Morally Superior? Really? Brant Hansen
92% of us think we're morally superior to others. Author Brant Hansen explores how extensively we whitewash our motivations—to our profound destruction.
About the Guest
- Connect with Brant on Twitter @branthansen or on Facebook @branthansenpage.
- Learn more Brant on his website: branthansen.com
- And grab his book, The Truth About Us: The Very Good News About How Very Bad We Are—or receive it free with your donation.
- What could living on mission look like in your family? Check out our FamilyLife Today episode with Jefferson Bethke: Family: On Mission.
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
- Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
- Check out all the FamilyLife podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network
92% of us think we’re morally superior to others. Author Brant Hansen explores how extensively we whitewash our motivations—to our profound destruction.
Morally Superior? Really? Brant Hansen
92% of us think we’re morally superior to others. Author Brant Hansen explores how extensively we whitewash our motivations—to our profound destruction.
Show Notes and Resources
Connect with Brant on Twitter @branthansen or on Facebook @branthansenpage.
Learn more Brant on his website: branthansen.com
And grab his book, The Truth About Us: The Very Good News About How Very Bad We Are—or receive it free with your donation.
What could living on mission look like in your family? Check out our FamilyLife Today episode with Jefferson Bethke: Family: On Mission.
Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife’s app!
Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
Check out all the FamilyLife podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network
Morally Superior? Really? Brant Hansen
Brant: We are so convinced we are right about everything. For Jesus, it comes down to us going, “Would you quit being so self-righteous? You get your righteousness from Me. Your rightness with God comes from Me and not you. You are prone to fooling yourself all the time, so rethink, repent, humble yourself.”
That’s what He’s looking for. We’re always like, “Good person/bad person.” He's like, “No, humble or proud. If you are humble, I favor you.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I’ve got to tell that golfing story. I’m in this charity golf outing. I end up paired with these two couples I don’t know. It’s for a ministry. It’s a great outing. But at some point, halfway through the round, one of the wives comes up to me. She’s in this other cart. We haven’t really talked. She goes, “Hi, so I hear you are a marriage expert.”
I go, “What? No, I’m not a marriage expert.”
“Oh, you write books on marriage, you co-host a show on marriage, right?”
I go, “Yes, but….”
“I’ve got a marriage question for you.”
“Uh, okay.” We’re on putting green, right?
She goes, “I’m on my second marriage. What’s the problem with marriage?” That’s her question, and I have 15 seconds.
I’ll never forget. I looked back at her, and I go, “I can answer that in one word.”
She goes, “Really, what’s that one word?”
I go, “Selfishness.”
She looks at me and she goes, “You are so right! My first husband was so selfish!” You could not script a better answer.
Ann: You’re right.
Dave: I’ll never forget, I looked at her and I said, “I’m not talking about your first husband; I’m talking about you and I’m talking about me.”
Ann: So true.
Dave: We’ve been, for the last couple of days, with Brant Hansen about selfishness. The truth about us is we’re so self-righteous.
Brant, you’re back for one more.
Brant: I love it.
Dave: Brant, as you—you’re on the radio every day. You write. Man, we love your books: Unoffendable—if you haven’t seen that one, get that, and the small group video series. This book we’re talking about today, The Truth About Us. By the way, you’ve got more books you’re thinking about?
Brant: I’m on deadline. I have one due in a week. I’ve got a little way to go on it; I’ll be honest with you. [Laughter]
Dave: You’ll be like, “Can we get this interview over?”
Brant: It might just be “Qwerty, qwerty, qwerty, qwerty”; like just typing at the last several pages of this book when it comes out. But, yes, I’m writing a book about joy and anxiety and stuff. I think it will be—
Dave: Who wants to read about joy? Nobody wants joy. [Laughter] I mean that’s such a needed deal, especially seeing this day and age.
Brant: Exactly. If I’m really—I resonate with Dallas Willard’s definition of it. He said, “Joy is a pervasive sense of peace regardless of circumstances, a pervasive sense of well-being regardless of circumstances.” It’s not like you can be like, “Well, but this is happening.” No, no; it’s still there.
Brant: Yes, regardless; even if you’re grieving even if you have gone through something, there’s still this sense of well-being that exists. Very few people have this in our culture, as you know, which is why they’re so anxious. They’re so anxious because there’s not that sense of well-being that you can have no matter what.
To me, that changes everything. Jesus gives it to us as a gift. But it’s like any other gift. I think people take it back; like, “I’d rather watch the news.”
