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Confirmation Bias from Pentecostals


dirwid
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Hello,

 

I just thought I’d share a story from a few years ago. This is a very vivid example of the confirmation bias and general lack of logic used by many Christians. In this case it’s my first-hand experience with Pentecostal Christians so maybe it will be more interesting and different than most of you ex-Christians here are used to. This experience made a sizeable impression on me and later helped point me toward agnosticism.

 

A few years ago (2013?) when I was still a Christian, I was in a Bible study group. Now, the people in this group (including myself) were a dozen or so homeschooled Pentecostal Christian teenagers lead by two of the parents.

 

A smaller subset of this Bible study group would have this special prayer/evangelism time once a week. They would ask God for a person's name, their prayer need(s) (such as a specific part of their body that needs healing), an article of clothing that the person was wearing, where the person was located, and any strange identifying bit of information about the person. Each person praying would pray until God gave them info about several different people to pray for. They would write everything down. After praying, they would actually go out on the streets of our town, supermarkets, and nearby places (wherever God told them to go to find the people on their lists), locate someone who matched the description, and pray for them.

 

Hearing the leaders of this event (the two parents) summarize what happened during these events to the members of the Bible study who didn't go, you'd think God was doing crazy things all over the place, showing them exactly the people to pray for, that they would find people meeting that exact description on the street, that crazy coincidences (God working) would happen, and lives would be miraculously changed after praying for them.

 

But after attending one of these events, in the back of my mind (I tried to push the doubts away for a while) I saw that nothing could be farther from the truth. Extreme amounts of confirmation bias were used (it was like an unquestioned habit) and various excuses were used to explain away things that didn't happen the way they should have. It was unreal. Even though I was still a Christian at the time (though with doubts), I couldn't help notice these things and be uneasy about it. The leaders were clearly confident that it was God working, and being a Christian, I couldn't just accept the obvious, because that isn't acceptable thought. So I went along with them (they were confident, strong, spirit-filled Christians - they must know what they were talking about when they say it was God at work) and I made excuses as well. I felt smart coming up with clever excuses. But I was uneasy and unconfident about everything the whole time. Looking back, everything that was happening and everything I was feeling makes perfect sense. I couldn't admit that 2+2=4. I couldn't honestly confront my doublethink. Indoctrination with religious dogma from a young age does that to a person.

 

Here's what happened during the prayer event I went to so you can get a taste of the insanity:

 

About a dozen of us met at a church to pray. When I prayed, I couldn’t tell the difference between my thoughts and God speaking to me, so I just wrote down a few random names that popped into my head. For the locations where we were supposed to find these people, a store in town came to mind. I also thought of articles of clothing they’d be wearing and things in their lives that needed healing. Lastly, I thought of a few strange things that might have to do with them somehow. For this, I thought of a traffic cone. I was very unsure about the details I had scribbled on my paper, but the leaders comforted everyone by saying that it takes practice to be able to hear God’s voice clearly, so we shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Everyone praying had between 3 and 5 different people they thought of, so this meant 3-5 sets of names/clothing/location/issues/strange for each of the dozen people there.

Next, we split up into groups and headed to town to find the people we were supposedly told by God to pray for.

 

We went to the high school first since there was construction work going on and there were traffic cones sitting around like I got during the prayer time. We speculated on what would happen. Maybe we’d see a construction worker who fit someone’s description and was standing next to a traffic cone? But there was no one there. Our leader explained to us that God doesn’t lie, so what He told me about the traffic cones must have some other explanation that we didn’t know about.

 

Now what we did was mix and match the different sets of information God supposedly gave to us rather than consider them as fixed. For example, if Sally received from God a picture of a middle-aged man named Hank wearing a white shirt who sells propane and propane accessories and needs healing for his Diminished Gluteal Syndrome, they would still consider it a match if we came across a middle-aged man in a white shirt whose name is Bobby (a name someone else in the group came up with) or at least someone related to him is named Bobby, and he has a broken leg (something another person came up with). Now, you can see that there are now hundreds of possible combinations rather than a few dozen. We could rather easily find someone who fit some combination of the different attributes and when we did, we would pray for them and then walk away thinking that God orchestrated the whole thing so that we would meet the right person at the right time. Everyone in our group was so excited about what God was doing when these mundane things happened.

