Understanding Your Biases. (Deconstruction, Part 4)

Deconstruction is the process of undoing something while at the same time affirming it. When applied to the religious realm, it is the process of letting go of or moving on from beliefs that you once had while still clinging to the core tenets of your faith. Jesus was a great Deconstructor, and I think he is with those who are still doing so today. As mentioned in the previous post, John Wesley's Quadrilateral gives us some strong handles on how to know how to know things- Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

In addition to using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, I also think it is extremely important to add another question to the process of exploring your faith- What are my biases? I'm not necessarily talking about racial or gender biases, although those are certainly important to be aware of. I'm talking about cognitive biases. While the list of cognitive biases is long, here are a few key ones in terms of how you shape your faith:

Pre-Bias

If you're trying to nail down what you believe about something, before you even open the text, you should aim to be aware of your pre-bias. Before examining, "What does the Bible say about _________?," you should first ask yourself, "What do I want the Bible to say about _________?"

It is important to be aware of your own desires and biases because they will shape the way you perceive and filter the information you take in. Your own biases may help shape your conclusions as much as anything else.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is similar to pre-bias, and might actually be the appropriate term or at least larger umbrella for the idea. Confirmation bias is the tendency to take in all new information through the filter of what you already believe to be true, only further reinforcing what you already believe. It also means you have a tendency to only pull from sources that affirm what you already think.

Confirmation bias is HARD to overcome, and it usually takes a dramatic experience that flies completely contrary to your previously held beliefs to shake you from it.

Recency Bias (Chronological Snobbery)

The term "Chronological Snobbery" was first coined by C.S. Lewis. It's the idea that beliefs and ideas that were held in the past are inherently inferior to more modern ways of thinking. C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Chronological snobbery” [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them."

As I mentioned in the previous post, in terms of our faith, we should be wary of recency bias and give weight to the historic positions of our faith. We should not easily discard them simply because they are old. We should also be careful to avoid arrogance because we have 'evolved', or become 'enlightened', and know better than those who came before us. Regardless of your stance on any theological position, it is clear that Jesus is for the humble, compassionate, and empathic.

Authority Bias

Authority bias occurs when you place a disproportionate amount of trust or weight in a person's opinion simply because they are in a position of leadership or authority. It can also occur in the opposite way, we distrust a person's opinion disproportionately because they are a leader for the other side. This happens all the time in the church world, and I would encourage all of us to use the example of the Bereans in the book of Acts. After hearing a word from Paul, who was THE leader of his time, the Bereans would then go home and search the Scriptures diligently themselves to confirm that what Paul was saying was true.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is when you believe something because a large group of people also believe it. This bias explains why it was so difficult for members of either political party to vote against their party despite the lack of a strong candidate. It also explains why it is so hard to break away from groupthink in a church. It is hard to change your mind about something if it will have a significant impact on your social identity.  The fear of being labeled a 'heretic' and being an outcast has kept a lot of people silent (both internally and externally) over the years.

It's important to note that when you do finally have the 'courage' to 'break away from the pack,' it's easy to label it as 'finally thinking for myself.'  You should be honest with yourself if you are simply jumping from one tribe of thinking into another tribe. Once again, be careful of arrogance. (This idea was pulled from the book How to Think)

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Our brain takes in billions of bytes of information all the time, and we are only able to process a small percentage of that. It is easy (and natural) to filter all of that information through what we already 'know' and believe. It is extremely difficult to break out of those habits and consider new perspectives and change our mind on anything. With the aforementioned biases in mind, we can see the difficult task of deconstruction, and why it takes such a catalytic event to even kickstart the process. My encouragement to you is to be aware of the desires, longings, and assumptions behind the questions you are asking.