Ann: What’s that verse from James? “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials.” [James 1:2] The first time I read that I think I was maybe 18. I’m like, “What? What?”
Brant: Yes, “How is that possible?”
Dave: We can talk about joy when your book comes out. [Laughter] We’ll bring you back; we’ll talk about it.
Brant: Sounds good.
Dave: As you go back to The Truth About Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, obviously that story I opened up with of this selfishness that we don’t see in ourselves, but we see in everybody else. How would you say that truth about us destroys relationships?
Brant: Just to review something we talked about a couple of days ago; but that humans all think, we all think we’re better than average morally. They’ve done these surveys. It’s hilarious; it’s revealing. We are so deluded; it’s like ninety-two percent or something—I can’t remember exactly—say we’re better than average morally. Everybody thinks they’re a good person.
That’s where we’re coming [from]. We all justify, no matter what we want, no matter what we’ve done, we are able to do gymnastics. We are self-righteous machines. We’re justifying magicians.
It doesn't matter how bad that thing was that I did, I will find a reason why it was a good thing. “I know my motives are good; I know your motives are bad. You know nothing.” Even the good stuff that you can do, you could spin it; like being the Lions’ chaplain.
Dave: Is that a good thing?
Brant: Well, here’s the thing—[Laughter]—people will think, “Oh, there’s a man of God, because these Lions….” But you’re a mixed bag.
Brant: You also love being involved with football. It probably makes you feel significant, too. There’s things that I do—well, it’s true. [Laughter]
Ann: It’s true.
Dave: Oh, totally.
Brant: But there’s also good motivation in there, too. But it’s always a mixed bag, isn’t it?
Dave: You even think—I mean there’s been times in my life where I know I have good motivation. But then something happens; you are like, “What I thought I knew about myself.” I don’t know.
I remember at our church as it grew, we had multiple campuses. So, there would be weekends where I would write the message that guys would give at other campuses because they’re preaching it live. I remember, “Okay, I’m writing this message,” and it’s always “Make this yours; shape it any way you want but here’s my notes. Use them if they fit you. If not….”
I remember thinking, “I don’t care what happens at the other campuses. I hope it goes well and they praise the guy who gave the message.” I remember one time this weekend I was in a grocery store. This lady came up and said, “I was at…”—it wasn’t where I preached; it was at another campus. She goes, “Steve gave the message. It was incredible! Man, the point he made.” She literally lists the point I wrote.
Brant: Your point, yes.
Dave: She goes, “I can’t believe he came up with that. That was just awesome.” [Laughter]
Brant: You are like, “No.”
Dave: Brant, I’m dying inside; like, “That’s my point. He didn’t even think of that point; that’s my point.” But what did I say, “Yes, yes, that’s great.” I got in the car; I was mad. I was like, “He should have given me credit.” Look at my heart.
Brant: I totally get this.
Dave: Who cares who wrote it. It wasn’t me anyway; it was God’s Word—all he did. But I thought, “Wow! Look at what’s in me; it’ this pride.”
Brant: Right, so it’s simplistic to think—you can look at somebody- what they’ve done: “Oh, there’s a great person.”
Brant: You don’t know. Leave it up to God. I don’t even say that about somebody; like, “There’s a great woman of God.” I don’t know. She might be good on stage; I don’t know.
I come from a pastor’s family, and I heard that about my dad all the time: “He’s talented. He’s a good speaker. What a great man of God.” Our home life was a traumatic disaster. By the time they got divorced the first time, I was glad. I wanted out of this. But I’m constantly hearing, while we’re being terrorized in the home, about how great this guy. You don’t know.
That’s why I think for me when I’m talking on the air or whatever people are like, “I can tell that you really are like you are meaning what you say.” I hope I am, but I think that’s a reaction to that, too. I don’t want to hear myself say stuff that isn’t true. But I’m also not impressed even if somebody is super talented with a guitar or with speaking or with worship or whatever.
Okay, but we’re all at one level. We don’t know other people’s motives. I don’t even know my own. I do know I’m mixed bag. I like it—like you’re saying—you probably did want people to be touched by that story but there’s a little bit of it it’s like, “But, yes, I came up with that.”
Brant: That’s very normal and human. It’s wonderful to just let God sort it out in the end.
Ann: I remember being in seminary and the professor who was actually the President, I remember talking about this one man of God. I said, “This guy is the real deal.”—[Laughter]—“He’s amazing.” I said, “If l have anybody on a pedestal, It’s him.”
He said, “Ann, Ann, Ann, there’s only one person to be on the pedestal.”
