Archive for December 30th, 2008

(the question is, “Faith in what?”) *

About a week ago, Jerry noted SoL’s praise of this Joseph Farah article regarding Rick Warren’s acceptance of an invitation to pray at president-elect Obama’s inauguration. Jerry’s post was primarily regarding the SoL article; mine is primarily regarding Farah’s article.

I won’t bother addressing the infantile (and self-defeating) nature of citing Obama’s middle name (been there, done that), nor will I do anything more than note Farah’s snarkiness via the overuse of quotation marks.  Suffice it to say that his style stinks (and not just because he makes the silly Hitler reference); I’m more interested in the substance.

OK, one small sidenote that isn’t that substantive. At one point, Farah refers to Rick Warren as “a brother in the Lord”. Given the fact that — in the days when SoL allowed moderated comments — several commenters definitively stated that Warren was not a Christian, and were never chastised for such blasphemy, it’s somewhat surprising that Ingrid would praise such an article.

Let me state, up front, that I agree with Farah that Obama’s policies regarding abortion are evil.  I state this based on his record and his actions, not the drivel that his pro-life supporters fell for.  It is Farah’s belief of what actions should be taken in response to these policies (and the twisting of Scripture to “support” his attitude) that I have a problem with.

Farah admits that “we are commanded to pray for our leaders” (how generous of him).  But he immediately follows this by stating:

But there is no suggestion in the Bible that we are ever to be used as political pawns by praying at their events – especially when they are promoting the wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings.

I have three problems with this statement.

1. Even as Captain Cynicism, I find this statement incredibly cynical.  Granted, being immersed in the muck of politics would garner cynicism in Will Rogers.  But when that cynicism starts bleeding over into your faith, there’s a problem.

2. Somewhat related to that, Farah shows a very limited and pathetic view of prayer.  Even if the motives of Obama (or whoever on his staff invited Warren) are 100% impure, and they simply want to use Warren, this is prayer we are talking about.  Ya know, communication with God.  What kind of wuss does Farah think God is, that Obama’s motives trump that?

3. I will give Farah this much — there’s not a “suggestion” in Scripture — there’s an outright command from Jesus Himself.  In Matthew 5:41, Jesus tells us:

And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.

The background on what Jesus refers to here is pretty straight-forward.  In Jesus’ day, a Roman soldier could legally compel any Jew to walk with him for a mile and carry the soldier’s pack (or whatever other burden the soldier had).  Jesus said that if such a fate befell one of His listeners, he should walk a mile more than he was legally obligated to go.

So let’s break this down.  A representative of the government forces you to do something that benefits you in no way and benefits him immensely, and Jesus commands you to go even further.  But if a representative of the government asks you to do something that you ought to be doing anyway, and he is doing so to garner benefit for himself, then Farah commands you not to do it.

Farah closes his article by saying:

It’s time for Rick Warren to decide whether he stands with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or if he stands with the world and his “friend,” Barack Hussein Obama.

I would say that it’s time for Warren (and everyone else) to decide whether he stands with Jesus or with Joseph Farah.

Me, I’m going with Jesus on this one.

* I was going to title this “Sola Scriptura, my ass”, but I didn’t want to have to pay Jerry the royalties.

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One of the books I read (and recommend) this month is Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Rom and Ori Brafman.  In it, the authors explore many of the common ways that humans and cultures derail rational thinking, along with ways of combating these behaviors.  It was a very fascinating read (at least for nerds like me), and has made me rethink the way I approach a number of situations.

One of the topics examined that I found most relevant to the discussions here, applicable to most Christians, ADM’s & non-ADM’s included, is Diagnosis Bias.  They observed this in multiple settings, from interviews to first dates to classroom instruction to NBA players.  [In the latter arena, they cited the research which shows that in the first five years of a player's NBA career, a player's draft order has far more impact on his playing time than the actual productivity, statistics and per-minute contributions of that player on the court.]

Each day we’re bombarded with so much information that if we had no way to filter it, we’d be unable to function.  Psychologist Franz Epting, an expert in understanding how people construct meaning in their experiences, explained, “We use diagnostic labels to organize and simplify.  But any classification that you come up with, ” cautioned Epting, “has got to work by ignoring a lot of other things – with the hope that the things you are ignoring don’t make a difference.  And that’s where the rub is.  Once you get a label in mind, you don’t notice the things that don’t fit within the categories that do make a difference.”

So, basically, humans tend to quickly label things so that they don’t have to continue to observe and evaluate.  Data that doesn’t fit the diagnostic label is discarded (or twisted to fit the diagnosis) and data that does fit is overemphasized.  Without intentionally, systematically and diligently working against this, though, you are in trouble if your initial diagnostic is off.

