Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias

January 12, 2017
Written by Molly Baskette

"I can't believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head." - Galatians 1:6-7

American Christianity is in a state. 80% of conservative Christians voted ardently for Donald Trump last November, citing a pro-life theology. A smaller but equally convicted crowd of progressive Christians were appalled. For us the election was about a whole and consistent ethic of life, supporting humans not just before birth but long after: vulnerable low-income kids, immigrants, Muslims, people of color and women.

How is it that we read the same Bible so differently, and follow one and the same Jesus in such opposite directions?

One dynamic at play is the scientific theory of confirmation bias. We all have certain beliefs--or rather, our beliefs have us. We tend to take in only information that confirms our already deeply held beliefs, including and especially our religious beliefs.

But certainty may be one of the greatest sins, because it claims to know the mind of God. It doesn't leave room for humility, repentance and change. Paul, who threw down the above scripture, knew from repentance. Once upon a time, he very ardently and with a perfectly clean conscience outed and executed Christians as an expression of his deeply held religious convictions. Jesus confronted him, gently but fiercely. And he changed.

I invite you today to a new spiritual practice based on the old bumper sticker: don't believe everything you think. Test what you believe and especially the decisions our political leaders make against a whole ethic of life. Notice what fruit the tree is bearing. And be open to hearing the voice of Jesus, directly in your ear, gentle but fierce.

Prayer

Speak, Lord. Speak to me, and root out any bias within me, because I long to follow the legit living, loving Christ. Amen. 

About the Author
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.

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