Friday, 23 November 2012

Reality Has A Well-Known Liberal Bias

The title of this post comes from (the brilliant comedian) Stephen Colbert.  For those who may not be familiar with the quote, it's something he said, back in 2006, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.  In speaking about President George W. Bush, Colbert remarked as follows...

"Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating.  But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls.  We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality.  And reality has a well-known liberal bias."

As with much of Colbert's work, the genius of this comment lies in how closely it aligns with the way conservatives actually see "reality".  For example, growing up, I was told repeatedly that the media has a "liberal bias".  It's something I still hear Christians say routinely today.  Heck, maybe the media does have a liberal bias.  Certainly it *could* be true, at least in theory, that people drawn to careers in journalism tend to lean to the left end of the political spectrum (or perhaps they move to the left over time).  It would be interesting to see some hard research on that issue.  At the same time, I do find it suspicious that many of these same people, who claim the media has a liberal bias, are unwilling to admit that Fox News has a conservative bias.  In their minds, Fox just tells it like it is.

Having said that, by way of setup, allow me to switch gears a little.  I've managed, thus far, to stay completely away from politics on this website.  I don't intend to change that now.  What I'd like to do instead, in what follows, is apply and discuss this concept in the context of "liberal" vs. "conservative" Christianity.  I've been thinking a lot lately about the differences between conservative and liberal versions of faith, and how they compare and contrast to my current atheism.  Could it be the case that, when it comes to Christianity, the truth (or "reality") has a liberal bias?  To put it a different way, are liberal Christians closer to the truth than conservative ones?  This might seem like an odd thing, for an atheist like me to be pondering on, but so be it.

Being that I grew up in a strongly evangelical household, liberal Christians have always been something of an enigma.  While I was a Christian, I pretty much just thought they were guilty of not taking the Bible seriously enough.  Incidentally, this is still essentially how a lot of conservative Christians view liberal believers.  Now that I've done more research, on the Bible itself, I can see that, at least in certain select cases, liberal Christianity is (surprisingly) the result of taking the Bible more seriously.  I think Thom Stark does an excellent job, of making this case, in his book "The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It)".  Who would ever want to say, with a straight face, that Stark doesn't take the Bible "seriously"?  (Only people who haven't read the book.)  In my estimation, Stark understands the salient issues much better, than even many of his fellow scholars do, and his so called "liberal" theological views clearly stem directly from that deep familiarity.  By this same logic, one could easily (and, I think, fairly effectively) argue that conservative Christianity is often connected to a poor understanding of the problems inherent to the Biblical texts themselves (among other things).

So, that said, my answer to the aforementioned question, would be "yes".  The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that liberal Christians are indeed closer to the truth, about Christianity itself, than are conservative ones.  When I read Mark Driscoll I agree with very little of what he has to say.  When I read Rob Bell I agree with much more.  And when I read Thom Stark I agree with more still.  In other words, on a sliding scale of conservative vs. liberal, the extent to which I agree with Christian writers is positively correlated with their level of liberalism.

After I came to this realization, I began to actively seek out lines of evidence that would counter my conclusion.  Being as I'm now keenly aware of confirmation bias, I never again want to fall into the all too common trap of believing something to be true primarily because I would prefer it to be true.  I want my opinions to line up with empirical facts about the nature of reality, wherever and whenever possible.  And in those instances where such evidence cannot or has not been obtained, for whatever reason, I am personally committed to holding those particular opinions with a much larger grain of salt.

While I was still thinking on all of this I ran into a piece, over at Debunking Christianity, that would seem, at least on the face of it, to provide empirical evidence in support of my prior conclusions. The article was about two University professors, that I had never heard of before (Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne) and the stir they have created recently at Lincoln Christian University. Frankly, I have little interest in the finer details of their story, but the long and the short of it is they have apparently endorsed views that just weren't conservative enough to keep them out of trouble. Now, if you've been paying close attention, you may feel (as I did) that you've heard this all before. Why is it, I wondered, that University professors, and other eminent Bible scholars, keep getting themselves into so much hot water?  Didn't something similar happen to Mike Licona? And Peter Enns?  And now Christopher Rollston?  I realize that all of these incidents involve different Biblical issues, and I don't intend to obscure the numerous and important distinctions between the various cases.  But, in taking a step back, to look at the broader picture, I can't help but notice that there is a much larger point to be made here.  Namely, there is a trend toward liberalism, among Universities that pursue the best scholars to teach for them.  You might say that those Christian Universities, who want to attract the brightest, are playing with fire, if they also desire to remain acceptably conservative theologically speaking (perhaps within certain predetermined boundaries).

