Mindset Maintenance

The Plausibility of Purity in Thought

A belief in morality is a huge burden. If it were as simple as subjecting each deed to moral judgement, that would be one thing, but morality is inherently tied to the concept of intent, and the mindset that underlies each deed. It is difficult to say which thoughts are involuntary, and which thoughts are intended. It is even more difficult to distinguish motivation for an action from the mere awareness of its context. Even those who claim that the mind is determined, and that intent is an illusion, still use the words “should” and “should not” to describe their thoughts and actions, and this discussion is no less relevant to them.

I have become very frustrated with the church’s failed attempts to police the thinking of Christians. It is so often said that we must not act out of pride, selfishness, lust or greed. Perhaps this is true, but how obvious do we expect it to be? People rarely set out to be greedy for greed’s sake. Here we encounter the problem: only the individual has free access to his or her own thoughts, yet the aforementioned sins can be posited as motivation for nearly anything. The onlookers are free to endlessly accuse, and the individual is free to endlessly rationalize.

But Christians do not think that they rationalize anything. They are notorious for accusing both others and themselves of thought crime. If it could be an ulterior motive, it probably is. I realize now that I just wanted to be liked. I did it all for myself. This sentiment is too pervasive to always be the truth, and I believe it is because we cannot accept our failures. We cannot accept that they correspond to real limitations, or that they have cost us anything. We would prefer to believe that God has taken issue with an invented mindset that motivated us, or that the desire itself was tainted, and our inability to achieve it has kept us from sin. In fact, the crime is that we blind ourselves to the truth, content to pave our lives with good intentions. The attempts to justify it are called rationalization.

The speeches you give about your pride, your selfishness and your greed are all part of the person you are. They can just as easily be threads in a web of sinister self-interest. We in the church are so caught up in the purity of thought that our defenses have evolved to accommodate the concept.

I should elucidate: I firmly believe that people will always find a way to do what they want to do, and that they will find a way to justify it. The mind is a powerful thing. This is why I do not believe in bluntly pointing out the greatest faults in others, if these faults are tied to the things they hold dear. A person will not give up their treasure overnight, but they cannot live with the criticism overnight—intellectually, they must agree with their critics, if their critics are right. In this way, a defense is engineered that eliminates the dissonance, but retains the bad behaviour. The faults remain, and they are even farther out of reach than they were before. You are seeking pity. You are a hypocrite. You people do not practice what you preach. Who can live with these accusations? We will plead guilty only to the aspects of the charges that we do not feel guilty about. We will create straw men for the altar. We will be more careful in the future to protect our behaviour, pushing it farther from the conscious mind, to a safer, darker place. “You might think I’m telling you this because I want your pity,” a man might say. He knows that by raising the point, he cannot be accused. People will not bite down on an argument that has been put into their mouths by another. He will not even accuse himself. How could I say that and still be seeking pity? My conscience would never permit me to do something so obvious! This is precisely the manner in which things become obscured, and are no longer obvious. It is not that we have lost access to the truth, but that we have tamed it enough to keep it under control.

There is no value to incessantly combing through our thoughts to find the bad ones. It is not hard to find the bad ones; it is hard to admit them. That we spend so much time trying to find sinful thoughts, yet have such an easy time talking about them, is an indication that we are doing little more than playing games.

I’ve written previously of my opinion that desire cannot be extricated our actions. If something were not desirable to us, we would not do it. We may sacrifice base instinct for lofty idealism, but we never do anything that is completely divorced from desire. As soon as we pretend otherwise, we tread on dangerous ground.

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[1] As a specific type of introvert, I cannot comment on whether some people actually require outside help to discover the truth about themselves (to “find the bad ones,” so to speak). I have always felt that the truth about my actions is stowed in the back of my mind. The observations of others tell me only when they have seen the very thing I have fought to suppress and deny.

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