Brant: Bang; yes.
Ann: “It’s Jesus. Nobody else belongs in that spot because we’re all human/we’re all broken, so just take that guy off. Just know he’s a frail human being who needs Jesus like everybody else.”
Brant: That’s what you know; that’s what you know.
Ann: I thought, “Oh, that’s really good; I need to remember that.”
Brant: Okay, so instead of me thinking I need to take everybody’s spiritual temperature, let me be humble. I can’t; I don’t know where this person stands, that person stands, but I know this: They need Jesus. I need more of Him in my life. You do. I can just engage the world that way, right?
Ann: You’re making it no fun because nobody can judge each other now. [Laughter]
Brant: I know. [Laughter] The weird thing is—
Ann: It’s so good.
Brant: I know you’re joking. That’s funny but it’s like, conversely. The weird thing is it does make life more fun to not have to worry about all this stuff—
Ann: It does.
Brant: —or to sort through my own stuff. No, no, I’ll let God sort it out. “God, just help me get through the day and to be faithful with what You put in my path today.”
Ann: “And to love those You put in my path today.”
Brant: Yes, the people today. “As far as tomorrow goes, that’s Your business; that’s not my business. You’ll work it out.”
I ask God—just to whit on this—this is about trying to be humble about things; not to have to know stuff, plan stuff, promote stuff—I mentioned I was on Good Morning America recently.
Dave: You’ve mentioned that twice. You think you’re pretty good; don’t you? [Laughter]
Brant: I wanted to tell you how that came about, because it’s so weird that I would be. It’s so weird. I was walking the dog, and I was asking God, “I’ve got this book thing. I don’t want to—I hate promoting stuff; I hate it; I hate it; I hate it. I don’t want to have to be tweeting and Instagramming constantly “You should buy this.”
Ann: Because your publishers are wanting you to do that.
Brant: They do; they put pressure on you. That’s their job too. But it’s like I get sick of it; I don’t want to do it. I said, “Lord, would You please be my publicist as long as I’m doing it and Your kingdom is made bigger, can we partner together like You partnered with Abraham? You’re always looking for people to partner with for Your kingdom. I know I’m flawed like everybody else. But if it’s pleasing to You, can you just make something happen like I could never see happening?”
Next week the publisher is shocked: “Good Morning America has said they are interested in having you come on.” I got to talk about Jesus stuff. I’m sitting there in the lights at Times Square where we are going. That is unbelievable. Maybe that’s the only time that happens; that’s fine.
I was like, “I know why that happened.” It was just cool.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Brant: There’s something about going, “Today you handle this. I’ll do stuff today,” rather than thinking that I’m in charge of assessing where everybody is all the time and then evaluating this and making this happen. I’m “No, just today.”
Dave: That’s beautiful.
Ann: That’s so good. We’re talking about being humble. You said in your book “According to Jesus there are no good people, only humble people and proud people, and He favors the humble and opposes the proud.” Then you get into this story of Adolf Eichmann who was a high-ranking Nazi who was taken from South America to Israel for trial in 1960.
Do you remember this story?
Brant: Yes, the freaky thing about it and some was when people finally saw this horrible Nazi, it was bracing to one of his victims. A journalist had gone there to cover it. Because they were like, “He just looks like a human being.”
Ann: Like, this horrific human being—
Ann: —they were thinking.
Brant: He’s just a human; like, you could be neighbors.
Dave: —not a monster.
Brant: It’s very unsettling when you realize that humans, what we’re capable of in the right or wrong conditions. We can get very proud of ourselves, but it may be that it pays off for us to be good people in this culture. But if it didn’t, might we act differently? What are we capable of doing and justifying?
We’ve seen entire countries justifying a horrible whirl of things, because humans are quite capable of that. That was one of the upshots of that story. It also occurred to me, too—because you had said, not to compare you with Adolf Eichmann, but you had said—
Dave: Oh, thanks! [Laughter] You’re talking about Ann; I’m sure.
Brant: Right. Ann had said, “You become a different person when you’re behind the wheel.” It was joking but it was like, you do; I’m sure. A lot of us do. We do become a different person because in the wrong circumstances we will change our behavior quickly. Most of the time that’s just when we’re in a hurry. If you have all kinds of time and you’re not hurried—
Dave: That is true.
Brant: Yes, changes—
Dave: I’m not really that concerned about how bad people are driving around me.
Brant: No, you can be thoughtful about it. But driving puts a great point on it.
