Cognitive Dissonance and its Resolutions

Mike S. Adams, a conservative criminologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, illustrates how intelligent people are often not logical. The premise of his recent article undermines the author’s argument. If people generally don’t understand their motives, and if the author did not understand his motive all those years that he was an atheist, then it is likely the author does not understand his motive now that he has returned to Christianity.

Given his explanations, which uses cognitive dissonance theory, both imagined motives (that is, for leaving and returning) are problematic. People don’t become atheists because they don’t want to love their enemies. The simply continue hating their enemies and being Christians. It’s called hypocrisy and—apologies to my Christian friends—Christians are great at it. (I have always been particularly interested in the cognitive framework of the right-wing conservative Christian, as there is so much hatred in his heart, I often wonder why he is even a Christian.)

Cognitive dissonance can be resolved by reason and fact. The rational person needs proof to believe in the existence of things. This proof can be either logical or empirical. When confronted with his own faith-belief, the rational person experiences cognitive dissonance, namely, “I am supposed to believe in God with no logical or empirical proof, but because the rational person demands reason and fact to belief something, I have a choice to make: either I will be a theist and rely on faith belief or I will be an atheist and rely on reason.”

Either choice resolves the conflict (although they are not created equal, as reason is demonstrable in proof, whereas faith is not). In the first, the person has decided to give up rationalism. In the second, the person has decided to give up religion. Of course, most people compartmentalize, which is to say that they make a distinction between rational belief and faith belief, convince themselves that these are not in contradiction, and continue on their way. While this distinction is irrational—a truth usually not understood by the person—it allows the individual to carry on with life. Unfortunately, this irrationalism leads at the same time to a life of irrational belief and action.

Finally, to clarify what cognitive dissonance is, I will use a contemporary example. Republicans are confronted with the fact that the President of the United States has ordered the torture of human beings. Because torture is a bad thing and Republicans don’t want to be seen as supportive of bad things, they deny that what Bush has ordered is tortured. Bush helps them out by redefining what torture is. Because what he is doing is called something else, Republicans can support the torturer and claim not to support torture.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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