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'Satan's strategy' (part 1)

"The pretensions of the self therefore can be maintained only by willful deception, for which Tertullian had the very accurate description of 'willing ignorance.' This deception does not require a conscious act of dishonesty in each individual instance. The deception of sin is rather a general state of confusion from which individual acts of deception arise. Yet the deception never becomes so completely a part of the self that it could be regarded as a condition of ignorance. …

"The desperate effort to deceive others must, therefore, be regarded as, on the whole, an attempt to aid the self in believing a pretension it cannot easily believe because it was itself the author of the deception. If others will only accept what the self cannot quite accept, the self as deceiver is given an ally against the self as deceived."

– Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man

"The self-deceiver does not believe … what he says or he would not be a deceiver. He does believe what he says or he would not be deceived. He both believes and does not believe … or he would not be self-deceived."

– Philip Leon (quoted in Niebuhr, above)

The disturbingly insightful Dave Neiwert has a good post on the pathology of baggers and birthers and the rest of the roused rabble who seem convinced that health care reform will lead to death camps for the elderly.

Dave posts a video of one of the town hall meeting screamers being interviewed on Fox News. Health reform, the man says, "is sentencing our families to death." Dave rightly points out that this man is a prime example of a growing phenomenon:

It shows just how deeply a segment of the American population is willing to believe things that simply are not true, provably so.

These are people who believe it's objectively true that the Obama administration's health-care reforms will lead to a mass killing of the elderly and denial of treatment for Obama's opponents. If you want to know why teabaggers are so worked up, this is why: They really believe this stuff.

I know I'm repeating myself, but I don't think that's quite right. I don't think they really believe this stuff. I don't think anyone could.

We're not talking about a clever or a plausible deception. We're talking about swallowing impossibilities and categorically disproved falsehoods. That sort of deception cannot be believed without an active, vigorous component of self-deception. And self-deception, by definition, can never be 100-percent effective, convincing or sincere.

Dave is correct that they are fully committed to believing this stuff, but doing so takes a great deal of effort. Keeping such unsustainable falsehoods alive requires hard work and constant vigilance. Dave describes some of that hard work and vigilance, some of the mechanisms by which these folks are almost able to convince themselves that they have convinced themselves that they really believe this stuff:

This kind of alienation from fact-based reality was a significant component of the dynamic behind the "Patriot"/militia movement of the 1990s. It's embodied by the selective "skepticism" of such folks: Anything the runs counter to their belief system is dismissed as "the official story" which is only believed by "gullible" folks (and indeed is more evidence of the ongoing conspiracy), while any kind of outrageous nonsense that supports their belief system is seized up on as "secret truth."

Over time, one can develop such "selective skepticism" to the point that it is a habit that requires little active engagement from the self-as-deceiver. But the process never becomes so wholly routine or reflexive that the self is ever able, fully, to forget that "it was itself the author of the deception." The self can never be wholly unmindful of the mindful carefulness it is exerting to ensure that it never looks at that which it does not wish to see.

All of which is just to introduce and to provide context for this: Good Fight Ministries.

I have to thank Jan Markell, the Emily Litella of Christian Worldview Network, for introducing me to the transcendently illiterate GFM as the resource for her own astonishing account of the band U2. Bono, it seems, has been invited to speak at Willow Creek Church, and Markell views this as yet another sign of the End Times:

Just as troubling is the appearance of rock star Bono. His U2 band was blatantly Satanic. Thanks to Good Fight Ministries, you can go to this link and type in the word Bono or U2. Bono is seen holding an upside-down cross and singing praises to Charles Manson with the song "Helter Skelter." Did Bono have a conversion experience? If he did, he has not changed the name of his music affiliation, which remains U2 from the days of blatant Satanism.

Markell's link didn't work but I found the site via Google and oh my. Please do check out "Good Fight Theater" — a capably produced, but utterly insane collection of videos "exposing" the Satanic conspiracy behind all popular music. Please do watch the U2 video, because A) It's hilarious, and B) I want to talk about it in Part 2 of this post.

