Cognitive Dissonance

Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”

I don’t know if you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance or even know what it means, or care about it at all. You probably know this, but the definition as it appeared in Scientific American (a magazine I try to understand occasionally and fail), the meaning is, (and hold on—it’s a long one) “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.” O.K.—time for an example, although I think my whole life is spent in a state of cognitive dissonance: let’s say you’re always espousing doing everything you can to preserve and protect the environment and you’re passing out pamphlets on a street corner, and someone stops and reads one and points to your Chevrolet Express 3500 van parked at the curb which gets twelve miles to the gallon and asks if you see a contradiction there. You could defend yourself by saying you need the storage space for your pamphlets, and it could have been worse—you could be driving a shuttle tranporter, which gets about 0.007 miles per gallon (and your mileage may vary), except you couldn’t get it in your garage.

If you think about this, you experience cognitive dissonance, which you can reduce by rationalizing it, as I just told you, or ignoring it, or either giving into the dark side and doing everything you can think of to destroy the environment, or you could roller skate to your rallies with the pamphlets in a back pack.

You’re probably wondering about now why I’m talking about cognitive dissonance. I saw a bumper sticker that touted a perfect example. It read, “Illiterate? Write for a free pamphlet for help.” I liked the feel I had in my brain when I read that, which says something about me. I won’t speculate about what it says, but leave that up to you.

If that wasn’t enough, here’s another that you’ve probably heard. A man asked for an audience with the king to show him something he invented. When the time came, he held up a glass beaker containing a clear liquid. The king was not impressed. “For this I missed my afternoon nap? What’s so special about some water in a glass?”

The man thought less of the king because he evidently hadn’t had chemistry, and told him, “Your majesty, this liquid will dissolve anything it touches.”

“Off with his head!” the king screamed, knowing the man was a liar since the liquid would have dissolved the beaker and the man himself if it were what he claimed it was. Actually, the king was more upset about missed sleep than he was about the lie, and that’s why he had the man killed. The morale of this story is, evidently, don’t keep anyone from a nap, especially if the person can harm you.

The spiritual application for this is that God never experiences or is responsible for cognitive dissonance. God is truth through and through, and cannot tolerate deception. Jesus touched on this when he taught that oaths and declarations simply aren’t necessary. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” he declared, and wouldn’t it be a better world if we all did that? But we are caught up in our sinful nature and do all kinds of terrible things, but we are saved by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, shortcomings and, yes, our creation of cognitive dissonance. Praise God for God’s mercy and forbearance of each of us. Amen.

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