Archbishop Justin Welby is suffering from a terminal case of confirmation bias


It is the mother of all misconceptions and the father of all fallacies. It is incurable and infectious. Cognitive scientists could well refer to this dreaded disease by calling it cognitive cancer or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome of the mind. Instead, they refer to it by the rather innoxious label of confirmation bias.

This is just as well, since the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chief Custodian of 80 million Anglican souls is suffering from a terminal case of this degenerative pathosis as he let slip an interview with Justin Brierley on Premier Radio last week.

“In my own prayer life, and as part of my daily discipline I pray in tongues every day—not as an occasional thing, but as part of daily prayer,” Justin the oil-wallah told Justin the journalist. “Part of my daily prayer discipline is expecting to hear from God through people with words of knowledge or prophecies,” the Archbishop added.

The half-hour parley was a masterstroke in massaging the wobbly allegiances of evangelical and charismatic Christians in the Church of England about to make for lifeboats as their Titanic sinks after an almighty bonk against the LGBTI iceberg.

“Look at me, I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, I bring Christians together, I speak in tongues, I’m alert to prophecy, God speaks to me, don’t make for the lifeboats, together we can save the Titanic,” Captain Welby seems to be bellowing down his bullhorn, with all the persuasiveness of a bald salesman peddling a magic hair growth tonic.

No one with an iota of media nous should be surprised at how the media latched on like limpet mines to the bit about the Archbishop “speaking in tongues.” The top-most English cleric admitting to yammering gloopy gibberish just before his cup of Frappuccino is enough to make an Etonian’s toes curl like Ali Baba’s slippers. Poor Welby’s publicity pony threw a shoe.

“In my own prayer life, and as part of my daily discipline I pray in tongues every day—not as an occasional thing.”

The Daily Mail fantastically concluded that our Justin actually “speaks unknown languages as part of a spiritual experience.” The comments sections exploded with a rotten tomato-throwing competition as delirious commenters flung the fruitiest insults at Cantaur, who they thought had gone completely cuckoo.

“The funny thing about glossolalia (Greek for speaking nonsense) is that the ‘language’ produced has the same characteristics as the speaker’s own language. So a Russian charismatic will talk rubbish that resembles Russian in its sounds. When the Bish talks rubbish it no doubt sounds like an upper class English patrician blind drunk,”scribbled one wag, rather unkindly. “I always thought his preferred language must be Russian or German as of Marx,” doodled another.

Poor Justin (Brierley, not Welby) had to jump into his fire engine and hosepipe the towering inferno with an apologia of “why the news need not come as a shock.” Justin’s defence of Justin (Welby, not Brierley) was based on the chestnut of argumentum ad numerum (If many believe so, it is so). “Yes, Justin Welby speaks in tongues. So do half a billion other Christians,” sang the headline.

A more credible headline might assert: “Yes, Justin Welby speaks in tongues. Because it’s biblical.” I have absolutely no doubt Welby uses the gift of tongues as his private prayer language. Indeed, it is heart-warming to know that the Archbishop is tuned in to the spiritual gifts listed by the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians—prophecy, tongues, interpretation, healing, et al. “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy,” writes St Paul.

We must commend Welby for doing what he does because St Paul commands him to do so in the epistle to the Corinthians and Welby believes that the Pauline corpus of letters is Holy Scripture.

Understandably, Welby will have to contend with liberals who scorn anything supernatural and some evangelical Christians who believe that the “sign gifts” existed only during the apostolic period before the formation of the biblical canon and have now ceased. These Christians call themselves cessationists.

What all Christians agree (at least in theory) is that Paul’s ethical teaching in his letter to the Corinthians (and other epistles) has not ceased. Thus, while some Christians are cessationists when it comes to spiritual gifts, all Christians are continuationists when it comes to Paul’s moral teaching—for example, no Christian will insist that Paul’s injunction against incest in 1 Corinthians 5 has ceased and is no longer valid for today.

This is where the cognitive consultant holds up an X-ray of Welby’s cranium, furrows his eyebrows, purses his lips, and in a strained whisper tells Welby the tragic news of his terminal illness. “Old boy, I’m afraid it’s rather grim. You are in the last stage of confirmation bias.”

Justin’s jaw hits the floor. “I’ve never heard of this malady,” he croaks. “Do you think I picked up a virus in Nigeria, or perhaps Pakistan?” The consultant looks quizzically at the Archbishop. “If only you’d read classics at Cambridge, you’d know the Greeks first diagnosed this disease. In The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides described this plague: ‘For it is a habit of humanity to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy,’” professes Mr Consultant.

Confirmation bias is our tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas. We give special weight to information that allows us to come to the conclusion we want to reach, while shying away from contradicting information, grasping for a reason to discard it because it is so unpalatable for our brains. The eye only sees what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

Welby dutifully obeys Paul’s teaching on tongue-speaking in 1 Corinthians. So why does he cold-shoulder and wilfully defy Paul’s imperatives on fundamental ethical issues in the very same letter to the Corinthians?

