Why does cognitive dissonance seem to be a tenet of religion?

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dogalmighty's picture
Why does cognitive dissonance seem to be a tenet of religion?

It seems like entirely every conversation I have with a theist, I notice a distinct inability to reason past their belief...even if the conversation leads them there. WTF? What is going on?

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SecularSonOfABiscuitEater's picture
People hate being wrong.

People hate being wrong. Humanities acceptance of unlikely deities and the unrelenting support of Trump's base have both shown that Pride is a powerful force.

LogicFTW's picture
One thing I have learned here

One thing I have learned here and elsewhere talking to theist, especially vocal ones that will defend theist and attack atheist, is that they have A LOT invested in their religion idea. Such a monumental change for them can be very very scary. Realize nearly every theist has been conditioned to their religion idea from the time they were a small child by likely everyone they knew and trusted. The bubble people live in and the echo chamber that is their religious idea only reinforces this over time.

Instead of listening to rational discourse, based in real data, real empirical evidence etc. their brains instead will work in overtime to rationalize their long held belief.

Almost no one wants to admit they were wrong, completely wrong on something they and many people important and trusted to them got it completely wrong. They have come to understand how the world works for them in a way that makes sense to them. They are still alive and it continues to work. (They only find out after they die they got it wrong, except, whoops you can't "figure it out" then eithir, as the brain is no longer functioning and thought process stops.)

Such a change is very scary. Which is why for those that are strongly religious/theistic rarely change, especially as they get older and more set in their ways. Usually it takes quite the major event for someone to change such a large world view, something strong enough to cut through all the rationalization and fear.

I also learned I am not likely to change any theist minds, especially the ones that come to atheist debate boards to defend their religion or attack atheists. If I wanted to "convert people" I would first start with my own immediate family with a lot of patience, understanding and love, and if I wanted to steer people away from religion I did not know as well, I would be a science teacher in middle school/high school. That is the age where kids are not only open to new ideas and information, but also right around when puberty typically starts to kick in and the natural rebellion towards parents and people of authority kicks in, opening them to new ideas that may differ from their parents. I would simply start with the basics of science and scientific method and the importance of real data, evidence and carefully constructed results and conclusions. I would teach kids how to think critically, and rationally and then encourage them to apply these new tools to all areas of their lives.

For any theist reading this, fear not, I do not plan to become a middle school/HS teacher, While I do think organized religion does more harm than help and humanity as a whole would be better off without it, I have different focus for my life. I come here to one debate (which I enjoy) and two, to learn about theist people and their world view and how they respond to counter argument against their religion. I have learned a lot doing so. Like it or not for me, I am well aware a huge majority of people are at least a little bit religious and understanding these people better only helps me in relating to them, and understanding people that think differently then I do.


I am an atheist that always likes a good debate.
Please include @LogicFTW for responses to me.
Tips on forum use. ▮ A.R. Member since 2016.

veronicaolvera's picture
I notice this a lot as well.

I notice this a lot as well. The best way I can describe it is an inability to break the chains of the brainwashing of religion due to lack of education or the abundance of miseducation. I used to be the same way. When someone would lay out some very basic logic opposing my catholic upbringing/education I just didn't seem to have the knowledge to understand it so I would try to use a belief system full of holes to understand. I blame a lot of this on the glossing over of actual science in my Catholic elementary, middle, and high schooling. I could sense an attitude along the lines of "we already have all the answers so this science stuff doesn't really matter.".

I truly think that religion slows down the evolutionary process that may one day let our brains comprehend things like the vastness of space and time, almost keeping followers in this happy little cage of ignorance.

Once I started doing my own studying on the science that my teachers bypassed I realized that the true nature of the universe and our origins is of course, hard to understand so it makes sense that the comfort of religion is desirable just because its easier. I think religion gives people the safety of never having to understand the hard stuff(including the fallacy of their belief system) because the "answers" are "provided" to them so they think there is no need to understand further than that.

LogicFTW's picture
@Veronica Olvera

@Veronica Olvera
Well said, and thanks for valuable insight on how you thought when you were catholic. I am always very curious about what makes people finally decide to take the big step of realizing that their particular religion does not have all the answers and should not be taken as the absolute truth.

I have even seen people on these boards basically talk in a sense or directly "science does not matter." Sort of attitude.



I am an atheist that always likes a good debate
Please include @LogicFTW for responses to me
Tips on forum use. ▮ A.R. Member since 2016.

veronicaolvera's picture
Yeah, I had an Earth Science


Yeah, I had an Earth Science teacher my Freshman year that was a Witness (teaching at a Catholic school which is also weird) and would go over the lesson and say things like "So the Earth COULD POSSIBLY be billions of years old". She was always implying that these lessons were up for debate. At the time, as a kid, I just assumed that she was teaching us to the best of her ability. During my Senior year of high school, I asked her why she did that and she told me, "We all don't have to believe the same things about the Earth."

That's when I realized I was being duped. I didn't realize then that my not being able to reconcile her reasoning was because I was on a path leading to atheism, I just knew that it felt wrong to imply that anything other than science based evidence should be taken seriously. Even as an immature 17 year old I realized she had an agenda influenced by her religious beliefs and that's when I asked myself, "How else have I been unknowingly influenced by other peoples' beliefs?". It was only a matter of time until I started questioning my own indoctrination. And here we are today! haha

Cognostic's picture
IMO: The core of cognitive

IMO: The core of cognitive dissonance occurs because of the idea "I am a Christian." To the believer, a Christian is a thing. The Christian does not think, "I am a human being who happens to believe in a religion." Christianity is real, Jesus is real, and being a Christian is real, to the believer. There are boundaries and rules to being a Christian just as there are boundaries and rules to being a good father, being a good student, being a good mother, or being a good employee... whatever. People do not see themselves as people who do things but rather as people who are things. I am a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Teacher, Psychotherapist, Mechanic, etc.....

