St. Augustine vs. the Fundamentalists

Augustine of Hippo also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Wicked picture, yeah? Augustine was born in 354 and lived to be 75! He is highly honored by The Catholic Church, The Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, The Anglican Communion, Lutheranism, and The Aglipayan Church. He was a very prolific writer and theologists.

Check this out… after a lifetime of living and writing about Christianity, he writes Retractationes (ca. 426-428) or reconsiderations . In this book, he reviews his entire body of written work… and makes corrections.

One of these is the remarkable statement…

“What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian”.

– St. Augustine (Retract., I, xiii, 3)

In other words, Christianity is but a style of the one true religion. It is a mask, a face, one of many secretaries to the president of real spirituality. Some people like to think that Christianity is somehow special, somehow superior than other religions, and this is unfortunate. This is a fundamentalist attitude that hurts Christianity in the long run. Christ never asked for the organization of the Church, instead he warned us to be wary of those seek to use religion in false ways. Have we been diligent in this task?

Christ is well known for being critical of the Pharisees; they focused too much on the rules and politics of the day, and so missed the message of Jesus. They weren’t evil, but they were blind. Therefore we should question dogma and hold fast to the spirit of His life and teachings.

References

Augnet 

What is bias? Part II: More of my biased BS.

My first comment! Thank you! (See original “what is bias” post and comment here.)

If we’re talking about the media then yes, I think, reporters should strive for unbiased reporting. And the distinction between opinion and facts should be emphasized in the public’s consideration of that reporting, more so than it is now. But I don’t mean “bias” in the sense of having a perspective, but I mean it in the negative sense… a perspective that is unfair towards other perspectives. Some dictionaries basically equate “bias” to prejudice. However, I think the connotation is slightly different.

You also bring up an interesting point… “a world where no one had opinions because they were afraid they would appear biased.”  There is a little ambiguity here. Are we talking about the negative or neutral bias? From here on out I will use the word “opinion” to express the neutral bias and “bias” to refer to bias that is unfair, because our use of the word “bias” is problematic and contributes to the confusion.

It’s not wrong to have an opinion (but it can be personally damaging), or even a negative opinion (I don’t like X). The bias, that which is unfair toward other perspectives, is the real issue and even then, it only seems to be problematic in certain situations, but I haven’t found the words to generalize it. Sometimes, an opinion is expressed, but the argument used to push that opinion is spurious or faulty, and so it’s not the bias per se that is at fault even though that’s the accusation that flies.

So, I do think some accusations of bias are unwarranted and that this may have unfairly given rise to a fear of appearing biased. It’s funny because accusations of bias are often used to silence others and therefore the accusation may itself be a form of bias. For example, I’ve heard people say “well, that article (or media outlet or writer or thinker) is biased, so it’s wrong and I don’t have to pay attention to it,” but really they mean “That article doesn’t support my point of view, so I will ignore it.” The fact that someone is expressing an opinion different from you does not automatically mean that the opinion is wrong or poorly supported. An argument ought to be judged on its merits. This kind of personal bias (like the hostile media effect) is not wrong in the same way that media bias is wrong, but I do think this is the danger that having opinions/bias/perspective/ideology present. I believe in freedom of speech and so I believe in the right to hold an opinion, but I also feel that having an opinion creates blind spots that prevent real learning and personal growth. And since democracy needs an informed populace, blind adherence to an opinion is a real problem.

“The world would stagnate!”

I think you are talking about a world where free speech is not possible, and that would definitely prohibit innovation and problem solving. If we eliminate opinions and especially opinions of ideas, then this would surely happen, but what about bias, especially against groups of people? I can’t help but think that if we eliminated bias towards people, it would make war far less common.

It’s funny because I feel the state of politics today is stagnate, and that this is due (at least partially) to society’s current stat of hyper-partisanship and ideological fundamentalism. How many times in the past year, have I heard congress people express the attitude that they’re purposely obstructing the process of democracy as a strategy to make Obama (or the other party) look bad. I also can’t help but wonder how much better voter turnout would be if we had real choices at the polls instead of tweedle dee and tweedle dum. Our bias keeps us divided and encourages us to point the finger at others.

Bias, the unfair kind, occurs when the (media or individual) purposefully discredits or silences valid alternatives to the opinion that the (media or individual) believes to be true. It does this in many ways, but one is through misuse or distortion of real information. I don’t back-check on every little detail or insinuation that makes its way into a news piece, but sometimes I do. After a while, it becomes obvious some media are biased. It’s not just the frequency either; it’s also the magnitude of the distortion from reality. Some media willingly perpetuate myths that are just the complete opposite of reality.

