What I Learned from my Biases

I remember when I first became aware of the impact of my biases upon myself. A Republican lady from church emailed several people about the negative actions of a certain Democrat. I rolled my eyes with the attitude of, “Well, he’s a Democrat, so what do you expect.” Later, I received another email that railed against a Democratic official’s policy. But this time I remembered Snopes.com and checked to see if the email content was faked. It was. I sent the email back to inform the other recipients. Once again I received an email from the lady against a Democrat. Once again I checked it against Snopes.com and found it to be a fake. I alerted the other recipients ….

What made me focus on the Republican bias I had against anything Democratic was a man saying that he could not accept the link to an article I sent him because of the Creation bias of the writer. When the above email incident occurred, this conversation came to mind, and I saw my Republican bias for what it was. I’ve since thought long and hard on the incident above, and came up with several ramifications of having a personal bias. Here they are …

1. When we talk about someone’s “knee-jerk” reaction to something, we are really pointing out a bias. A bias is one’s view of life one has gradually built up over the years. In my case, it was a Republican bias. But it is more than that. When we have a bias, we no longer think about the things that oppose our viewpoint; we automatically reject them. The bias, therefore, acts as a filter that prevent,s or substitutes for, critical thinking. Our bias has done the thinking for us and shunted us through the path of least resistance.

So when people of opposing biases converse, information may be shared between them, but the contrary biases often prevents real learning from taking place. Stock answers and talking points take the place of real dialog, unless a bias is weak. For example, is any real conversation taking place between these two people, or are they talking “at” each other: “I believe in a woman’s right to choose!” “You’re a baby killer!” Now we know why the politicians in Washington never get along (smile).

The danger of a bias is that we don’t see that the flaws in the opposing view are also found in our own. The Republican party is swift to point out objectionable moves in the Democratic, conveniently noting that many of the same issues are practiced when it is in power. The R platform may include limited or smaller government, but when has the government really gotten smaller under R leadership? (Disclosure: I am a registered Republican who always votes R.)

How many of us claim that the other person is biased in their viewpoint while we are blind to our own bias? The mature believer in Christ knows that the sins in others are also present in themselves. In contrast, those who are still gossiping, for instance, very likely scorn the practice in others while being unable to see it in their own lives.

2. If I accept the information without questioning it, then quite possibly I am blind to my bias. If I question the source to check the accuracy of the information, then I am aware of my bias and not trusting the source. Since I was not a “dyed-in-the-wool” Republican, I could question whether the information harmful to the other party was really true or not. But my bias was strong enough for me to initially accept at face value any information that was anti-Democratic Party.

Are you blind to your bias? You can check by simply looking for a different viewpoint and examining the facts upon which it is based. If you are an atheist, you can ask the other atheist on what grounds he has for the truth of what he is saying against Christianity. Can he explain any firm support for his position, or is he just passing on what he’s heard and believed — probably from another biased source?

3. We have built up our biases over several years or decades. We’ve pieced together life’s puzzles in a way that makes sense to us as individuals. A bias is built up when we find agreements to what we are believing, or that help support our understanding of life.

Thus 10 people going through life in different circumstances will have 10 different views of the world; each person will be guided by his or her unique bias. The gang-banger in a life of violence; the kid in the suburb; the rich child growing up with old money; the child who is bounced from foster home to foster home. This child’s parents were deeply religious; that child’s parents were not. The bias for each will be unique, and will contribute to greater division in the world or greater diversity of gifts and contribution – depending on their bias.

A person who is constantly belittled by family and taunted by others may conclude with, “I’m a nobody; I’m inferior; I’m a waste of space; God must hate me.” These revelations help her make sense of the treatment she is receiving.

A man growing up in a violent hood, seeing death and violence again and again, comes to a different perspective of life: “kill or be killed.” If you try to tell him that kindness is a virtue, he’d respond with, “What, you trying to get me killed? That’s sissy talk!” The talk of kindness goes against what makes sense to him and his world; only violence has shown to keep the enemy at bay.

4. Because of the different, firmly held biases among us, we arrive at the startling fact that we are not interested in looking for the truth-worthiness of things. Whether the information or reasoning that makes sense to us is objectively true is irrelevant to us. Does it fit our viewpoint? Then we accept it without question. Is it contrary to our viewpoint? We reject it without question. We are not being trained to detect objective truth as it is, but as we understand it to be, from our slant or perspective, according to how well it harmonizes with how we see life.

