Opinion Columns & Blogs

The power of bias

After our son graduated from the University of Georgia, the whole family became Bulldog fans. We wouldn’t listen to the “facts” recited by our Georgia Tech friends before the Saturday game; they were wrong! We knew that. We would laugh at each other as we drank our beer but we knew we were right. Our bias was total.

All of us are like this, aren’t we? It’s just part of our humanity. Once we become biased, for whatever reason, objectivity is nearly impossible. The same thing happens in politics and religion and media coverage.

Remember Benghazi? Fox News kept calling for an investigation, but very little was heard from ABC News. In fact, ABC seemed to avoid the issue completely. Was that because of objectivity or because Susan Rice, the president’s National Security Advisor, happened to be married to Ian Cameron, who was the executive producer of ABC news?

Democrats bristled at this suggestion (and it was only a suggestion) of bias. However, when Republicans discovered that the presidents of NBC, ABC and CNN — were all married to Obama or Clinton advisors, and that Obama’s Deputy Security Advisor was the brother of the president of CBS, they had to wonder a little bit more about bias.

Trump’s bias, of course, is never hidden. When Nordstrom’s Department Store cancelled his daughter’s line of clothes, it was because of politics, not because of business. There was no doubt in his mind that politics colored that decision, and any suggestion that her clothes were not selling — was simply not considered.

It’s even worse with religion. Who wants to consider the Bible’s veracity if our bias is grounded in faith? Faith is the world’s greatest bias. Faith is more biased than politics or sports.

I have seen a Bulldog fan pour over the sports page even though it says Georgia is going to lose, and I have seen Democrats listening to a Trump speech even though they hate him, but I have never seen a fundamentalist who can listen to more than two of my sentences without exploding.

Nobody says that God is a Democrat or a Georgia fan, but I did hear a Catholic cardinal say: “God is on our side” and many Middle Georgia Christians say the same thing. Once you believe that your opinion is God’s opinion, why should you change it? Psychiatrists call this the “confirmation bias.”

Once you have confirmed your idea or way of thinking as the truth, no amount of logic or facts will alter it.

Now there is a thing called “conversion.” Atheists have been converted to believers, and believers have been converted to atheism.

But, in many cases, this just switches one set of biases for another. The person comes out just as insensitive to objectivity as he was before. Take St. Paul, for example.

Paul imprisoned and killed the followers of Jesus. Think how deep and ingrained his bias must have been. He couldn’t listen to the men and women he captured; he couldn’t stand to hear them say that Jesus had been a Jew just like he was. He knew Jesus had been a heretic and so were they. And then one day it happened.

Luke describes it some 40 years later like a bolt of lightning and Paul becomes converted (Acts 9:1). However, he can’t listen now any better than he could before. Now his bias has switched to the Jesus he once hated, but every letter he writes shows his complete lack of objectivity (I Cor. 7:10). Paul’s bias has switched but he’s just as biased as he ever was.

Paul is not unique. All of us have some hidden bias. One of our Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, put it this way: “I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.” I think this might be the only decision our liberal judge has made that I agree with.