What does this sound like?

The Commitment Swamp

One of the other traps noted by the Brafmans is that of Commitment Bias – where once someone commits to a position, person, idea, etc., the cost of letting go becomes great enough that irrational behavior ensues in trying to stick to that commitment, beyond rational bounds.  This is sometimes called “throwing good money after bad…”

One demonstration of this behavior is called “Max Bazerman’s twenty-dollar auction” – where a professor auctions off a $20 bill to his classrom, where all bids must be in $1 increments.  The winner receives the $20, but both he/she and the second-highest bidder must pay out their bids for the auction.  In this experiment, typicallyt all but the top two bidders drop out quickly.  It is then not uncommon to see this bidding war go over $100…

Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who, together with Amos Tversky, first discovered and chronicled the phenomenon of loss aversion, offers a telling reflection of our psychology during such situations.  “To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss,” he writes about digging oneself deeper into a political hole, “and that option is deeply unattractive.”  When you combine this with the force of commitment, “the option of hanging on will be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.”

We see this all of the time in blog discussions – where someone espouses a particular loosely-held belief.  This belief is criticized and, oft times, the original person then defends it beyond their “loosely-held” passion – making it more strongly-held than it originally was.  Eventually, they may have so invested in an argument that they cannot bear to lose face by backing down to their earlier “loose” position or non-position on the topic.  I’ve seen it happen recently in some of the “universalism” discussions (one one side of the spectrum), while seeing it most all the time at the other end of the spectrum (such as when clear evidence is brought to bear discrediting one of PB/Ken/Ingrid/other ADM’s arguments, and the individual just digs in much harder – refusing to admit wrong – or hurries to change the subject/divert the discussion elsewhere).


Recently, we’ve noted these (and other) ’swaying’ phenomena, along with instances where an ADM target and an ADM non-target can make the exact same statement, and one (the target) is lambasted, while the non-target is agreed with.  However, while we’ve tended to use such things as examples of the lack of the “D” (discernment) in ADM’s, what it really comes down to is poor diagnostics (the “d”iscernment part) with lots and lots and lots of blinders then entrenched with commitment bias and the fear of losing face.

Combating the Sway

Probably the most effective and notable way of combating these biases is to recognize them and call them what they are.

With Diagnostic Bias, when I read journal articles (religious or professional) that I suspect or know I have a bias for/against, I try to imagine that the person who wrote it either agrees with me and is a friend of mine (if I’m diagnostically biased against it) or that they are an opponent trying to persuade me (if I’m biased for it).  This has saved me on a number of occasions.

With Commitment Bias, particularly with blog discussions, I often take “time-outs” to discuss the topic IRL with someone I trust, to see if I’ve ‘dug in’ where I shouldn’t have.   Many times in threads I have had to issue apologies or partial-retractions because I’ve found myself defending something loosely-held far too strongly.  This isn’t because of any virtue I possess, though, but rather God using those around me to bring me back from an edge I’ve gone too close to, or crossed.  [You can also figure that if I've backed off and apologized, even if I don't mention it, I've received feedback (at least from my wife) that I'm over-committed on something.]

At a macro-level, this one is interesting.  For the first year of this blog’s operation, we/I fought rather hard in defending the right of emerging churches to exist and for the helpful voice they bring to the table.  As a result, we also had to consistently fight to try to demonstrate that we, ourselves, don’t consider ourselves “emergent/emerging”, and to fight that diagnostic label.  This past year has been some of the same, but some of the opposite, as well – where we’ve had to defend fundamentals of Christian teaching against liberal/lenient pressure, and then fought the “fundamentalist” diagnostic label.

Like so many things, I see the middle ground as somewhere important to hold.  Defying labels, and avoiding the diagnostic flaws inherent with labels.  Committing to positions, but not over-committing beyond the bounds of reason and Christian charity…

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(Note: This is not an indictment of the commenter that I reference here.  Several folks here and on similar and dissimilar blogs — myself included — have been guilty of the same thing.  This is an “if the shoe fits” observation.)

Earlier today, Jerry put up the first part of a multi-part post reviewing Rob Bell’s latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians.  Being the lightning rod that Bell is ’round these here parts, I fully expected the comment thread to degenerate quickly, and I wasn’t let down.

The third comment expressed disappointment that supposedly (according to the commenter) “those who have not read the book do not qualify for this thread”.  Jerry wrote over 1400 words, none of which (apparently) provided any ammunition for Bell to be crapped on.

So according to this commenter, Jerry just wasted his breath, because no ammo means no point in having a discussion.

God help us.

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