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By now, you’ve probably heard all the latest from the dire hose about students protesting Israel’s actions against Hamas. You’ve seen the almost one-sided craziness of students who know so very little about the complexities of Israel, Gaza, and Hamas. I mean, when you see a sign like this, if you know even an inkling about Hamas or Hezbollah, you have a powerful example of Useful Idiots:

Protesters at a “Queers for Palestine” march in New York City | Screenshot, TikTok (credit: from

The question is, how can this level of cognitive dissonance exist in the same brain-boxes? You just want to shout, don’t they know? Don’t they? Don’t they realize that Hamas executed one of its most effective commanders for accusations of a sexual liaison with another man? Oh, that’s right; first, they tortured him for three days with techniques that would probably make these students wretch into their lattes.

Don’t they know that many of the LGBTQ people in the West Bank seek asylum in the very Israel they are protesting? No, that won’t compute. Don’t try telling that to them. It doesn’t fit the narrative. Andrew Sullivan explains it:

Of course they [Black Lives Matter and Leftist Student Movements]  support Hamas. Palestinians are merely punching up — and that exonerates them of any moral culpability. Just as African-Americans cannot commit a hate crime, so Hamas definitionally cannot commit terror. Once you see the world in this way — as groups of the oppressed and oppressors, with the oppressed always justified in their resistance to the oppressors — the rights of individual Jews, or whites, or Asians, or even dissident non-whites are irrelevant. It’s all about “power structures” and “systems” and “context”.

David Bernstein at Reason echoes this claim:

So what I have come up with is that these folks have imbibed and adopted a version of anti-racist, anti-colonial theory that divides the world into two classes by group: the oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors, in this worldview, are permitted nothing in their battles with the oppressed. Because they are oppressors, they have no right to self-defense, no right not to have their children slaughtered, their women raped, and so on, if it’s done by the oppressed. . . The oppressed are the opposite. Members of this group are, by definition, innocent. Nothing they do to oppressors, no matter how morally depraved it might seem to normies, is blameworthy. Each side is just acting out the historical struggle of liberation of the oppressed vs. the oppressors.

John Milliken over at “Joyful Resistance”  (a highly recommended substack) lays this twisted logic at the feet of Marxism and the neo-Marxism of the Woke Left:

The neo-Marxism of the woke differs in some respects from classical Marxism. Most significantly, its focus isn’t on economic classes but on groupings according to race, sex, and sexuality. But key elements are consistent. Everything is about the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors. And everything in culture is a hidden expression of dominance on the part of the powerful. Crucially, this includes the moral norms that used to be taken for granted in the West. Things like free expression, a priority on reasoned discourse, and respect for those with whom you disagree are all just ways for the oppressors to stay in power.

I think this is probably right. I want to suggest, however, that this isn’t just rich kids playing at understanding the plight of actual Palestinians, many of whom would gladly throw off the yoke of Hamas if it meant they could go to work and school without bombs and bullets threatening their very existence. It isn’t even neo-marxism painting a broad brush and seeing only within the rose-colored glasses of Marx’s own paranoia of a specter haunting the West. No, I want to suggest that we should expect stubborn clinging to the oppressor-can-do-no-right/oppressed-can-do-no-wrong narrative because this is what humans do in a fallen state.

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a lot in the field of social psychology. It all started with a book by economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman describes experiment after experiment, showing how humans have strategic blindspots when it comes to what they want to believe. He catalogs about 30 different cognitive biases we use regularly to justify our preconceived notions. This led me to another book by David McRaney called How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion. What I found in those explainers of cognitive and social psychology was a description of what I already believed from the apostle Paul when he describes the effects of sin on the mind:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

As I read about study after study of humans who were experts in thinking seemingly lost their ability to recognize logical fallacies, it got derailed when the content of the logical syllogisms went against their deeply held beliefs about politics, culture, or religion. And when these verifiable errors were pointed out, they rationalized their errors.

This isn’t just a Left problem either.  A recent experiment showed that people on the Right are just as susceptible. Callers were read a policy that cut against their stated beliefs and asked how strongly they felt about this policy. Then, they were informed that the policy was being supported by a certain politician with whom they had already expressed deep resonance. When their favorite politician supported the policy, their strong feelings against it reversed immediately, no matter how sure they were that the policy was very bad. Personality, not policy, was the lever.

It turns out what I learned from Kahnemann and McRaney is that humans are really good at using reason to justify what they are already emotionally invested in. In fact, I learned three fairly settled conclusions that strike as an explanation for the about-face of right-wing voters committed to a politician rather than a policy AND the inability of the Queers for Palestine to see the combination of arrogance and ignorance in their protesting.

  1. We don’t accept reasons unless they resonate with or affirm our own reasons. When arguments come from the outside, especially by those we don’t trust, we will not accept these arguments UNLESS we first believe these arguments are ones we, ourselves, have come to.
  2. We do accept arguments on the basis of reason, but rather, our sense of certainty about those arguments is primarily a feeling. When we feel certain of what we have accepted on the basis of reason and logic, we will defend those beliefs more fiercely.
  3. Motivated reasoning: If It’s something I don’t want to believe, I ask in my head, “Do I have to believe this?” but if the new information is something I want to be true, then I ask in my head, “Can I believe this?”

I’m now slogging through a very dense tome by psychologists, The Enigma of Reason by Mercier and Sperber, which argues that humans adapted reason primarily as a way to persuade others not to decide which truths we ourselves will accept. They seem to be suggesting that reason is used to solidify our current ideological tribes. This explains why Left LGBTQ protesters, part of an ideological tribe, don’t see the irony of supporting a Palestine that would gladly kill or imprison them. If you point this out, watch how fast the rationalizations will fly forward to defend what is felt deeply. The same goes for the data about right-wing voters. (As an aside, I suspect most of you reading this had no problem believing the irrationality of LGBTQ students but got really suspicious about the right-wing voter study. See? Motivated reasoning. Don’t feel bad. It is part of being  human, after all.)

What Mercier and Sperber see as an evolutionary adaption, I can’t help but see as a curse. The taste of dust blowing through a garden. It foments wars, divides families, and kills church communities. But thanks be to God, we read in the New Testament hints of what will happen when we are finally released from that curse. Paul talks of the Holy Spirit uniting us despite our tribes. Galatians holds out the vision that some of our deepest divisions can be healed. John speaks of the Holy Spirit teaching, confirming, and guiding us so that we can be certain of the basics that Jesus is the Son of God, that he rose from the dead, and that we will be like Him.

We have dust flowing through these veins, folks. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is not hampered by the results of the fall.Ω

Jonathan Miles is husband to Stacie, dad to Wesley, Gloria, and Caroline, professor of philosophy and ethics to his students, and teaching elder/pastor to the wonderful folks at Faith Journey Church. He lives in Quincy, Illinois

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