But the deeper question is why might such a trend, toward liberalism, exist in the first place?  I believe it's because the truth *about Christianity* has a liberal bias.  Loftus puts it this way, employing his usual combative style (but making an excellent point)...

"This is the trend folks, toward liberalism.  IT DOES NOT WORK IN REVERSE.  You never see a liberal college gradually become a conservative one.  It only happens by firings or starting new colleges.  The gradual trend over time is towards liberalism, which takes place naturally as scholars interact with other scholars.  Kick against the goads all you want to.  It's the trend.  The only way to stay conservative is to cut yourself off from the wider scholarship at large.  But then you'll just be talking to yourselves and be ignored by others.  Scholars cannot allow themselves to do this and still be recognized as scholars.  They must interact with the wider scholarly community.  So the choice is to either have scholars and risk upsetting your constituents thereby being forced to fire them, or basically be culturally irrelevant as a University.  But what University worthy of the name can stand for that?  None should."

It could also be noted that this makes sense of the fact that many formerly Christian Universities have become, over a long period of time, essentially secular institutions.  I suspect a move to the left happens quite organically, because that's where the evidence leads.  I still remember how surprised I was, as a teenager, when I found out that some of America's top Universities were initially founded as Christian institutions.  Think Yale or Harvard.  At the time it made me sad, because I thought they were straying from "the truth".  Looking back, I wonder why it never occurred to me that the exact opposite might be the case.  Maybe they strayed from their Christian roots because of their commitment to the truth.  It's funny how time & education can change your perspective on things.

Had I encountered the above information, while still a Christian, I probably would have either: a) denied it, b) brushed it off, or c) blamed it on the devil (and/or man's sinful nature).  After all, the Bible says that Satan is the "prince of the power of the air".  In other words, he supposedly controls a lot of things (and people) here on planet Earth.  Most unbelievers don't mean to help out the devil, they just don't realize that Jesus said "he who is not with me is against me".  Poor suckers.  They're in Satan's service and they don't even realize it.  One of my favorite Bible verses also used to be 1 Corinthians 1:25, which says, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom...".  This struck me as profound, back then, even though it's really just saying that a god, assuming one exists in the first place, would naturally be smarter than us people are (seems kind of obvious now).

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  If you're a conservative (aka committed evangelical) Christian, I sincerely hope you won't make the same mistakes that I did.  I made them for 25 long years.  Please consider alternative viewpoints honestly and fully.  I might recommend starting with Stark's book.

At this point, you might be wondering why I consider myself an atheist, instead of a liberal Christian.  After all, I've said nary a critical word about them here.  It's a good question, and one that I'll endeavor to answer in my next post.


  1. Man, what a great post. Sorry I'm so late reading it, but this was great. And I'd never heard of Stark's book, but I'm probably going to pick up the Kindle edition after reading your post. Thanks for turning me onto it, and I'm looking forward to your next post!

    1. Thanks so much Nate! And, yes, Stark's book is awesome. My next post should be up within the week.

  2. Somewhere it is said there will be people searching for truth but never being able to find it. I believe this to be true if one will realize that the truth lies in the spiritual side and not in the material side. There is a promise that says GOD will provide all your daily bread if you will trust and obey Him. So, in short how many can say they fully trust and obey GOD? His son, Yeshuah, has shown the way and those who belived in Him know the truth, But when Christ was before Pilate, Pilate challenged Christ by saying, asking, "what is truth?" This indicates that truth in Pilate's mind was a material thing which can only be obtained through works. However, by work's no man can be justified.