Do the people at Good Fight Ministries really believe their insane assertions about U2's links to Satan? They both believe and do not believe. They are both sincere and insincere. And I think they provide an entertaining and helpful case study toward what I've been struggling to argue about the insincerity of the willingly ignorant.

  • Launcifer

    Inge: Today I just slap a “fiction” label on the scare story and call it satire.
    I love this, personally. If only I could do this wholesale, then I’d have at least twelve years of my life back – and a proper government.
    In all seriousness, though, I think that part of the issue is not so much the story being told as who’s telling that particular story. A good singer can make even a bad song sound palatable.
    In other news, I got doorstopped by Jehovah’s Witnesses today. It was fun.

  • http://cereselle.livejournal.com cereselle

    One thing Evil Wicked Hollywood has taught me is that there ain’t nothin’ more deceiving than a low-down, dirty… deceiver.

  • poe

    I’m pretty sure those videos are satirical.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    I guess they don’t have much respect for the creative power of the human mind.
    Foborr: Conspiracy theorists never do.
    If they did, they might realise how much of their narrative is a creative transformation of reality.

  • Ms. Anon E. Mouse, Esq.

    @Selaris

    How did your friend’s lovely relative explain fantasy stories like…Narnia comes to mind. With creatures that obviously don’t exist in the real world, I mean. Did he/she just think the author involved was trying to claim these creatures actually existed?

    I think they (I can’t remember whether it was an uncle or an aunt) said it didn’t matter whether you expected other people to believe the lie or not. It was the act of telling (through acting, through writing, etc.) an untrue story that was the sin.
    I’m not sure how the parables of Jesus fit into their way of understanding the world. Perhaps they thought they were all true stories that he chose to use as sermon illustrations.

  • topher

    @ Thalia
    I can’t find the Voltaire quote either. He might have said “magic” or “witches” in place of superstition. I did my MA in French Literature and wrote my thesis on the French Enlightenment so I might be misremembering the quote and it could have been said by Rousseau, or Diderot, or d’Alembert. But I swear Voltaire said something to the effect. I will hit the books and try and find the exact quote.

  • David

    How did your friend’s lovely relative explain fantasy stories like…Narnia comes to mind.
    I’ve seen a couple responses to that. At the very far end are people who believe that even Narnia is evil (it has witches!). But there’s a large chunk of the very-conservative that are willing to give Narnia a pass, and yet maintain that it would be “even better” if it hadn’t had all those questionable bits. I know one woman who maintains that, while Tolkien and Lewis are technically acceptable Christian fare, they probably wouldn’t have written fantasy novels if they’d been raised Christians. (I didn’t try arguing the facts, due to past experience.) So she perceived this dirty predilection for not-true Christian stories as a sort of unfortunate weakness resulting from a non-Christian past. It wasn’t necessarily evil, but you probably still don’t want to encourage that sort of thing.
    Then there’s the somewhat more mainstream group that are perfectly content to live with the dissonance, and just think everything is evil except Tolkien and Lewis (and, in another 40 years, probably Rowling as well, though not yet…)

  • Jason

    I think they (I can’t remember whether it was an uncle or an aunt) said it didn’t matter whether you expected other people to believe the lie or not. It was the act of telling (through acting, through writing, etc.) an untrue story that was the sin.
    That person sounds like the least fun person on the entire planet.

  • lonespark

    The Hook might not exist, but Jack the Ripper did.
    And a bunch of serial killers. And Nazis, and…yeah, unbelievably awful things happen, but there’s still a burden of proof.

  • lonespark

    It was the act of telling (through acting, through writing, etc.) an untrue story that was the sin.
    That’s perfectly reasonable if you compassionately think of the gullible alien species who will base their entire civilization on your “historical documents.”

  • Trevel

    I’ve actually heard people claim that all the parables actually happened, exactly as Jesus described them. Because otherwise Jesus would be telling lies.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com MikhailBorg

    That’s perfectly reasonable if you compassionately think of the gullible alien species who will base their entire civilization on your “historical documents.”
    I absolutely love that movie. I am totally the kid with the complete blueprints on his computer.

