Forum: When our thoughts don’t square with beliefs, we justify

We seem easily able to dismiss nagging thoughts when our actions don’t match our stated viewpoints.

Dan Hazen

Dan Hazen

By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum

I was confused by the news that the Biden administration planned to open new areas on Alaska’s North Slope to oil drilling.

The confusing part is not that the federal government is in bed with a private corporation (in this case, Conoco Phillips to the tune of $8 billion dollars). After all, we saw the previous administration literally selling canned beans on camera for the Goya company. This is something leaders have been doing for … well, forever. It’s just differences in style. The Trump style was the “Three Card Monty,” gold chains and sharkskin suit vibe. Honestly, I don’t know how people can’t see through it. I’m slightly more sympathetic with those who succumb to the Biden style because it’s such a classic: the “fine print” and “sorry, man … it’s policy (which I wrote)” approach. This is how most of the world ends up with undercoating, extended warranties, whole life insurance and time-share condos.

But again, I’m not confused by this. I expect this. What I am confused by is how otherwise smart and caring voters will ferociously defend their choice of candidate, contorting their reasoning into an unrecognizable tangle of excuses when their candidate’s flip-flops are exposed. For example, there was zero outrage last week over Biden’s proposed increase in defense spending (a left-leaning orthodoxy being desecrated) and now this. I was confused watching fellow evangelicals turn coy and harrumph their way through questions about supporting a clinically unqualified, philandering liar in 2016 and 2020. It’s taken me until now to name it.

Justification. It’s a $25 theological word, but it retains its plain meaning. As a species, we have a need to feel we possess good reasons for doing a thing or even for existing: justification. We seek justification outside ourselves through the approval of others. Sometimes we lie awake at night searching our souls for it. Our egos desperately need justification. Without defensible reasons, we’re forced to acknowledge what may be our own shameful proclivities, hypocrisies, ignorance, or self-deception. Who wants to look at that?

It’s how we manage to run red lights, toss mountains of un-eaten food in the trash, treat waiters, cops and clerks like sub-humans and then complain about others doing precisely the same thing: we’re justified. We believe we have “reasons” for it, but it rarely dawns on us that the other has justifications too. That’s why these behaviors continue to proliferate despite everyone condemning them: “Because I am justified. You are not.”

So rather than comparing justifications, maybe it’s time to put them aside and just be honest. I run red lights because I think I’m exceptional. I shouted at the clerk because I’m embarrassed at my own mistake. I continue to support a candidate, a policy, or an organization because my ego can’t endure admitting I’m wrong.

Friends and neighbors, the world is sort of hanging in the balance, and solutions won’t come down to alternative fuels, abortion, tax rates or trans-rights. It will come down to our ability to be honest with ourselves.

Dan Hazen is the community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at or call him at 425-339-3466.

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