Confirmation bias

Sarah Ventura

Raise a hand if adolescence was awkward for you.

Maybe you grew 12 inches overnight, sported acne that rivaled the Andes or lost your ability to speak coherently to the opposite sex.

For me, the hormones hit hard in about 7th grade and produced diary entries like this:

"Today I tried to pluck my eyebrows in the car. I kept messing up, and now they're too thin. School pictures are next week, I hope they grow back in time!" (They didn't.)

The worst part of my adolescence was that I switched from being minimally aware of how I looked to being hyper self-conscious. I trained myself to yawn with my mouth shut because I thought yawning made my face look ugly. I constantly sucked in my stomach to look skinnier. (Fact: it’s impossible to breath deeply with your stomach sucked in. I don’t know how I survived for so long on so little oxygen.)

I was afraid that my appearance was inadequate, and that fear drove me to search for flaws in my reflection and in pictures. My belief shaped the way I saw myself.

Psychologists call this phenomenon confirmation bias.

It’s the tendency we have to search for and interpret information in a way that confirms our already held beliefs. It happens in relationships, when we ignore signs that a person is cheating on us and only focus on the fact that they still say “I love you.” It happens in research, when we write a paper and only look for sources that agree with our argument.

And it happens in religion, when we hear that the pope is coming and believe it confirms that the Sunday laws will be in effect by Christmas.

It’s true that Pope Francis is coming to America. He’ll be addressing Congress on September 24th, and he’ll be the first pontiff to ever do so.

It’s also true that 30% of our Congress is Catholic, and therefore many of them hold the pope in high regard. Those two facts by themselves can seem to easily support a belief that the Sunday laws are right around the corner and that we as a church will soon be persecuted.

However, if we look at the issues Pope Francis actually seems to be concerned with, I think we’ll find that enforcing a Sunday law is probably not high on the list.

High on the list are topics such as immigration, capitalism and poverty and climate change.

Immigration: “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization.” Pope Francis said this in 2014 regarding the massive influx of unaccompanied minors illegally immigrating across the border of Mexico to America, and with the current crisis in Syria this is sure to be an issue.

Capitalism and poverty: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” The pope is not shy in urging world leaders to act against poverty not only through charity but through changing our broken economic systems.

Climate change: “The [global] warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world.” Pope Francis agrees that climate change is a reality and has been calling it a moral responsibility for Christians to take better care of the planet.

I’ve heard too many people cite the pope’s coming as definite sign of the end times. The problem is that people have been finding definite signs of the end times for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and this only produces disappointment and anxiety.

The Adventist message says that Jesus is coming soon. It also upholds the Bible as the highest standard, which says in 2nd Peter that “for the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and one thousand years is like a day.” Two verses later, it say that Jesus will come “like a thief in the night.”

We will not expect the end times or the implementation of Sunday laws, so let’s stop searching for signs that it’s upon us. Instead of demonizing Pope Francis, let’s try listening to him. We might actually find that we agree with him.

Sarah is a senior studying english.