Bias or Confirmation Bias

I love horror movies.  Demons, Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts I love them all.  I love the supernatural.  I love Supernatural on the CW.  I’m also an atheist.  Just because I don’t believe in something, does not mean it can’t be scary.  The funny thing is every now and then, I’m a bad guy in movies.

I watched two movies recently The Rite (with Anthony Hopkins) and The Black Death (with Sean Bean).  If you haven’t watched these, the Rite is about exorcisms and the Black Death takes place during the Bubonic Plague.  In The Rite, there is a priest (or seminary student) who doesn’t really believe in God, he is sent to Anthony Hopkins (who is this great exorcist) in order to give him some faith.  My favorite line is delivered when Sir Hopkins is talking to this agnostic priest who wants more evidence and says, “The problem with you skeptics is you’re always looking for more evidence.  But what would you do if you found some?”  To which the kid said nothing (like any good fictional atheist), but to which I responded, “Well, then I’d revise my earlier hypothesis to incorporate this new data.  Either completely rejecting my original ideas or modifying them if they are compatible.  Like any good scientist. Or, rational human.”  At the end the agnostic priest doesn’t completely turn 180 and become a full believer (which is good), but we’re left more with the impression that he’s on the right path (back to believing of course).

That’s just a movie poking at my beliefs a little.  The Black Death actually has a village where “God is not present” and must be cleansed.  You see the Plague has hit everywhere, and there is this village where there is no plague.  Instead of saying, “let’s go see what they’re doing right!” it’s “There must be witchcraft!”  Turns out there is this woman who is the leader of the town (also bad that a woman is leader) and she captures these holy warriors and tries to get them to renounce God.  By torturing them, of course.  But as her village was trying to get these guys to say, “There is no God.” I said, “But that’s what I believe.”  These were the atheists who were more militant than Christopher Hitchens.   I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after watching that film.

I felt persecuted.

I was being stupid.  Fortunately, by the next day I realized that no one in that film actually comes off good.  One of the Christian Warriors actually brought the plague to the village to “bring god’s vengeance to them”.  And the young naïve priest ends up becoming a torturer, going after women he thinks are evil, in a search for the woman who escaped.  The story was more that humans in general were bad and, honestly, that fervent belief is more harmful than anything.

I thought about that persecution belief again because Jon Stewart recently had a nice conversation with Fox News’s Chris Wallace (part1 and 2).  People on Fox News (according to Jon Stewart) believe that conservatives are being persecuted.  Christians also have this belief.  And that belief is strong.  Why?  I think it’s confirmation bias.  You see, I’m an atheist and I’m part of a pretty small minority (especially when you include that I’m Hispanic).   So when I see atheists being portrayed on TV, it stands out to me.  Of course, people really don’t trust atheists.  People would be more willing to elect a Muslim, Hispanic or Homosexual than an Atheist.  So I’m in a group that could actually claim to be persecuted.  The good thing is that I’m not part of any groups.  If I were, I might feel more persecuted.  We’d share stories of times we felt persecuted, we’d share links to stories of persecution, we’d listen to podcasts about how religion is trying to hold us down, etc, etc.

This is what Fox news does for conservatives and Christians.  It reinforces their beliefs, giving them multiple instances of “confirmation” that they’re right.  But that’s out of context, because there is no context.  When you talk about 1 nativity display that is taken down, what are the numbers that actually exist across the country.  Is this one nativity scene out of tens, hundreds, thousands?  That matters if you’re actually trying to claim persecution.  By only showing scenes of conservatives having their talking points disagreed with, and not the other times when liberals are disagreed with, you create a false sense of persecution.

So to my atheist persecution (I probably can’t get elected president, and the Constitution of Texas forbids me from holding any state office – Article 1, sec. 4) it was just that I’m primed to notice it, because I’m one of them.  Just like Christians get offended by South Park, though they are equally hard on Jews, Muslims, and have you SEEN them make fun of Mormons and Scientologists!

There is real persecution out there.  There are places where people get killed for being the wrong religion.  Places where people vandalize your business or homes because of who you are.  That’s real persecution.  Liberal Bias and anti-Christian sentiment in the U.S. is probably a lot less than you think.  Count how many people you can name in the media who share the same belief as you, then try to see how many famous atheists you can name.  (I’ve thought about doing an Adam Sandler Hanukah type song about it, but I really only know a handful – and that’s ‘cause I’m looking) The next time as an American you think you’re feeling persecuted and someone isn’t actively trying to enact a law specifically aimed at you and something you do (marriage amendments anyone?), you might want to reconsider your belief.

j.r.

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