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But Men Have Shown They Prefer the Darkness: A Meditation on the Human Tendency toward Illusion


We live in largely skeptical times, steeped in a relativism, in which many scoff at the idea that we can know the truth or even that there is a truth to be known. Never mind that in so doing they are in fact making a truth claim of their own! But the ability to perceive one’s own logical inconsistencies is not a common trait these days.

Nevertheless, despite the tenor of our times, it does not follow that we should overcorrectby declaring certainty about everything, or even most things, we know. Illusion remains a pervasive human problem. And, as we shall see, illusion is more of a moral problem than an epistemological one. The problem of illusion does not mean there is no truth to be found or known; rather, it means that the human mind, and will wounded by sin have a tendency to entertain illusion.

The word “illusion” comes from the Latin in + ludere (to play games or mock), thus “to engage in games or play.” And so illusion is, by extension, a manner in which one tries to trick another, as in optical illusions or magic tricks. But internally, illusion is our own tendency (conscious or unconscious) to play games with ourselves, to play loosely with the facts, to indulge in logical gamesmanship or even entertain outright foolishness.

We are masters at this game. We can lie to ourselves for so long that we no longer even realize that we’re doing it. Yes, our minds are very wily. So easily our greatest strength and gift—our mind—can become the source of our greatest flaws. We can rationalize some of the most awful things by cloaking them in euphemisms and explanations that obfuscate rather than elucidate. Abortion becomes “reproductive choice,” lying becomes “mental reservation,” euthanasia becomes “death with dignity,” mutilation becomes “sexual reassignment surgery,” etc.

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