Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Art of Self Deception

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi supposedly had the Greek inscription above the door, translated simply as "Know Thyself." It is certainly a goal worth pursuing, even though unobtainable.

One of my favorite verses (to illustrate this point) is Jer 17:9,10 describing the human heart (psyche, mind, etc) is unknowable and deceitful beyond anything else on earth.

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

10 “I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”

I am reminded of this on a daily basis, as I see many patients who have no insight to their, rather serious, psychiatric disorders. There is a saying around medicine (the practice of) that those who are most seriously mentally ill . . . are usually the last to know.

Depressed people might go through denial, at least at first, then their depression becomes the inescapable fact (unless they blame the world, perpetually). Anxious people tend to deny their flaw longer, often converting their anxieties into physical illness.

But the really mad people, the sociopaths, psychopaths, personality disorder sufferers, will never know themselves because the very nature of their illness prevents it. This is the real darkness of the Fall. These people make life hell for those around them (even more so than for themselves). The same number of these people exist inside the church as outside. Inside (because Christians tend to be naive about psychological disorders, blaming everything on "spiritual issues") it often goes "undiagnosed."

Why am I talking about this again? Two reasons have brought this topic to the forefront of my mind.

I think in the lead up to Halloween, a local cable channel showed the psychological thriller, Hide and Seek, several times over the past couple of weeks. I saw the beginning on one day, then finished the story by reading it online the next day.

In the story, David (Robert De Niro) is a psychologist, who's wife commits suicide leaving him and his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). They move from the city to upstate New York. There, Emily seems to create an imaginary friend, Charlie. But before long it becomes apparent that Charlie is real because he does things that little Emily could not have done, from opening a stuck window to pushing a woman out of her window . . . killing her.

To make a long story short, David finally realizes that HE is Charlie. That like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario, David (because of a multi personality disorder) transforms into Charlie. Indeed, it is later revealed, that his wife never committed suicide, but Charlie (David's alter ego) murdered her because she was having an affair. But, David knew nothing about his dark side until the end.

Now, I will take the story into the real-Christian context.

I've always enjoyed the true mystery shows, like NBC's Dateline and ABC's 20/20 especially when they deal with these psychological dramas (and even more so with it is about supposedly good people, doing horrible things). I think it is the same reason I like archeology programs, or some kind of science mystery. It is the intrigue that drives me, wanting to know more.

Last week 20/20 did a follow story about Matt Baker, a former Baptist pastor, whose wife died of "suicide" or so they thought. As the police investigated the story, there were many suspiciousness things coming to the surface, especially his friendship with a beautiful woman in his church. He was openly dating her within two weeks of his wife's death. He had 17 phone calls a day to her, starting well before his wife's death.

The new development was that the "other woman" finally came forward and described how her and pastor Baker had been sleeping together well before his wife's strange suicide and, in fact, he described to her in detail how he had suffocated his wife.

After that long introduction, here is the main point. Matt Baker swore, in his quiet, convincing, kind voice that he had never had an affair and had not killed his wife. A group of his closest friends stood by him saying he was a deeply kind and godly man.

By the day of the trial, he had to admit that he had been sleeping with the woman, although he still denies killing his wife.

Watching his very sincere, convincing video interview . . . any person in their right mind would believe him and trust him. But that's the way with psychopaths. They lie so well, that I think they can even start to believe their own lies.

On a much less serious level (than being a secret murderer) It leaves one to humbly ask God, "Search my heart and know me." It also gives me justification to trust, only with caution, the stated motives of other Christians. We are all warped . . . some, like Pastor Baker, seriously so.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your blog today, just wanted to say I really enjoy it.

It's a shame I haven't seen that film and already know the ending. I've always loved psychological thrillers.

I'm just trying to get a grasp on what you're stance is on psychological health. Do you believe that it can only be controlled through medication and coping techniques or do you believe in addition to those methods that God can indeed at times relieve someone completely of their mental sickness?

I'm just curious. I've been struggling with anxiety myself lately and have recently been diagnosed with anxiety disorder after an episode a couple weeks back which left me when numb extremities and difficulty breathing that caused quite a scare.

I've been searching for answers on other websites on what the bible says about anxiety, but it seems to me that many of those articles mistake it with worrying.

I'm trying to understand it all and I feel so helpless right now. It's hard when no one close to you can understand what you're going through.

MJ said...


That is a very good question, which I may not answer very easily.

Certainly God could take away anxiety disorders just as He could take away incurable cancer . . . but in my personal observations of the the world, I've never seen Him work that way (not in modern times). But perhaps He does and I seem to miss it. I have seen many, many people claim instant cures to various aliments, but I sense (and I do think--if I have any gift--it is discernment) that they are faking it.

With that said, I will explain better.

Anxiety, is a gift from God. It serves a great purpose. Without anxiety, we would constantly do dangerous things that would cause us grave harm. People who have abnormally low anxiety, usually die young from accidents. Like any good, healthy function, anxiety has been tainted by the Fall of Adam and can malfunction. The specific cause of that malfunction can be genetic or life experiences. As an example of the latter, many people who were abused as children (or later in life) suffer from anxiety disorders.

I don't buy that anxiety is a moral problem (what most so-called Christian psychologists and teachers promote) nor that it is the same as what the Bible refers to as "lack of faith" or "disbelief" or even worry.

I rarely worry about things, but I still do have a deep physical anxiety problem.

Anxiety disorders should be looked at the same was as diabetes. There is a place for medications (which help to correct malfunctioning brain chemicals) and there is a place for non-medical treatment.

I do think the best non-medical treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive restructuring (or what the Bible calls the "Renewing of the mind.") That by thinking differently, and forcing yourself to think differently even when it doesn't feel natural, that over time, the anxiety does diminish (but may never go away completely).

Those Christians who preach to you that your anxiety is sin and your own fault, usually don't suffer from anxiety because they were lucky enough to not be born with the genetics or never have had the experiences to cause it. They also want to prove that they are more spiritual because they don't have it. So by pushing down on those who do, they can elevate their own self-esteem. I've seen such pastors preaching about anxiety (calling it sin) but they would never preach on the sin of dominating and controlling your wives, because that hits too close to their sin.