by Al Maxey

Issue #673 ------- August 28, 2015
Rationalization is a process of not
perceiving reality, but of attempting
to make reality fit one's emotions.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

A Religiously Rationalizing Species
Fitting the Father into a Fabricated Framework

I have recently been reading a series of books by Layton Green dealing with unusual cults throughout the world's religions, and especially the dark side of these religious and anti-religious movements, and they have been quite enlightening, as well as entertaining. In the third book in the series ("The Diabolist") a statement is made that instantly grabbed my attention, and I had to put the book down for a moment to reflect further on the implications of that insight. In chapter 15 the author states, "We are not a rational species; rather, we rationalize. We do what we must to fit God within the framework we know." As I pondered this thought, a statement by one of my favorite authors, Russian born Ayn Rand (1905-1982), came quickly to mind: "Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one's emotions" [from a collection of her essays, which was published posthumously, titled "Philosophy: Who Needs It?"].

Rationalization, which Doug Cooper, in his novel "Outside In," characterizes as "foreplay with one's conscience," is a fascinating cognitive device employed by each of us to some extent in our daily lives. The truth is, as was suggested in Layton Green's book, we are a rationalizing species, which unfortunately far too often results in less than rational belief and behavior. In effect, we allow the emotions of the subconscious realm to infiltrate and influence the reasoning of the conscious realm, which may in time, if not countered, result in an irrational perception or interpretation of and interaction with reality. This is why some individuals, who become afflicted with and fixated upon such inner unrestrained and unresolved struggles, "break with reality," becoming incapable of dealing rationally with "the real world" that exists outside the parameters of the "recreated, rationalized, reality" within their own muddled psyches. Such persons, as one of my professors in graduate school used to say, are "clarity challenged." There is a blurring of clear distinctions perceived by most people (good or evil, right or wrong, moral or immoral, safe or harmful, etc.), for they have by-passed reason and filtered reality through the rationalizing filter of their own inner emotions, feelings and desires. Thus, the "reality" in which they choose to live is of their own making, and it cannot help but be displayed in attitudes and actions deemed "irrational," at best, by those in the "real world" around them. Most such persons are rather harmless, and more an "amusing annoyance" within society than an actual danger to it. On the other hand, such rationalization can be potentially deadly, and must therefore be guarded against.

Joseph Heller (1923-1999), in his classic work "Catch-22," described such borderline rationalization: "The chaplain had sinned, and it was good. Common sense told him that telling lies and defecting from duty were sins. On the other hand, everyone knew that sin was evil and that no good could come from evil. But he did feel good; he felt positively marvelous. Consequently, it followed logically that telling lies and defecting from duty could not be sins. The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous." On the other hand, Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), a famous Hollywood screenplay writer, who wrote a wide range of classics from the Bogart & Bacall movie "The Big Sleep" to the first draft of "The Empire Strikes Back" (she died before she could revise it), had this to say in her novel "The Long Tomorrow" -- "There's never been an act done since the beginning, from a kid stealing candy to a dictator committing genocide, that the person doing it didn't think he was fully justified. That's a mental trick called rationalizing, and it's done the human race more harm than anything else you can name." And, no, religion is not exempt from such mind tricks; indeed, it is rife with it, as non-religious critics are quick to point out. A leading atheist activist and author, as well as a university philosophy professor, Dr. Peter Boghossian, defines "an educated theologian" as merely "someone who's better at rationalizing what they're pretending to know." Sadly, with respect to some within Christendom, he has a point!

Too many are too quick to rationalize their sectarian shibboleths, party preferences, and traditional tenets, even when faced with overwhelming biblical evidence, and sound reasoning from that evidence, that their positions are untenable. Their perception of Ultimate Truth has been formulated after being filtered through deeply implanted and emotionally cherished dogma. This is how otherwise highly intelligent and respected and responsible individuals can say and do some of the most absurd things religiously! Rationalization. It is one of Satan's most effective tools for blinding people, even brilliant people, to the spiritual realities of Ultimate Truth clearly revealed by the Creator to His creation. "They became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Rom. 1:21-22). God has made some things "evident" to His creation, causing them to be "clearly seen" by those willing to see them (vs. 19-20), yet these truths were rationalized away by those who filtered these evident truths through the desires, emotions and passions of their hearts and minds (vs. 24, 26, 28). The result was they altered God's reality to accommodate their own self-made reality, and gave approval to all who did the same (vs. 32). And they saw all that they had made, and pronounced it "good." Yes, rationalization can prove deadly! "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:20-21). Rationalization = the means whereby one recreates reality to comport with one's inner passions and convictions, constituting a break with actual reality resulting in self-deception and self-delusion, and too often ultimately resulting in self-destruction. This is a "deception of wickedness" and a strong "deluding influence" that God will allow to overwhelm and overcome those who love their religious realities over His Truth (2 Thess. 2:10-11).