On same-sex genital behaviour (as on a number of other sins), Paul isscorching. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is a softball interview with Justin Brierley and when Welby is asked about the hot potato of sexuality, he equivocates and does not give a straight answer. Instead he points to his very own illness of confirmation bias: “Read the Bible carefully. Not just the bits you agree with but read it carefully and seek God’s wisdom.”

If Welby speaks in tongues and listens to prophecy, can Welby tell us what is it in the above verse—part of the revealed Word of God—that is so ambiguous or difficult to decipher? He wouldn’t call for “good disagreement” over idolatry or stealing or greed (especially in its capitalistic avatar), would he?

Liberal scholars like John Boswell have argued that arsenokoitai refers to “active male prostitutes” but the majority of scholars, even those supportive of homosexual practice like Walter Wink, Dan Via, and William Schoedel, all agree that arsenokoitai designates a general condemnation of male-male intercourse.

Even Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar who praises some of Boswell’s work, writes: “Boswell argued that ‘the early Christian church does not appear to have opposed homosexual behaviour per se.’ The sources on female homoeroticism that I present in this book run absolutely counter to those two conclusions.” Dan Via, despite his unstinting defence of gay sex, concedes that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice, in both Testaments, is “absolute.”

In the very next chapter after Paul claims: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you,” the apostle categorically affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” asks Paul. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain,” and “your faith is futile” and “we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul repeats ad nauseam.

So how come only a couple of weeks ago, Welby blindsides this central pillar of Christian teaching and appoints as his ambassador to the Vatican, John Shepherd, a cleric who publicly from the pulpit denies the bodily resurrection of Christ? How come Lambeth Palace has the audacity to tell the press that this heretic is a priest of “good standing” and “due diligence” was used when appointing him?

In 1 Corinthians, Paul also commands Christians not to go to court against other Christians. “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” writes Paul.

Welby’s buddy is Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA). Curry was invited at Welby’s behest to belt out his Beatles all-you-need-is-lurv homily at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Curry’s church is fighting cutthroatlawsuits against conservative Christians, which by the end of 2018 was estimated to exceed 60million dollars. 

Paul emphasises church discipline in the same letter to the Corinthians, calling for a defiantly immoral and incestuous member of the congregation to be excommunicated and “handed over to Satan.” A few chapters later, he warns people who are living in habitual sin of dire consequences—even sickness and death—if they eat the Lord’s Supper unworthily.

How very odd then for Welby’s bishops to be issuing fatwas ordering clergy not to exclude anyone from Holy Communion “on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” which is prima facie acceptable because the statement does not refer to “practice” but in the very same ad clerum banning “intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires” on the basis of the Archbishops mantra of “a radical new Christian inclusion.”

Speaking in tongues is not a gilt-edged guarantee of Christian orthodoxy. Paul himself underlines this in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” This is not the ‘lurv’ Michael Curry or John Lennon is describing, but agape—the highest form of self-denying and self-sacrificial love which love which embraces the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and “rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13: 6).

Jane Ozanne, the high priestess of pansexual perversity in the Church of England, speaks in tongues. “Out of nowhere words started forming in my head and coming out of my mouth—strange foreign words that I had never heard before,” she writes in his autobiography Just Love. Ozanne, like Welby, takes prophecy and words of knowledge seriously, while sticking two fingers at biblical teaching on sexuality.

Justin Brierley should know that it’s not just half a billion other Christians who practice glossolalia. George Cutten writes in An Ethnological Study of Glossalalia: “Glossolalia is practiced among non-Christian religions: the Peyote cult among the North American Indians, the Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Shamans in the Sudan, the Shango cult of the West Coast of Africa, the Shago cult in Trinidad, the Voodoo cult in Haiti, the Aborigines of South America and Australia, the Eskimos of the subarctic regions of North America and Asia, the Shamans in Greenland, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Zor cult of Ethiopia, the Siberian shamans, the Chaco Indians of South America, the Curanderos of the Andes, the Kinka in the African Sudan, the Thonga shamans of Africa, and the Tibetan monks.”

Plato refers to ecstatic speech that is unintelligible, so does Virgil in the Aeneid. Glossolalia appears in the Eleusinian, Dionysian, and Orphic Mystery Religions, as well as in the ancient cults of Mithra and Osiris. Sibyls and Pythias were known as well for their practice of glossolalia and ecstatic speech while under trance induced states. St Paul would have been aware of this phenomenon and so does not make it the litmus test for biblical faithfulness.

Justin Welby is not alone in his terminal illness. His pom pom cheerleaders, including Premier Radio, are themselves deluded by a large dose of cognitive dissonance. They cherry pick Welby’ s love for glossolalia while circumnavigating his conspicuous rebellion against other areas of biblical teaching. They conveniently ignore the fact that the most spiritually gifted church in the Pauline epistles was also the most immoral, fractious and disorderly church.

They simply cannot see the bizarre contradiction that Archbishop Justin who is a continuationist when it comes to spiritual gifts is a cessationist when it comes to the ethical teaching of the apostle Paul.

(Originally published in Republic Standard