The simplest explanation of cognitive dissonance that I’ve found is actually the first definition that pops up on google. Of course a psychologist or intellectual may prefer a deeper and more profound dissection of the theory, but I believe the example below fits perfectly.
Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
I was recently following a Facebook post where two guys were debating back and forth. One was an “ex-gay”, now devout Christian and the other was an Out and proud gay man. The Christian was vigorously trying to assure the gay man (whom he did not personally know at all) that he, the Christian, loved him deeply and would like for them to be friends, but he would never accept the other mans lifestyle. The gay man replied that the two of them could never truly be friends if they couldn’t accept each other for who they were and that he had no patience for homophobia. At this point, a third man jumped into the conversation to reproach the gay man for being close minded and for refusing to be friends with the Christian just because the Christian saw homosexuality as a sin. His exact argument was “would you refuse to be friends with a rapist? I realize that is a little extreme but I have a friend who’s a former sex offender. I accept him for who he is. We all have sins. If you refuse to accept a rapist as a friend doesn’t that mean YOU have a phobia of sex offenders?”
I wish I could say my jaw dropped at this statement; unfortunately, the argument comparing homosexuals to rapists and pedophiles is as old as any bigoted argument. I myself have had it used against me and find it incredibly irksome each time. But let’s back up to the beginning where the Christian man was trying to assure the gay man that he loved him. When I say vigorously I do mean vigorously. It’s an awkward habit some Christians have adopted. In order to prove they have the love of Christ within them they go around telling everyone they love them. The church I grew up in used this form of speaking. I remember as a young person being told to say I love you to a stranger. I felt so disingenuous as I said the words and then so guilty because I wondered why I didn’t have the love of god filling me. The misuse of the word love gave me quite a hang up about it and today I’ve said it to very, very few people.
As for the comparison of a rapist and a homosexual, it seems odd to the outsider I’m sure. The idea of taking two people who have fallen in love and equating it to an individual who forces themselves on another person and strips that person of all physical and emotional well being. However this is the kind of idea created through the cognitive dissonance of loving a person yet hating who they are. In order for the two ideas to exist there becomes a fracture in thinking. I remember my young sister being distraught that a boy in her church had said that all gays should be shot. When she confronted him and said that her sister was gay and that his speaking wasn’t very Christ-like, she was horrified to hear him reply that I should be shot as well. My sister was in the throes of her own dissonance. We are to be loving and merciful like Jesus of the gospels yet fight and abhor the sin that will lead us to Revelations. It’s an impossible line to walk.
Can we truly despise who a person is and yet love them? And I dont mean despise a mistake a person has made. There are people I love who have made awful mistakes yet I still love them as a person. However since homosexuality is not a choice, and therefore can not be a mistake, can we hate yet love them? Yes, but at a consequence to our own emotional stability. I’ve watched the family members of mine who still hold to the belief that being gay is a sin wrestle endlessly with the turmoil this places on their hearts and mind. They love me, I do not doubt, but they can not accept me. And as they try to accommodate two conflicting beliefs it is very much like shoving a square peg into a round hole. They’ve hacked away at the corners and made the hole as big as possible and yet things still don’t quite fit.
I believe cognitive dissonance is the number one reason people truly turn from their faith. We believe one thing and then suddenly new information arises that challenges this faith. And in today’s age of information it becomes increasingly harder for people of religion to avoid having the teachings of their sacred texts challenged. Even 100 years ago many people were still illiterate and uneducated and didn’t have the resources to study the claims made by the Bible. Blind faith was a lot easier and helped to fuel the evangelical outbreak of the 1930’s – today.
But now it is not so, information is everywhere. If you don’t like to read, then listen to a book on audible or a podcast or watch a mini documentary on YouTube. And while a lot of the information is wrong or misleading, the seeds of truth are still thrown in the face of those who seek to look away. The cognitive dissonance of hating the sin yet loving the sinner is eroding Christianity as quickly as evolution and science are eroding the teachings of the Bible. The Age of Reason is set to break through if people will only choose their sanity over their blind faith.