When rational goes bad

12 Nov

In attempting to re-read some psychology stuff, I read a very interesting few paragraphs about rationalisation. I’ve understood this to mean a defence mechanism which stops you having to feel your emotions or admit you were hurt by something. But it’s also a way to stop yourself having to admit to something that you don’t like about yourself; to address a fault honestly and accept it when that seems too much to bear. Anyway, this is an interesting point about free will, sin and temptation. It’s actually really obvious but I’d never thought of it this way before:

Insincerity, as an interior state of mind, is a psychological impossibility. I can’t tell myself that I do and don’t believe something at the same time. Choosing evil as evil is also a psychological impossibility, because the will can only choose the good. Consequently, to deny the truth I can’t admit, and to do the deed I can’t approve, I must necessarily rationalise until the truth is no longer true and evil becomes good.

Did you ever ask yourself the surprisingly difficult question: How does one choose evil? How do we commit sin? The will can choose, by its very nature, only that which is good. I am personally convinced that the exercise or use of free will in a given situation of guilt is that the will, desirous of some evil which has good aspects (if I steal your money, I will be rich), forces the intellect to concentrate on the good to be acquired in the evil act, and to turn away from the recognition of evil. This urges the intellect to rationalise that which was originally recognised as evil. While I am doing something wrong (in the act of doing it) I cannot be squarely facing its evil aspect; I must be thinking of it as good and right. Consequently, free will is probably exercised in the act of coercing the intellect to rationalise rather than in the execution of the act itself.

– John Powell, Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?

This is reflected in another story… Whatever you think about the story of Adam and Eve, I don’t think many psychologists, anthropologists or philosophers would argue that it doesn’t provide a really amazing insight into human nature; how and why we end up doing things we know are wrong. The snake plants the seed of doubt about what is right and wrong with a rational excuse.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

And Eve knows it’s wrong, but she rationalises:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

And isn’t that what we all do? I guess the moral is, hang on to your conscience, and trust that what God has said really is true. You can persuade yourself that anything is right or wrong, if it suits you… Go with God’s analysis instead.

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