Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 28

THE PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST IN US - Cleveland ideological and theological homogeneity.4 Sadly, Martin Luther King’s famous assessment that “[a]t 11am Sunday morning . . . we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation” is as true as ever. From a cognitive point of view, it makes sense that we Christians prefer to spend time with and worship with people who are like us and avoid those who are unlike us and unfamiliar. Social cognitive scientists Shelley Taylor and Susan Fiske coined the term “cognitive miser” to describe our natural tendency to conserve cognitive resources.5 The human brain is limited in its ability to pay attention to and process information; the volume of information to which we are exposed on a daily basis far exceeds the brain’s ability to process it. In order to accommodate this imbalance, we become cognitive misers, conserving our mental energy by selectively choosing what we will pay attention to, using mental shortcuts, and avoiding situations that demand a lot of cognitive resources. To this end, we prefer to spend time with people who are like us because they are familiar; we know what to expect from them and we can easily predict their behavior. Conversely, our interactions with people who are different from us or who violate our expectations are uncertainty-laden and cognitively taxing. By choosing to interact with similar others, we can conserve our valuable and limited cognitive energy. Research on conserving cognitive resources helps us understand why American Christians are naturally gravitating toward churches that are filled with people who look like them, talk like them, worship like them, and think like them. Interestingly, a significant number of Christians are content to worship in homogenous congregations and spend time with similar others. Describing the views of many Christians, Emerson and Smith write, “For many . . . there is certainly nothing wrong with attending racially distinct congregations, as long as the motivation is not prejudice. People are comfortable with particular worship styles, want to be with familiar people, and have different expectations about congregations. For these reasons, if congregations end up being racially homogenous, it is acceptable, if not preferable.”6 Many of the people whom Emerson and Smith interviewed believed that their desire to remain in a homogenous church was not motivated by prejudice. However, decades of social psychological research on group processes suggest that group separation and prejudice have a bi4. Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007). nd 5. Susan L. Fiske and Shelley E. Taylor, Social  Cognition, 2 ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991). 6. Emerson and Smith, Divided by Faith, 135. 27