By Brian Lowther
Have you ever wondered why it is so easy to identify things we don’t like about ourselves? Or why self-loathing is such a natural human pastime? I wonder about this all the time. Human beings would seemingly be so much more fruitful if it weren’t for self-doubt. Granted we might make a lot more missteps, but with no self-doubt, those mistakes wouldn’t define us. In fact, failure wouldn’t bother us at all. Why is a lack of confidence such a pervasive aspect of life for so many of us?
I have a hunch that it has something to do with the Oscars. The Academy Awards ceremony—better known as the Oscars—occurred two weeks ago and for the first time, I attended an Oscar party with my wife and a few friends. I don’t mean that I went to Hollywood and hobnobbed with A-list celebrities. I mean I sat in a living room and watched the television broadcast, a yearly event of which I had watched a total of thirty-eight and-a-half minutes over the course of my lifetime. Apparently, the only thing you do at an Oscar party is watch the program and insult each celebrity’s attire/hairstyle/personality/existence.
My friends—who are ordinarily kind, decent people—channeled Joan Rivers during our Oscar party with their sharply acerbic opinions about fashion and personal appearance. I mentioned how this surprised me to one friend and she said, “Oh that’s just the price of fame. Celebrities expect it.” Another said, “It’s all in good fun. They can’t hear us.” As if to imply, if Scarlett Johansson were in the room, no one would mention how “her new haircut is atrocious and makes her look like Adam Levine.”
Unfortunately, I think we are oblivious to something lurking underneath all of this seemingly innocent criticism.
From Whence Do our Thoughts Originate?
It is generally accepted that we generate our own thoughts. But if that’s true, why can’t we stop them, or even slow them down for more than a few moments? And why do our thoughts continue in such incongruous ways while we’re asleep? And, what about when our basal ganglia are occupied with a routine task—like driving for example—and our prefrontal cortex runs wild with an endless array of unrelated and often opposing ideas? Sometimes they are profound epiphanies, and sometimes they are a lot like the comments my friends made during the Oscar party. “You look terrible today. You’ve accomplished nothing with your life. You might as well get fat and make a global warming documentary.” Would anyone in their right mind intentionally think such self-defeating thoughts? And if not, where do these notions originate?
Take Every Thought Captive
The morning after the Oscars, I was awakened by a Bible verse, which almost never happens. Actually, it was just a phrase from a Bible verse. The verse is 2 Corinthians 10:5. And the phrase is, “Take every thought captive.”
I’ve always understood “take every thought captive” to mean things like, “don’t entertain thoughts of adultery,” for example. But the context of the verse in 2 Corinthians has a warfare feel. In the preceding verses, Paul tells us how to wage war and the kinds of weapons we are to use. Even the phrase “take captive” has connotations of taking enemy soldiers as prisoners of war so those soldiers can no longer inflict damage or casualties. What if the reason Paul used this kind of language was because he wanted to emphasize that at least some of the self-defeating thoughts we experience are suggested by nefarious spiritual agents who are at war against God and his entire creation?
If I were an evil spiritual being, this is precisely what I would do. This is psychological warfare at its best, with all of the expected results of effective airborne leaflet propaganda, e.g., causing enemy soldiers to abandon their duties, prompting surrender, reducing morale, increasing defections, etc.
Can evil spiritual beings really do this? I don’t know. But a few passages hint at an answer. One is 1 Chron. 21:1-4 where Satan provoked David to number Israel. Another is Acts 5:1-5, where Peter says that Satan filled Ananias’ heart causing him to lie to the Holy Spirit. How did Satan do this exactly? Did he whisper insults into David and Ananias’ psyches, capitalizing on some pre-existing neurosis or desire in each man’s heart? Again, I don’t know. But I think it’s worth exploring a bit deeper.
I think that understanding these things might help us mitigate the damage. My hunch is that when we experience harmful thoughts, we can defeat them and take them captive by simply opposing them with alternative thoughts, thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8) For example, if my thought is “my head is misshapen and looks like a cabbage,” perhaps I can nullify this thought with, “I am God’s possession, his child, his masterpiece, his friend, his temple, his co-laborer, his precious jewel, and my head is perfectly normal for a man of my height and mental acuity.”
Brian Lowther is the director of the Roberta Winter Institute.