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The Normalization of Delusional Thinking

I sometimes wonder how so many people can be in denial about the danger posed by Islam to the rest of the world.

The textual, historical, and statistical evidence that Islam is an aggressive religion is overwhelming, but very few are willing to look at it. On the one side, you have a ton of hard evidence, and on the other side, you have ten megatons of wishful thinking: priests, prime ministers, and Hollywood celebrities assuring us that Islam is more peaceful than Christianity, more feminist than Gloria Steinem, and more caring than the Red Cross.

It’s the textbook definition of a delusion—“a false belief or wrong judgment held with conviction despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.” But, as I’ve come to realize, this delusional thinking is not specific to the crisis posed by Islam. Rather, it’s part of a larger pattern. In many ways, delusional thinking has become a main feature of the modern mind.

Take the transgender issue. All of a sudden, a significant percentage of our social and intellectual elites have succumbed to the delusion that a girl can be a boy, and a boy can be a girl, or whatever he, she, ne, ze, zir currently desires to be. This is not merely a rebellion against social convention, it’s a rebellion against reality. It’s a rejection of basic biology.

The most disturbing aspect of the “gender fluidity” fad is not that there are young and not-so- young (e.g. Bruce Jenner) people who are badly confused about their gender, but that there are legions of professionals—doctors, psychologists, teachers—who stand ready to confirm them in their delusion and even pump them full of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

More sinister still, there are other authorities who want to punish those who fail to honor the delusion. The California Senate recently passed a bill to fine and even imprison nursing home workers who fail to address patients by their preferred pronoun. Meanwhile, the New York City Commission on Human Rights issued a “guidance” to business owners requiring them to use a person’s preferred pronoun or face a fine of $125,000 for “misgendering.”

In the old South there used to be laws against miscegenation, but nowadays in sophisticated, modern Manhattan, you can be fined for “misgendering.” Imagine that. If Max, the doorman, wants to be called “Maxine” today, you’d better go along with it, or else risk bankruptcy. And if on Thursday he decides he’s Maximilian I, the Emperor of Mexico, you’d be wise to address him as “your imperial majesty,” just to stay on the right side of the Human Rights Commission. In short, you are at the mercy of Max and his multiple identities.

There are several parallels here to what has become the standard response to Islam. As with transgenderism, we see an official denial of reality: Islamic terror has nothing to do with Islam, the terrorists (who are only a “handful”) “misunderstand” their faith, Islamic values are just the same as Christian values, and so on.

Likewise, just as you’re not allowed to call Bruce Jenner “he,” you’re not supposed to say “radical Islamic terror” or “migration invasion” or any other words that might be offensive to Muslims. If you slip up and use “Islamophobic” language, you can expect the same consequences that would follow if you called Maxine, “Max” on the wrong day of the week—namely, ostracism, job loss, and a heavy fine. Years before the New York City Human Rights Commission started policing transgressive words, columnist Mark Steyn was hauled before three Canadian human rights commissions for defamation of religion. His crime? In an article for Macleans, he noted the readily verifiable fact that Muslim birthrates in Europe were outstripping those of native Europeans.

Steyn is not alone. Dozens of prominent Europeans have faced similar trials, not because they said anything false about Islam, but because they made factual statements that Muslims found offensive. That sort of treatment sends a message, and most people have no trouble understanding the message. Whether the topic is Islam, or gender ideology, it’s not prudent to speak your mind. For example, although most adults realize that boys can’t be girls or vice versa, most are too cowed to say otherwise, except to trusted friends and relatives.

As Matthew Hanley observes in an incisive piece on the subject, such compelled speech is “degrading;” moreover, “making [others] agree to something they know is a lie is a hallmark of totalitarianism.” True enough, some people don’t know it’s a lie. They’ve been conditioned in school and college to believe that boys can be girls, that same-sex “marriage” is the equivalent of heterosexual marriage, and that Islam is responsible for most of history’s great cultural and scientific breakthroughs. The fact that these lies are believed by so many is testimony to the soft totalitarian takeover of our educational system.

The totalitarian creep has been going on for quite some time. I remember a university colleague who, back in the early nineties, excitedly told me that the big new thing in educational theory was “constructivism.” Actually, constructivism had already been the new thing in educational circles for at least a couple of decades prior to his personal revelation. It’s the idea that there are no objective truths, and hence each individual has to construct his own reality. According to this school of thought, Huckleberry Finn has no objective meaning, only the meaning you read into it. If you decide that Huckleberry Finn is a story about a transgendered adolescent seeking his true gender (your teachers will happily encourage you in that direction), then that’s the meaning of Huckleberry Finn. Whatever Mark Twain had in mind is irrelevant.

These as-you-like-it educational theories, arose in tandem with the self-esteem movement that began to sweep through schools, colleges, and seminaries in the 1960s and 70s. The self-esteem craze came out of the work of Carl Rogers (edited link), the pioneer of non-directive, non-judgmental therapy. Rogers taught that we should trust our inner selves, that morality is subjective, and that what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me. In his later years, as he developed an interest in Eastern thought, Rogers began to doubt the existence of objective reality. Reality, he came to believe, was something that each person created for himself.

Post-Rogers, the whole direction of education shifted—from exploring the world to exploring the self; from grappling with objective realities such as mathematics, history, and geography to discovering every nook and cranny of the subjective self. Non-directive education was the prelude to what we have now: in the case of gender ideology, the triumph of feelings over biological facts, and, in the case of Islam, the triumph of feel-good narratives over historical realities.

Another objective reality that came under attack during the self-esteem era was the existence of God, or, more accurately, the existence of the God who reveals himself in the Old and New Testaments—the God who make demands on the individual self. In his place, many substituted vague, New Age-ish forms of spirituality. Either that, or they began to conceive of God as a servant of their emotional needs—an all-understanding therapist in Heaven who just wants everyone to feel good about himself, herself, zeself, zirself.

The famous maxim attributed to Chesterton applies here: “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.” Once you lose sight of the central objective reality in the universe, it’s easy to lose sight of all the other realities, and you end up believing in anything—no matter how counter-factual the “anything” might be. You might believe that same-sex couples are truly married, you might believe that males can become females. You might even believe—heaven help you—that Islam is a religion of peace.

the end

William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.

This article first appeared in Crisis Magazine, September 25, 2017

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