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  • Reverend James Squire

Baader Meinhof Phenomenon

Believing what you didn’t see before! The Baader Meinhof Phenomenon is an effect where something that you recently encountered, experienced, or learned suddenly shows up everywhere. Once you find something you never knew before, you start to notice it in the strangest of places. This dynamic was named by Terry Mullen. He was talking with a friend about a left-wing terrorist group, the Baader Meinhof Terrorist Group in 1994. Mullen was referred by a friend to a newspaper article that appeared decades after the group functioned. He also saw the group referenced a second time right after the first encounter. The phenomenon refers to recently experienced issues that appear again in unexpected places. After Mullen heard about the group, he heard more about them in a short period of time.

When people experience something to be true, they look for evidence to support the experience. They sometimes ignore the evidence that is contrary to the experience or event. This is confirmation bias. It is a powerful aspect of being human and the way we see the world.

A very simple example of this phenomenon is when we buy a car, we begin to notice cars like it all over when we didn’t before the purchase. It confirms the validity of our particular automobile. It is the same thing with other experiences such as when we learn that we have an unfamiliar medical diagnosis. We notice that there are others who have had the same diagnosis. They were obviously there before we noticed these folks but it is as though we are experiencing this issue as if it were the first time. We knew others could also have a medical diagnosis as ours or a car like ours.

This helps those of us who don’t know why the Big Lie of Trump’s accusation that he won the last election has been believed by so many people. Just as you start seeing the car that you recently purchased all over the place or unexpected people or places, we seek out confirmation of our experience whether it is a medical diagnosis or believing that Trump’s lie repeated over and over by a large number of people. People let in views about his lie that that they originally saw as a truth. We listen to his base whose confirmation bias places little acceptance in their minds that Trump is just making it all up. The more we see it or hear it, the more we confirm its truth for us. Frequency of having a lie told to us makes for fertile ground to believe it.

One of the key dynamics of this phenomenon is that its power rests in the fact that we experience it in unexpected places and people. We are constantly surprised when hearing it or seeing it over and over again. How many times have we said to one another that I can’t believe that people believe that lie, but they do!

Let’s take a look, as we walk the way of Holy Week, at that the same dynamic present post Easter. Life is a two-edged sword. What hurts us, can also help us. Rain nourishes the soil for food. Raid can cause flooding and can take our lives. Trump’s lie hangs out there in the culture, but so does the Big Truth. How did the message of Christianity spread to many different parts of the world? Recall that the disciples who had a powerful experience of Jesus then went out to see and experience him in unexpected places and with unexpected people. They were surprised when they saw him on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-32). His follower were surprised when the bounty hunter for Christians, Saul became Paul, and became an ardent believer. Their experience over and over of having His presence and spirit among them confirmed who he was for them.

They were focused on that great Truth. The same psychological issue common to all human beings that created the biggest lie in our American history leading to January 6 is found in the center of one of the greatest Truths in all of history. Christians find the confirmation bias for Jesus in many different places, some known and some as a surprise. Hopefully, you will begin seeing Him in many different places and with many different people. It’s part of who we are so the likelihood of those sightings could be very high. The key is that you experience Him in such a way that enables you to see Him again and again in surprising people and places. Those experiences confirm the Truth of God becoming man. Psychologists call it confirmation bias. In the religious world, we call it belief.

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