People can be biased too. We shut out that which doesn’t match our idea of the world, because it’s uncomfortable to consider it. But by protecting our ego, we create a barrier that blocks valid opinions and information, and therefore distort ones own reality. Reality is always changing, constantly, but to see it, you must have fresh eyes. You must be able to, once in a while, withhold your judgment and compassionately consider something that is different, or how else will you ever discover something new.

Laying a Brick: what is bias?

(Introducing the category: Laying a Brick. Since bias is a central theme of many of my posts, I thought I should try to layout some background and assumptions I am using, and to create a sounding board for further discussions. These types of posts I consider foundational because they inform the use of the term bias in other posts. and yes, I’m not unfamiliar with the scatological characterization of the bloggosphere.)

This one is a toughie. It’s basically defined as an outlook or perspective that is usually unfair or unreasonable toward opposing perspectives. We all agree that everyone is entitled to their own perspective, but how do we judge whether or not something is unfair? Especially when the judgers may use their own bias to make that decision?

The definition is also open to using the word “bias” without the implication of suppressing alternative perspectives. In that case, it just means preference or holding some value. Therefore, when the word bias is used, there’s the potential for some ambiguity. This is one reason why we must make a distinction between negative bias and neutral bias, personal bias and media bias. Personal bias can be benign or “unfair” depending on the use and context of the word, but when you have media bias, the underlying assumption (which is not always correct) is that it’s the “unfair” kind.

It is arguable that it is impossible to completely remove bias from the news, and therefore the best we can hope for is a diverse market that caters to all sides. (whoa! More on this later.) But does that exonerate the worse case offenders from not even attempting to be impartial? Does the fact that bias is nearly impossible to remove mean that we must adjust our expectations for journalistic ethics? Or can a code of ethics function as a litmus test for revealing unacceptable uses of bias?

Overtly, we agree that negative bias is bad. When a news outlet admits bias, it takes a hit. We have an interesting situation where journalists and news organizations tacitly admit bias, and yet call out other journalists and news organizations for their bias. It appears hypocritical, but maybe this is just part of the theater of opposing biases. Each side does not appear unfairly biased to itself, but each does appear unfairly biased towards one another.

This brings us to another dimension of the bias conundrum, the “hostile media effect.” This is when someone with a strong bias automatically “perceives media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality.”

Even though we think of media bias as wrong, the market appears to the support news organizations despite their perceived biases, or perhaps even because of them. Studies show (see below) show that there is a strong influence of bias in the news market due to the demand of the news buying market. If we suppose that the market is actually open and free, then what does the current state of bias in mainstream news outlets say about the bias of the body politic? And, even more importantly, what does this say about the people?

Conclusions:

The question is not whether there is bias; everyone has bias. The question is whether that bias is unfair or unreasonable in its treatment of alternative perspectives. Unfortunately, it is probably impossible to always objectively determine whether or not a bias is unfair towards others. And chances are, even in the best situations, at least one person may still be entitled to call foul simply. Is it possible to offer an opinion on politics and current events that is universally unbiased? maybe, but I don’t see how. Perceptions of unfair bias are predicated upon the viewer’s bias, the ability to step outside of one’s bias and the individual’s ability to tolerate alternative perspectives.

Finally, I’m left wondering… can the journalistic code of ethics (or some type of methodology) be used with reasonable accuracy to call out bias? Is it something that can only be used with authority by those outside the bias of mainstream society? Finally what can be said about the bias against science? Regardless of the bias that may or may not have prompted it, shouldn’t cases of distortion, misinterpretation or otherwise inappropriate use of science and scientific data be called out and corrected?

References

(In the effort to promote transparency, enlightenment and critical thinking, I feel it is important to document the information I am using.)

The Market for News” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Andrei Shleifer published in the peer reviewed journal American Economic Review is  a study which explores the relationship between demand in the news market and it’s influence on biased news. Although not definitive proof, the study provides strong evidence that the bias present in news media is a product of maximizing profit in the market.   http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/shleifer/files/market_aea.pdf

Another exploration of media bias and supply demand side economics is provided in “Media Bias and Reputation.” [Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro; Journal of Political Economy, 2006, 114(2), pp. 280 – 316. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/499414] Here the authors find that bias occurs as a result of news organizations effort to build a reputation of accuracy with their potential market. Gentzkow has continued this exploration in several subsequent papers. See here: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/busecon/busfac/Gentzkow.html

Apart from this is I used wikipedia and various online dictionaries. Wikipedia is usually a good starting point for getting some background on the issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias