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Sigmund Freud developed the theory, sometimes referred to as "Freudian Projection", to describe the process whereby a person's own unacceptable or threatening feelings are repressed and then attributed to someone else. I would like to discuss that, in relation to the Christian teaching to treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.

Something we Jesus Christians encounter with unusual frequency is the tendency for some of our fiercest opponents to condemn us for things we haven't done, or for bad motives we haven't had. Amongst other things, we have been accused of being a "sex cult", of being "control freaks", and of being a "rip-off scam", aimed at stealing people's money! While none of us are impervious to being lustful, controlling, or greedy, one benefit of being on the receiving end of such accusations is that we have first-hand knowledge that they are either gross distortions, or total fabrications. You'd be hard pressed to find another Christian community with higher standards about chastity, democracy, and frugality than ours. In light of this, we can be more confident that the people doing the judging in these instances may have issues with being lustful, being a control freak, or being greedy, themselves. However, rather than facing up to their own faults, they have chosen to project their faults onto us, which usually says far more about them than it does about us.

Several instances of "projection" can be found in the Bible. Jesus often had to deal with the self-righteous accusations of the religious hierarchy of his day... accusations which reflected the faults of his accusers more than his own faults. Take for example the scribes who saw evil in Jesus healing and forgiving a sick man (Matthew 9:2-6). It almost certainly reflected their own tendency to do and say religious things as a way of exploiting people, rather than truly loving them. Judas also appeared to be projecting his own greed onto Jesus when he rebuked Jesus for allowing expensive ointment to be poured on his feet (under the pretext that the money it cost to do that could have been used to help the poor). We later learn that Judas "was a thief", regularly stealing from the purse that had been left in his charge (John 12:3-6). Some other examples of what I would consider to be projection in the New Testament can be found in Mark 7:1-23, John 8:3-9 and Acts 8:18-23.

Jesus instructs us to judge righteously (John 7:24). He exhorts us not to condemn anyone, because how we judge others is directly proportional to how we will be judged ourselves (Luke 6:36-38; Mark 11:25-26; Matthew 6:12). What we reap is, ultimately, what we sow (Galatians 6:7). When you think about it, these statements are much the same as the Golden Rule, which is that we should treat others the way that we would like to be treated. In fact, these statements go one step further by saying that we WILL be treated in much the same way that we have treated others.

Our attitude when criticising someone is extremely important: are we just looking for faults, or are we trying to steer that person toward a resolution of a problem? Having a bias usually negatively influences the outcome. It leads to a "search and find" mechanism, whereby only that information which supports our bias is considered worthy of attention, and such information is logged in as evidence to support our pre-formulated conclusion. This can lead to many false accusations, and subsequent false condemnation. It is important to be able to recognise when we have a bias. Irrationally maintaining a suspicion of someone with no evidence to support it, and with no inclination of dropping it, is a strong indication that we do.

It was said of Jesus that "he knew all men", and that "he knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25). The reason Jesus had such divine discernment was because his judgment was "just", or totally fair (John 5:30). In every situation he chose not to seek his own will but the will of God. The way to be free to know the truth is to recognise and resist our own selfish tendencies, thus overcoming any bias we may have that would otherwise distort the clarity of our judgment. Jesus did this continually. Even when faced with the frightening reality of the Cross (Matthew 26:39) he prayed, "Not my will but your will be done".

In order to know the truth, Jesus chose to sacrifice his own selfish inclinations, allowing God to speak to him, and through him, instead. The wisdom of true godly love is in many ways due to its impartiality. If we wish to have righteous discernment, we need to follow Jesus' example of constantly listening to and obeying God, or what we Jesus Christians sometimes call "hearing what we don't want to hear".

Socrates once said "Know Thyself". One of the very understandable things about projection is that the only way we can possibly know others is through knowing ourselves; and so when we feel a temptation to do something, we just naturally assume that others would feel something similar under similar circumstances, even though sometimes they would not be so inclined. When knowledge about ourselves is used to help others, this can lead to a positive form of "projection" (1 Corinthians 8:1). However, our projections can easily become negative if we choose to deny the existence of unresolved issues in our lives. The likely consequence of this is that we will end up transferring our own problems onto someone else.

It has been said that "to forgive is divine, but to forget is foolish". Having background information about a person's besetting sins may be useful if we are able to use this knowledge to help them. However, it can be tempting to adopt a lazy mindset, writing people off for something they may not have done in the present because of something they have done in the past. Just as we would not wish someone to label us, or write us off due to our own past failures, we should resist doing the same to them. How can we expect people to allow room for growth and change in us, if we don't allow room for growth and change in them? I believe this is why forgiveness is such an essential aspect of the Golden Rule, and a necessary condition for us being able to make righteous judgments.
Jesus said that we should "first cast out the beam in [our] own eye" if we wish to be able to "see clearly to cast the speck out of [our] brother's eye" (Matthew 7:3-5). He also instructs his followers to "have salt in yourselves and have peace one with another" (Mark 9:50). I believe the reason Jesus asks us to be harder on ourselves than on others is to compensate for our natural tendency to do the complete opposite!

Being able to discern accurately where others are coming from is not rocket science. What it takes is a willingness to perceive things the way they truly are, even if the truth is that we are wrong. If we would learn to judge ourselves first, it is likely that our judgment of others would be that much better (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). Similarly, if we suspend our suspicions, and choose to be slow to find fault, there is far less chance of us hurting others by making rash accusations and judgments. We'll probably find that others will be less quick to do the same to us too. Recognising evil in ourselves and good in our opponents may be the key to making righteous "projections", and to rightly applying the Golden Rule.

In the article "Discernment", Dave outlines how simple it is to discern people through listening to what they say, or closely paying attention to what they write. The mouth utters what the heart is full of (Matthew 12:34). In addition to judging our own spirit, looking at the actual evidence provided by people, or situations, is crucial if we wish to perceive things accurately.

To sum up... what we project onto others is usually an indication of what is in ourselves. In light of this, it pays to look for good rather than imposing our own biases and unresolved issues onto others. Projecting may not be wrong in itself. Rather, it is what we are projecting, why we are projecting and how we are projecting that we need to discern through honest and continual self-examination. Applying the Golden Rule - namely "project onto others as we would have them project onto us" - is likely to make our judgments, and those of the people we are judging, more true.

Truth can be reflected when our biases are not projected!

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