The counselors’ work of bringing a hurting person back to functioning amidst society is quite challenging, since they must help the person to counter his own biases; the counselors are going against what the individual has accepted as truth. It will take time and effort to see that another viewpoint is just as, if not more than, valid as his own. Truly, they (we) are their own worst enemy.

5. Beware of the gatekeepers. These dispensers of knowledge may be so blind to their biases that they are passing along misleading information. Remember the example of the emails: the lady did not analyze the information before sending it out. Again, concerning our bias, we are not concerned with the truth, but only with what fits our worldview. Those from whom you get your news: did they examine the information critically, or accept it without thinking due to personal, shared bias? One person sends me links to atheist sites to refute my Christian views. I’m aware that he has not read all that information; he is merely passing on the information the gatekeepers have allowed him to see. The gatekeepers, blind to their bias, have not allowed information to be published on the site that contradicts their information. In contrast, my Christian sources quote the opposition and show why they are wrong.

6. There are fascinating articles on how the brain works, how it learns from the choices we make what is important to us and what isn’t. For instance, if we are constantly interrupting our work at our desk to check the latest news popping up on the computer, such as a tweet or email, it’s because the brain had “helped” us to make such things prominent, prompting us to react more quickly over time to those prompts. Thus our on-going work is given low priority and we jump when the email, phone call, or tweet announces its presence. (This is why passing a law against holding the phone while driving isn’t working. People have trained their brains to make them jump when it rings!) If we don’t like this habit of being driven by impulse, we can actually re-wire our brains by repeatedly resisting the urge to answer the phone immediately or open the email. Then the brain will pick up the new value that current work is more important, and those insistent prompts will lessen.

When you wake up in the morning, do you “jump” to a task, like reading the paper or watching the news? Does Bible study come into focus at all? Did God train you that way, or did you?

Startling conclusion: we have trained our brains to tell us what we want to hear and to reject the rest. We have wired our brains to tell us what’s the most important step to take next. Critical reason has deserted us in favor of automation. On a positive note, our biases allow us to jump to conclusions more quickly. But what if the bias is wrong or misleading? Then we jump to the wrong conclusions –just as quickly.

What are the ramifications to the Christian regarding biases?

1. As we grew up and pieced together a worldview that made sense of life, we were not concerned with truth, but what ideas fit together. But Jesus came to tell us the truth and set us free (John 8:32). He came to show us God’s viewpoint of us and life, and to show us our sin so we would turn to trusting God and His Word. We have biases in every sphere of life imaginable, including being self-sufficient in all those areas; the Spirit came to turn us away from trusting self to faith in Jesus.

2. The Bible tells us that the Lord teaches the humble (Psalms 25:9). What is it like to have a humble attitude? It means we are willing to admit that we are wrong when the Word points out our error. The Bible tells us not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Since our biases are based not on truth, but on what makes sense to us, this is understandable; God is in the business of helping us to see the truth. God said that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), so we should be alert to those statements in the Bible that counter our understanding of the world, and be ready to question how we see life.

3. Too often, we develop biases based on interpreting life from our experiences. This is where our biases come from. Rather, we are to see our experiences from God’s viewpoint as He has revealed it in the Word. How many of us would naturally come to the conclusion that we can endure today’s struggles because a better day is coming? There are few such Pollyannas today. We get a brighter view of life as we read of Jesus’ resurrection and His coming again for us to bring us to a better place.

How many people have grown up with a view that “nobody cares,” and accomplish little in life? What if they instead grew up knowing from the scriptures that God loves them, and find caring people at work in their lives who want to express the love of God to others? Which environment helps them to the truth about themselves and their place with God? Which environment is the local church to be if it will be a beacon for the truth?

4. In Acts 17:10-12, we find a group of believers admired because they examined the preachers’ messages, checking their words against the scriptures. It’s easy to let the gatekeepers do all the thinking for us. However, we need to watch against the deceitfulness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), and that includes the heart of the preacher who may himself have been deceived. (I know; it’s never our own pastor who’s wrong, but all the others!)

5. In the end, all are sinners. Democratic, Republican, and other political party members have a vested interest in seeing their party’s agendas succeed. They can all easily be led away with error as they do not check the facts circulating around that confirm their biases. All political parties are equally suspect. This is also true for all committees we come across in government, schools and universities, businesses, and any other entity where people band together for a common purpose. It’s in our nature to protect our interests, and slant the information to favor our view. All are sinners; all information is suspect. We even need to compare our bibles against other translations to get the fuller meaning.