  • Ryan

    One thing Evil Wicked Hollywood has taught me is that there ain’t nothin’ more deceiving than a low-down, dirty…
    DECEPTICON!

  • Jessica

    Jason wrote: I’m glad that I’m not an RTC because if I had to give up the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Band, Joni Mitchell, Mark Knopfler and JJ Cale and replace them with Chris Tomlin, Carman, Rebecca St. James, and Micheal W. Smith, there would be considerably less joy in my life.
    The only Christian contemporary band that I’ve ever actually voluntarily listened to and enjoyed is Sixpence None the Richer….and I bet the RTCs don’t consider them a “real” Christian band since they have secular hits.

    I think I’m in love. ;) SNTR is one of my all time favorite bands, I was so bummed when they split. Slocum’s poetic lyrics really held everything together. I met them at a concert here in So Cal back in like 1996, got some CDs signed and everything. =) And Leigh Nash’s semi-recent solo album is alright. It’s mostly poppy trash, but I dig her voice. Plus she’s hawt. Yes, I occasionally buy music if the singer is hot enough.
    Too, I fantasize about lining up all the RTC artists you’ve mentioned and seeing if one bullet can go through four or five bodies. Sometimes execution can be an act of mercy.

  • Jason

    That’s perfectly reasonable if you compassionately think of the gullible alien species who will base their entire civilization on your “historical documents.”
    Thousands and thousands of years from now archaeologists may uncover ancient documentation reporting the existance of a being known as “The Doctor.”

  • lonespark

    I’ve actually heard people claim that all the parables actually happened, exactly as Jesus described them. Because otherwise Jesus would be telling lies.
    Head?
    Desk.
    Head?
    Desk.
    Spiritual understanding FAIL.

  • Kathleen F.

    I’ve actually heard people claim that all the parables actually happened, exactly as Jesus described them. Because otherwise Jesus would be telling lies.
    …Wow. Have these people ever seen two or more real-live human beings communicate with each other? Ever?

  • http://jamoche.livejournal.com jamoche

    @Froborr: they were also mortal vessels for the ancient cosmic entities Christ and Sophia, who were lovers.
    If there’s not an anime with that plot, I’d be surprised.

  • Jason

    @Jessica-
    I sing and play guitar in my church’s praise band which being a heavily liturgical Episcopal church only plays once a month. I would love to do “Too Far Gone” or “The Ground That You Shook,” one Sunday. I tend to throw in old bluegrassy type hymns like “Old Rugged Cross” instead because so many of my bandmates want to do Chris Tomlin type stuff, which I sing out of obligation rather than love, so I try to balance out our sound with some other types of stuff.
    I absolutely love the lyrics to “Too Far Gone” though. I need to try and locate chords for that one. Dunno if I can sing it though.

  • http://newscum.wordpress.com CaryB.

    I’ve actually heard people claim that all the parables actually happened, exactly as Jesus described them. Because otherwise Jesus would be telling lies.
    *headdesk*
    Aside from the fact that Jesus makes it clear that hey, this is a story to illustrate a point, this is one of the most intensely irritating things about fundamentalism. Their insistance that every single damn word is literal removes the meaning, depth, and beauty of the text. Which is more elegant, powerful, and worthy of the Son of God- an elegant parable illustrating the depths of the Pharisee’s calumny, completely revolutionizing the concept of love and brotherhood, or Christ repeating some neatly illustrative story that he stumbled across in the Judean Evening News?
    For that matter, which works better, the Garden of Eden being a beautiful parable for the existance of sin in the world, showing a philosophy rooted in a loving God, and starting the great sweep of man’s Journey from seperation with god and disgrace, to salvation, and eventually, joining with God, becoming one with god, and finally, man and god giving the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of man.
    Or, alternately, two people about 10,000 years ago ate an apple and pissed off God.
    There is a reason why the best writers are often held in such high esteem for their use of metaphor. Well done, like in the Bible, a metaphor can be more real then what actually happened, more uplifting and elegant than the truth, and used properly, inspire more goodness than a mere recitation of the facts.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I’ve actually heard people claim that all the parables actually happened, exactly as Jesus described them. Because otherwise Jesus would be telling lies.

