Why Christians can't avoid Jesus goggles

Our brains can save us a lot of time by filling in information we expect to see anyway. But sometimes, this process backfires.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I’ve been baking for many years. For almost two years, I’ve maintained a sourdough starter, affectionately nicknamed “Beast” and acquired shortly before the pandemic. My Beast helps me bake bread a few times a week.

But sometimes, I like to make other stuff.

I found a cute recipe for breakfast cookies the other day. It was short, sweet, and simple. My old recipe was complicated and involved a bazillion ingredients that I’d had to substitute in places. I don’t like doing that for baking recipes, so I’d been shopping around for a better one. This one looked like it would fit the bill. (I subbed dried cranberries for the dates and almond butter for the peanut butter).

Of course, I read the recipe before beginning. I prepped my ingredients. Then and only then, I proceeded.

But my mind had glossed right over a very important phrase in the first direction:

In a food processor, combine oats and dates and pulse until combined into a chunky mixture, approximately 10 pulses.

Somehow, my mind translated “food processor” to “standing mixer.”

I mean, yes, I thought it was weird that the recipe writer had directed me to pulse a standing mixer with just oats and dates in it. That was exceedingly weird. I mean, I did it, but it was weird. It didn’t do much for either ingredient.

Then, I did the rest as directed—still in the standing mixer—and baked my cookies.

Internet old-timers probably already know what almost happened next.


The baking mistake that almost set my house on fire

The only grain in these cookies was oats. But these were whole rolled oats, like the kind people use in oatmeal. They didn’t do much to absorb the oil in the almond butter.

So soon enough in the heat of the oven, that oil began to separate, and drain out of the cookies.

While this happened, I sat at my computer feeling all happy about having successfully pulled off a new recipe. Then, very gradually, I began to slowly think about that oil, and what might happen on that rimless cookie sheet.

Cue me scrambling like a madwoman to the kitchen to grab the pan out of the oven.

I was just in time. The silicone mat under the cookies was pooling almond oil. It had reached the edges of the pan and was about to drip onto my oven element.

The cookies were finished baking, thankfully, so I just put them on the drying rack. The finished product looked absolutely nothing like the photo on the recipe, but they taste just fine—delicious, in fact.

No harm came to any writers or oven gadgets as a result of my misread of the recipe. But it got me thinking.

Post-mortem of a baking disaster

Afterward, I re-read the recipe to see where I’d gone wrong. I’d very clearly gone very wrong, after all. Had it called for flour and I’d somehow missed it?

No. Now that I knew I’d made a big mistake somewhere, I was finally reading for comprehension. And I immediately spotted the problem.

I had been told to use a food processor to slice the oats and fruit together to make a paste.

But I’d missed that phrase.

I’d glossed over those words because they weren’t what I expected to see. My mind simply substituted what I’d expected to see instead. To me, cookies mean using a standing mixer, not a food processor.

The mistake I made is a very, very easy one to make. Our brains gloss over and fill in information for us all the time. The more confident we are about something, the easier it is for us to make this mistake.

It’s also a very common mistake, one we see all the time in Christians who seem curiously unaware of the stuff in their own Bibles.

I’m not sure what this phenomenon is called in baking. But in Christians, a lot of folks call this mistake “Jesus goggles.”

Jesus goggles: The stuff I didn’t even know I’d read

A lot of Christians read the Bible with a heavy mental filter in place that keeps them from noticing stuff that’s really disturbing or faith-challenging.

That was definitely me when I was Christian. Back then, I didn’t know a quarter of the stuff I know now about the contents of the Bible, even though I’d read it cover to cover.

How bad was my reading comprehension? This bad:

I heard the story of “The Road to Emmaus” without fail every Easter when I was Christian. It’s the extremely weird story of a newly-resurrected Jesus walking with some of his followers on a country road while faking them out by not looking remotely like Jesus.

It wasn’t till I deconverted that I really understood the full WTF-ery of this story. But I’d literally read every word of it at least once a year and listened to countless sermons about it from pastors and priests who, theoretically, had an education in this stuff. I’d just glossed over the weirdness, like everyone around me.

And most non-Christians who tangle with Christians regularly know very well that Christians tend not to comprehend the truly awful things Jesus said and did in the Gospels. They’re right there. They’re right on the page in black and red ink. But Christians’ eyes gloss over them.

That awful stuff doesn’t fit their mental image of Jesus as the ultimate good guy. And so their goggles filter that information like mine did with the food-processor instructions in that recipe.

Defeating our goggles

Our brains make a huge number of decisions every second. They’ve evolved all kinds of time-saving measures to lessen the amount of work required. That said, sometimes we really need all of our neurons to be on board and firing.

There are ways we can force our brains to stop filling in information, especially information that might conflict with what we already think or believe.

  • Reading stuff aloud
  • Summarizing the material
  • Asking questions of it
  • Figuring out where it doesn’t apply or work
  • Engaging with criticism of it (if applicable)

Not every technique works for all the material we encounter, of course. Still, if we do what we can then we’ll be on our way to defeating the time-saving stuff our brains try to do — and removing the goggles that filter out information we actually need.

Removing the Jesus goggles

For example, had I read the cookie recipe out loud, I might have jarred myself into realizing I’d said “food processor” instead of “standing mixer.”

Similarly, had I read aloud and summarized “The Road to Emmaus,” I might have noticed the extremely off-putting aspects of the story—Jesus’ refusal to identify himself to his own followers, their strange inability to recognize the man they’d followed in person for ages, all those coy conjob-sounding questions he asked about the recent kerfuffle in Jerusalem, his request for fish, etc.

Those details are weird, but they’d always been presented to me in the context of the overall Easter story. Removing them from that context might have helped me a lot to understand just how very un-Jesus-y the whole story really is.

Back then, asking questions of what I read could have helped me as well. Consider the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. The whole reason Jesus’ parents trekked to Jerusalem, we are told, is that Joseph needed to go there to register for a census.

When I was a Christian, I didn’t know about any of the serious historical problems with this text. I didn’t know that the stories gave nonsensical dates for the census, nor that no census would have required anyone to schlep through a long journey to another city that hadn’t been his home in years, much less drag along a vastly-pregnant wife. I just read the story and went Yes, certainly, this makes complete sense. It didn’t even occur to me to ask any questions about what I’d read.

My Jesus goggles fell off after I deconverted. Suddenly, I marveled at all this stuff in the Bible that I’d never even seen.

Awakening in a world that wants us asleep

In so many ways, critical thinking skills are more necessary now than they’ve ever been. And yet, it feels like way too many people regard those skills with animosity and suspicion.

The other day, I watched an old James Randi video (it was part of this very good video). He appeared on a lot of talk shows way back when. In this particular appearance, he debunked a con artist pretending to be a psychic of some kind. In response to learning that the psychic was a complete fraud and faker, the talk show host got upset! He talked over Randi, interrupting and insulting him extensively, and finally threw him off his show. And his audience only cheered him on for doing it.

That incident occurred years ago. But not much has changed. Debunk someone’s woo, and the woo-believers inevitably get tetchy. They want to keep their goggles on!

But I want to believe only in things that are objectively true and real, rather than buying into comforting lies that enrich others at my expense. I’d rather learn and grow, even if that growth results in some mad dashes to the oven and some dings to my baking pride (or lost faith in that-what-ain’t-true-anyway and all the crow I ate after deconversion), than continue to be wrong about anything.

We’re going to be wrong sometimes, no matter how good we get at baking. And that’s okay.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...