We Are All Biased

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Seek first to understand then be understood. That’s being intellectually just.

Currently on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a rare Bible from the 1800s used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves. This “slave Bible” selectively excluded about 90 percent of the Old Testament and 50 percent of the New Testament. They included passages that reinforced the institution of slavery (such as Eph. 6:5) but omitted passages that spoke of equality (such as Gal. 3:28). It is one of many injustices toward Africans and one reason why Black History month is needed to remind us and help us rise beyond our past failings. It is also one of the clearest examples of deliberate cherry-picking from Scripture to support an agenda.

We too often unintentionally cherry-pick Scripture passages and teachings to confirm our cherished beliefs and positions. Our fallen sinful nature has what psychologists call a confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or opinions. The more emotionally charged or deeply entrenched the belief, the more likely it is that confirmation bias will occur.

In our Internet age we can almost always find information that confirms our opinions and ignores those that discredit them. And social media algorithms constantly recommend a diet of information that aligns with our preferences. This inflates our sense of always being right. People increasingly inhabit different Internet worlds, consuming conflicting information and news and leading to polarized attitudes and opinions.

Thanks to confirmation bias, we Christians may, even unintentionally, focus on biblical passages and teachings that support our opinions and ignore or downplay those that contradict them. Like the aforementioned “slave Bible,” we cherry-pick proof texts and teachings out of context to support an agenda.

Our fallen human nature dislikes being wrong; we subconsciously want to protect our self-esteem. Hence, we are always motivated to prove our opinions and our tribe’s positions to be correct. Our confirmation bias easily kicks in without us realizing it. Combined with our fallen nature’s potency at finding faults in others (finding the speck in our neighbor’s eye) and missing faults in ourselves (the logs in our eyes), we too easily think we are always theologically or biblically right (Matt. 7:3). We accuse each other of deliberately ignoring biblical truths.

We are all biased. And before you think that you are less biased than others, we are all hypocrites too (see “Beware the Yeast of the Pharisees,” p. 10). Are we doomed to biased opinions and intractable beliefs?

I believe we can mitigate our biases. First, we need to cultivate intellectual humility. We must remember the biases of our fallen natures and realize that we may not be as right as we think we are. One of the best ways of cultivating intellectual humility is to identify the faulty reasoning, weak biblical support, and inconsistencies in our own opinions and positions. Find the intellectual logs in our own positions before seeking to find faults in others’.

Second, we need to commit to truly understanding other opinions and positions. Not simply knowing superficial or straw-man versions of them, but understand them well enough to explain them in a way that those who holds them will agree. Seek first to understand then be understood. That’s being intellectually just. Only then will we be able to offer accurate critique.

Third, we need to love the truth more than winning arguments, even if it means being corrected. Submitting ourselves to truth, no matter how painful, is better in the long run. I believe these practices of intellectual humility, justice and submission to truth can help us find common ground.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

You can follow him @shiaochong (Twitter) and @3dchristianity (Facebook).  

See comments (2)


  Thanks, Shiao, for this article dealing with bias.  You are right in saying we are all biased.  And yes, most of us tend to be judgmental or hypocritical.  Because of our own biases, we judge others to be wrong when they think differently.
  I think it might be more realistic or possible to deal with the judgmental attitudes than with our own biases.  It’s hard to change our biases if we are convinced we are right.  If we are convinced with integrity of what we perceive is truth, we can still graciously allow others to believe differently.  It’s when we don’t want to allow others to think differently that we become judgmental.  “You are wrong and I am right.” 
  You cited a Barna survey statistic suggesting that 85 % of young non churchgoers (ages 16-29) thought Christians are hypocritical (hypercritical) in your article, Beware the Yeast of the Pharisees.  That’s likely because of the Christian bias that there is no way to have acceptance with God other than through Jesus.  He is the only way.  Christians judge all people having a different view as being wrong, including other religions.  Or those who live a homosexual lifestyle are living in sin.  Or the citizens of our country should be bound by law to our religious beliefs in regard to abortion.  “We are right and you are wrong.”  That’s being hypercritical or judgmental.
  So is it possible to mitigate our judgmental attitudes without changing our biases?  Is it possible to suggest there are a variety of ways to consider salvation, and that Christianity is just one?  Do we, as Christians, have to feel compelled to change the thinking of those who think differently than us?  If so, I think our inflexible biases will only lead to us being judgmental of others.  Could this be the reason that many are turning their back to or leaving the church?    Thanks Shiao for a thought provoking article.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8

There is a reason, scripture says over and over and over "do not be deceived"/misled/led astray... and we are warned over and over about false teachers...  it's a prayer I pray often, "Lord, show me where I'm being deceived"  and He answers...  it's not pretty and it's not easy...  there are deep systemic distortions that we have allowed in the Church that is cheating the Ekklesia (Colossians 2:8)...  but many don't want to know truth for various reasons...  so are we really ready to be honest about some of the doctrinal distortions that have caused division over the centuries?  sadly, it often ends up with one side calling the other "heretics"...   I've been told I can't use the word "repent" re where we have been wrong...

we try to discuss doctrinal differences by discerning with the Moravian motto: in the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, freedom; and in all things, love.  But it seems, we can't even agree on what is essential and what isn't...

I just did a quick search as I've come across this concept multiple times in scripture, here's a partial list:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Matt 24/Mark 13/Luke 21

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. I Cor 3:18 NKJV

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: I Cor 6:9a NIV

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” I Cor 15:33 NKJV

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Galatians 6:3

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:7

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Ephesians 5:6

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Colossians 2:4 NIV

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 2 Thessalonians 2:3

while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:13

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. Titus 1:10

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters... Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22,26

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray (deceive you ESV). 1 John 2:26

Dear children, do not let anyone deceive you. Whoever does what is right is righteous just as Jesus is righteous. I John 3:7