth and instead we choose avoidance and self-medication. But unless we face their reality, we are condemned to hobble painfully through life, living a false dream, propped up by our own radical freedom of expression. Our makeshift crutches of individualistic self-sufficiency get in the way of honesty and real personal growth. We desperately need radical healing. Shockingly,  that is what Christ offers.

Is Christianity a crutch for the weak and helpless? Or does the accusation perhaps obscure a smokescreen raised in denial of one’s own needs? Jesus actually has helped millions tai a more honest look at themselves. I studied deeply in my PhD work Michel Foucault’s ethics as aesthetics; it offers a self-dependent idea of freedom through a continual reinvention of the self and self-justification. It rejects acceptability to the Other (human or divine), promoting a love of self as its prime directive. Many thousands have chosen this posture.

No doubt, it can be intimidating to face the possibility that the living God has an absolute claim on one’s life. And it challenges our delusions to think that we cannot heal ourselves and do it all on our own. But we must honestly confront that option. The issue cannot be simply our own comfort or security; that is a lie we tell ourselves over and over again. It is precisely when we shed our concern for our comfort that we begin to see ourselves for who we really are, and move forward on more secure paths toward meaning and significance–taking responsibility for self and for the Other. Worth a moment or two of reflection and critical self-examination on a long walk?

Gord Carkner (thanks to Richard Middleton, Herb Gruning and Bruce Toombs for their assistance in examining the tough questions)

See also blog posts on Quality of the Will, and Is God Really Good?

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( II Peter 1: 3-8)

In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from a Graduate Student Study Group at UBC.

  • Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end of creation. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the ground of being). All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships divine and human, as the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is present to the world.
  • He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and prophets of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching.
  • He is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As logos (John 1), he is the divine word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the key question: Why is there something rather than nothing? We are called to take captive all thought to his Lordship, his oversight. He is the end point of every spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration. He has renewed and healed the current broken relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter).


Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)

  • He is the complete human, a fullness of humanity. He is a gift to us to direct our passions to that which can fulfill them. He came to take us higher, to show us the infinite goodness and agape love of God and to transform us by it. He is the renewed, most excellent representative of God on earth, the imago dei.
  • Jesus is perlocutionary speech act, God’s most powerful communication to human ears. He addresses us, calls our name, calls us forward into an adventuresome life. His words (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) are a culture driver. Through him, we have been identified and called into a new community, given a new identity as royal priests (I Peter) and the people of God. He is the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless (shalom). He is our home, our shelter/refuge, our anchor.
  • He is the Suffering Servant who empathizes with our human struggles, brokenness, alienation and pain, the Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen). He has suffered and does suffer for individuals, society and the world (I Peter); it is a redemptive, deeply meaningful suffering. He is Compassion.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)

Other metaphors: the Vine, Root of David, Teacher, Shield, Son of Man, Lion of Judah, the Way, Portion, Lamb of God, Refiner, the Bridegroom, Saviour, Rock of Ages, Presence of God, Alpha and Omega, Son of God

We welcome you to listen to the Hillsong album called “Zion” to experience these thoughts as worship

Recommended Reading: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey



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