Contributed by Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN
Is seeing believing, or is it the other way around?
Can You Confirm That?
Psychologists use the term “confirmation bias” to describe a behavior common to all people: the way we perceive and interpret information depends upon and tends to confirm what we already believe. We tend to notice and endorse information that confirms our beliefs, while disregarding and denying information that contradicts our beliefs. Examples of confirmation bias abound in our everyday lives and in contemporary society. Think of the arguments surrounding global warming and climate change, or the arguments surrounding standardized testing in schools. Think of how differently a person’s behavior will be interpreted by those who love and admire that person compared to those who despise that person.
In an article published earlier this month, one writer contends that confirmation bias not only affects the interpretation of information but also the availability and reliability of information – especially the information burgeoning on the internet. Here is a link to that article: http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/may/13/internet-confirmation-bias
- Look up a few definitions of “confirmation bias” on the internet to share and discuss within your group. What examples of confirmation bias can you point to in today’s society?
- What examples of confirmation bias can you point to in your own behavior?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 25, 2014 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In another gospel passage (Matthew 16:13-15), Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then, more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” Presumably, everyone together at the right time and the right place shared the same information about Jesus; they could all see him and the things he was doing, they could all hear him and the things he was saying. But very different interpretations of Jesus abounded. Was Jesus perhaps John the Baptist come back from the dead? Was he Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets in a new appearance? People interpreted the information about Jesus in many different ways. Finally Peter said, to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
Religious skeptics claim that faith in God is a distortion of reality, an example of confirmation bias that impairs judgment and critical thinking. People of faith often make the same claims about skeptics, thereby participating in a tired and pointless argument that only manages to perpetuate itself endlessly. People of faith might ask, for example, “How can anyone look upon the grandeur of nature and not see the existence of God?’ Skeptics might ask, “How can anyone look upon the extent of suffering and not see the absence of God?” Each side engages in its own form of confirmation bias to support its claims and to denounce its detractors.
Confirmation bias, however, does not always or necessarily produce a distortion of truth and reality. The fact that our perceptions are shaped by our beliefs does not necessarily mean that our perceptions are false and unreliable. The Gospel of John deals with this matter extensively with regard to faith in Jesus. Everywhere in John (with the exception of the story about Thomas in chapter 20!) believing precedes seeing and is necessary to it. “You will see me,” Jesus promises those who believe in him.
But if belief leads to seeing, what leads to belief? Jesus answers that question in our gospel text when he talks about “keeping my commandments.” Here we have to do with the behaviors and practices that pertain to the Christian community, the church. The church is called to do as Jesus does, to do as Jesus says, to do as Jesus teaches. Such doing incubates belief and belief incubates seeing.
- Which Christian practices and behaviors have you found to be most supportive of your faith in Jesus?
- When have you had an experience of seeing Jesus? Describe the context of that experience.
- What is your greatest challenge or obstacle to faith? How might you best meet and seek to overcome that challenge or obstacle?
- How do you help others to see Jesus? How do or how might others see Jesus in you?
As a group, describe ways that you have seen Jesus in each person of the group or ways that each person helps others to see Jesus. What, for each person in the group, is the most surprising about what others have said?
Pray together the prayer for “Enlightenment of the Holy Spirit”:
God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Grant us, we pray, to be grounded and settled in your truth by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. That which we know not, reveal; that which is wanting in us, fill up; that which we know, confirm; and keep us blameless in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [page 86, Evangelical Lutheran Worship]