Confirmation Bias?

Like many other people, the increased division among citizens in US and in the UK saddens me. The recent Brexit vote and the US election are symptoms of something that has been taking place for some time. It seems to me these two events reveal the underlying division in a way not previous because the direct way they shape political vision. Of course it is far too simple to imagine a time where there won’t be tension based upon political desire, but I think we can desire mutual understanding and sympathy. In order to do so we will not only need to answer immediate political questions but also understand the roots of division among citizens.

There are probably a number of philosophical structures at play (many that I’m unaware of), but one that interests and worries me is how our use of technology shapes us as persons. In the case of our current political discourse, our constant connectivity and options of social media and/or news sources means we never lack similar voices to our own. Ken Stern’s recent essay in Vanity Fair on his own perception of the way more main stream media outlets abandoned any attempt at partisanship and fully endorsed Mrs Clinton makes this exact point. Here is how Stern ends his essay:

As Emma Roller wrote recently in The New York Times, “The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true.”

Audiences are increasingly seeking, and demanding, news that fits their personal notion of what is important and what is true…And it is not simply that they have opinions on one side or another; they are routinely demanding coverage that conforms to their world view, and they have the choice to go elsewhere if they are not served.

In a fragmenting media world, with rapidly changing norms and vast choices for consumers, any media company that wants to survive over the long run, will need to factor in the demands of their best customers for news that fits their political biases. That need not be done by changing the facts, as happens too often in many places online, but by offering stories that cement a particular view of the world. That may be good for business, and audience, but it is most certainly not good for the notion of a democracy that depends on some notion of shared values and common discourse.

Stern’s conclusion is thought provoking and has numerous implications. I think one of the most important is we be aware of the way technology is shaping our worldview. My guess is that most of us are guilty of delighting in the confirmation of our already held beliefs. The only way I see us moving to mutual understanding and sympathy will as individuals and hopefully small communities that refuse to participate in such a “cultural liturgy.”

 

Books and Culture Interview with Richard Hays

Books and Culture’s recent interview with Richard Hays has been making the rounds. The interview is interesting in itself and covers topics on Hays’s background and some of his academic work.

Hays is one of the better models for theological reading and I found one aspect of the interview illuminating on him as a scholar.

…once I got into biblical studies courses in seminary, I was both fascinated by the subject matter and puzzled by the ways I found a lot of biblical scholars approaching the text: in many cases, they seemed less interested in the wholeness and message of the text than in trying to excavate some hypothetical prehistory of the text.

My response to that has left its stamp on most of my work as a New Testament scholar. I’ve been attempting to interpret the Bible with the sensibility of someone trained as a literary reader of texts and, through that kind of reading, to recover the powerful and surprising messages of Scripture.

Adolf Schlatter on Theological Method

I stumbled across an essay on the theological method of Adolf Schlatter that is instructive to the theological task. One of Schlatter’s overarching points is the need for interpreters to take the proper time to actually observe what is in the text.  Here is one golden quote from Schlatter:

We will continue to see exegetical works appear that show how the author pored over commentaries about the text but left the text unread. We will see dogmatic treatises which reveal that the writer knows his dogmaticians, especially from his own school of thought, but that he has never seriously observed the religious matters that actually come to pass.

This quote is found is one of Schlatter’s points about the challenge of the theological task to integrate the details of the text into faithful construction of the whole, but coheres well with his overall point on observation.

Robert Yarborough has done us a service with his translation and commentary of Schlatter’s method. The entire essay is worth a read.

 

Jason Hood on Michael Bird (Luke Wisley)

At the beginning of June, Jason Hood posted some reflections on what he learned from Michael Bird as his doctoral supervisor. Jason’s post really resonated with me, so I thought I would repost two of his thoughts with my own reflections.

* MASTER your content; being a GENERALIST, a category I learned about from Michael and something to which I still aspire, does not mean slagging off, nor does it mean ignoring one’s responsibility to become a specialist (a requirement for entering the guild). Michael, like Howard Marshall, put stress on “making the primary sources your mistress” (IHM’s phrase).

