Evangelical Christianity and Cognitive Dissonance

23 May

The Pew Forum posted a portrait of evangelical Christian churches that includes the following pie chart:


Bearing in mind that we are well into the 21st century CE, this finding is astonishing. It’s so astonishing, in fact, that the deacon didn’t believe me when I told him about it. He suggested that the respondents may have misunderstood the question. I, citing the fact that I personally heard a sermon within the past decade in which the preacher referred to the biblical Noah’s Ark story as an actual historical account, told him that I find it entirely believable. Sad, yes, but entirely too believable. Wanting to persuade him to adopt my point of view, I found this pie chart, which includes the polling script. Upon reviewing it, he agreed with me that this is an amazing, and utterly pathetic, finding.

Scrolling a bit farther down Pew’s page, I found this pie chart:

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that one cannot hold both of these beliefs coherently. If one believes the Bible is god’s literal word, then one cannot ignore its repeated admonitions that Christianity is the only religion that reconciles one with god and leads to eternal life. That being the case, many religions cannot lead to eternal life. If evangelical Christians compare these charts thoughtfully, they should experience cognitive dissonance of the kind that leads people to reconsider whether their religious beliefs can withstand serious scrutiny. For those who are ready to undertake such examinations, the very least they should do, if they’re honest, is end up revising some of their beliefs. Once they’ve begun the thought-revision cycle in earnest, and repeated it a few (or a few hundred) times, it should only be a matter of time before they jettison their entire religious cargo. Unfortunately, there will always be others who aren’t ready for such exercises. Some of them will remain happily unaware of findings like these; others will shrug their shoulders and accept cognitive dissonance as a normal state of being. If the alternatives to intellectual honesty re: religious beliefs are a) being ignorant and happy, or b) being informed and miserable, this may be a case in which ignorance really is bliss.

— the chaplain


13 responses to “Evangelical Christianity and Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Rob Crompton

    May 24, 2013 at 4:14 am

    the category “many religions can lead to eternal life” could have been worded better. In my experience, a prevalent understanding in many extreme fundamentalist groups is that different religions means much the same as different denominations. So the folk who think that many religions can lead to salvation may well mean that Methodists and Episcopals etc might get saved as well as “our lot”.

    • the chaplain

      May 24, 2013 at 6:47 am

      Rob, thanks for the comment. How would you word the question? If your take on this is correct, it may be impossible to word it in such a way that extremists won’t just separate out variants of their creed from their particular One Truly Correct-Thinking Group and lump them together with those other Wild, Heathen Wrong-Thinking Hellions.

      • Rob Crompton

        May 24, 2013 at 7:08 am

        I think it would be necessary to separate it into two or more questions:
        Christians of all denominations (i.e Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, etc) can gain eternal life;
        People of non-Christian religions can gain eternal life.
        And you’d probably need to try substituting will for can to avoid a positive answer which really means, well they can give up being whatever and join my religion.

  2. Ric

    May 24, 2013 at 6:36 am

    But Chappie, every fundogelical knows that those polls are run by lefty commie-sucking libruls and are designed to undermine faith in the One True God of our Podunk, Kansas Word of God Church of the Incredibly Faithful (Bean supper every Thurdsay evning).

    • the chaplain

      May 24, 2013 at 6:51 am

      Ric, Jehovah loves the mingled aromas of burnt flesh and flatulence.

      • Spanish Inquisitor

        May 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm

        I didn’t know that. No wonder it feels so heavenly when I slip under the sheets….

  3. David Evans

    May 31, 2013 at 10:32 am

    What your charts show is that at least 23% of the respondents are in a state of cognitive dissonance. That doesn’t surprise me, since one can only regard the Bible as true word-for-word by ignoring its many contradictions. In fact I think the true figure is much higher.

    • Sabio Lantz

      June 1, 2013 at 4:57 am

      To think we understand someone by saying they are “in a state of cognitive dissonance” may be mistaken.

      Sure, when pressed, we can get people (anyone) to say contrary things, whether about politics, sex, religion, morality or such. But people do not bank so much on the TRUTH of an idea but by its functionality and associations. To expect otherwise is to misunderstand how the human mind works and how people relate. Mind you, pointing out inconsistencies may be helpful. But the *functions* for which a person holds any set of beliefs may not contradict each other even though the logic of the beliefs may. It is important to discuss the functions if we really want to understand a person (and ourselves).

  4. Sabio Lantz

    June 1, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Well illustrated point. I think it shows clearly that most people are not religious for intellectual reasons at all. The inconsistencies don’t illustrate “intellectual dishonesty”, but several principles:
    (1) we all lead partitioned lives where we turn on and off some sorts of judgements, discernments and such that we may use strongly in another part of our life.
    (2) most people do not embrace or identify with their religion for intellectual or doctrinal reasons.
    (3) “consistency” is not a prime motivator: be it their view on religion, politics, morality, law or more.

    Since these principles are at work, it should not be surprising if people don’t ” jettison their entire religious cargo” after having someone point out inconsistencies that would exist for someone that systematically embraced their faith for doctrinal reasons — for you wouldn’t be talking to them.

    The trick is for atheists to see how they also still do 1, 2 and 3 even though they consider themselves free of such things in their religious thinking.

    • ITA

      October 23, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      I think you can add a fourth principle, or expand on the second. Most people are religious because that’s they were taught as children. Childhood indoctrination is critical to maintaining credulity and belief, because people with mature and critical thinking skills are less likely to express blind faith in anything, especially if it causes suffering

  5. Moe

    October 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Where ya’ been?

  6. バッグ 通販 レディース

    November 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    miumiu キーリング


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