The Cognitive Dissonce of “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”

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 other 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 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. 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 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. 

How to Create a Religion 

Tlacaelel figures out how to build an empire

I am a lover of history and therefore am prone to read any and everything concerned with the vast subject. I also have an Audible account and absolutely cannot wait each month until my new, “free” credit drops (is it really free if I have to pay $14.95 for a subscription that STILL charges me for each book? But back to my post). So this month I chose the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann, a historical and anthropological study of the people of the America’s prior to Columbus’s so called discovery.  A fascinating book that provides so much new insight on the ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. If you’re a fan of Native American history then you need to read this book.

As I was listening to the book, the author tells the story of a man named Tlacaelel who built the Mexica people into the mighty Aztec Empire. Interestingly enough when I was in 7th grade I did my final history report on the Aztec Empire. My sister had just returned from a missions trip (see story about my religious upbringing) to Mexico and I figured I could use some of the souvenirs she brought back as props. I honestly had little interest in Aztec history, but I had to turn in the subject of my project the next day and her maracas just spoke to me. Had I tried a little harder in my studies I would have stumbled upon this story and perhaps my journey of questioning god and religion would have started a lot earlier. You’re bored now and wondering if I’ll get to the point so I’ll keep you in suspense no longer.

Tlacaelel was the nephew of the Aztec king Itzcoatl and is most likely the most influential person in Aztec history. He is responsible for creating schools, a military, and a judicial system; as well as, redesigning the economic and social construct of the Mexica tribe, later to become the Aztec Empire. But in my opinion the most incredible thing Tlacaelel did was to change the thinking of the Mexica people by literally rewriting their history and religion. He realized that the defeated past of the Mexica people could only hold them back, so he persuaded the tribes leaders to burn their history. Once this was done Tlacaelel presented a new history, with a conquerors perspective, and with this history a new religion.

In his religion Tlacaelel told the Mexica people that they were the chosen defenders of the cosmos and their god, Huitzilopochtli. He explained that Huitzilopochtli was in constant danger of dying if he were not regularly quenched with the blood of men. If the god died, so did the Sun (some versions have the god as the Sun) and if the Sun died then so did all of mankind. It was the duty of the Mexica to insure the safety of humanity by supplying the god with daily human sacrifices. And in order to obtain these many sacrifices, the Mexica must conquer as many lands and people as possible. Tlacaelel was literally using religion to establish an imperialist state, and it worked. The Aztecs became the greatest civilization in Mesoamerican history. And while they were certainly no less brutal and bloodthirsty than their 15th century European counterparts, that’s not saying much. As Europeans crowded their town squares for a public and gory execution, the Aztecs flocked to their pyramid temples for human sacrifices. After one particular battle, it is said that the Aztec king Ahuitzotl sacrificed over 20,000 prisoners of war. It’s astounding what religion can motivate us to do.

But what I found so shocking about this story was that is was so transparent. While we can point to countless times in history when a person/persons have used religion to gain what they want, we cannot often find the origins of a religion so clearly detailed. And certainly not when those origins paint such a negative light on the beginning of that religion. Perhaps peoples ability to ignore this blatant political creation of religion plays more to our entitlement than to our love for all things holy. Had someone so crudely pointed out that Christianity had started this way the outcry would be endless. Yet the history of a “savage” people is not one that particularly moves us or motivates us to delve into the history of our own beliefs.

Just as Tlacaelel created a religion befitting his people, so all religion has been created. And just as his religion ultimately led to the suffering and discrimination of so many, so has all religion. It is sad that such a brilliant man chose such a rudimentary idea to stimulate the growth of his people. But then how many world leaders have been and continue to fall prey to the same thinking? I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight as much as I have and I strongly encourage you to look up the origins of your own faith (if you are not a faithless heathen like I am). I will periodically post the origins of different religions through history to build upon the truth.

-H

Resources : 1491 by Charles C. Mann :/:  www.aztec.com :/:  http://www.gmsdk12.org/Downloads/Tlacaelel.pdf

Why I Became an Atheist

The beginning of my journey

My journey started in a fundamental baptist church in Northwest Indiana. Even by Indiana standards my church was extreme, but it was all I knew. Literally my entire life revolved around the church which is why I attended our Christian school from 3rd -12th grade. Of course a non-accredited school, run by ultra right wing conservatives (more concerned with teaching Bible stories than any other subject) didn’t lend for a solid education. But I did develop a deep love for religious history. Despite being handicapped with the lack of information afforded, I found enough about my religion and the religions of the world to fascinate me.

