When you hear the word “integrity” generally you think of honesty, trustworthiness, and character. However, I want to focus on another aspect of integrity: self-awareness.

Integrity is oneness, consistency, among what you believe, what you do, and what you say. A friend of mine actually coined an adjective version that think is catchy: integritous. Like so many of the good-guy words “integrity” gets bandied about a bit, sometimes used and abused. But let’s stop a moment and consider what integrity requires.

First, of course, in order to have some consistency among your beliefs, actions, and words, you’ve got to actually believe something, do something, and say something. Now, the latter two don’t require a whole lot of effort for most of us – we engage in such things every day – but believing something, or believing in something, can be a more nebulous and hard-to-define task. If you say, for example, that you believe in “God”, that’s fine on its own, but now you’ve got to think about what “God” means. If you say you believe in truth, tell me of what truth is made. This can be surprisingly hard.

Second, with exceedingly rare exceptions, to have integrity one must be self-aware. That is, you must know what it is you believe, you must be intentional about how you act, and you must train yourself to speak accordingly. You have to have some semblance of the ability to monitor yourself, to know when you’re not acting or speaking in consonance with your professed belief, or to be able to evaluate what you believe to see if it’s really consistent with what you do and say.

This kind of self-awareness is hard. I was just asked by a dear Christian friend to read a book, Can a Smart Person Believe in God?, by Michael Guillen. Guillen is a theoretical physicist who became a network TV science correspondent. The point of his book is to encourage people, especially Christian believers, to embrace scientific “IQ” and spiritual intelligence (“SQ”). Guillen attempts to categorize atheists, refute their perceived objections to faith, and show that the “ideal” person is a person of faith and science.

Here we have an unquestionably smart guy. From what I could tell he is also a genuine person, actually concerned about the wellbeing of others. He believes in a faith that talks about speck and plank, the Golden Rule, and loving your neighbor. And yet…

And yet, on page after page, Guillen shows a lack of integrity. He decries “Arrogant Atheists” and displays arrogance. He claims to value logic, reason, and science, but he uses ad hominem, straw men, red herrings, and appeals to authority through his book – all logical fallacies. (Indeed, almost the entire book seems to consist of such fallacies.) Even worse, he assumes the conclusion that God must exist, or at the very least, that man must have “faith” in something.

This travesty of a book was given to my wife and me by someone I love dearly. It was accompanied by a note that read in part as follows: “From what [I’ve] observed about your life and actions, [I’m] really not sure that you are real atheists.”


I do not doubt (well, not much) that Guillen is well-intentioned. Nor do I doubt that my friend was, too. In fact, my friend was trying to compliment Joy and me, I think. I think it is a fairly safe assumption that both of these folks strive for integrity. It is also pretty clear that their self-awareness – a necessary prerequisite for integrity – is lacking. To illustrate, imagine a scenario with me:

A brilliant biologist – let’s call him Dick Dawkins – writes a book called Can a Smart Person be a Scientist? Dawkins explores how Christian faith is teeming with arrogant people who dismiss science as something only for the spiritually ignorant. He uses many quotes from people who used to be totally committed Christians and, though they still believe, profess their need to supplement their faith with science experiments because faith is simply incomplete without scientific knowledge. The book explores how crucial it is to have science as a part of your life in order to make you whole. Dawkins concludes that, yes, you can love God, too, but you really must commit yourself to the scientific method.

And now imagine I gave this book to my friend with a note that read, “From what I’ve observed about your life and actions, I’m really not sure that you are a real Christian.”

Such a book would seem farcical, not to mention unnecessary, and surely my friend would take offense at my note. Yet, the imagined book and note parallel reality quite nicely. Guillen and my friend have failed to be self-aware. They have not noticed that they have violated the Golden Rule; that is, they have not treated me as they would have me treat them. Guillen is commanded by his god to love people, but he does not do so with his book. Instead, he employs impressively puerile argumentation in order to confirm his own biases and those of his readers. Indeed, his book is much more about him than it is about me or any other reader. My friend has failed to realize that by saying I’m not a real atheist, it was the equivalent of saying that I am not a real jerk. But, my friend would never have intentionally called me a jerk, just as Guillen probably did not intend to engage in wanton narcissism.

Self-awareness is hard. It sometimes means looking at yourself and recognizing that you do not speak or act in a manner consistent with what you believe. And sometimes it means looking at how you speak and act and realizing that you do not believe what you thought you believed.

If we are to have integrity, however – if we are to be integritous – we must know ourselves.

And now the obvious questions are these: Have I displayed integrity in the authorship and publication of this article? Have you done so in your reaction to the article?

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