Saving Mary

This Conference Makes me Feel Uncomfortable…Could it be Cognitive Dissonance?

Posted on by Deidre Havrelock

What is cognitive dissonance? Well, here’s a few definitions from the internet to help explain this uncomfortable emotional state:

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

a conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistencies between one’s beliefs and one’s actions or other beliefs.

An emotional state set up when two simultaneously held attitudes or cognitions are inconsistent or when there is a conflict between belief and overt behaviour. Cognitive dissonance occurs when evidence shows that our assumptions have been wrong. We try to avoid such information, or distort it, and we try to avoid action that highlights the dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon first identified by Leon Festinger. It occurs when there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows and values, and persuasive information that calls these into question.

two thoughts that contradict each other – and how we deal with this contradiction.


The easiest way I can explain CD is that it’s that uncomfortable feeling that comes upon us when we suddenly stumble into something that not just opposes what we believe, but provides evidence that what we have always assumed, or expected, or been taught might just be wrong. After the evidence is provided, a new belief must be formed in order to allow the evidence or disassociate with the evidence. Cognitive Dissonance can range from huge distress to minor discomfort.  Examples of CD between people and Christianity include:

1. Being taught or accepting that God does not exist (and having no evidence in your own life that a God exists) and then meeting a Christian who tells you Jesus is the Son of God and is alive; if the Christian then provides evidence outlining why they believe Jesus is the Son of God, more CD will arise because the two opposing beliefs cannot both be true. (A new belief will form: “That person is crazy. Therefore, I do not have to accept what they have to say.” Or, I’m going to look into this matter and study it further.”)

2. Being taught by a seminary teacher that God no longer does miracles because the miraculous ceased with the apostles and then meeting a person who not only believes God still does miracles..but also tells you how she was healed in the name of Jesus. (A new belief will form: “I was wrong…maybe God does heal today!” OR, “That person is a liar.”)

3. Being taught that “We can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us” and then being told by church leaders that women cannot teach or lead men. (A new belief will form: “Men can do all things through Christ Jesus but women cannot…and it is humble of me to accept this.” )

4. Being taught that animals can’t go to heaven and then reading that Jesus has a horse (book of Revelation) and that in Psalm 36 it says, “you save [rescue] humans and animals alike, O Lord.” (A new belief will form: “Hey, God really likes animals…a lot! That’s kind of cool.”)

4. Being taught that God is male…and only male, and then hearing about this crazy conference where the femininity of God will be explored. (A new belief will form: “These people are crazy, and what does it matter anyway?” OR, “If both males and females are made in the image and likeness of God, then it makes sense to explore the feminine aspect of God.”

I have survived many CD moments, and I am sure I will make it through many more.




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