 

One of the other groups found a lady wearing a polka dot shirt like God told them, and they were able to pray for her. The lady apparently broke down in joyful tears afterwards. She had just gone outside the store for a quick break between two shifts when the group found her. They took that as evidence of God’s perfect timing.

 

            Some middle-aged couple we met on the sidewalk checked a couple of the boxes so we asked them if they wanted prayer for anything and they said we could pray for their son Alexander – for safe travels as he came home for Thanksgiving. So we did. Later I told a leader that “Alex” was one of the names that I received while praying. She was really excited. Later the leaders mentioned that to the Bible study folks and said I should remember it as a good faith-building experience.

 

Nothing was mentioned about all the names and attributes that turned out to be false information. Our group was expecting miraculous coincidences, and we got them – by ignoring all the failures.

 

Thanks for reading this. I’ll get around to writing my “ex-tamony” sometime soon and about my recent visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. Hopefully I can get those posted here before the end of the month.

 

Cheers!  

-          Dirwid

 

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Hey dirwid

 

Wow, that is some messed up shit. I too have been involved in stuff like that.

 

I used to be a worship leader in a charismaniac church and it was my job to choose the music on days my team was leading. The pastor always got up to preach after the music saying "Wow, god nailed it" or something--basically commenting on how amazing it was that even though the worship leader didn't choose the music based on the message, or even plan the set with the pastor, it was viewed as an amazing alignment. I never thought it was anything more than coincidental and TBH the music and message never "matched" IMHO. 

 

I guess we see what we want to see!

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I went to a Maranatha meeting once with some friends and they were impressed with the college-age preacher and the "healings" they saw. I was a believer at the time, but even I could see through the bullshit. He was using an old carnival healer trick my mom had showed me years ago. They first ask for anyone who has back issues (there are always a bunch). Stand them up against a wall and he walks up to the first and has them hold their arms straight out in front, palms together. The guy, unknown to the person against the wall, stands slightly to one side, just slightly. "Notice that your fingertips don't meet? That means your back is out of alignment." He has the person lower their arms and then prays in tongues over the person, AND shifts his stance towards the person's middle and has them demonstrate god's healing by showing that the fingertips now match up. Glory! You can do this at your computer, and it doesn't take much of a shift to move the fingertips out of alignment either direction.

 

I demonstrated this to them on myself in a restaurant afterward, speaking in tongues and making an overcorrection first, then normal. They were amazed at first until I showed them how it is done. One still felt that her back felt better. That is the placebo effect, which really does help those who mostly imagine their problems, and to some extent can stop pain in others.

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I like the way the bar is set so low for evidence when the pastors of these churches want control over so many aspects of people's lives and a tithe as well. I think Pentecostals are just a superstitious  bunch with the added bonus that if they convince themselves these stories are true they are then special and have had a Godly experience where nobody else has. I can't add anything from within the church but my favourite example is my dad who was fascinated by "spiritual" happenings in the church, but also had a drink problem. On one occasion he was convinced that something amazing had happened when a senior member of the church had phrased something in a particular way that was supposedly influenced by the Holy Ghost. Later that evening my dad was in a bar when the barman had said the exact same phrase. He relayed this amazing happening to me in with some amazement at how the guy from the church had been able to know what the barman would say (presumably with God's help),  but I was quite cynical and told him so which he seemed to find very frustrating.

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God can seem to do all kind of amazing things when you are biased toward seeing any little thing as evidence, but overlook the obvious BIG things like:

1. Who kidnapped the neighbor's little girl today? Where are they right now almighty all-knowing God? What, you don't give damn about her? Too busy finding people parking spots at Walmart?

2. How about healing this paralyzed man? He fell off a ladder at work, but was not insured, so his family is going to go bankrupt paying bills. Hmm? Why so silent Morning Star?

3. Ok, how about this boy in the children's hospital with leukemia? Not just a remission, a complete healing. Hello Great Physician?

4. Yikes, this lady just lost both legs in a traffic crash from a drunk driver. How about demonstrating your amazing grace and mercy on her and growing her legs back and showing the world you are God? (Is this thing on?)

 

I followed and promoted a preacher who claimed all kinds of outstanding miracles, and was an outstanding story-teller. I also promoted a woman who works in Mozambique and claims similar miracles. For 9 years I battled critics and scoffers, until one day when I caught him making up a very long and involved tale about witches coming to a service to challenge God, but had video of the service and NONE of it happened. I also heard enough about the lady to show that with enough naivety and confirmation bias, one can see miracles where there are none. I remembered then how people in cults ignore reality in favor of getting close to the central person in the cult. That is why so few ever come out, they are too busy playing a game that coddles their emotions and vanity.

