During the election campaigns a few years ago I received an email from an organization calling itself “Michigan Coalition for Progress”. As I read through the email it became quickly apparent that the organization wasn’t what it claimed to be. Instead, it was a front for one political party only. Their sole goal was to defeat the opposing party’s candidate for the governorship and elect their own party’s candidates for governor, the House and the Senate. By their choice of name, they were deliberately attempting to deceive the public. They were not really a “Coalition for Progress”. They were a “Coalition for the election of one political party’s candidates”. Had they truly been a “Coalition for Progress”, they would have been looking at each candidate in every race, and based upon their merit and positions, choosing to support the best candidate, irregardless of their party affiliation. This phenomenon of choosing nice sounding names for organizations has become so ingrained in our society that it is impossible to know what they are about. Although it sounds good, it can be merely a form of deception.
On a personal level, we can also easily practice deception. How easy it is when we find ourselves in a difficulty to immediately blame someone else? It’s our spouse’s fault that we lost our temper or our marriage isn’t going well, our boss’s fault that we didn’t get the promotion, and our teacher’s fault that we didn’t get an “A”, etc. Whenever we express this kind of thinking, we can easily deceive ourselves. In the majority of these situations we actually are the problem. We are the ones that got angry. We didn’t study hard enough for the class, etc. When we blame it on someone else we only deceive ourselves. We can do the same thing with our Christian faith. It is easy to call ourselves “Christian” while at the same time living a live that is characteristically unchristian. When we do so, we are living a hypocritical life and a life of deception.
I also wonder whether we have done the same thing with the concept of sin. How many times do we give sin a nicer sounding name in order to sanitize it? Unfortunately, we probably do it all too often. Sometimes we call it a personal or a lifestyle choice. We may defend our actions by saying that it didn’t hurt anyone. Other times we refer to it as “my thing”. We may rationalize it by saying “Everyone’s doing it!” Or we might pass it off as only a white lie. In the process we deceive ourselves. Karl Menninger, in his book Whatever Became of Sin, highlighted the problem of sanitizing sin. He notes that by calling it by a nicer sounding name we attempt to avoid the guilt associated with it. We can then rationalize it away. Former senator Daniel Patrick Moyniham calls this “defining deviancy down”. He noted that what was considered deviant behavior twenty-five years ago is now considered normal behavior. In reality, we deceive ourselves when we do this. We sanitize sin by calling it something else. Then it doesn’t sound so bad. This allows us to rationalize our guilt away.
Although we can be deceived by nice sounding names, God is not. He sees through the illusion to the truth. He calls sin sin, no matter what we call it. If we are to be in alignment with him, we need to ask ourselves “What sins have I given nicer sounding names to?” That is where we will find ourselves having been deceived.