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1 Corinthians 1:10; 2:16
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose.”
“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
I come from Big Ten country where football competes with religion in the hearts of many. I’m a bit unusual in that my beloved Northwestern Wildcats set the rhythms for my fall Saturdays. Thank goodness for the DVR which allows me to juggle the game with the demands of church, family, and work. But I can’t go to bed on Saturday evening without completing the day’s game.
Pat Fitzgerald may not be a regular in the College Playoff, but he does everything right. He recruits true student athletes with integrity that makes every purple-clad alum proud. His teams play hard and the right way. NU football alums succeed on the field and off.
For all that is good in the Wildcats, it is quite the opposite for Michigan and Ohio State. They represent all that is bad about college football and stretch the irony of the student athlete concept to the brink of ridiculousness. Their coaches lack integrity caring only about dollars and wins. They let their athletes get away with all sorts of things that would never happen at Northwestern. More of their alums succeed on the field, but not enough succeed off it.
What I’ve just detailed here is what psychologists call motivated reasoning; it’s precisely how our minds work. My team can do no wrong, but the other team… well, the blind squirrel rarely finds a nut. My ‘Cats can do no wrong; the Wolverines and Buckeyes rarely do anything right.
View and Reflect:
Dozens of cognitive biases motivate how we process information and think. Visit The Decision Lab’s resource on Biases and click on a some of biases from each of the four categories (ambiguity, info overload, speed, and memory). Identify a few that you see motivating the way you reason. [My experience resonated with the negativity bias and the self-serving bias.]
Anybody who has attended a church board meeting — or really any church meeting — knows that humans are not purely rational creatures. Consider how we answer questions regarding the best way to spend the church’s money, or which ministries to prioritize, or how to redecorate the youth room. None of those decisions are reasoned calculations driven solely by objective analysis. In fact, we are fully capable of making decisions that are not in the church’s best interests.
Psychologists understand that human cognition is complex with different processes at play in how we think and make decisions. We can be rational, but our thinking is impacted by emotion, self-interest, our identity both as individuals and within a group, and even unconscious biases.
Why is this? Think of supply and demand. To invest the amount of time and mental energy necessary to weigh all the evidence rationally for every decision is not possible. Our brains cannot manage all the information that our senses receive, let alone acquire all the information necessary to make rational decisions. To cope, our minds develop shortcuts, or heuristics, to speed up the thinking process and determine what we remember and what we can forget.
Those heuristics can be good, bad, or indifferent, but they are never purely rational. They are often emotional, swayed by our values and beliefs, and they almost always prioritize our own perspective and experience over that of others. As a result, our reasoning is motivated by a host of irrational factors. Among cognitive biases, the best known is the confirmation bias which favors our own beliefs, experiences, and identity.
While I’m reluctant to admit it, bias explains much of my justification around the Wildcats superiority. But our true religion is not sports; it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How then does the idea that our reasoning is motivated impact how we understand Paul’s exhortations that we be in the same mind and that we have the mind of Christ?
Pause and Reflect:
Two related biases are in-group favoritism and out-group bias. We favor our own social groups, and we have a negative bias against outside groups. Researchers say these biases are very difficult to unravel. Reflect on that which currently divides the church. Prayerfully consider how our unity in Christ and Paul’s exhortation that we be in the same mind might alleviate our division.
A Humble Pursuit of Christ-like Minds
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church that is divided and struggling with elitist attitudes and dissension. Like today, it is a church divided.
Paul’s antidote for the church in Corinth is the cross and Christ crucified. As New Testament scholar, Alexandra Brown has noted, it is Paul’s “habit wherever he mentions the cross to link it with the terminology of seeing, knowing, change of mind, transformation.” For Paul, Christ crucified is the key to both alignment of our minds with Christ’s and unity within Christ’s body.
Remember why Christ was crucified. To forgive our sins. Paul describes in Romans 6 how we are enslaved by sin. It enslaves us body and mind. The psychological research on cognitive biases and motivated reasoning describes the mental equipment that is both necessary for us to function but also enables of a wide range of sinful thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive biases lead to the sins that the church in Corinth struggled with — elitism around our own perspective and dissension with those who do not see it as we do. Our biases prevent us from being of the same mind or having the mind of Christ.
Consider with me what we can do to have the mind of Christ and to be a church united in the same mind? First, humility is a key antidote to a number of biases (such as political partisanship). Scientists can provide us with empirically informed ways that promote humility (here are a few suggestions and a robust intervention).
Second, like Paul, we can “decide to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” If Christ crucified becomes our prevailing motivation, perhaps over time our biases might become less worldly and self-centered and more Christ-like. But to have the mind of Christ requires a diligent humility to ensure that our biases don’t re-enslave us. Otherwise, we risk conflating the mind of Christ with our own biases and failing to love our out-group neighbors as ourselves.
Because, truth be told, as painful as it is to admit it, God wants us to love the Wolverines and Buckeyes just as much as we should all love those wonderful Wildcats.