    According to some interpretations, God quite literally “spoke” the universe into existence (According to others, God just *figuratively* spoke the universe into existence). Jesus is also God, so it’s not totally ludicrous, theologically speaking, that if Jesus told a story, that story *would be literally true*, and would be so *regardless of whether or not it had been true beforehand*. I do find the idea of Jesus being able to retcon reality with a word kind of giggleworthy.
    Hm. I wonder if the whole “Fiction is a sin” thing originates in the idea that trying to create a universe by telling a story is a form of muscling in on God’s territory.

  • Jason

    @Ross-
    Hm. I wonder if the whole “Fiction is a sin” thing originates in the idea that trying to create a universe by telling a story is a form of muscling in on God’s territory.
    Except that I take the line that we are “created in God’s image” to mean that we are more like God than other species precisely because we have the capacity to create things. We can create fictional universes and worlds because we have God’s capacity for creation. If creativity is muscling in on God’s territory than creating almost anything is a sin. Boil your chicken rather than coming up with recipes to mix flavors to make the chicken taste good and unique. That would be creating something.

  • random atheist

    “Too, I fantasize about lining up all the RTC artists you’ve mentioned and seeing if one bullet can go through four or five bodies. Sometimes execution can be an act of mercy.”
    Help me, Mrs Medlicott, I don’t know what to do:
    I’ve only got three bullets, and there’s four of Motley Cru.
    - Half Man Half Biscuit

  • http://wenzersaddictions.blogspot.com/ Wenzer

    Incidentally, I’ve just read that health care opponents are spreading down right lies about the NHS.
    Such as, Investors Business Daily writing that if Stephen Hawking lived in the UK, the NHS would long ago have determined his life not worth saving due to his degenerative illness?
    (Investors Business Daily has since edited that article since apparently someone pointed out to them that Professor Hawking is, in fact, a life long UK resident and that the NHS started treating him for his illness before he ever became famous…)

  • lonespark

    being able to retcon reality
    Does he do it on purpose? Or it more like George Orr?

  • Jessica

    I sing and play guitar in my church’s praise band which being a heavily liturgical Episcopal church only plays once a month. I would love to do “Too Far Gone” or “The Ground That You Shook,” one Sunday.
    If you ever do, I want the address of your church. I’ll sooooo be there!

  • Froborr

    If there’s not an anime with that plot, I’d be surprised.

    I started out recounting the backstory to Xenosaga, but then I diverged rapidly into more entertaining territory. Not that Xenosaga isn’t entertaining, but I just enjoyed riffing on it my own way.

  • Jeff

    [[the fact that shrieking fantasies are the predominant form of opposition might be a sign that the policies they're opposing are sound, or sound enough that a rational opposition couldn't find much wrong with them.]]
    I think that **ANY** policy can be tweaked and improved, and thus is open to rational opposition. One could, for example, talk about how small businesses might be impacted by the health plan(s) being discussed. Or examine exactly how someone might move from one plan to another. Etc. And so on. Water daily.
    It’s harder to have rational opposition to sound policy, especially significant opposition 9as opposed to tweaking at the edges, as above). But it can be done, as debate clubs around the world have shown.
    ===========================
    [[Christ and Sophia, who were lovers]]
    Christ and Sophia, sitting in a tree…
    All I have to say is “Hi ya, Sophia!”
    ======================
    [[I absolutely love that movie. I am totally the kid with the complete blueprints on his computer.]]
    I’m lost. What movie is this?

  • Dash

    Ruby: Though it does make me wonder how L&J know…the AntiChrist.
    LaHaye shaves the antichrist’s face every morning.


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