These are all roles people take on help them to meet their "need" for "self acceptance, self esteem, respect of self and peers." "As long as I am doing this I am a good person." "As long as I am a good Christian, I am a good person." "As long as I don't question my god and keep my mind right, I am a good person." "People who don't think like me are lost, confused, will not get to heaven... etc..."

When challenged by any idea, contrary to the "self identity," of these believers, defensive mechanisms come into play. The self identity is being attacked. If you tell them "Jesus was not a real person because there is no first century evidence corroborating his existence." This is a direct attack on their self concept. If Jesus is not real they can not be unconditionally loved by him. They can not be forgiven their sins. They can not have the love of god flow through them. They can not be kind to others because that is what Jesus wants them to do. They can not be Christian. They can not do things Christians do for reasons Christians do them.

Look at your own life and imagine something that you think you do very well. Or imagine a project that you once did and were very proud of. Now imagine someone coming in and criticizing it. "Well, it's not bad for an armature." "I guess it's okay, but I have seen better." "That's all you could come up with?" "Wow, that stinks, who told you that you were good at this?" Don't defenses naturally go up? You are a shitty artist, attorney, parent, basket ball player, whatever it is that you think you do well. Defenses go up.

Religions are notorious for indoctrinating people when they are at their lowest points in life. The message they give to people is "Unconditional Love and Regard" "TRANSLATION: You are not shitty. You are a worthwhile human being." as long as you follow our conditions. ("Oh... and give us your money.) This "You are worthwhile and loved by God," becomes so ingrained in the mind of the religious follower that any attempt to move them off of that position is met with resistance. Cognitive dissonance, ignoring reality and clinging to the fantasy, is just a way for them to maintain who they are as a person. Their personal self worth is tied directly to their religious values and perceptions. They are only good people because Jesus and their religion says they are good people. Without religion they have no self identity. Cognitive dissonance, selective perception, is a way of protecting who they think they are as a Christian (Not a human being who happens to follow a religion). It is a way of protecting the role they have adopted (Their Christian Self Identity). A way of protecting their self worth and self perception.

Fallen's picture
It's a terrible place to be,

It's a terrible place to be, and pushes the mind to extremes. Especially when you don't obey the fear, and keep seeking reality. You start losing the support of your religious brothers and sisters; who form part of how god communicates with you. You pray and no one is there to tell you god loves you because you doubt yourself. You start seeing the truth about the bible, and the comfort from there is diminished. The self worth you have from 'doing what god wants' starts to disappear. And you need to start finding strength in yourself for the first time.

If you push through the cognitive dissonance, god ends up on his death bed, and part of you will even mourn him like a lost loved one when he finally passes and becomes what he truly is.

Cue some phases of grief: denial, anger etc. And finally freedom in reality.

Or you just obey the fear and strengthen your faith; avoiding reality, finding comfort with brothers and sisters and the bible, but always having that incessant 'something is wrong here' in the back of your mind.

Sky Pilot's picture
What are religions supposed

What are religions supposed to teach besides complete obedience and loyalty to the Boss? They don't teach morality and they don't teach scientific facts. You can easily destroy any of their arguments if they venture into those areas.

dogalmighty's picture
My father was religious, yet

My father was religious, yet as a history teacher, his knowledge came in confrontation with his beliefs. He was a very smart man, but knew his religion was fraught with contradictions...however he maintained his belief in the idea of a god...the doctrine not so much...even though he was a very strong man...I believe he was comforted by the thought of someone watching over him, more than anything else. When the discussion came up, he always directed the topic to choice...whatever your choice is, is the right choice for you...and looking back I have to thank my father for this, when he easily could have persuaded us children of a god and associated doctrine...he did not talk about religion until we were in our early twenties, and when he did he agreed with us mostly...and our atheist choice was respected...he did not attack us for not believing in a god, he mostly listened to us. He never lost his ability to reason truth, and never claimed there was a god, or forced his belief on others. I don't know why other religious people don't behave the same. I miss him dearly.

arakish's picture
Fortunately, I never bought

Fortunately, I never bought into any religion. Even at a very young age of 4 I knew the Bible was just a collection of faerie tales. The only cognitive dissonance I suffered was when I came out as an atheist way back in 1980, telling mine own mother that I had faked my belief so I could get them to leave me alone. As Andy Rooney once said, “Why am I an atheist? I ask you, “Why is anybody not an atheist?” Everyone starts out being an atheist. No one is born with belief in anything. Infants are atheists until they are indoctrinated. I resent anyone pushing their religion on me. I don’t push my atheism on anybody else. Live and let live. Not many people practice that when it comes to religion.”

I was born an atheist. I know terrible argument, but is the true truth. And have always been an atheist my whole life. I only faked believe to get the Pastors and me mom to quit beating by ass just because I was asking legitimate questions about the veracity of the Bible. How dare a godless heathen child try to show a Christian adult that the Bible is false.

I am quitting here because I could get very long-winded about this.


Grinseed's picture
Two paragraphs and a sentence

Two paragraphs and a sentence! You are proving we can do anything, wise old tree. I wish I could be so brief.

oooh, I think I just have! Better stop now.

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