Monday, 28 June 2010

Things we'd like to be true...

The football world cup gives a good illustration of the human capacity to believe things to be true on rather flimsy ground.

About 4-6 years ago, I realised that the 2-yearly hype in the news media about how England could this time "go all the way", could well get to the final if they played well, etc., was not based upon reality.

Look at the facts. England reaching the semi-final of a major tournament is an event likely to happen, ooh, every 20 years or so. And if we're talking about what England can do without home advantage, then the facts are rather stark and simple. England have only ever reached one major semi-final. One semi-final.... let that sink in and remember it the next time a tournament comes round and you read the hype in the newspapers.....

The obvious natural limit for England based on their ability is about the quarter final. To go beyond that will need a lot to go well, including factors beyond our control (good draws, other big teams having howlers on the day, etc.). There are clearly around 10 teams in the world who are at least as good or significantly better than England. We'd like to think we're similar in standard to (for example!) Germany, but the facts of many years (i.e. not just based on a fluke here or there) say that they are a footballing powerhouse on the world scene, and we are a football powerhouse within the British isles.

Sorry if that sounds unpatriotic. My real point was to point out the difference between what English football supporters can persuade themselves to believe, and what the reality is, as an example of what human beings do all the time.

Aiming for the top is one thing, and is not to be discouraged.

But thinking that you are near the top when plainly you're not, is self-delusion. Telling yourself that you're far better than you are, year after year, is silly and pointless: and yet a fact of human existence as moral beings. Isn't it?

So let me ask the question, if we turn from football performance to moral performance - because I think I see a parallel. Is man actually what he thinks he is? Are we as "good" as we like to persuade ourselves we are? Or in God's eyes, is it rather the case that we actually fall far short of his right standards, and fully deserve his anger and judgment as the Bible says? And all this, notwithstanding our ability to tell ourselves that "we're pretty good - no-one can blame us for not being perfect", etc.? Our ability to consistently delude ourselves about ourselves is surely one of the many good proofs that man is a fallen creature, who needs redeeming.

Well, perhaps you'll think the parallel is a bit flimsy. I might agree - this is a blog after all, not a university thesis. But even so, does not the human capacity for consistent, long-term self-deception need some explanation?

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