I want to ask you to focus your powers of observation on yourself to the best of your abilities (it’d be a good idea to seek the input of trusted friends, too; they often see us for who we are better than we do).
We’ve discussed anger and lust as two emotions which commonly cloud our abilities to see reality for what it really is. Do either of these ever impact you? Do you get so worked up over some issues that you can’t fathom alternatives? Or do you think you’ve worked through all your hangups so that you are no longer biased?
The death of modernism has taught us at least one valuable lesson: whether it’s anger, lust, joy, sorrow, peace, restlessness, apathy, or any other of the host of emotions and mindsets out there, at some level we are all biased.
Because we as people are the ones who “create” knowledge and ideas, there is no such thing as an idea existing independent of some sort of bias(es).
There is likewise no such thing as a purely objective observer – an ideal of the scientific method – because a person by definition sees things subjectively.
Surely things exist outside subjective perception, but for any human to process any thing it must go through an interpretive apparatus: ourselves.
In response, we attempt to understand how our perceptions are being influenced and try to compensate for those influences.
For myself, in addition to anger I can be a fairly melancholy individual, so recognizing that one of my temptations is to look at life in a “glass-half-empty” kind of way is important if I want to try to view life realistically. I also need my friends to correct me when I don’t realize I’m being particularly biased.
N.T. Wright sums this up well from a cultural and individual standpoint concerning how we understand the historical person of Jesus. Whether you’re Christian or not, the principles Wright talks about here are what we are primarily concerned about. This is taken from a lecture given at the C.S. Lewis Institute in 2002:
“In our present swirling mix of cultures, whether you call it late-modernity, postmodernity or what, we have so many different pressures, particularly from the late flowering of secularism…that many people have really no idea now of who Jesus could be because they have no idea of who anybody in history is. There’s a deep ignorance in my culture and I suspect in yours about really who belongs where in history…there’s a sort of sense that ‘back there’ there was George Washington, and Alexander the Great, and Genghis Khan, and Jesus Christ, and Abraham, and Moses, so it’s sort of a morass and people have no idea what’s going on…
“What about the popular religious culture of our day?…there’s all sorts of things about the voyage of religious self-discovery…a sort of neo-Gnosticism, the discovery of ‘who I really am.’ You know, ‘For half of my life I thought I was this sort of person and now I’m discovering the deep truth about who I really am inside.’ There’s a lot of popular psychology tossed around in the middle of all this, but a lot of it is actually deeply Gnostic, like finding the spark of life; of knowledge; of secret, hidden wisdom within myself, and finding that it’s a very exciting thing…Jesus is often called in at this point so that discovering Jesus is sort of a symbol of discovering ‘who I really am,’ and Jesus becomes the patron saint of the voyage of self-discovery…
“It’s a classic projection of a certain problem in 20th Century, not least, American culture. I’ve heard the story again and again and again. My friend Marcus Borg is in print telling his own story this way. He grew up in a little Midwest town in a very conservative Lutheran church, you were taught you had to believe the following 19 things and then you’d be justified by faith and you’d go to heaven, and you had to behave in certain ways, etc., etc. Then you grew up and went to seminary and discovered there was a wider world out there at the same time he discovered source criticism of the Gospels and he hasn’t looked back.
“And Marcus went through a classic pattern of losing his faith and rediscovering it. I know he wouldn’t mind me telling this story because we’re good friends and we laugh about it. It’s the story that so many Americans have gone through. And it’s then a way of rediscovering some sort of faith which isn’t like that faith you had when you were a kid. And Marcus and that whole generation, the one thing they don’t want is to go back to that narrow little world they grew up in. And so they will find anything in the scholarly constructs that they can to prevent them from going back there. They will find more exciting ways of being a Christian, supposedly.
“In fact, this sustains, I believe, a totally illegitimate process of doing history. It conveniently ignores all the sharp edges of Christianity, and actually, though it appears to underwrite a voyage of self-discovery in which the old rules don’t apply, it may well only be hearing the echo of its own voice rather than actually doing anything seriously historically.”