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59 minutes ago, Fuego said:

Too busy finding people parking spots at Walmart?

 

Mrs. MOHO, and her shadow, (I know, there I go with wiffey stuff again, - but she IS the closest fundy to me and very handy when it comes to examples) actually BELIEVE that god will find them parking spots but does not give fly'n fuck about the kids dying of bone cancer at the local hospital.

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17 minutes ago, MOHO said:

 

Mrs. MOHO, and her shadow, (I know, there I go with wiffey stuff again, - but she IS the closest fundy to me and very handy when it comes to examples) actually BELIEVE that god will find them parking spots but does not give fly'n fuck about the kids dying of bone cancer at the local hospital.

 

Ha, I used to hear that one quite often. "God saved us a parking space". Sometimes he even saves parking spaces at the hospital car park, but still can't be bothered to heal people in the hospital. Talk about working in mysterious ways.

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2 hours ago, MOHO said:

 

Mrs. MOHO, and her shadow, (I know, there I go with wiffey stuff again, - but she IS the closest fundy to me and very handy when it comes to examples) actually BELIEVE that god will find them parking spots but does not give fly'n fuck about the kids dying of bone cancer at the local hospital.

 

Do you believe it is appropriate to frequently and anonymously rag on your spouse on an internet forum?

 

Have you considered whether the more appropriate space to speak about it is with a therapist?

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Obtaining the closest parking space to a business/destination is my personal "super power".  My hunch is that it is really due to my observational abilities.  But, it is much more fun to recognize it as a "super power".

 

Has to be among the most pathetic super powers out there.  But, I am "stuck" with it.

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11 hours ago, sdelsolray said:

 

Do you believe it is appropriate to frequently and anonymously rag on your spouse on an internet forum?

 

Have you considered whether the more appropriate space to speak about it is with a therapist?

 

This is the RANTS section where MOHO is free to rant about his wife, as frequently or infrequently as he wants.   Additionally, other members, particularly those of the Unequally Yoked Club, benefit from his sharing his experience.     

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11 hours ago, sdelsolray said:

 

Do you believe it is appropriate to frequently and anonymously rag on your spouse on an internet forum?

 

Have you considered whether the more appropriate space to speak about it is with a therapist?

This is an anonymous forum.  People come hear for many reasons.  A central one is in order to obtain a sympathetic group of people who will listen without too much judgment.

MOHO, carry on as usual.  Don't shut down one bit.  We are here for you always.

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15 hours ago, MikeT said:

 

Ha, I used to hear that one quite often. "God saved us a parking space". Sometimes he even saves parking spaces at the hospital car park, but still can't be bothered to heal people in the hospital. Talk about working in mysterious ways.

 

Yeah, that attitude always floored me, as well.

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13 hours ago, sdelsolray said:

 

Do you believe it is appropriate to frequently and anonymously rag on your spouse on an internet forum?

 

Have you considered whether the more appropriate space to speak about it is with a therapist?

 

You make a good point,  @sdelsolray.

 

The only thing complaining does is make it clear that the complainer does not have a handle on the situation. 

 

Thanx for the feedback.

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Thank you for the support, @ConsiderTheSource and @buffettphan

 

Unless you experience it first hand I'm not sure one could appreciate the full impact of being unequally yoked.

 

Apologies for taking your post on a different path, @dirwid.

It'll probably never happen again. :P

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On 2017-08-23 at 3:53 PM, MikeT said:

I think Pentecostals are just a superstitious bunch with the added bonus that if they convince themselves these stories are true they are then special and have had a Godly experience where nobody else has...

 

So true!!!!! I was saying this even in my last years as a believer. My then in-laws are sooo superstitious, afraid that a word spoken will "speak it into being" so they recant under their breath. Being around them is almost like being on a psych ward. 

 

On 2017-08-23 at 4:36 PM, Fuego said:

I followed and promoted a preacher who claimed all kinds of outstanding miracles...

LMAO! I did too! The dude was involved in a small charismaniac church and called himself a prophet. :ugh:

 

I bought his line for a few months. He was very perceptive and actually did (I believe) heal a flu I had picked up. But he was a charlatan all the way. He duped many people. 

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