For example, Jesus provided His disciples with a substantive symbol of His sacrifice whereby we might, in a participatory manner, remember and reflect upon the great spiritual realities associated with and accruing from that sacrifice. It is called by a number of names: the breaking of bread, the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, Communion, and the like. It is an important memorial "meal" that represents and reflects eternal truths. Indeed, it is so much a part of our journey of faith that over time it was elevated by many disciples to the status of saving sacrament. Yet, with regard to regulation of this event, our Lord made only one request: as often as you do it, whenever you do it, remember Me. Well, that's just too simple; too little law and too few rules to satisfy most legalistic, patternistic religionists. Thus, this event had to be recreated to fit into their sectarian niches, and hefty doses of rationalization were required to make such a reforming of this feast spiritually palatable to the masses. And so it came to pass! Size and number of cups, color of trays (if trays are even permitted), who may and may not pass them, whether wheat or other grains may be used in preparing the bread, who may break it and when, color of the fruit of the vine (and whether something other than red grapes may be used), when the prayers are uttered and by whom, may songs be sung during the event, may videos be shown, and a thousand other regulations of ritual resulting from our rationalizations of what was designed by deity as something far less complex and controversial. But, that simple reality didn't suit us, so we shoved it through our subconscious and spewed it out into our conscious realm as something different; something far more suitable to our sectarian sensibilities. And we rationalized it, and it was so! And we gazed upon our creation, and we felt that it was "good." We had rationalized a recreated reality ... and it was so!

And so it was with other spiritual realities that "didn't fit" into our prefabricated, precisely constructed religious boxes. Something had to change to "make them fit." Since clearly the reality itself was not going to change, and since our deep-seated religious and sectarian traditions were so "sacred" that they could not be questioned, much less change, something had to give. What "gave" was reality and reason, giving way to irrational rationalizations and the alterations they had spawned. Now we could "feel good" about our religion, for we had found a way to make Truth "fit" our Tradition. Personal and party preferences, perceptions and practices were now divine precepts. Tradition was now Truth. Customs were carved in stone; convictions cast in concrete. Our way was now His way. And delusion reigned within, while confusion reigned without. And the world pondered in puzzlement, while we paraded pridefully -- exposed and naked in the real world, covered in imperial finery in our recreated reality. No matter how the deluded emperor in the popular story rationalized his garb to himself, others were not taken in by his rationalizations. And so it was ... and so it is. And it is not "good."

God calls us from our religious ruts. But, we like our religious ruts. They're familiar; they're comfortable; they're safe. Since we won't come out of them, we seek to drag God and others into them. And then we rationalize. And, yes, we're good at it. We've had lots of practice. We even have books about it, and seminars, and workshops, and lectureships. We have arrived at the right rut, and, no sir, we ain't comin' out! And so it was, and so it is. Praise be unto rationalization! And yet, I can't help but think the ancient Greek speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus (50-120 A.D.) may have held the more enlightened perspective, rightly observing in his memorable Discourses, "To the rational being only the irrational is unendurable!" I think those of us who have left the rut can relate!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Arizona:

Bro. Maxey, I read the following statement by Edward Fudge, who devoted one of his gracEmail articles to promoting your new book "From Ruin To Resurrection," for which he wrote the Foreword: "It has been my privilege in recent years first to become acquainted with and then to grow to appreciate the work of Al Maxey as a writer. Those who have heard him teach at The Tulsa Workshop and elsewhere, or who have regularly read his studious Reflections, know precisely what I mean. Having invested his life in ministry among the 'mainline,' and even some of the more 'conservative,' Churches of Christ, Al understands his audience and stands with them in mind and heart. He appreciates their concerns, shares their love of Scripture, and speaks their language in teaching it. It is evident that God has gifted Al, and that He is using him to bring about biblical renewal and reform, particularly among the Churches of Christ. I say all this as context for telling you about Al's fourth and latest book: 'From Ruin To Resurrection'." Bro. Fudge then gives a review of your book, encourages people to buy it, and tells them how to order a copy. So, please send me a signed copy of this new book, for which my check is enclosed. Thank you very much, Bro. Maxey, and may God bless you!

