Exposing Our Self-Deceptions: Review of Daniel McCoy’s Mirage: 5 Things People Want from God That Don’t Exist
What’s the best way to expose self-deception?
Daniel McCoy’s Mirage: 5 Things People Want from God That Don’t Exist is a concise work which exposes some of our most potent self-deceptions through colorful story, paraphrase, and metaphor. The reader gains an enlightened concern for several deceptions currently plaguing the church in Western post-Christian society. Yet, at the same time, the reader does not realize the margin traversed from depths to heights thanks to McCoy’s whimsical and lighthearted style. This book was fun to read, plain and simple.
Why was the book written? What need was it written to address?
The book’s purpose seems to be to help a lighthearted audience address some detrimental deceptions in a whimsical and playful manner. To help people resist the temptation to pursue non-things and instead to pursue reality in light of God’s actual existence.
McCoy writes, “I wrote this book because I want to spare them the disappointment that will come so long as they continue to desire what turns out to be a mirage. I want them to want what exists. So the purpose of this book is to expose what doesn’t exist so that we can all retrain our desires and redirect our trust to what does exist and what will satisfy.”
What is distinctive about this particular book?
The author’s ability to lighten a heavy load. The lies (i.e., the mirages) McCoy addresses can prove significantly damaging to their adherents. His style and approach effectively enables the reader to come face to face with each mirage on the root level of personal daily experience.
Who is the author?
In many ways, McCoy is both a sharp thinker and a master of English idiom. His writing is as polished as one will hope to find in the realms of practical theology and Christian apologetics. On top of that, his humility envelopes every page. Those potentially inclined to disagree with his philosophy, theology, and pastoral advice will nonetheless find themselves pleasantly disarmed and respectfully engaged.
McCoy invites the reader to be completely honest with him or herself, yet he does so in a disarming manner. In a way, he corners each of us in our dishonesty by pointing out that “when people are critical of Christianity, they often assume the reality of something that can’t possibly be true.” However, McCoy’s gentle tone aids the reader in realizing on a deeper level that he or she actually needs cornered. Again, the purpose of this book is to expose what doesn’t exist so that we all can retrain our desires to focus on what does exist (p. 13).
What are the chapters?
Chapter 1: Two Kinds of Statements
Here McCoy distinguishes between statements that make themselves true versus those which eventually unveil their own falsehood. The statement “I am talking,” would be rendered true by my uttering those very words. However, the following claim would actually render itself false; “Uh— uh—oh—um—well—I—um—I—no—speak—inglés. I no speak inglés!” (p. 16).
With this simple linguistic comparison—and others—McCoy successfully demonstrates and highlights the inescapability of human logic. For his statements which inherently falsify themselves, McCoy emphasizes that one need not research any data here due to the inescapable incoherency in such claims such as “I don’t speak a word of English.” With such obvious examples, he reminds his readers of the inescapable connections between language, logic, and truth.
Chapter 2: I Want God to Love Me by Affirming My Decisions.
Here McCoy skillfully reminds us how the desire for God to love us by affirming our terrible decisions are as old as the first murder—the murder of Abel at the hands of his sullen brother Cain. Drawing from anecdotes as well as personal experience, he assures his audience of the underlying necessity of speaking truth in order for love to be love. My favorite example in this section was when McCoy wrote of his doctoral supervisor putting “the diss back in dissertation” (p. 29). By loving us, God must concern Himself with our outcome and growth and therefore He must and will often step on our prideful toes.
Chapter 3: I Want God to Fix Everything without Touching Anything.
Here McCoy touches on the human propensity to cling onto unnecessary and even harmful things. He paints vivid pictures such as comparing people to dogs willing to have themselves whipped back and forth while airborne due to a refusal to let go of a chew toy. Whether via Billy goats being flung down a well, an old man’s suspenders caught on a powerful motorcycle, his own daughter persistently seeking her missing frozen yogurt, or Pharaoh clinging to his Israelite slave force, McCoy has an image for the negative effects of clinging to the wrong things for everyone. McCoy includes everyone in such a way that keeps the reader chuckling.
What is it that we cling to so doggedly? Everyone experiences the desire for things to return to normal at some point in life. This desire can lead us to ask God to fix the problems in our lives—and then, when things are going well, to ask God to leave us alone. Asking God to “fix everything without touching anything” is to ask God for a contradiction.
Chapter 4: I Want God to Save Everyone Automatically.
With some of his most comical writing—involving a surfboard, nearly drowning, and vomit—McCoy gets to the ugly necessity and truth of the human need for salvation in this section. And, as tempting as it may be to imagine God simply whisking us all away into His perfect eternal holiness, the reader is both gently and firmly reminded that such hopes of a costless salvation fall short of corresponding to salvific reality. He kindly upsets the portrayal of God’s salvation as smooth and enriching with the rough and tumble of Christ’s sacrifice and the sinner’s condition of self-denial. Here he spells out in brief detail why universalism fails both practically and cosmically. He correctly places automatic universal salvation in the mirage category due to the fact that the human will is involved and cannot be neglected if what is on the line is actual human salvation.
Chapter 5: I Want to Find Peace through Trusting What I Can’t Trust.
Here McCoy not only debunks—but also saves us from the pain of—trusting in the “gods” we know to be untrustworthy at root. The result of trusting in what we know we can’t trust is always the same: a lack of any real peace.
Chapter 6: I Want to Find Freedom through Sin.
Throughout this section, McCoy primarily utilizes the grisly story of how Herod stole his brother’s wife to reinforce how what might appear as total freedom actually ends up enslaving us to sin. What we get is slavery, not freedom, when God’s glory is traded for human pleasure. McCoy unpacks this in a way that all can resonate with, whether thankfully or shamefully.
What are the book’s strengths?
The amount of content packed into such a brief text. The reader’s mind is deeply engaged while simultaneously set at ease. The reader’s heart is kindled to concern for the truth amidst a voyage full of colorful paraphrase and metaphor.
What are the book’s weaknesses?
For the technical theologian and the professional apologist, this work must be regarded as supplemental; however, this tradeoff carries with it the potential to inspire laypeople to a deeper appreciation of God via the mind. For the sake of brevity, McCoy was forced to keep his chapters short and palpable. He trades some technical precision for accessibility.
What are the book’s most helpful applications for individuals and churches?
The Christian scholar will likely come to McCoy’s work with some familiarity with these mirages already in hand; however, in the book, he or she will discover a fresh approach to broaching these topics among skeptical friends. The layperson will discover that he or she no longer needs to cower in fear when such mirages surface among non-believing friends and colleagues. McCoy desires his readership to long for what actually exists—for the transcendent truthful things which truly deliver joy. It’s an attractive invitation.
McCoy concludes this brief yet fine piece of work by not leaving his readers dangling. McCoy confidently assures his readers of reality’s most precious news—the existence of the almighty God who loves all of us. So essentially McCoy makes the path of the Lord straight in order that his readers may focus on and aim toward the reality of God’s love and consistent involvement in our lives.
(For a copy of Mirage: 5 Things People Want That Don’t Exist, click here.)