I can think of no better book to evaluate the effect psychology has had on the western mind than Theodore Dalrymple’s masterful little tome, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. He is a retired physician, psychiatrist, and author of prophetically inclined books on the moral and social trajectories of the West. Dalrymple plots the course that psychologizing has had on morality, and his conclusions aren’t cause for much joy.
He, through the lens of history, literature, and the social sciences, outlines the inevitability of our admirable evasions –
by which we blame everything but ourselves, the prime candidate, for our lamentable behaviours.
Dalrymple reminds us that Shakespeare, in King Lear, comments on the disingenuous inclination of man to blame his actions on anything but himself … “an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.” Some blame the stars, some their heritage, some a habit – whatever. We find some way to shift blame.
Where did this come from?
It depends on who you listen to. Evolutionists will find a way to link it to the survival of the fittest, although nobody has adequately explained how dispositions/morality metamorphosed from physical activity (muscle to morality). Dalrymple sees it as an outcome of erosion of moral responsibility, with the gratifying assistance of much of what passes for psychology. It also complicates how justice is meted out, if we are taught that responsibility no longer lies at our feet, clay that they are.
Scripture explains it with profundity and economy in Genesis 3.
You are familiar with the story:
Adam, having done something he was warned not to do, and now experiencing guilt, blamed God and Eve. Eve in turn blamed the serpent. Adam is guilty and finds others to blame; Eve blames the serpent for deceiving her. In other words, nobody was prepared to accept blame. Neither were repentant. They were sorry, but being sorry isn’t repentance. Both pushed blame away from themselves – “It’s your fault”, “She made me do it”, “The snake is to blame”, “The devil made me do it”.
Blame shift is the preferred option when caught out or exposed. We are experts at it; it’s endemic to our humanity.
Blame is something as old as humanity and as modern as the 21st century. Some segments of the church trade in guilt, Marxism trades in blame, and the social sciences trade in both.
This plays out amongst church leaders who fail – morally, ethically, or financially, or as is often the case, a mixture of all three. It is a gambling habit, or a sex addiction, or a drinking problem – but seldom is it ever a personal problem, one I’m responsible for, even if fuelled by extenuating circumstances. When I hear leaders say they have a sex addiction – and well they might, and how does that help their spouse – I hear someone failing at base one of repentance and forgiveness. It is a classic shift of blame, in that it shifts the focus away from the person’s culpability towards reasons for failure, and it is so often applauded as honesty, as transparency, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. It is nothing less than the ancient sidestep of shifting blame. The mourning of genuine repentance is still a long way from this person.
It isn’t that they are an addict so much as they are corrupt, sinful. Confessing addiction, or some such ruinous proclivity, as the reason is a failure of repentance. It will engender sympathy but will not deal with a corrupt nature. This is close to, if not entirely, disingenuous – and all too common.
A contrite spirit is loved by God, not mere sorrow or regret.
Sorrow and regret are generated by being caught out (few ever confess) and masquerade as godly sorrow and repentance from sin. But they seldom lead to change. On the contrary, they are often predictors of behavioural recidivism.
If we can’t call something for what it is, we won’t be free from what it is.
Shift the blame to where it belongs – our behaviour, our choices – us, me, you. The cross of the saviour does not exonerate admirable evasions. It demands humble self-awareness and brings profound forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Blame shift to your own loss.