Beware of Spiritual Incest

Beware of Spiritual Incest

When at a business convention, I once spouted off a grand sounding idea, but it was really a bad suggestion that warranted immediate rejection. Yet I proclaimed it with passion and the air of authority (I had just finished speaking on the subject). I presented my spontaneous brainchild with logic. The person I said this to, nodded his comprehension.

Intellectual Incest

However, before the convention was over, several people approached me to discuss this same thing. I doubt we all had the same notion at the same time. I’m quite sure it was my one bad idea, merely recirculated within a tight group, with no one questioning its wisdom. I later labeled this phenomenon as intellectual incest: reproducing a bad idea within a close group of like-minded thinkers, who blindly accept it as true.

Spiritual Incest

The same can occur in a close group of like-minded spiritual thinkers. I’ll call this spiritual incest. I see it happen often. One person shares an insight or experience with their inner circle. Everyone accepts it as reliable, without scrutinizing its validity or testing its wisdom. When this happens, people are misled and unhealthy conclusions result.

I recently blogged about theological silos: the natural tendency of people to surround themselves with others who hold to the same spiritual perspectives. An unhealthy progression of this is spiritual incest. It’s easy to spot by listening to the words and phrases used. A localized dialect of Christianese emerges.

Theological Incest

A bit harder to notice is when this creeps into our theology. It occurs easily enough when a respected leader makes a passionate statement, sounding wise and maybe even backed up with a sound bite from the Bible. This moves into heresy, but most don’t realize it. The close-knit faith community reproduces this one bad idea, blindly accepting it as fact, but it’s really spiritual incest.

We need to beware of spiritual incest.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

4 Comments

  • ABIODUN Posted December 3, 2017 6:50 pm

    Thanks for your thought

    • Peter DeHaan Posted December 4, 2017 6:33 am

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Willem Posted December 25, 2019 10:01 am

    Thank you for this. I’ll add the warning that sharing secular ideas (e.g. related to science or art) in secular circles can have the same effect, because there are Israelites (in the spiritual sense) among the secular people and they are subject to laws of ritual purity, even if they don’t have access to the vocabulary necessary to express that explicitly.

    If sharing hopes and dreams with family makes them unreachable, there may be spiritual incest going on.

  • Peter DeHaan Posted December 25, 2019 3:48 pm

    Yes, Willem, we need to guard against secular ideas creeping into our theology too. Even though they may sound good, that doesn’t make them good.

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