Hearts Reconstructed (339)

What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies
– attributed to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

Oh boy, can our minds justify what our will chooses so we can get our heart’s desire! If that’s not self-evident by observing your own life and the lives of those around you, then I humbly suggest you’re not paying attention. Sin is the only tenet of the Christian faith that’s provable through basic human observation. It’s also being increasingly verified through social science. Social Scientists, however, don’t call it sin. They’ll often refer to it as a bias we humans have. And they can’t say for sure whether such bias is innate or culturally-conditioned. Either way, such biases are present in all of us.

Take, for example, something called Social Desirability Bias. In his book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses aggregated data from Google searches to get past this bias. You see, in research done through surveys, even anonymous ones, we’ll lie when we answer questions. We’ll over-report that we engage in behavior our culture deems good and we’ll under-report our behavior that we think society frowns upon. But Google searches show what we really search for, revealing our true behavior and heart’s desire. Anglican moral theology just calls this concupiscence.

Then there’s Choice Supportive Bias, which I suffer from in the extreme. I’m loathe to admit I was wrong after I choose something. This bias is the tendency to justify a choice we make even after it’s patently obvious (maybe except to ourselves) that it was a poor choice. So, that shirt I bought turns out to not fit well at all and is ugly as can be. But I’m still going to wear it, downplaying its poor fit and ugliness, because I don’t want to admit I chose poorly. Over time, I’ll actually convince myself the shirt fits like a dream and is stylistically impeccable. Social Scientists call this a type of cognitive bias. The Christian tradition just calls it the sin of pride.

And then there’s Confirmation Bias where we only interpret, favor, or recall information that supports our already held conviction. Contrary to what we may think, such a bias isn’t a recent phenomenon caused by social media. We humans have suffered from this since our creation. Social Scientists have just now documented it as a universal bias we have. Our prejudices are like rats and our minds are like traps. Once they get in there, it’s hard to get them out. That’s why racism is such a powerful force. Once it becomes a mental construct, it’s continually reinforced in our racist mind. That’s why it’s rightly called “America’s Original Sin.”

Our biases simply betray the truth about ourselves. We might think our minds direct our wills, but they don’t. Our minds are captive to what our will wants, and our will itself is then held captive by what our heart desires. The spiritual medicine for this are hearts reconstructed by God’s grace where our hearts, marinated in such grace, learn to will virtues like love, compassion, and mercy. Only then do our minds begin to change.



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