Christians have become quite prolific at naming their enemies. We know well, and talk regularly in our churches and with our friends about the issues we face and struggle with. Ironically though, one of the greatest challenges that the church in the information age faces is staring at us every time we discuss our challenges with each other without ever being named. We may be our own greatest barrier to discovering unity and truth.
Although feeling this struggle subconsciously for some time, I couldn’t name it and work against it until I found insight in one of the least likely of places: a book about fantasy football. Fantasy sports have been a hobby since I was a little boy picking Paul Coffey in front of my parents’ fire place in our four person Kramer family hockey pool. I was looking for beach reading, and instead was stuck with the profound insight that is “confirmatory bias”. “We believe what we believe, and now more than ever, those beliefs are easy to cement. In the age of information, ignoring the other side is the easiest thing we do all day”, wrote C.D. Carter. It was a chapter meant to help fantasy football players better think about how they read and process information about players and games. Instead I was floored by the implications of confirmation bias for the believer.
The lifestyles of many believers are insular. Our friends are church people. We read Christian living books and novels. We listen to Christian music. Our pastors are careful to read the right commentaries and make sure not to rock the boat too much. Our conferences feature speakers from our own particular flavour of faith. We follow the right voices in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. Never has the ability to interact with the breadth of opinion and information existed, and never have we so purposefully worked to make sure we hear almost exclusively the ones that agree with what we already believe to be true.
We have a great deal to learn from those with whom we disagree most. If we are truly right, we have nothing to fear from interacting honestly with those we differ with. If there’s any chance at all we could be wrong, then we have that much more reason to seek out those with different perspectives from our own as we seek after truth. If we take Jesus at his word that he is indeed “the truth” than the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God. Rather than circling the wagons when faced with a contrary opinion, we need to open our arms to the possibility of being drawn more closely to God: whether through the confirmation of our current beliefs or the beginning of finding something better.
David McRaney in a blog post about confirmatory bias wrote, “You seek out safe havens for your ideology, friends and coworkers of like mind and attitude, media outlets guaranteed to play nice. Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs.” This wasn’t written with people of faith as its subject, but if we have any measure of self-awareness this should hit us in the gut with a solid “oof”. When we hold so tightly to our beliefs as they are that we can’t change our minds without an identity crisis we have ceased to find our identity in Christ, and rather find it in our dogma.
We need to make space in our lives – personally and corporately – for contrarian thought. I’ve come to live by the general rule, “If I already agree with it, it’s not worth my time exploring.” After all, what is learning, other than the process of discovering where we are currently wrong? So let’s read books that are not in the church library, let’s listen to speakers other than from Christian conferences, let’s talk to people openly and vulnerably from outside of our churches – not as the people with all the answers, but rather, the one’s who are boldly seeking them out where they may be found through the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit.
Just because we listen to an idea, doesn’t mean we have to accept it as true. Our minds, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, are best used as sieves not sponges. We do not have to, nor should we ever desire to, embrace all ideas as equally true and valuable. There is such thing as a dumb idea. If we are to have a voice in our culture of diversity though, we must be people who seek out truth wherever it may be found, interacting honestly with a multitude of voices, rather than being seen as people who are sheltered from it. We do a disservice to ourselves and our young people in the information age to try to learn and play only where things are seemingly safe while we constantly tread in deep waters.
We need to listen to hear and learn, not just rebut. It is healthy for us to hear divergent opinions in our study conferences. It is healthy for us to study books in our care groups that we may not agree with. It is healthy for us to listen to other perspectives, not with the aim of learning how to apologetically debate the issues, but rather humbly learning to understand things well from other perspectives so that we may continue to learn and grow.
Humans do not have to be sponges by nature – just mindlessly sucking up and incorporating everything they encounter. God has blessed us with amazing minds with the ability to think and reason. God has blessed his people with the gift of the Holy Spirit, “to guide you into all truth”, as the gospel of John puts it. Let’s live in faith, holding to God’s promise, and listen and learn so we can continually grow into the faith we profess.
 Carter, C.D. (2014-05-29). How To Think Like A Daily Fantasy Football Winner: Applying psychological lessons from the poker table and Wall Street to capture a competitive edge in the daily fantasy sports marketplace (Kindle Locations 892-894).
 David McRaney – http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias