Confirmation Bias Masquerading As The Voice Of God

28160056556_4e08e461dc_kI read an article by a preacher who attended the June New York meeting with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and evangelical leaders. The minister said that before the meeting began, he bowed his head and ask the Holy Spirit to guide him. The Holy Spirit led the minister to read Psalms 106. The passage, which he quotes in the article, is a condensed history of the sins of the Nation of Israel.

Of course, the minister interpreted David’s words by making a very, very long leap — Hillary Clinton must be stopped at all costs. It is what God wants, the minister asserts.

But, I wonder, how another person, say a Christian who is a Democrat, would interpret the same passage. Would God speak to them in the same way — declaring that Hillary is evil and Donald Trump is holy. Probably not. Not because of God’s apathy to the American dilemma — our two-Party, highly factionalize and divisive political system which keeps the masses agitated and uniformed — but because of a psychological concept known as confirmation bias.

As author David McRaney points out in You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself, we tell ourselves that we read, research, and ponder over our position. We tell ourselves we weigh out all the choices, gather our information from a variety of sources, and make intelligent, logic-based decision.

But we don’t work that way. As McRaney writes,

Check any Amazon.com wish list, and you will find people rarely seek books which challenge their notions of how things are or should be. During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Valdis Krebs at orgnet.com analyzed purchasing trends on Amazon. People who already supported Obama were the same people buying books which painted him in a positive light. People who already disliked Obama were the ones buying books painting him in a negative light. Just like with pundits, people weren’t buying books for the information, they were buying them for the confirmation.

Regardless if the subject is politics, religion or the breed of a dog, we start with our position and then find evidence to support it. In the current political climate, our highly predictable confirmation bias is used to push, prod and control us. As a 2013 article from CNN points out each like, share and post on Facebook paints an increasingly clear image of who you are, allowing marketers, advertisers — as well as ministers and politicians — to target you with information that confirms your bias. This data is so valuable one company is reportedly buying $40 billion worth of it.

But back to the minister. Did he interpret Psalms 106 accurately? Well, that depends on which presidential candidate you are backing. He concluded his piece by writing,

I couldn’t help but re-read Psalm 106, realizing that a spiritual cry of repentance is needed long before a strategic call to Republicans.

Of course, from his perspective, this spiritual awakening will be led by Trump, a man who revealed his level of godliness in two small, yet vital, ways: In his inability to name a favorite Bible verse and his mispronunciation of a New Testament text.

I know a lot of good Christians and two things I know for certain with everyone I have met. Not one of them, absolutely none, have ever said Two Corinthians and every single one has a favorite Bible verse. They never have to stop and ponder the question, What is your favorite Bible verse? Most, if not all, will even quote the verse to you.

So, even though some holy men are convinced Trump has the answers and they are ready to champion him — I think they are just hearing what they want to hear.

But, maybe my own confirmation bias is clogging my brain.

I doubt it, though.

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Categories: Politics, Religion

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