Several years later I came out as gay. Which is a HUGE no, no in the Baptist movement (see anything Westboro Baptist). This admission forced me out of my church and I began a journey to find another, more accommodating place of worship. I started with a Lutheran church. I had heard rumors they were gay friendly. I soon learned those rumors hadn’t reached Indiana and the Lutherans were just as close minded as the Baptists. So I tried a non denominational church. At first they seemed pretty hip and open minded. Someone said “We must all learn to co-exist. It’s not about the name we use when we worship God, it’s about worshiping him at all.” Boy that sounded nice! Unfortunately the gays couldn’t worship there either which I found even more insulting than the Baptists and the Lutherans. At least they had the balls to call me a heathen to my face rather than trying to woo me in and then silently judging me.

I couldn’t bring myself to try the Catholics. The sex abuse scandal had split wide open just a few years earlier and I couldn’t pretend to have any respect for the Church. My last effort at some form of Christianity was the Unitarian Church. Of course they would be offended that I classified them as Christians. But since the Unitarians are just as caught up in their rituals as the Catholics and Protestants I don’t know who they’re trying to kid. I was momentarily impressed with the bowl of condoms sitting next to the pamphlets on the front table. I wondered if maybe I had been wrong all along and this was secretly a sex orgy meet up. Sadly I sat through an incredibly boring and scripted hour long service only to be bitterly disappointed at the end. I grabbed a handful of condoms anyway as I left. My mother had been adamant that this gay thing was sure to wear off and I thought I might as well be prepared for a sudden hetero experience.

At this point I decided to branch out and try a different religion all together. The problem was, I knew little about other religions. Most of what I had been allowed to read growing up was all told from a very slanted, christian perspective. I knew about some Middle Eastern and East Asia religions but only in a negative light. So I headed to my local library and began searching the shelves for an Encyclopedia of Religion. A title caught my eye, “Gods Lunatics” by Michael Largo. Great! I thought Another one of those bitter Atheists trying to make fun of what they refuse to accept. I heatedly grabbed the book and read the back. I was actually surprised, it turned out I had found my encyclopedia.

If you’ve never read Largo’s book and you enjoy brief histories then I highly recommend it. For me, it was exactly what I needed. A one to two page summary each of 1,001 religions. While Largo can’t contain his sarcasm periodically towards some of the most extreme of religions, the account as a whole is pretty straight forward. (If you ever read this Largo then you’re welcome for the free plug.)

As I begin to read I started seeing similarities between the religion of my youth and many other religions. I thought this was odd since my leaders had always been so fervent in teaching us followers that we alone had the “truth”. I didn’t have much access to the internet at this point in my life so my work was all done through old fashion book study. I did check out a few documentaries from the Library as well to aid in my research and I began to map out the history of religion. After a few months I came to an unsettling conclusion: all religion was a man made tool used to manipulate and comfort humankind (but mostly to manipulate). And that almost every religion was a copycat of previous religions and folklore.

It was so obvious but yet I could see why most people had never stumbled up this discovery for themselves. For starters, the leaders of nations had worked tirelessly for millennia to convince the masses of a need to please the god/gods. Naturally the leaders would interpret the gods needs which inevitably coincided with the leaders desires. There were many other reasons people had clung to religion for so long including tradition, community, personal guidance, answers to life’s problems, a desire for justice, and a fear of death. In fact, until the Renaissance and the advances in medicine, science and technology that followed, mankind really didn’t have a reason to dispose of religion.

Realizing why we had religion, it didn’t take me long to question the existence of a god. If we didn’t need religion, then did we need a god? I read a few more books but this time from a scientific approach. I admit I pulled a classic budding atheist move and first read Dawkins The God Delusion. However he did make many compelling points against the existence of a god. Yes his analogy of the Flying Spaghetti Monster rang true for me and would cement my decision to identify as an atheist rather than an agnostic. But that came still later.

My biggest argument for the need for a god was morality. If we concede as a whole that there is no god, will mankind continue as a civil and moral society or disintegrate into savagery? I found a book by Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue, which I later discovered is a very popular book in the field of science and morals. This book very clearly detailed where humans get their virtues/morals. The tit for tat theory and subsequent studies were the most compelling argument for me. I cannot recommend this book enough.

I continued to study the subjects of religion, evolution and human psychology and eventually came to my personal belief that the probability of a god is in fact as likely as the probability of Flying Spaghetti Monster hurdling through space. Most important, I came to see the incredible harm religion has place on all of humanity and that is the purpose of this blog. Whether an individual chooses to believe in a god is of little concern to me; but the infiltration of religion into our politics, education and social issues quite frankly terrifies me. So i’m dedicating this blog to addressing these issues, answering questions for the faithful and the faithless, and cataloging my own experience and journey as an atheist in the most religious developed country in the world.

Enjoy! – H