Pure signal.

Does Rick Warren’s Work Require Intellectual Dishonesty?

Pastor Rick is more than willing to address serious criticism with cute homilies, inspiring stories and emotional appeals. And I can imagine him looking at me and saying “Is that so wrong?” — and the man does do meaningful work. Both the preaching and the social work coming from him are positive — so why would I persist in being critical of him?

If we achieve a good thing through deception, is it any less good than a good thing achieved through truth?

Of course, he would say that he believes in truth also — but I hope that it is clear to anyone that reads him that the word “truth” that he uses, and the word “truth” as it is used in a legal or scientific context are two very different things.

Rick Warren damages our ability to critically think about the truth — he does this by attaching rewards to chains of reasoning that are delusional. Ultimately this binds us to delusion, because if we accept those chains of reasoning, then we are subject to losing our perceived gains if we turn away from them and again turn towards the truth. The danger of entering into a pattern of self-delusion is that you will not find, once you are in it, that there is as compelling a reason to move you outside of the delusional state as there was to move you into it. There is a really simple reason for this (please take a moment to think about this) — if you are not constrained by reality, you can make up whatever story you want. So you can make up a story that is much more attuned to how you would choose to have things than you can if you want to honor what you can actually know about reality.

You can tell yourself that the person you love, loves you. Or that you can lose weight without exercise — or anything else you want to believe. Then — once you believe that, you are going to have to work hard to get over those compelling if illusory benefits.

His discussion with Sam Harris on the question of prayer illustrates this — he exhibits a classic example of biased thinking in his discussion of prayer (he claims that when he prayed about an immigration issue, and went for a walk, he was led to an immigration lawyer.) But when Sam Harris discusses ways to confirm that this apparent correlation is real or not, Warren does not appear to understand what it is that Harris is talking about.

This is a problem — because it is a serious problem to accept any perceived correlation as valid, and not to understand that some perceived correlations are in fact delusional, and others are real, and that some work needs to be done to uncover which are which — and that in some cases it can be very hard or even impossible to uncover that.

Rick Warren will never come to that conclusion, because he is exhibiting agenda driven thinking — he argues for the purpose of convincing you of something he already believes — he is not searching, he is arguing. And more importantly he doesn’t appear to know the difference between inquiry and argument.

I think that is a dangerous state — because at the point where a person is bound by illusion, they are helpless. Reality can shift around and the illusion driven life is stuck out there blowing against it’s own sails.

Warren profits a lot from the image of philosophers and intellectuals as being “arrogant” and it is certainly true enough of enough of them — but it is also true that the standards of intellectual integrity, when held to and not merely assumed as a posture, have come out of a dialog with reality — with the physical reality in which we live — and that as such they represent the best and most important things we have learned about the world. I don’t know that I can accept solutions to problems that come at a cost of my own intellectual integrity. And I find leveling a charge of arrogance to be at best specious — because the truth claims of my statements are independent of my arrogance.

Or anger! Why would you choose a philosophy that makes you angry? Well — Pastor Rick — because I don’t have the freedom of movement in “choosing” that you do — I have to be constrained by truth.

So why would arrogance or anger even come up, if the truth is what matters? The answer is that it is not the truth that matters, but winning an argument. And the argument can be won by making “philosophers” look “bad” — and then of course you don’t have to sweat thinking about what it is that they are saying.

There is nothing I have found that is so valuable as the freedom that comes from openness and the willingness to subject my own ideas to inquiry, and to consider arguments in light of their merits as opposed to their consequences. I am too much in love with truth to be overly impressed with effective salesmen.


August 17, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I was led here by a search for the phrase “The Illusion Driven Life”, and found exactly the demystification of Warrenism I was seeking. Free inquiry is guiding my path out of the labyrinth of traditional make-believe. Hallelujah!

    Comment by Mr. Gil | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks Mr. Gil. 🙂

    Comment by bootslack | June 14, 2009 | Reply

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