Besides the incredible phrase ‘make the primary sources your mistress’ this thought really hits home for me. It is incredibly important as a pastor, scholar, or layperson to really know the primary sources. From the pastoral and scholarly side, a lack of knowledge of the primary sources is reflected in preaching and research that is guided by secondary literature rather than the text. Theological education must stress mastering the text (which inevitably means being comfortable with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and letting secondary literature expand your exegetical horizons rather than letting it be the ultimate guide.

* KNOW YOUR PERSONALITY, primarily so that you can be comfortable in your own skin with your own limits and tendencies. Not everyone will take a fancy to you, but you’ll probably enjoy life and work more.

I enjoyed this little note from Jason. It’s one that I need to learn. There is a huge temptation to allow the work you are producing to dictate your worth and value. This is followed by the endless temptation of measuring yourself against all the other research students you meet. I’ve found that giving into these temptations makes one miserable. Know yourself, your gifts, and be as faithful as you can to work hard and develop further. That’s all you can do. So I think Jason is right, if you know yourself you’ll enjoy both life and work more.

I encourage you to read the whole post.

Quote of the Day

Right now I’m doing some research on the nature of wisdom in Solomon’s judgment over the case of the two women claiming the same baby. I came across this great quote from Richard Briggs:

Complaints against the supposition that this is a paradigm of wise judgment have come thick and fast from various quarters, including the rabbis, some feminist critics, and most memorably, Mark Twain. We shall take our cue from Mark Twain, if only because he is generally more fun than most scholars (83).

Richard Briggs, The Virtuous Reader, Baker Academic 2010.

Checking-in

I recently received a very passive rebuke from Matt on not posting on the blog in a long time. Which is strange because Matt is usually anything but passive. He was correct, however, in that I’ve been very absent from the blog. Because of that, I thought I would write a quick update on what is going on.

Since about October I’ve been in Cambridge working away at trying to get my thesis question more precise. I had been flirting for quite a while on the topic of Solomon and wisdom and I think it is finely focused enough. My overall question is how Solomon is characterised in the canon. It means lately that I’ve been spending a lot of time in the 1 Kings narrative trying to figure out what is going on. My conclusion so far is that it is anything but simple. I think there is a real tendency when we read to try and force characters in polar categories (good/bad, etc). This doesn’t appreciate the complexity that a character is represented as.

In other news, I was contracted to write a few dictionary articles (along with many others) for the new Lexham Bible Dictionary for Logos. This was a good experience and I’m happy I did it. But also a lot more distracting than I had anticipated and I am happy that I can concentrate on a few other things now.

Lastly, a paper of mine was accepted for an upcoming conference at Oxford in May. I will be presenting on the role of wisdom in the temple building account in 1 Kings. Now I just need to write it. Which is generally the trickier part.

Happy 70th Birthday Tyndale House

Today marks the 70th year since the house at 36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge was purchased. Being a reader at the house is a huge honour and I am thankful to be a part of the larger vision that Tyndale House has for biblical scholarship and serving the global church. You can read Tyndale’s own post about today here.

Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

Photo from National Geographic

I’ve only recently become aware of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library. It is a fascinating website with some incredible pictures of the scrolls. You can search for the scrolls by site, language, or content. I’d highly encourage you to take a look and practice reading! Be sure to afterwards remember how thankful you are for printed critical editions!

You can see the site here.

Narrative Criticism and North America

Over at Crux Sola, Christopher Skinner has a very intriguing post on narrative criticism research on the Gospels being geographically located mainly in North America or to North Americans who study abroad. Conversely, research in Europe has continued to focus more on historical questions. I think his question is an intriguing one, why are North Americans and Europeans asking different questions?

As I’m at my second UK university, I can verify that generally (but not all) of the research among faculty members is of a historical nature. A correlation I’ve noticed has been that scholars who are doing more narrative critical work tend to be those who are seem to be either be more hermeneutically self-aware or who are interested in reading the Bible as scripture. This isn’t the only factor, but a trend I’ve noticed.

Do you have any thoughts?