It was Memorial Weekend a few years ago, and due to my lack of planning we couldn’t go camping. As this news would be seriously disappointing to my boys, we determined to continue the camping excursion, even though every campsite in a tri-state area was booked.
We simply moved our adventure to KOA Addisland. Yep, we’ve all done it; camping in the backyard, that is. This would be my boy’s first experience.
Hot dogs and smores over an open fire, a six-man tent pitched in record time (3.5 hours… I didn’t say which record), and a complete lack of bathrooms. Oh, we had them, but we made the boys go outside to increase the authenticity.
Never should have started that… they’d rather ‘water the lawn’ than all the other civilized options to this day.
Finally, after pointing out some constellations and watching the fire die, we headed into the tent for what Kat and I were assuming would be the worst night’s sleep of the year.
After a few giggles and prayer, we started to drift off into the quietness of what my wife calls ‘Sleepytown.’
But, our trip was derailed by a comment from our eldest from out of the dark:
“Dad,” Noah said. “I want to go inside.”
“Me, too,” sheepishly added Nathan.
“What?” I responded. “Why?”
“I’m scared,” Noah said.
“Me, too,” Nathan said.
“That’s silly boys. We’re in our own backyard,” I said. “What could you be afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of monsters,” Noah said.
“Me, too,” Nathan echoed.
Using Daddy Logic, I asked, “Boys, in all the time we’ve lived here just how many monsters have you seen in the backyard?
Noah was silent
Nathan said, “Four.” Confidently.
For the first time… I was a little afraid.
It’s strange how logic can go out the window when we strongly believe something. Even when facts are presented to us, we will rewrite the facts and their interpretation if they challenge our beliefs.
We’ve seen this in extreme cases like conspiracy theorists and UFO hunters… not that they aren’t out to get us, and by they I mean the government AND the aliens.
Given a sliver of information they run with it and create an entire belief system based on potentialities and presuppositions. And, even if they are presented with clear information that undermines their beliefs and causes, they will rewrite, reinterpret, reconfigure to make it all gel, somehow.
Don’t criticize them too harshly. While most of these folks are represented by individuals who are a few Coco Puffs short of a nutritious breakfast, this pattern of behavior is wider spread than the regional Star Trek Convention.
Even seemingly reasonable and intelligent people get caught up in this process, that for lack of a better term, I call rationalization.
My definition? Glad you asked. Rationalization is the uniquely human capacity to deny or change information that challenges a belief system for the purpose of preserving that belief, even at the expense of truth.
- People who want a divorce but were raised with the model that it is wrong… they can rationalize their way into it.
- People who see an easy, but unethical way to advance their careers… they can rationalize their way into it.
- People who don’t want to believe in God or commit to a holy life… they can rationalize their way out of it.
- But, be careful, even devout Christians who live, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ can be challenged by arguments and philosophies that really need a hard fought answer… they can rationalize their way into easy answers.
We each no someone we hope would explore the beliefs that we have, but it seems like no argument, circumstance or relationship can sway them. They are armored up with titanium-plated rationalization!
This human tendency is why it is so important for us to get our beliefs right from the beginning. If we start living with a false belief system, we’ll get comfortable with it and defend it even in the face of truth.
If we start out on the wrong foot, we will tend to walk miles in the wrong direction. Who wants to turn around after that?
For those friends who ‘kind of believe,’ or family members who are good people but just don’t do the “Jesus thing,” its important that we don’t let them keep walking in the wrong direction.
Because the further you walk in the wrong direction, the harder it will be to admit you are far from where you need to be.
Even when confronted by his father about the ludicrous fears of monsters in the backyard, Nathan rewrote his script and made up a fictitious number to continue his belief that there are monsters, they want to eat us and that four of them live in our backyard.
There is a story in the journey of Paul from Acts that shows just how important it is to have the right faith system from the beginning. It comes right after they are shipwrecked and make it to shore in Acts 28:
Ashore on Malta
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Ac 28:1-6.
In this passage, the Maltisians display three key characteristics of rationalization.
First, they had a faith system. The capital ‘J’ on the word justice in verse 4 indicates that they were talking about more than an intangible concept. In classical Greek, this word dike used for justice was also the name of the daughter of Zeus who rendered judicial decisions over men. You know the blindfolded lady with the sword and the scales we see on courthouses… that’s her. Their belief in her and the other gods lead them to another belief: that if Paul survived the sea only to be killed by a snake the Fates must have it out for him. They even concluded that he was the worst of all criminals, a murderer. Three or four beliefs hinging on each other which lead to obvious conclusions in their mind; they had a faith system.
Second, that faith system lead to expectations. Since the gods had it out for Paul and this snake was the messenger of the gods, they fully expected Paul to kick it! Literally, they all just sat back and waited for Paul to swell up and die. No medical care, no ancient home remedies, no prayers for mercy. They just waited and, according to Scripture, they waited a long time for Justice to do her work. Having the right faith system is important because it frames the expectations we have in life. They had expectations.
Third, expectations built on a faith system lead to ramifications. They believed in the god Justice and expected her to kill Paul, and when it didn’t happen… they had to start rewriting. To protect their belief system, they determined that Justice was a god and since this guy (Paul) didn’t fall to Justice, he must be bigger than Justice. He’s a god! Wow, were they off, and that’s the problem. They were wrong getting wronger. Expectations built on a faith system lead to ramifications, and if you start out with a faulty faith system, you frame your life with broken expectations and the ramifications will take you even further off course.
So, what’s the lesson here?
- Don’t play the rationalization game. Don’t defend your beliefs at the cost of sacrificing truth. Rather, be committed to your beliefs, but only because you know they are truth: tested, weathered, substantiated, life-changing truth.
- Always be open to have your faith challenged and either changed or strengthened based on what the truth really is.
- And, don’t let those you love live their lives and make decisions based on a belief they defend because its convenient or beneficial to them.
Life, and eternal life, are too important to rationalize away.
I believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God and the only way to salvation. I believe this not because I grew up that way, or it’s the most convenient truth for me.
After living, struggling, reading, arguing and growing… I know.