Create Dissonance

A few things stuck with me from the general education classes I took in college. One of these was the idea of “cognitive dissonance.” In psychology, this is the idea of having two  inconsistent thoughts, neither of which you want to give up. Having these contradictory ideas in your head at the same time causes tension, and people try to resolve the tension by ignoring or changing one of the ideas. The example that the textbook used was both wanting to smoke and not wanting lung cancer, while knowing that the first leads to the second. This caught my attention, because at the time, I both smoked and I also did not want lung cancer.

So the three facts in my head were 1) I wanted to continue smoking, 2) I didn’t want lung cancer, and 3) smoking causes lung cancer. So I did exactly what the textbook said. I stopped thinking about fact 2 and 3. What was going on? I was intentionally suppressing something I knew was true in order to do something I wanted to do. I, in turn, would be generally less than happy with people that reminded me that smoking causes lung cancer, because I would have to think of it again.

So how is cognitive dissonance useful to us as Christians? If Christianity is true, it resonates fully with reality. Which means that there is some dissonance in every other worldview. There is something slightly off-putting about non-Christian ways of viewing the world. And most of the time, people cope with the dissonance by ignoring inconvenient facts. So as Christians, part of our job is to bring those facts up, again and again. Ask good questions, point out the inconsistencies, make people uncomfortable, and have them wrestle honestly with where their worldviews lead them.

People may not like it, but that it to be expected. Sometimes I hope to keep people up at night, to have them wonder not only how they are going to deal with the tension in their worldviews, but how are they going to do so over the next 40 years. The contradictions do not get better.

Are you a thoroughly convinced Atheist who believes in human rights that bind all people and yet believes there is no morality that was not made by humans? A Hindu who believes in the distinctions of good and evil and yet that everything is ultimately one? A Muslim that believes that God is holy and yet you can do enough good to outweigh your bad? Let me play the Surgeon General. Every time you open the pack of your worldview, let me be the small yet persistent reminder that something doesn’t add up. And let me invite you into a system that is difficult, self-sacrificial, but ultimately consistent. Let me invite you to follow Jesus.

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