I’ve been struck lately by how innate it is for us as human beings to rationalize – both to our own and others detriment.
Wikipedia defines rationalization as,
…a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means. Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt).
In her book Operation Paperclip, Annie Jacobsen chronicles how Nazi scientists rationalized their war crimes by claiming they were just following orders. And then, instead of bringing those scientists to justice, the U.S. government rationalized bringing them over to work for us so that we could use their brilliant minds to get a perceived edge over the growing Russian threat.
Rationalization is nothing new. Both Adam and Eve rationalized their disobedience to God:
“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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6
God plainly told them not to, but it didn’t take much convincing to change their minds. Eve had her reasons, and Adam likely thought, “Well, she did it. I might as well, too.”
It’s so EASY for us to justify doing the wrong thing, isn’t it? The irony is that as we’re fighting and clawing to believe our own lies, they lead us to our downfall.
Often, we can’t see our own slippery slopes unless God or others point them out to us. And even then, if our hearts are closed or our minds are blinded, we can miss it.
Awhile back Apple ran a marketing campaign with the tagline, “There’s an app for that.” Well, when it comes to doing the wrong thing, “There’s a rationalization for that.” We can rationalize anything, no matter how horrible, if we want to.
The solution isn’t simply to think better, because at its core, rationalization is not an intellectual problem but a moral problem. As seen in the case of Nazi Germany, the world’s smartest minds are capable of committing some of its worst evils. This is the nature of things – our nature, to be exact – as fallen beings.
So, what to do? Well, for starters, we can try following these three practices:
1. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal sinful motives and faulty thinking.
2. Invite fellow believers to provide ongoing perspective and accountability.
3. Stay in God’s word so that we live out Romans 12:2, which says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
What do you think? Any other practices you’d add to the list?