Cognitive Dissonance Must be Avoided at All Costs!

June 20, 2014 at 8:26 AM 2 comments

Cognitive Dissonance is defined as:

“Mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information.”

cognitivedissonanceWhen a person comes up against new information that tends to oppose their long-held beliefs, tremendous angst can be the result. To keep the mind harmonized, the person will simply reject the new information. “The concept was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–89) in the late 1950s. He and later researchers showed that, when confronted with challenging new information, most people seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists. Cognitive dissonance is nonetheless considered an explanation for attitude change.

People hold onto their beliefs and because they believe them so strongly, any dissent is seen as an attack, which they reject and oppose. This is especially true in the area of politics and religion.

Recently, I’ve dealt with two people who are so firm in their theological opinions that the more they “discussed” something, the more they doubled down in their attacks. They are convinced that I am not only wrong, but that my beliefs are heretical. In the course of our “discussions,” it became very clear that they either ignored what I said or rejected it out of hand as something that is incompatible with biblical revelation. The two issues were whether or not God is done with Israel and whether eternal salvation is something one can lose.

What I have found when dealing with people like this is that the “conversation” quickly denigrates into forms of attack. Comments like, “You can’t answer, can you?” or “Answer the question,” or something similar take the place of actual dialogue with plenty of sarcasm peppered throughout.

To people like this who are so ingrained in the way they think, it’s all about winning. The more they “win,” the more confident they become.

Because you hold a position opposite theirs, they see you as the enemy. You are clearly not understanding Scripture correctly, therefore you must be corrected. If you fail to come around to see their “truth,” it is clear that you are deceived. Soon enough, they are “shaking the dust” from their feet over you because, alas, they tried and you are deep in rebellion.

These people do not want to discuss. They want to beat you over the head with their knowledge. Winning the debate is a must because any degree of loss on their part creates a tremendous sense of cognitive dissonance, which they must avoid at all costs. They must protect their beliefs because if those beliefs fail, they fail.

What is at the root of avoiding cognitive dissonance? Essentially, in one word, it is pride. After my initial “discussion” with one of the individuals I’ve referred to in this article, he contacted me and said he wanted to finish our “discussion.” The problem is that in no way was it a discussion in the true sense of the world. It was his attack on my beliefs in order to buttress his. At all costs, my beliefs – which are opposed to his – must be shredded and he doesn’t care how he does it.

At one point, I noted that he tended to allegorize Scripture and I tend to take Scripture literally. He went right where I knew he would by asking if the “beasts” in Revelation are real beasts? The problem of course is that when I say I take Scripture literally, I am saying I look for the literal meaning in Scripture, which takes into account metaphors, figures of speech, and other things. If I say, “Man, I am so hungry I could eat a horse!” no one in their right mind would accuse me of wanting to actually eat a horse. It is a figure of speech that simply means I am really hungry and need to eat soon. When I pointed that out to him, he ignored my answer and went for another tactic.

I’ve written a book called “Interpreting the Bible Literally (is not as confusing as it sounds)” and it is there that I explain this process of taking the Bible literally. Actually, most people innately understand what interpreting something literally means. Those who disagree with people like me who understand Scripture literally like to argue about it as if they never do this in normal conversation.

Our society is filled with people who cannot give an inch where their beliefs are concerned. I believe firmly that salvation is eternal and it cannot be lost. There are those who disagree with me and interestingly enough, their arguments as well as mine are based on the same Bible. So what do we do?

First, we agree to disagree. Second, we adopt and maintain a humble attitude. Could I be wrong about my position? Yes, I could. I’m not God. I’m not even a genius. I rarely hear that admission from people who are so set in their beliefs though. It’s a dead giveaway.

It is often difficult to admit that we might be wrong about a particular belief we hold near and dear. Anything opposed to our beliefs is often seen as originating with Satan and because of that, the person who holds those “errant” beliefs is seen as deceived and even an agent of Satan to spread that deceit.

Because of this, the person who holds the opposing belief believes that they must stand against the person to glorify God. They see themselves as warriors, fully on God’s side, evicting the enemy in whatever form they find him.

They fail to realize that because of their lack of humility, they are likely being used by the enemy as well to sow discord, through an unloving attitude that halts any form of progress toward love for the other person. Certainly, their attitudes, demeanor, and defensiveness are not in the least loving, but then again, they point to Jesus and how He dealt with the Pharisees – the legalists of His day.

Brothers and sisters, when you come across someone whom you believe has heretical beliefs, you can try to gently explain it to them. But the best thing you can do is pray for them and for yourself and be careful that pride is not guiding you or you will fall. Paul provides this warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Paul also notes in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

Is there any better advice?


Entry filed under: Dr. Fred, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation.

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  • 1. Greg Koch (@iamgregk)  |  June 20, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Those that prescribe to Replacement Theology are also experiencing CD as prophecy is being fulfilled via Israel. Imagine having to deny any linkage to end-time prophecy and Israel, especially these days, because of your hermeneutics and in some cases loyalty to extra-biblical sources. The veil of blindness on RT’s is ironic because that is what is happening to those they claim to replace, Israel.

    • 2. modres  |  June 20, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      I agree 100%. They become almost vicious in their attacks against those who continue to support Israel. You summarized it well, Greg. Thank you.

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