From a Reader in Alaska:

I am enjoying your straight-forward writing on the national situation (Reflections #671: "The Guilt Of National Stupidity"). I have shared this article with a number of folks, and am amazed that they are amazed about the information found in Isaiah! Whenever the opportunity arises, I tell my friends "every story in the newspapers today is in the Bible!" God bless you, Al.

From Rod Garnett in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia:

I saw in your last readers' section where a fellow believer named Wayne McDaniel in Arizona asked you to publish his name and address, and then explained why. I would ask the same, and for the same reason. Meeting like-minded believers in this area would truly be a blessing. My email address is: Brother Al, I really admire how often you put yourself out there on the front lines when you teach. I truly believe that your style of writing gives us all strength, and it challenges us to think for ourselves. I know it is hard on you personally, for far too many just criticize and complain, but rarely do they ever study and research the material for themselves. I really believe you are a fantastic teacher, and believe you are inspired and directed by your love of God to share the true meanings of His Word as they are revealed to you over the years through your study and reflection. Keep fighting the good fight of faith!

From Hugh Fulford in Tennessee:
(regarding my answer to Olan Hicks in Reflections #672)

Al, In answering another's questions, strive to avoid verbosity and endeavor to be succinct.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

I too have read the book "Muscle and a Shovel," but only about half way. I was going to finish it, but then some members here began elevating it above the Bible. The Bible has taken a back seat to it. These friends of mine are buying this book in boxes to give to their friends, and they laud "Muscle and a Shovel" as if you can't convert folks with the Bible, but have to have this book to do what the Bible is not capable of doing! My friends look at me as if I'm crazy for not liking this book. So be it. I'll stick with the Bible!

From a Minister in Texas:

Back in "the day," when I was at Abilene Christian College ('56-'62), Dr. J. D. Thomas (I think) used to ask, "How big is your tent?" This was his way of asking where we drew the line of fellowship. I used to live in a "pup tent." Thanks to many believers (including a godly and studious wife) whom I have encountered over the past 60 years, I moved out of the pup tent! Al, your Reflections on "Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines" (Reflections #672) is right on!! Thanks for keeping the fat off our brains!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Those who draw lines often assume word for word inspiration of English translations of the Scriptures. They misunderstand and misapply 2 Tim. 3:16. The Scriptures describe the history of the way God has interacted with His children since the very beginning. Those who don't understand that history are doomed to draw erroneous lines.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

"Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines" was another great article symptomatic of the ongoing problem of the syncretism of "religious sins" and moral sins. My spiritual mentor Larry Deason once said the things that unite us are mentioned in Eph. 4:4-6, but oh how we love to play with traditional trappings that have permeated and pervaded our subconscious and subliminal psyche. On a different note, I must tell you something interesting that happened. The other day I was visiting an op shop (opportunity shops are very popular here in Tauranga for bargain hunters) when a dear old Christian lady asked me if I would like to look at some more religious books out the back. I discovered an old book called "Women of Israel" (volumes 1-2, by Grace Aguilar, dated 1865, about 1000 pages, with gold edging). It wasn't until some hours later, as I perused the book (which was given to me), that the thought occurred to me: "I'm being taught by a woman!" This just further confirms to me that whether such teaching is vocal or written, Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 is totally circumstantial, and furthermore it is impossible and impractical to consistently never allow a woman to teach a man. Timothy was influenced both by his mother and grandmother. Another thought is: if a lady teaches a mixed group of say 10-12 year olds, at what point does it suddenly become "wrong" for her to do so? Have a great day, Al. God bless you.

