Michael Metzger

Why are we hearing the word delusional more often these days?

I pay attention to our cultural terrain. This includes the words we use help, as language is a lagging cultural indicator. So I’ve noticed the word delusional popping up lately. That’s not healthy, as people who are delusional believe things that are contradicted by reality.

This includes climate scientists. They need to “get real” says the eminent climate scientist Vaclav Smil in a brilliant NYTimes interview. He feels climate problems are real, but the goals and plans that climate scientists have devised are not. Take the Paris Climate Accords. “People call it aspirational,” Smil says. “I call it delusional.” The goals “cannot be achieved.”

Germany is an example. After 20 years and nearly half a trillion dollars, the country went from getting 84 percent of its primary energy from fossil fuels to 76 percent. Smil asks, “Can you tell me how you’d go from 76 percent fossil to zero by 2030, 2035?” Interviewer David Marchese doesn’t have an answer, but he can’t believe decarbonization is this difficult.

“I’m sorry,” Smil replies, “the reality is what it is.”

This interview is a hoot to read as Marchese comes off as a typical NYTimes pie-in-the-sky progressive: But why are our goals unachievable… aren’t people rational? No, says Smil. Take the Paris Accords. They don’t have any enforcement powers. Nor have the four big emitters of carbon signed on: China, the United States, India, Russia. Smil asks, “What are the chances today of Russia, China and the U.S. signing on the dotted line as to the actual reduction of emissions by 2030?” Zilch. The Paris Accords are delusional.

Or read Yulia Latynina’s excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal: Russia Isn’t a Military State. It’s a Delusional One. The Russian army “blundered into the war.” It used outdated Soviet paper charts with towns that had changed names and roads that no longer existed. Soldiers picked the wrong roads. Tanks got mired in mud, ran out of fuel. Latynina asks: “How did Mr. Putin think he could win this war? The answer has to do with state delusion.”

And then there’s our national delusion regarding gender. I urge you to read Abigail Schrier’s Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze. Even The Economist, a magazine with socially liberal leanings, feels this is a book worth reading. We’re delusional if we think young girls should choose whatever gender they prefer. Most surgeries are irreversible, and many girls regret their decision later on.

And then there’s Andy Kessler’s recent article on how most of Washington—Republicans, Democrats, even the Joints Chief of Staff—is delusional (sane Americans already know this).

What most Americans don’t know is how our society became delusional. This includes Christians. Iain McGilchrist traces its origins in his first book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Note the word making. Over the course of 500 years, a bias for the brain’s left hemisphere has made the modern Western world which is “ever optimistic, but unrealistic about its shortcomings.” This includes Western Christianity which McGilchrist says “is active in undermining itself.”

This is now leading to our undoing. McGilchrist describes this in new book, The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. Note the word unmaking. It’s stunning to read numerous studies indicating the more individuals (or societies or faiths) bias the left hemisphere, the more delusional they become. The Western world, including Western Christianity, is coming undone, delusional about its plans and goals.

This is the gist of James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World. “For all the talk of world-changing and all of the good intentions that motivate it, the Christian community is not, on the whole, remotely close to a position where it could actually change the world in any significant way.” Hunter adds that our goals, plans, strategies for changing the world “will fail—not most of these strategies, but all.” They’re delusional.

There is a way out. Neurobiology has been recently uncovering it. But this is an instance of science merely catching up to scripture. Long ago and far away, the smartest man who ever lived, Jesus, described how societies (and faith traditions) can ensure they don’t become delusional.


That’s grist for next week’s mill.


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  1. Mike, when you mention climate science “progress” like signed accords, it’s not delusional: they k-n-o-w they mean nothing. They’re not self-deceived, they’re lying. Bald-faced lying: look good with a pen, make a few token “for looks” changes, then business as usual. Ms. Latynina’s use of “delusional” misses too: It’s Ms. Latynina who is under the delusion that Nato’s not involved. Nato doesn’t need to send in flesh when money & machines & sanctions can stall Putin forever. She means well: she wants Putin crushed. But IF crushed the reverse of her wishful judgment will be the case: more Putins will actually follow, with a better grip on reality. Crushing despotism is just one element in 100 for reversing Russian reality.

    Delusion means you can’t think straight, you’re impaired. Otherwise you’re not impaired: you simply have poor judgment. It’s better to use the term “poor judgment” because vastly more of us are not impaired. Lying means you can think straight but you mean to deceive others though you do not deceive yourself. Trans? Delusionally the public sucks up bad psychology – they’re impaired by compounded lying – though enough data now exists to prove it’s all lies. U.S. politics: lying. When we let liars lie, we lie to ourselves that “it’s for the best.” Good for Hunter to point out deluded strategies for the gospel. Maybe that’s more like compounded wishful thinking. Begin with telling the truth and refusing to countenance lies, wishful thinking, and poor judgment. Alas, this is what I do and we all do: sin by lying against The Truth.

  2. Paul writes to Timothy:
    For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3,4)

    Welcome to the end times. Truth becomes fiction and fiction becomes truth. For some reason Evangelicals are more concerned with making [fill in the blank] great again than they are interested in “Preach [ing] the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2) We can’t change culture, but we can change hearts and ultimately change lives. But this is a lot harder than going to a rally and waving a sign.

    I am not sure emphasizing a different side of our brain will change things but I am interested in getting McGilchrist’s new book…:-)

  3. Tom: You might be right, but a little caution on claiming we’re in the end times. First-century Christians often made the same claim. If memory serves me, Jesus said no one knows when the end will come. We might see some signs, “but do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (II Peter 3:8).

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