The False Consensus Effect

The False Consensus Effect

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder

“You can bend it and twist it… You can misuse and abuse it… But even God cannot change the Truth.” -Michael Levy

The false consensus effect is the over or underestimation of our ideas about what others think of our opinions and actions. Here is an example:

“Everybody knows that chocolate milk is better than regular milk.”

Response:  statements that begin with all inclusive words like “all”, “every”, “any” and the like are already suspect because seldom are such statements literally true.  Apart from this, we must ask, does “everyone” know this about milk?  Does everyone know anything?  I am not sure that there is any one thing that we can say everyone knows.

However, the above really is an extreme example.  The false consensus more often takes place in situations where the facts about matters are ambiguous.  Another example might include something like the statement, “more Christians are Republicans than Democrats”.  How do we know?  Notice there is no source of evidence to demonstrate how we could reach such a conclusion.  An even better example is this one, “America is a Christian nation”.  Really?  According to what study?  This may be true or it may be false.  We have no stated evidence by which to make a judgment.  Yet many people (preachers included) go around stating their ideals, values, convictions, and opinions as though they are facts.  The Bible warns against the false consensus saying:

Pro 14:12 GW

(12)  There is a way that seems right to a person, but eventually it ends in death.

Ministers have an obligation to hold truth.  Too often broad statements are made about sensitive subjects like the Bible, and people feel an obligation to agree under the pretense of, “it’s the Christian thing to do”.  After all, why would a Christian deny that America is a Christian nation?  The truth is when statements are made as facts, without facts, we are in effect misleading people who otherwise expect us to report truthfully.  Deception is not of God, whether it is our intent or not.  Imagine if the media did not practice the truth principal, they could report any false consensus that they like.  We would not know the state of the stock market, the weather, crime, war, etc.  The world would be really in a dangerous situation.  Why?  Because people trust that they hear true reports from the news.  Should a Christian leader be held to any less of a standard?  No they should not.

So how can leaders avoid the mistakes of false consensus?

The answer is quite simple.  Paul says to:

1Th 5:21 MKJV

(21)  Prove all things, hold fast to the good.

However, balance must be a part of it all, for “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent” (William Blake).


Reflective Questions:

How can leaders guard themselves from the false consensus effect?

What might be the dangers of false consensus deception?