On bias and its effect on interpretation

It’s election season, which means that presidential debates are happening and everyone is getting all fired up. Also, Rachel Held Evans just released a new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which is making all sorts of waves in segments of American Christianity.

It is utterly fascinating to see what people say about the *exact same* debate and the *exact same* book. Many times during the presidential debates, I saw statuses/Tweets of conservative Republicans and ardent Democrats juxtaposed on my news/Twitter feed. These updates were talking about the same part of the debate…and coming to completely opposite conclusions, every. single. time.

Certain conservative evangelical complementarian Christians have a huge problem with Rachel Held Evans’ book – they feel that her salvation is in doubt and that her book is mocking Christianity. Meanwhile, other less-conservative possibly-egalitarian still-evangelical Christians love the book and appreciate what it is trying to say.

In both of these situations, the bias is crystal clear. The conservative Christians I mentioned earlier cannot see the good in Rachel Held Evans’ book, because their paradigm makes them so biased that it is *impossible* for them to see it. In order to see the good, they would have to accept the possibility that she had something good to say – but their paradigm tells them that isn’t possible. For the Republicans and Democrats, it can be the same thing. The conservative Republican paradigm does not allow for good Democratic policies, or for Obama to want good for the US. For the more extreme Democrats, the idea that the Republican policies could be good for the country is an impossible thought.

We are all biased, of course – it’s impossible to avoid. But sometimes, bias takes on the character of absolute truth. When we use our “absolute truth” as an excuse to treat people with disdain and even hate instead of kindness and compassion, we create a horrible mess. But in too many cases, that’s exactly what happens. I think it’s time to stop the crazy and start thinking the best of others again, when at all possible.

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