Cognitive Dissonance

What is Cognitive Dissonance as it pertains to Christian belief? Cognitive dissonance is a term for the state of discomfort felt, when two or more types of thought contradict each other causing the person to experience a sense of dissonance, or emotional discomfort. The clashing thoughts may include ideas, beliefs, or the knowledge that one has behaved in a certain way.

Dissonance is the lack of agreement, between the truth and what people want to believe; especially the inconsistency between the beliefs one holds, or between one’s actions (behavior) and one’s beliefs. This is especially important as Christians attempt to sort out their beliefs and corresponding behavior.

Cognitive dissonance is all about the consequences of inconsistency. We prefer consistency to inconsistency and work hard to maintain (or restore) consistency among our cognitions — our perceptions.

For example: when people smoke and they know that smoking causes cancer, they are in a state of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance often causes anxiety. When new information (facts) do not lineup with our current beliefs it causes dissonance. We may find ourselves attempting to diminish the new information, creating excuses to justify our behavior and to lessen the anxious feelings so our mind stays in harmony with our existing beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance poses a real challenge for the religious Christian because “thought” outside of accepted safe boundaries challenges religious belief. Christians have tended to self-justify their religious beliefs when contradictory evidence is presented. Despite the potential truthfulness of a new idea. Cognitive dissonance refuses to accept the possibility of having to change one’s mind, choosing instead to dwell in ignorance of that truth, to remain in a state of self-justification. Even if it means lying to oneself, as an option of not facing reality. They may even go to the extreme of only absorbing information, that affirms a pre-existing belief.

What should a Christian do when presented with new information that does not fit their current beliefs? They have one of four choices to reduce dissonance.

1) They may integrate the new truths and change their beliefs accordingly.

2) They may intellectualize – using logic to fit the idea into their existing way of thinking.

3) They may revert to arguing, explaining why they are right, and the new idea is wrong to reduce dissonance.

4) The final choice is to attack or attempt to discredit the source of dissonance to reduce the burden of the mental discord.

What has been your observation as to, how people respond when their “status quo” of beliefs are challenged with information outside of their current understanding?

If we are honest, we will ask the question, “What is truth?” As with everything in the Christian life, we should derive our understanding of truth from Christ, the person of truth and our behavior should be an expression of His character. EVERYTHING that is real truth is JESUS. “Grace and truth were realized (made known, revealed, inaugurated) in Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

A revelation and awareness are needed, when our eyes are opened to a reality of – what we were previously unaware. That is what revelation is. God revealing Himself, the Truth of who He is. It is during these times of revelation that we are enlightened to something. An awareness of previously unknown or unnoticed truth or being enlightened to something that is – not as it ought to be in our lives. Whether it is an awareness of what is wrong, or the awareness of an opportunity to make it right, both can evoke strong feelings and we may be tempted with cognitive dissonance.

How does denial factor into cognitive dissonance?

Denial is not an appropriate option for the Christian. When presented with truth outside of the realm of our current understanding we may be tempted, to compartmentalize unwelcome thoughts, seeking to explain away the truth, that does not fit our theology. The opposing truth that challenges our set-beliefs often causes “dissonance.” When you are presented with new truths that challenge your deeply held beliefs, you may be motivated to resolve the negative feeling, by rejecting the new information as “crazy or outlandish,” in an attempt to ease the cognitive dissonance, without fully processing the information to ascertain its truthfulness.

A practical example of cognitive dissonance would be, when a Christian tells a lie and is convicted for doing so. They feel uncomfortable about it because they know they are spiritually an honest person, so they experience cognitive dissonance. The inconsistent behavior will cause a mental discord, a contradiction between the lie they told, and the truth of who they are in Christ. The cognitive dissonance is knowing the “one thought” (in this case, knowing they told a lie) and another thought (knowing they are honest). Jesus warned us that “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). James said, when we pray, we must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind, and should not think he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8).

When you are challenged with ideas, thoughts – potential truths you do not understand, or know how to process, remember what Jesus says, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life…” John 14:6. Christ is The Truth, don’t try to figure things out on your own. Live in a harmonious relationship with Him, allowing Him to reveal what is true – embracing Him, regardless of your understanding. He will lead you into all truth. `

Living the Victorious Life

Living the Victorious Life

Living the Victorious Life

Living the Victorious Life

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