There’s a study—I did put this in the book. It’s a famous study of theology students. But they actually contrived this situation where they were going to have them each give a speech on the Good Samaritan story. It was in another building. They released them at certain times to go do this.
But they released them late, a bunch of them—they had a control group—all this. Anyway, as they’re walking to the other building to deliver this individual speech to a class about the Good Samaritan story, each one of them, they actually had someone on the ground writhing like in pain/in obvious need.
Dave: I’ve heard this.
Brant: Yes, you’ve heard this?
Dave: This is crazy, yes.
Brant: People would go past them or help. Now they found that the people who helped and the people who passed them, the only difference that made any difference wasn’t their religious background, wasn’t their convictions about anything, wasn’t their sophistication; it was whether or not they were late or not.
Ann: Come on.
Brant: The people who had time stopped. The people, they might be solid, learned Christian people, but their ten minutes late, they’re different people. If you’re in a hurry, if you don’t have margin in your life, you’re irritable, you’ll go off on people; you’re aggravated. But you’re the one that scheduled all that stuff.
Brant: You decided you are going to do all this. “Life is grinding.” Well, okay, you’re a different person when this happens.
Ann: Oh, this is so convicting.
Brant: No, it’s good. But it’s an opportunity because you leave a half hour earlier. You plan your day a little differently. You can actually segment your day to make it easier for you to be a better person.
Dave: Sometimes you have to slow your soul down. Because even the other night when I was in a hurry to get home, Ann said to me, “What’s the hurry?” There was no deadline; there was no reason I had to rush.
Brant: You’re just used to it.
Dave: It’s almost I have gotten in a pattern of “Ugh!” It’s like, “Slow your soul down; take a breath.”
Brant: That’s why learning humility like taking a Sabbath day, because that’s teaching you the world does not rise or fall—and I’ve only recently started doing it—but it teaches you the world does not rise or fall based on my productivity. I can be unproductive and I’m still valuable.
That’s a really hard thing for us in America to get our heads around, but that teaches you to start having more margin in your daily life. This is something that God set up because He knows we’ll thrive that way to have some more margin. But we’re so used to “I have to be productive; I have to get this next thing done. I’ve got to get to this….”
Ann: It’s such the American way.
Brant: Yes, we can be very productive and also miserable.
Dave: Well, Brant, how do we—
Ann: Wait, wait, wait! I’ve noticed in my soul, too, that—
Dave: I can tell you all about your soul. What do you want to know? [Laughter]
Ann: I can tell the way I respond to people; I can kind of know the condition of my soul. Because when my soul is rested/when I’ve been with Jesus/when I have a little margin; I’ve carved that out, I see people; like, I’m conscious of loving them and speaking to them and seeing them and being able to love them and even asking God “How can I bless them or love them today?”
When I’m grinding it out and I’m stressed, I know “I don’t have time; I don’t have time to see them.” It’s exactly that; it’s a good way to think; like, “Where is my soul? What’s the condition of my heart right now?”
Brant: The conditions around us influence whether we’re a good person or not, quote/unquote, which is humbling, too.
One of things that’s striking to me when I’m talking to people about this, too, is it’s very difficult for us to finally say, “You know what? My value as a human being is not dependent on the stuff I’m doing.” To wit, like we were talking about people that we can be impressed by. “Wow! This guy’s really great. He was an incredible football player,” or “He was an incredible baseball player”; “He was a great singer.”
Yes, but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness; we go down the list. It’s not “…sold this many albums”; “…built a church this big.” That’s not actually fruit. We’re like, “Look at the fruit.”
No, no, no, the fruit? Let me talk to his wife; let me talk to her husband; let me talk to love, joy, peace—are we seeing—
Brant: Yes, kindness.
Brant: —kindness, goodness, gentleness; are we seeing this—more of that? Because the other stuff you can do on your own; including build an impressive ministry.
Dave: When you just said that, I thought, “One of the most beautiful things is when somebody comes up to you—and I’m sure this happens to you, Brant, and it happened to me as a pastor—a stranger or somebody in my congregation would come up and say, ‘Man, that was amazing that message. You’re an amazing guy.’ You know what you think is ‘You don’t know me.’”
Brant: Yes, that’s right.
Dave: “Thank you for the compliment.” But you just sort of smile. Pro athletes always told me that: “They come up and they think I’m the most amazing guy and they want this autograph, and I just smile as I walk away going, ‘Man, they have no idea how corrupt I am.’”