Questions:

1. What is the relationship between a firmly held bias and faith? After all, both are in the realm of believing. The difference is that biblical faith is one that trusts in Jesus while the faith of bias trusts in one’s understanding about life. Only one faith leads us to true life, which is a loving relationship with God.

2. Is there a difference between having an open mind and being knowledgeable about one’s own biases?

3. Since we can rewire our brains by changing our lifestyle, does this idea give us hope that we can repent (change our minds about matters) and become more like Jesus? Still, one needs to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is needed to unravel the lies buried deep.

4. If we grew up loving idleness and pleasure, and regularly resist all suggestions to work, does that shed light on our resistance to following the hard sayings in the Bible?

5. Can our denominational bias (automatically favoring ideas from within our church group over others) put limits on us from knowing what is really true?

6. If we believe all people are sinners, how does that affect our biases regarding trusting in any gatekeeper? This viewpoint, that all are sinners, helps me understand why many things are going wrong in the world, why we “just can’t get along.” This is one of the sin truths Jesus came to share that sets us free; because I realize I can interpret events sinfully and the information coming my way comes from sinners, I need Jesus’ wisdom to navigate life. This perspective is what turns us to Christ in a more thorough way — and finds more of His life than we’ve enjoyed before.

7. The Bible speaks of those who are “hard of hearing” (Matthew 13:13-15) with regards to the Word and thus they don’t grow in the Christian life. We are certainly able to hear our pastors with our ears, but we don’t take the hard sayings seriously because they are filtered out by our bias for the easier life, or a life where we are in control, or when we block it by saying, “I am nothing, so that can’t apply to me; that’s for the privileged.” So often, we must suffer a calamity that causes us to seriously doubt our views of life and turns us to God. “There are proofs of Jesus rising from the dead? Then there’s more to life than what’s happening now?”

8. When we see the powerful freedom of Jesus in the Gospels, and Peter and Paul in Acts, God is painting portraits of liberty that we all may enjoy – the image of Christ in us (Romans 8:28-29). What do you see of yourself that prevents this growth, this power of God, from working in your life? Do you have a biased view of life that makes sense to you, put is at odds with the greater plan God has for you?

Copyright ©2013 by Steve Husting. All Rights Reserved.

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, making iPhone apps, and chocolate. He has written several books, iPhone apps, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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2 Responses to What I Learned from my Biases

  1. Tim Childs says:

    This is a very good post, and very well written too. We all have biases, everyone of us, and we are all very good at pointing out other people’s faults but very very reluctant to look in the mirror at our own faults. In America I have perceived that it is more hip or acceptable to say you are right-wing, in Britain it is more hip and acceptable to say you are left-wing, although it’s obvious that things are changing in both countries and in fact that both America and Britain feed off each other and influence each other in many ways, to a lesser or greater extent anyway. To introduce yourself as a ‘right-winger’ or ‘staunch conservative’ in some parts of Britain at one time translated roughly as ‘I am Satan!’ and I suspect that the same holds true for someone saying they were a left-winger in America! There are very complex reasons for both stances, in Britain especially they are historical.

    Even good Christians can be biased or, dare-I-say-it, even prejudiced about other people, especially if those other people are not Christians, or drink too much and visit pubs, or smoke, or swear too much, or are single parents, or people on welfare, and often without knowing that specific person’s story, they then go on to add insult to injury by saying ‘lazy’ or ‘feckless’ or ‘immoral’ or ‘drunkard’ and so on and so on, not realising that some people are lucky, they were loved and had food and shelter and caring parents who provided for them, and other people were not so lucky, they were poor and parents had problems, they were neglected or their parents were violent or drank, or they were abused or otherwise uncared for. For me, this is why Christians everywhere get a bad name; aren’t Christians supposed to be loving, caring, forgiving, to share their food and clothe those without and shelter the homeless? How many Christians singing hymns on Sunday or go to church in expensive cars really practise any of the Gospel commands? Not that many by all accounts. A lot of it is just tradition, or playing religious games like ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘God has blessed me because I’m so wonderful and holy’ or ‘I am prosperous because God loves me’ and so on and so on. It can be self delusion and selfishness wrapped up in a blanket of religion that when examined has no real value to it at all.

    I debate with atheists now and again, and I find that at least with atheists they have spent time examining what they do believe (or rather what they don’t!) whereas many Christians seem very reluctant to examine their faith or beliefs and often appear to be merely parroting what someone else has told them, which they haven’t really examined or given much thought to. Sad to say, but atheists seem to be asking the most relevant questions about faith, questions that we Christians should be asking, and trying to answer, but often aren’t.

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