The Truth About Us, by Brant Hansen
MAY 2, 2020
It almost sounds crazy: “Hello. My name is Brant, and I am not a good person.”
Not only is it countercultural, it even runs counter to our physiology. Studies show we actually get a dopamine hit when we think we’re proven right. We can literally become addicted to the sensation of our rightness. “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure,” writes clinical psychologist Renee Carr. “It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.” This might explain why we spend time scrolling through and enjoying information and news links that prove—once again—how right we are. Wow, do we love that feeling. It also might explain why many have gone to their graves insisting they were right, even if it made them miserable in the process. Addictions work that way.
W. H. Auden was right: “We’d rather be ruined than changed.”
We actually get a dopamine hit when we think we’re proven right. We can literally become addicted to the sensation of our rightness.
Jesus insists on this willingness to change, because he knows that self-righteousness will separate us from God forever. We’re all at high risk of becoming sick with self-righteousness, and if we don’t submit to his healing, it’s terminal.
Listen to Jesus and it sounds like he’s doing an intervention, except instead of a group of people surrounding an unbelieving addict, it’s the crowd that needs to get the message, and just one man is delivering it.
“Interventions” like that historically haven’t ended well for the message bearer. Calling out our self-righteousness isn’t popular, and believe me, this isn’t lost on me as I’m writing. (Note to self: Next time, use a pen name. Pick something cooler than “Brant Hansen.”)
FAQ: But, Brant, don’t you think that someone writing about self-righteousness can be self-righteous himself?
A: YES. A thousand times, yes. This is a daily struggle for me.
It so happens I’m dealing with a bit of it right now as I type. Seriously. I’m currently sitting outside a restaurant on a pretty day. A Lexus SUV is to my left, parked in a spot that has a sign in front of it. The sign says that only people with a permit for disabilities can park there. The man who parked there does not have said permit. A lady in the spot next to him called his attention to the sign. He looked at it, shrugged, and walked off. I am morally superior to him.
I like to call this “righteous indignation” because he’s clearly wrong, but if I’m being honest, it’s not just indignation. It’s tastier than that. I kind of enjoy it. There’s a sweetness in noticing the flaws in others, and—oh wait, here comes the guy. He’s finally leaving. I was hoping he’d get a ticket, but he didn’t. It would have felt great to see him get his comeuppance.
I don’t park in handicapped spots. Me? I break other laws. Like the speed limit. But at least I don’t do the thing that guy just did. (I’m kind of a Jedi master with the “At least I don’t . . .” thing.)
So, yes, I’m as self-righteous by nature as you are. Like Steve Brown writes, “It is difficult (maybe impossible) to write about self-righteousness without being self-righteous.” I’m not exempting myself from any of this.
I want us to consider the possibility that our lives are largely shaped by this desire to convince ourselves that we’re good people. This is what it means to be human and broken. The goal is to lighten your load, and to help you see just how good God is and how much more relaxing life can be when we come to terms with who we are. The same Jesus who keeps trying to show us how we’re not as good as we think we are is the one promising that his way is lighter and easier.
Excerpted from Brant’s new book, The Truth About Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are