Are You a Confirmation Bias Christian?

If something sounds true -- meaning, it seems to fit what we already believe -- we believe it to be true without corroborating.

But there’s a spiritual component at play here too. The reason we fall into confirmation bias politically is not essentially a political problem. It is a human problem, which is to say, it is a sin problem — which is to say, it is a problem of self-interest and self-worship. The truth is, you and I are prone to conducting our entire lives along the narratives constructed from confirmation bias.

 

confirmation biasThe tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

“All of our hearts are idol factories,” John Calvin once said. We are never not worshiping. But there is one big idol all our little manufactured idols themselves serve, and that idol is us. There’s really no new idolatry in our brave new world; we just find new ways with which to orient our worlds around ourselves.

I think you and I see this every day in the world of social media, and it was ramped up especially so during the last election cycle. When it comes to political pontificating, my Facebook feed in particular appears to be one huge exercise in confirmation bias — my liberal friends share and “amen” articles, videos, and memes that fit their pre-adopted left-leaning narratives and my conservative friends share and “amen” articles, videos, and memes that fit their pre-adopted right-leaning ones.

I’ve been guilty of this myself. It is stunningly easy to fall into, this “confirmation bias” thing. If something sounds true — meaning, it seems to fit what we already believe — we believe it to be true without corroborating. It is the widespread epidemic of confirmation bias that has given us the relatively new phenomenon known as “fake news.”

But there’s a spiritual component at play here too. The reason we fall into confirmation bias politically is not essentially a political problem. It is a human problem, which is to say, it is a sin problem — which is to say, it is a problem of self-interest and self-worship. The truth is, you and I are prone to conducting our entire lives along the narratives constructed from confirmation bias.

What is our bias?

That we are the center of the universe. That our happiness is what is most important in life and that our preferences are — or ought to be — the laws of the land.

So whatever fits this bias is “true.” And whatever does not is repudiated, or simply ignored.

How would you know if your Christian life has become hijacked by confirmation bias? Here are some possible diagnostic signs:

1. When you hear a particularly challenging or convicting sermon, you think mainly of who else needs to hear it or who else it ought to apply to — “I really hope my spouse/child/friend/etc is listening right now” — instead of how it might apply personally to you.

2. You don’t really have close friends who know the struggles going on in your private world — your family, your marriage, your workplace, etc.

3. You don’t pray much for God’s forgiveness.

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