The Dangers of Biased Thinking

It almost goes without saying that we all have inherent and, often, subliminal biases due to our upbringing and our environment. We have all been influenced by our experiences, and those experiences affect how we act and think long afterwards — sometimes for the rest of our lives. Studies have also shown that our culture has a great deal of influence on how we think and act, with differences attributed to even what part of the country [for example, in the US] we were raised or now live. Those influences [environment, education, culture, etc.] can sometimes lead to biases that we may not even realize exist within us, and those biases affect how we think and act.

      It is important to know and acknowledge this, for in spiritual matters, such biases can prevent us from ever accepting the truth of what God’s word teaches and, thus, forfeiting any hopes of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. For example, many Eastern countries have a bias against Christianity because it is perceived to be a ‘Western’ religion or even one that originated with the founding of the United States, and they see the state of our country and connect the religion to the society, and they simply want no part of it.

      But we need to be aware of our own biases — the presence of biased thinking that can affect how we view the Scriptures as a whole, or just certain points or truths taught within. One who has been raised in a household where the teachings and practices of a particular denomination were held will likely be influenced by that environment and approach a study of the Bible with preconceived ideas and beliefs that may not be found within Scripture, but are accepted and defended rigorously, nonetheless. What we need to acknowledge is that we can have our own biases, too, and that our thinking and our actions can be affected by those biases just as often as those who were raised with the teachings of the denominations, or even those who have no religious affiliation at all.

      For example, I know a few gospel preachers who began full-time preaching in an era where there was much controversy and discussion and debate about the authority of the church and related issues such as the sponsoring church, the support of human institutions from the church treasury, and the social gospel. Their experience affected their preaching content and temperament for many years after those issues were no longer being discussed or debated, and some who ‘grew up’ in that atmosphere heard a lot of lessons on authority and the need for obedience to God’s will, but not a lot on mercy and grace and the demonstration of love for our fellow man. That, in turn, affected the next generation who heard those preachers. Do you see how our biases can affect not just ourselves, but also many others?

      With that in mind, let us consider some common biases and how they may affect our thinking on spiritual matters; the intent is to examine ourselves — not think about how ‘they’ are guilty and what ‘someone else’ needs to do. Let us examine ourselves and, if we find that one or more of these biases exist within us, let us adjust accordingly and be more aware and alert to potential biased thinking in the future.

      Confirmation Bias. This is likely one of the most common biases [and fallacies] within religious discussions and debates. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. We sometimes call it ‘proof-texting’ when in the midst of a study or discussion about some particular topic. One who has this bias will cite all the Bible verses that seem to support his or her beliefs, and conveniently ignore or dismiss all those that would clearly contradict the position or refute it altogether.

      For example, those who have been raised in a ‘faith only’ denomination may skip over the Bible passages that speak of the necessity of obedience to God’s will (Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21), or passages that note the specific act of baptism as necessary for forgiveness and salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 3:21). Some have such a bias that they will insert the word ‘only’ into passages that speak about faith, such as Ephesians 2:8, where Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” One website I ran across had inserted the word ‘only’ and the verse read quite different: “For by grace you have been saved through faith only. Such was this man’s bias that I am not sure he even realized what he had done! That is the danger of biases!

      Decline Bias. This refers to bias in favor of the past over ‘how things are going’ now, or some change that is needed or required. This often happens for the simple fact we human beings don’t like change, and we don’t like finding we were wrong — especially in religious matters. So, we hold tightly to ‘what we’ve always done’ when confronted with the truth and the fact ‘what we’ve always done’ does not agree with what God’s word plainly teaches.

      This may have been the case with many Jews who heard the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ — people who had come from a long line of faithful adherents who diligently followed the Old Law. Can you imagine the changes they would have to make? Their desire to hold to the old ways was so strong that when Paul declared that he had been sent by God to preach the message of salvation to the Gentiles, the mob in Jerusalem shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:21, 22). Clearly, they wanted nothing to do with this new message and held tightly to the old ways.

      This happens frequently in religious discussions today, where one discovers their religious beliefs are contradicted by Scripture, or they are not found in the Bible at all. Many simply do not want to change, even though they acknowledge that what they believe and practice has not come from the Bible. This is the dangers of biases!

      Conformity Bias. This is similar to what we sometimes call groupthink, which occurs when we change our opinions or behaviors to match that of the bigger group, even if it doesn’t reflect our own opinions. This bias may occur when we encounter peer pressure or are trying to fit into a certain social group or please society, as a whole. We see it currently regarding certain issues such as homosexuality and transgenderism, abortion, and marriage and divorce issues. Many individuals and entire religious organizations have changed their positions on some issues not because the Bible changed, but because society changed, and they are wanting so badly to ‘fit in’ and look ‘contemporary.’

      Well, friends and brethren, we can be ‘contemporary’ or we can follow Jesus, but we can’t do both. God warned His people long ago, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Exod. 23:2), and the reasons why we should not are just as applicable today. Rarely do crowds follow truth. (See Matt. 7:13, 14.) We are required, in fact, to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” (Rom. 12:2). If we are seeking to please the majority, then understand we set ourselves against God (Jas. 4:4). That is the danger of biases!

            What are your biases?            — Steven Harper