Friday, September 16, 2011

My Pro-Christian Bias

Everyone is subject to countless cognitive biases that pervade all aspects of their thinking—myself included. As such, a Christian might look at this blog and conclude that I'm heavily biased against Christianity.

If anything, the opposite is true.

Well, that's not to say I don't have any bias against Christianity at all. But in truth, the bias that affects me the most on a daily basis is a bias in favor of Christianity, especially the evangelical Protestantism that I grew up with. Believers may scoff at this, of course, but they should hear me out. It's true that I'm highly critical of Christianity, but it's also the case that I've spent over a year of my life carefully studying it, always open to the possibility that I've overlooked some powerful evidence of its veracity. So here's the real question:
At this point, why should Christianity even be worthy of my consideration?
My true bias is that I've shown Christianity extensive favoritism, continuing to seriously investigate it long after I would have given up on any other religion. I haven't even bothered to look closely at Jainism, Hinduism, Bahá'í or Zoroastrianism. I've essentially concluded that they're false without giving them so much as a glance. But that's just the beginning: by one estimate, there are approximately 10,000 distinct religions in the world, including 150 with at least a million followers. Why is it that I haven't examined them one by one? Why haven't I studied Ayyavazhi, Druze, Konkokyo, Quimbanda, or Thelema? For that matter, why haven't I studied extinct religions such as ancient Norse mythology? It's because I have no reason to believe they're true... but the same could be said for Christianity. I'm using a double standard, one that works out massively in Christianity's favor.

Norse gods have the additional advantage
of looking really damn cool.
Some may object that only the current major religions are worthy of consideration—after all, what kind of god would allow his or her religion to become obscure or extinct? But this entails the major assumption that deities desire human attention. If one were to start without any presuppositions, one might expect precisely the opposite. Another objection might be that Christianity at least tries to offer evidence in its favor, such as arguments from the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. This is a fair point, but I still spend far more time on these flimsy arguments than they deserve. Besides, I've paid so little attention to the other thousands of religions that they might also offer such evidence without me even knowing it.

So where does my pro-Christian bias originate? Now, it's true that one of my motivations for studying Christianity is so that I know what to say when I finally reveal my unbelief to my family. Another reason that understanding Christianity is important is due to its pervasiveness in American politics and culture. But there's one more reason. After 20 years of exposure to Christian teachings, I'm so accustomed to the gospel story and the various doctrines that I grant them more credibility than they deserve. Even though intellectually I understand that the concepts of the Trinity and Jesus' atonement are bizarre and even incoherent, the subconscious, emotional parts of me don't particularly care. And the doctrine of hell has seared into my mind a fear of being wrong that defies my easy dismissal of Pascal's Wager.

The very fact that I spend so much time analyzing Christianity demonstrates my bias in its favor. If I was being completely impartial, I would have stopped taking it seriously as soon as I adopted a stance of skepticism toward extraordinary claims. But time and again unwarranted doubts about my conclusions creep back in, forcing me to check just once more to make sure I was right. It's frustrating, but at least by identifying this bias, I've taken the first step towards counteracting it.


  1. Oh, man, do I know what you mean. I abandoned Christianity earlier this year after 26 years, most of those as a worship ministry leader in two different churches (different cities.) I currently practice an agnostic Buddhism, for lack of a better term - with a focus on living in the present moment, accepting life for exactly what it is right now, and treating every person with love and compassion. Simple as that (though often not easy.)

    My exploration of my faith, leading to my abandonment, was thorough and is ongoing - and one of the things that keeps me reading and researching is my habitual shame response when I *indulge* in my non-Christian *religion*. No other faith would get a small fraction of this sort of time, but that feeling of God watching over my shoulder and keeping track of my sins until I use the ol' bar of soap (1 John 1:9) is so pervasive and so deeply habitual. Most often I am at peace in my freedom from that sort of self-condemnation, but daily I struggle to remember why I left that behind and, well, just live in the now. Cheers.

  2. I, too am in the process of de-converting and can identify with both of you. One of the things that still weighs heavily on my mind is the "magical" moments I experienced, particularly "words of knowledge" that seemed very specific to me, as well as one incident when I was "slain in the Spirit" and experienced "holy laughter," saw colourful lights that I thought were Jesus, etc. I was sceptical and unemotional even when I was a devout Christian and went through countless worship services where everyone seemed to be in the Spirit except me. But on that one occasion, I was convinced I had finally found it! These 2 instances keep me going back... I really like your blog by the way.

  3. Anon,

    If you're still looking for answers, here are a couple of resources for you.

    Things like being "slain in the spirit" are all about the power that suggestion holds over the human mind. Mentalist Derren Brown has a TV special in which he teaches a layman to pose as a faith healing preacher and work seeming miracles by purely natural means. This portion of Ebon Musings' essay "A Ghost in the Machine" also explains the physical basis of religious experiences.