Someone got here with the search string:

Is having kids out of wedlock a cognitive dissonance?

No! It isn’t.

Cognitive dissonance describes the feelings of mental discomfort experienced by those who believe in ideas that contradict each other. For example, to believe that a god created the world and that we evolved. The two ideas contradict one another. If we evolved, there is no need for a god. If god exists and created us all, there is no need for evolution. Normally when you have such conflicting beliefs, you use motivated reasoning of some sort to allow you to continue to believe in both of them.

Another example would be, and this is a silly one, but let’s say there were two conspiracy theories that went something like:

  1. Elvis is still alive. Government and other powerful people conspired with him and helped him to fake his own death.
  2. Priscilla Presley killed Elvis. But a major conspiracy ensued to help hide this truth. (For no particular reason.)

If you were to believe in both of the above hypothetical conspiracy theories, that would be a great example of cognitive dissonance.

I’ve also always wondered if there are any people who believe both that the Earth is flat and hollow. I’ve even brought it up on their YouTube pages in the past, but they don’t seem to appreciate the question.

An example of cognitive dissonance in action

The more popular my writing, the more people I manage to piss off. Sometimes I wonder why that is. This blog is finally starting to take off a little. 37 views yesterday, on Sunday… Normally on Sundays I get maybe two or three views. It’s nowhere near the number of views I used to get on my old blog, but that one was different – it was around for 5 years and much of my writing was aimed at getting views. This one isn’t. My arguments against theism are common arguments, for example common rebuttals of certain apologetics arguments, put into my own words, and with my own arguments emphasized more than the ones I read elsewhere. I just put them out there and trust that like-minded people will find them. However, my writing (and my Facebook shares) also find people who don’t agree, and some of them get really pissed off.

An interesting example of cognitive dissonance

Yesterday’s post used a meme to highlight some examples of methods used to murder children in the Bible. I didn’t expect the post to be read by so many, especially on a Sunday. But that wasn’t my only share on the subject. Before that, I shared the meme on Facebook, and somebody took offense.

(I’m not going to include a screenshot, name the person or quote them. That would not be useful.)

The point, of course, was to highlight the examples of murder justified by God in the Bible, for the simple reason that it would serve to contradict the fallacious idea that Christians get their morals from their deity. The person who took offence to my share was a woman, which I find ironic. If our morals came from the Bible, women who argued with men would not be tolerated! They must be quiet! It would also be considered immoral for women to be preachers, or to have authority over men at any time. It would be normal to stone women who turned out not to be virgins after they got married.

In fact, the Bible is not kind in its treatment of women. They must submit to their husbands. There are many examples of righteous men, who were loved and favoured by God, who had multiple wives as well as concubines. In case you don’t know, a concubine is a sex slave. Women in the Bible are property, nothing more, and if it is acceptable to have a concubine, that means that rape is implicitly condoned. Then there’s the concept of a woman’s purity, being her virginity, which is a plain example of damaged property. i.e. You don’t have any rights to your own sex because you are owned by a man. Men of course, can own multiple women. (Sex slaves are also not the only kinds of slaves permitted in the Bible.)

To believe that your morals (or your idea of “traditional marriage”) comes from the Bible, you have to cherry-pick only the verses that agree with your existing morals, and discard everything else. This is as fine an example of cognitive dissonance as can be found, because what you believe versus what is written is totally different. (It’s worth noting that Jesus himself did not treat women poorly. That contradicts the old testament and creates a problem: How can you believe in both?) It means you are in conflict, and you have to find a way of resolving that conflict without abandoning the belief.

One method of motivated reasoning to cope with the cruelty of the god of the old testament is to ignore it – have a Christ-centric view where you believe that Jesus undid all the harm of the old testament. This was the initial response of the woman who was offended by my share… She told me to know my doctrine and that Jesus reversed the harshness of the old testament; that Christianity is not based on the old testament.

Matthew 5:17
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Of course the verse above demonstrates that she’s wrong. Not only that, but according to the Bible, Jesus taught in temples, and he quoted from the old testament frequently. If he, himself, quoted from the old testament, then it does not make sense to discard it. But it is convenient as a means of dealing with your cognitive dissonance.

After I pointed that out, she changed her tactics. Since a scriptural argument had failed, and facts were on my side, she switched to ad hominem – a personal attack against me. She claimed that I am “insecure” in my atheism, and that I was wrong to knock others’ beliefs. It is a common tactic: When facts don’t work, attack the person rather than their argument.

Except I’m not knocking anyone’s beliefs. I’m criticizing the source, the holy book that you purport to believe in, and pointing out some issues with it. Believe what you will; the facts do not change to suit your beliefs. If you believe it, you ought to believe all of it. Cherry-picking allows you to believe some bits sometimes, and some bits other times, when it suits you. Of course it could be argued that the old testament as we have it today did not exist when Christ preached. But if you go there, beware. You holy book is supposedly written by God himself through man, so if you believe it, you need to believe all of it – which is one of the many reasons I am an atheist and believe none of it.

Of course I have a great example of scripture from the old testament that Christians love to quote: The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s the go-to verse used to justify homophobia. Not only is it from the old testament, but in the same verses, Lot, the righteous man, offers his virgin daughters to be gang-raped (by the allegedly homosexual men). And there is apparently nothing wrong with that! So this is a fine example of text from the old testament, you know those bits that Jesus “undid”, that are still referenced by Christians today, and it is creatively read such that homosexuality is a sin while condoning rape and the treatment of women as property is ignored. Seriously, that is what you do when cherry-picking, and it doesn’t make sense.

To conclude, the point of posts like this one, and my Facebook shares (that share only the meme without the analysis) is to draw attention to the contradictions. The issues with books like the Bible are serious enough that critically thinking readers should realize that it is impossible to believe in the contradictions. Motivated reasoning, whether you cherry-pick what you believe in or use some other method, only works if you are indoctrinated into believing the scriptures without question and subconsciously seek ways to justify your contradictory beliefs. But brainwashed people like the woman who took offense are not my intended audience. The more facts I throw at her, the harder she will cling to her belief in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Writing like this, and debates with people like her, are intended for those who will see the contradictions for what they are. I wasn’t always an atheist, and being exposed to writing like this sooner might have saved me years of anguish.

(I don’t believe that Jesus ever lived in the first place. But in this rare case, I am arguing within the framework set by the words of Christianity. There’s enough in there to conclude that it isn’t true, without even considering the bigger picture.)