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Don’t You See? Why We are So Polarized and Why There is so Much Bad Religion Out There

by | Jun 8, 2021 | Bottom Right Box, News, Voices of Davidson

We do not see life the way life is; we see life the way we are. I use these words when I teach a personality system called the Enneagram. The Enneagram helps us understand that we see others through a filter. We are all “addicted” to ourselves and are not aware of it. We are so sure that our view is “the” view that any others perspective ends up being wrong.

Brian McLaren identifies thirteen biases that prevent us from seeing life “the way life is.”  He writes:

“People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the wall of bias.”
-Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)

I will not list all of McLaren’s biases, but the first few will suffice to offer a glimpse of why we are so unable to “see” in our culture of contentiousness. I will simply list his first four:

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever does not fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It is almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I will be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I will respond in kind.

This leads me to what Gordon Allport discovered years ago: the difference between “intrinsic religion” and “extrinsic religion.” Intrinsic religion offers meaning and constitutes a purpose for life. It provides a framework for living and is an end in itself. Extrensic religion is a means to an end and is a self-serving vehicle by which to achieve comfort. It adapts easily to social conditions.

Dr. Gary Nicolosi offers four questions to see if one’s religion is healthy:

  1. Does my religion give me a sense of freedom and self-acceptance?
  2. Does my religion make me more loving to other people, especially those with whom I disagree?
  3. Does my religion help me be more tolerant of other people?
  4. Does my religion make me more able to share my resources with others to make the world a better place?

Paul Prather, author and pastor, lists some qualities of good and bad religion:

  • Good religion encourages you/bad religion beats you up rather than lifts you up.
  • Good religion worships God instead of people/bad religion becomes a cult of personality
  • Good religion recognizes that doubt is not the opposite of faith/bad religion demands unquestioning adherence.

“If you would just be like me and see the way I do all would be well.” We might as well say it that way. Unless we are willing to admit that we all see through our respective biases, we will not be able to listen, much less get anything done for the common good.

And when it comes to religion, I concur with what Paul Prather surmises:

“Religion has provided the world with true redemption—and about an equal amount of evil. It has given us soup kitchens and hospitals—and it has given us inquisitions and terrorists. It has burnished some human hearts until they reflected the divine, but in other hearts is has magnified ugliness that was already lurking there.”

In one of my books, “The Christian Skeptic: Caught Between Belief and Doubt,” I state that religion is the plumbing. The spirit of the real God is the water. God is not much concerned with the pipes, unless it gets the water to thirsty people. Sometimes the pipes become rusty, filled with our beliefs and biases. Thirsty people are left wondering why so many seem to worship the pipes.

On the spiritual buffet of late there is a lot of junk food religion. Good religion has a sense of humility about it and remembers the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (from Isaiah 55)

We do not see life the way life is, we see life the way we are. God has known this all along and is waiting for us to catch up so that we can “buy bread” from the spiritual buffet that will nourish us instead of leaving us empty and angry.

Dr. Jody Seymour

Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.

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