Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

We live in a system that breeds delusion.

Written by: on March 21, 2024

I recently had an amazing holiday! Or was it simply ‘average’? Or was that other holiday better? Bobby Duffy of King’s College London, in a talk about his book, “Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything”, quoted a 1994 study by Professors Terrence Mitchell and Leigh Thompson to unpack what they dubbed “rosy retrospective”. [1] In evaluating events like a holiday, the pattern is that a person has initial excitement in anticipation of a holiday, followed by mild disappointments during, leading to greater disappointment immediately afterwards, but then to remembering it more fondly a few months later. Duffy’s point is clear: we “literally edit out the bad bits”. [2] Guilty as charged.

This is illustrative of delusions, the primary theme which Duffy is addressing in his book, claiming that there is a common mental error that explains why humans confidently get facts wrong, but believe they are right [3].

In exploring themes to illustrate this, Duffy illustrates with politics, sex, finance, immigration and religion, revealing how human beliefs and behaviours are often grounded on faulty think about information we take in. As if it is not thought enough to address what is happening in the human mind, Duffy adds, “we live in a system that, by default, breeds delusion”. [4]

In this summary framework useful for processing our thinking and reasoning, Duffy presents a kind of checklist to ensure we grow more thoughtful as we try to combat being pulled into delusions:

  1. Many of us get a lot of basic social and political facts very wrong.
  2. What we get wrong is as much about how we think as what we’re told—which means, as much as we’d like to, we can’t merely blame the media, social media, or politicians for our mistaken beliefs; we need to look at the whole system, including our own faulty thinking.
  3. Our delusions are often biased in particular directions, because our emotional responses influence our perceptions of reality. Our delusions therefore provide valuable clues that we shouldn’t just laugh at or ignore.
  4. More than this, our delusions can in turn shape social and political realities. They have serious consequences for so many aspects of our lives, from political outcomes, social cohesion, to our own health and finances.
  5. Acknowledging the complexity and scale of the problem is our only real chance to deal with our delusions, individually and collectively. [5]


Emotional Innumeracy

One key theme that resonates with me is Duffy’s caution that ‘cause and effect run in both directions’ [6] or as he puts it another way, “we overestimate what we worry about, and worry about what we overestimate”. [7] I see this play out on social platforms. On the one hand, people receive a feed of information that fuel biases which reinforce realities (see #4 above). But biases also make it incredibly easy to overlook the ‘flawed, motivated and manipulative aspects of how we produce information’. [8] As a member of the clergy, working at levels of interdenominational collaboration, I also encounter the discounting of emotional and experiential bias  in dialogue about doctrine and practices. One common dynamic in discussions between believers who hold differing views on doctrine is to align one’s own views with “truth” and others with deception. How can we learn to read passages like 2 Timothy 3 without reinforcing our own biases?

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3‬:‭12‬-‭17‬)

Christians worry about community rejection if they hold or espouse views that oppose the current majority position, or stated/written one. So, they simply surround themselves with like-minded interpreters, and ‘edit out the bad’ from their own views. This way, they can view themselves aligned perfectly with pure, good, righteous and Scriptural, which reinforce that they are in the right. There is hardly room to ask oneself, “how might I be wrong?” And why should I? It is the others who are the imposters — who are deceived in their interpretation on matters of faith and practice. I wonder how many fractures in the Body of Christ are impacted by such modes of reinforcement? God help us.

The New Testament cautions elsewhere against arrogance, such as in Philippians 1, where an imprisoned Apostle Paul invites the Philippians believers to be less concerned with people who preach with false or selfish motives, and invites them to chill out about it (my words), asking “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭18‬) This acknowledges the complexity (see #5 above).

On this point of trying to address reinforced biases, Duffy aligns with (and actually quotes) Daniel Kahneman, in his caution about fast and slow thinking. Unless we are aware of how our own biases and heuristics impact how we learn, and how the “fast” system automatically and quickly generates responses, we can easily jump to ’subjective confidence’ in our opinions, even though the information we base them on is incomplete, misleading or down right wrong. [9] 

What I take away from all this is to remain positive in tackling delusions and combatting ‘information pollution’ in my environments. [10] It is acceptable for me to reflect back on my own need for others’ perspectives that God may well desire to use to sharpen or influence my convictions. Heck, it is even ok for me to remember both the good and the bad aspects of my holiday.


[1] RSA. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything with Bobby Duffy, 2018. https://youtube.com/watch?v=2heHoSVTi5c. 3:23,

[2] RSA. 5:23. See also “Rosy Retrospection.” Accessed March 21, 2024. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/rosy-retrospection.

[3] Duffy, Bobby, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. NY: Basic Books, 2019, 16.

[4] Duffy, 20.

[5] Duffy, 22-23.

[6] Duffy, 16.

[7] Duffy, 75.

[8] Duffy, 21.

[9] Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Doubleday Canada, 2011, 209.

[10] Duffy, 208.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

6 responses to “We live in a system that breeds delusion.”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    great stuff, Joel! Thanks! How does this effect your NPO?

  2. Adam Cheney says:

    I appreciate the interdenominational work you are doing. I find myself struggling to walk this line as well as I often develop volunteers for refugee support from those “other” churches have have gone astray in their doctrine. I often find myself retorting people with the jovial line, “Yeah, I am so glad that I figured out all the correct theology and that the others all simply need to realize it.” We do tend to be a bit overconfident in our own beliefs don’t we?

  3. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Joel, I appreciate how you weave scripture into your blog. If everyone who shared the Gospel had to never have a selfish motive, the Gospel might not ever get shared. Do you see in your work that biases and misconceptions are impacting the work you are doing within the church, and if so how?

  4. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Joel, I enjoyed reading your post.
    Why is acknowledging the complexity and scale of the problem crucial for addressing our delusions effectively?

  5. Graham English says:

    Great blog, Joel. I am well aware of denominational group dynamics. Sometimes, it’s not just group rejection but also impacts licensing someone as an official worker. How might you propose a denomination engage in theological debate without fear of rejection or fear of discipline?

  6. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hi Joel,
    I think the overworrying issue that you brought up is an issue I have fought with all my life, thanks to a wottying mother,
    I appreciated your take away of “to remain positive in tackling delusions and combatting ‘information pollution’ in my environments” and want to learn from you. How do you do that?

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