The bumper sticker that jokingly says, “God loves us all, but I’m His favorite,” points to a much bigger problem that absolutely ruins much of what we read, (or, more precisely, interpret) from the Bible.
Everybody wants to be loved. It’s human nature to want to know that you matter to others. We all want to know that we are “special” to someone.
One of the strengths of the Christian faith (among other faiths) is the confirmation that God loves you – that you are special.
It is also one of the biggest problems with what has been the most dominant voice of Christianity for most of recent history.
The problem is when it migrates from “special” to “more special.”
Logically, “more special” doesn’t make sense based on what Jesus tells us about the God who loves us all unconditionally. You see, there can be no variance in “unconditionally.” It is without condition. It simply doesn’t leave space for “more special” or, said differently, it can’t mean “with fewer conditions.”
Yes. You are special.
So am I.
So is everybody.
So, how did we get here, to this place where a god of unconditional love seems to have created a world in which some people are more loved, more privileged, more special, and in which we seem to have what some people see as an instruction manual (the Bible) which confirms how much more special some people are?
It’s called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the human tendency to search for and affirm information that supports a person’s personal beliefs. As you might imagine, the impact of confirmation bias is even stronger on emotionally connected issues and deeply held beliefs – like, say, religion.
I call it the “I’m Special Confirmation Bias.”
It’s a double whammy of humanity being wired to believe that we are more special than other people and the need to confirm that we actually are more special than them.
Enter the B-I-B-L-E.
By it’s nature, the Bible is, at times, somewhat ambiguous.
With conservative estimates of more than forty authors over a period of a few thousand years, written in three different languages and all of the translation problems that come along with putting those into English, it’s really not all that surprising that the Bible is, as times, ambiguous.
The problem is what confirmation bias does with ambiguity.
It substitutes the questions with answers – affirming what isn’t there on the page with what already exists in the reader’s mind: “I’m more special.”
Did you ever wonder how an all-loving God condemns LGBTQ folks to hell? It’s the “I’m Special Confirmation Bias.” There’s nothing like taking a group that the Bible is mostly disinterested in (7 or fewer verses out of more than 31,000 verses) and turning them into one of the most vile groups in the eyes of God to really build up your “I’m more special” needs without having to do anything other than be judgmental about other people.
Did you ever wonder how an all-loving, all-powerful God allows folks to spend eternity in Hell for a few years of being bad on Earth? It’s the “I’m Special Confirmation Bias.” Condemning other people to a never-ending, fiery torture for not living into your own interpretation of what piousness means based on a sometimes, somewhat ambiguous text will do wonders for your “I’m special” ego!
See how beautifully it works?
Over the ages, the “I’m Special Confirmation Bias” has helped Christians justify slavery, the holocaust, segregation, subjugation of women, apartheid, the Spanish Inquisition, domestic violence, all sorts of exploitation and the list could go on and on.
We felt completely justified in our loveless actions in the name of a loving god because we believed ourselves to be confirmed in our specialness with an ability to hand-out and extract “justice.”
The Christian exceptionalism we see so heavy-handedly practiced in the US and around the world is rooted in this “I’m Special Confirmation Bias.”
It’s a bias that is so strong, it over powers unambiguous teachings of Jesus like: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,” “love your enemy,” “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone,” and “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own eye?”.
We have confirmed ourselves as the keepers of all that is righteous and pious, and play God with our judgement and punishment. But we do not play the role of an all-loving God, we play the role of a God that is vengeful and wishes to see other people suffer – a God that “knows” that we are special.
The biblical texts, read with the anchor of the teachings of Jesus, should lead us to lives that build people up, help those who are marginalized, extend love to all people, and approach all questions with humility and compassion.
If they don’t, there’s a pretty good chance we are allowing the “I’m Special Confirmation Bias” to shape the text.
If they don’t, we need to start admitting that we are less special than we think we are.