"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.