But, with that in our mind, knowing the truth about us ourselves, which sometimes we don’t admit but other times we’re like, “I’m not as good as that person thinks I am,” we walk in our home and when your wife or your husband says, “You’re a good man.” They’re talking about fruit: “I see faithfulness in you; I see kindness.” Then when you look at that you go, “Wow! She knows; she knows how bad I am; she knows better than anybody in the world I’m really a self-deluded guy—”
Ann: “—but she still loves me.”
Dave: “—but she sees goodness and she’s speaking it out.” That carries everything.
I just wanted to say that to say, if you’re married, you can speak goodness into your bad. It’s there. The good and bad are both there but when you speak it, it carries weight.
Ann: It’s motivating.
Dave: You could also say, “I live with you, Dude, and you are corrupt.”
Brant: I can’t remember if I told you guys this, but that’s one of the sweetest things in my life is what you just said. Coming from my background of extreme performative hypocrisy, in a Christian context, to being a Christian radio host, speaker; whatever I am—author. I know people could come up and say that stuff. The sweetest thing in the world to me is that my kids will listen to my podcast now—
Brant: —and laugh. They are like, “That’s Dad.” There’s no creepy—they could listen to this and there’s no creepy disconnect between the dad they know. My wife, too; my wife can listen this and be like, “Yes, good job,” instead of going, “Oh, yes, mister Christian whatever, and then when you come here and you’re like, ‘Oh, what a relief.’”
Dave: If it wasn’t the integrity—
Dave: —your life matches your—
Brant: That gives you strength. Somebody’s going to speak that your wife just told you that. That’s the feel where I can keep going, so I don’t feel like a big fraud. I don’t have to deal with that dissonance. That is a big deal.
Again, we all know we’re a mixed bag. But I don’t have to worry about it. Just “God, please help me to partner with You today on whatever plan You have here and let me be faithful with what You bring across my path.” It takes a lot of the pressure off.
Then look what He’s doing; like in my career; like He’s blazing a way. I’m doing okay; He’s making a trail in front of me. So far, so good. [Laughter]
Dave: That would be, as we wrap three days of talking about The Truth about Us—we’ve said it, but I want to hear you say it any way, a different way of saying it, how do we change it? Because we didn’t even talk about your great Pearl Harbor story. [Laughter]
Ann: It’s such a good one.
Dave: It just—say it really quick how self-deluded we are. It just illustrates that. But then answer the “Okay, if I only see selfishness in my husband, and I can’t see it in me. I’m so self-deluded. How do I change?”
Brant: The story is great because it’s a guy who is a brilliant cognitive professor in psychology. But he would tell people where he was. He would say, “I remember distinctly where I was when Pearl Harbor happened,” and he would tell students that. Just studying how we know things, our memories.
He would say, I was listening to a baseball game; they cut in and said, “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” in 1941. Someone—he’d tell that story for years, and some student said, “That’s a lie. You’re not remembering right.”
He said, “What do you mean?”
“You’re not listening to a baseball game in December. It was December 7th.”
He had to unwind all this stuff: “But I remember it this way.” [Laughter] “I remember.” So he did a study when the Challenger disaster happened where he had people write down the next day—students—“Where were you when you heard this?”
He followed up ten years later and said, “Where were you when you heard about this?” Same students, and the majority of their stories were completely different from what they had written the day previous about where they were. They remembered it just like this. One lady was like, “That can’t be right.” He presented her own handwriting. She said, “Yes, that is my own handwriting, but this is not true.” [Laughter]
Dave: “I didn’t write that.”
Brant: Yes, but we are so convinced we are right about everything. For Jesus, it comes down to us going, “Would you quit being so self-righteous? You get your righteousness from Me. Your rightness with God comes from Me and not you. You are prone to fooling yourself all the time, so rethink, repent, humble yourself. That’s what I’m asking for,” and that’s what He’s looking for.
We’re always like, “Good person/bad person.”
He's like, “No, humble or proud. If you are humble, I favor you. You’re going to have Me on your side.”
I think that’s a great place to start; like, “You know what? I can be wrong, wrong, wrong. God loves me anyway.”
Shelby: Hi, I’m Shelby Abbott, and you have been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brant Hansen on FamilyLife Today.
Brant has written a book called The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are. We believe in this book, and we want to give you a copy when you go online and give any amount to FamilyLife.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That could be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Regardless, we’re going to send you a copy of Brant’s book. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to be back with Brant Hansen, but he’s going to be joined by his co-host of his radio program, Sherri Lynn. They’re going to tell their story about finding each other and the differences between Sherri and Brant and why they connect so well. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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