I have fond memories of fall 2008. Having recently earned my PhD, I had just begun my academic career at Westmont College in Southern California. Since it was a presidential election year, I decided to focus my social psychology course on the psychology of political attitudes: how they are formed, how they are maintained, and how they can predict voting behavior. Much like the Westmont faculty, about half of the students in my class were self-described liberals, and about half were self-described conservatives. This ideological diversity made for lively discussions.
At the start of the semester, the whole class—myself included—believed that our particular political viewpoint was the most faithful to Christianity.
“Sure, politics don’t replace faith,” one student admitted. “But, come on, Dr. Cleveland, you have to admit that [my party’s] values best reflect the values of Jesus.” He wasn’t the only one. Many of my students insisted that their political attitudes were informed by an untainted reading of Scripture and unsusceptible to bias—that is, social factors that influence our attitudes beyond our awareness. Social psychologists call this the “bias blind spot.” We can easily point out other people’s biases, but we have a hard time seeing our own.
I wanted to agree with my students; it’s natural for Christians to insist that only our “Jesus bias” informs our political attitudes. To admit that perhaps some other bias has polluted our worldview not only undermines the legitimacy of our Christian worldview; it also challenges the integrity of the faith that we closely associate with our worldview.
But over the semester, as ...1