From a Deacon in Virginia:

Your Reflections this week on "Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines" really buoyed my spirit! I gave a lesson this past week on "Unity, Not Uniformity," in which I pointed out that Satan uses rules of uniformity to destroy unity among believers and to weaken their effectiveness in ministry, discipleship, and prayer. As you can imagine, it was not very well received by those that still cling to our denominational guidelines and traditional rules and regulations. I was a bit dispirited at the defensive reactions! You are a blessed encourager, however! I salute you as a fellow soldier in the Lord's army.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I appreciate your teaching so much! The question of line drawing comes up sometimes in my Bible class. I point the questioner to Romans 14, especially verses 4-5, "You cannot judge another person's servant. His own master decides if he is doing right or wrong" [Easy-to-Read Version]. The people of Paul's day struggled with the same types of issues we have today, but only the Master draws the lines, not us!

From a Reader in California:

I was pondering your latest article and man's bad habit of drawing lines where God never did. I got to thinking of all of those who so-called disciples of Jesus declare God won't ever accept (drawing a line in the sand for Him): 1) God would never accept an adulterer and murderer ... and yet He did: David. 2) God would never accept a coward who rejected His calling ... and yet He did: Moses. 3) God would never accept someone who doubted Jesus' resurrection ... and yet He did: Thomas. 4) God would never accept an extortionist who blatantly cheated his own countrymen and betrayed his nation ... and yet He did: Zacchaeus. 5) God would never accept a brutal and violent Jew who persecuted His people ... and yet He did: Saul of Tarsus. 6) God would never accept a drunken fool who walked away from God's people and who became angry at a God he felt would inflict pain on him for his failings ... and yet He did: revealing Himself as a loving God and a great cheer-giver to me. Thank you so much, Al, for showing the folly of drawing lines in the sand. God will joyfully blow them away! Amen!

From a Missionary in Peru:

Thank you for your excellent article "Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines." There are plenty of so-called "Christian" snipers trying to kill their own soldiers, rather than attacking the real enemy. What a tragedy! The further tragedy is that they shoot at real Christians, whom they think are the enemy ("friendly fire," which is far from friendly). They are so blind that they cannot even discern who is a Christian, not knowing the difference between the fundamentals and secondary issues. There are so many lines in the sand that divide us, destroying fellowship among believers: spiritual gifts, baptism, musical instruments, old or new hymns, and a plethora of other divisive lines. I remember John Newton, who was a Calvinist, saying that he wouldn't walk as far as the door of his office to convince any man to be a Calvinist if that man loved the Lord and had a zeal for the work of God. I concur heartily with that sentiment. There is no point at all in trying to convert men to our own personal convictions; it just stirs up unnecessary strife. Preach the simple Gospel of Christ and love men into the Kingdom of God. There are many who never do this, because they think they alone are in possession of all Truth. May the Lord keep us humble, knowing our own need for Grace and further spiritual insight.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Excellent viewpoint, Al. I guess we do spend way more time drawing lines that separate us, instead of connecting the dots that bring us together. Seems the Scriptures highlight the idea of UNITY. That seems more like connecting than dissecting! Keep at it, brother!

From an Elder in Texas:

Great post ("Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines")! So sad that apparently there remain so many in our tribe who still struggle with the freeing richness of Paul's letters to the Roman and Galatian Churches!

From a Minister in Texas:

I just wanted to write a note to let you know I am still reading and enjoying your Reflections each week. Thanks for your most recent, by the way ("Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines"). Thanks again for helping your readers to think and grow!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Amen and amen! MY line in the sand has little to do with doctrine one way or the other, although I lean toward Grace and consider Legalism to be bondage. For me, the disciple of Jesus is the one who does what Jesus said to do and tries to apply His example and teachings to his own place and time. Now, I do understand that we cannot even hear, much less act upon, the call to discipleship except by grace! It's all grace! But, that having been said, if a believer gets that one word -- LOVE -- he's got it all. There is so, so much more to life for us than what happens after death. Jesus ate and drank and partied and cracked jokes and ran around with whores and tax-collectors and assassins and poor people. He loved life here and now. In the 7th chapter of Luke, Jesus said that a woman's many sins were forgiven because she loved much. Jesus doesn't tell us she believed much ... confessed much ... repented much ... got baptized in much water. She loved much!! THAT is what He values -- LOVE. That is His line in the sand!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Your point in your article "Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines" was very well taken! I believe the "requirements" for one's Christianity are contained in a very narrow focus which does NOT include most of today's theology. Jesus summarized it in Matthew 22:37-40. If a person is living by those tenets, then that person is a Christian. That narrow focus enables Christianity to be available to and practiced by every person in every society regardless of time, place or custom. Hang in, guy! You do good!

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