Cognitive Dissonance: Is it worth it?

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: a discomfort 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. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Is it worth it?

Do you feel like you're spinning your wheels when you engage in conversation with a "believer?" The following is an article I posted on my "Squidoo" lens. If you like my blog, or even if you don't like it but you find it interesting, I'd encourage you to follow me on Squidoo as well. Also, a little disclaimer - I realize that my "voice" has changed some over the last 3 or so years and those of you that have followed me from the beginning may notice this shift. In regards to that I can say that my anger over being deceived for so long has waned. I'm working on adopting a more balanced and objective approach to the conversation on faith - which I think is important if I want to be taken seriously. However, don't mistake the meekness for weakness; my position on and feelings towards religion (and all similar faith based belief systems) has only grown stronger.

Is It Worth It?
Does discussing your non-belief with believes feel like an exercise in futility?

If you're one of the brave few that have stepped off the edge of the abyss and into the volatile, unpredictable realm of religiosity - then I salute you! Trying to use rational and logic to combat irrational and illogical viewpoints often feels like an exercise in futility. I doubt that very many of us that have or do engage in discussion, debate or arguments with believers have ever heard the words, "oh, you're right - my religious beliefs are utter nonsense." It is also unlikely that very many of us have seen anyone give up their beliefs and join the ranks of those of us that do not, "believe." The lack of tangible results that we can trace back to our efforts to win hearts and (more importantly) minds can be discouraging. However, I submit to you that your struggle is not in vain.

Despite the fact that I can remember the exact moment I "lost my religion," it was years after the fact before I was able to look back and recognize the erosion that had been occurring in regards to my religious beliefs. Even after the fateful summer night when I walked (stormed) out of my church for the last time it was a good 12 months before I said the word, "atheist" out loud for the first time. Over the years since then I have heard/read many accounts of people who have been able to break free from the grasp of organized religion. Many, if not all of them described their deconversion as a slow process that often took years - so don't feel discouraged if it seems like nothing you're saying is getting through. In actuality, it is quite likely that you're helping that person along in their personal journey out of ignorance and delusion. "Rome wasn't built in a day," neither did it collapse in a day. Many believers have years or even decades of indoctrination to overcome, that was certainly true in my case. I was systematically programmed from a very young age to believe in, "God" in a process that can only be described as brainwashing. I was in my twenties before it occurred to me that questioning my beliefs was even an option! That might sound crazy, (and there's a good reason for that) ... because it is crazy.

Multiple scientific studies have examined the brains of believers and people who describe having had "religious experiences" using MRI, CT and PET scans. In all of these studies the finding was confirmed that religion/religious experiences had a direct correlation with literal, physical brain damage. A part of the brain called the, "hippocampus" (used to regulate emotion and in memory formation, among other things) actually atrophies (shrinks) in the brains of those that identified religious belief as a major factor in their life as well as those that claim to have had "religious experiences." Additionally the degree of atrophy that was discovered correlated with a person's religious affiliation. In a study done at Duke University, the research showed, "significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again." This means to combat such deeply held, personal beliefs a person not only has to overcome a lifetime of indoctrination (in some cases) but they also have to contend with neurological deficits. I realize how harsh this might sound - I'm not calling religious people, "stupid," (necessarily). I am simply stating the facts, religious faith is a stubborn "virus" and very, very rarely do people realize their mistake immediately after being confronted with the facts.

Keep these things in mind the next time someone quotes Sarah Palin or "Fox and Friends" in defense of their faith in "God." If you are lucky enough to have never been caught up in the throes of religiosity yourself, try and empathize with the folks you're speaking with that are entrenched themselves. The realizations a person has to contend with as they acknowledge their presuppositions are false can be extremely difficult. As a person defects from their religious worldview and transitions to a rational, empirical and factual understanding of life and the natural order of things they will need time to adjust. While the abandonment of blind religious faith/belief does means freedom from mental and emotional slavery, it also means having to face things like the finality of death, questions about their origin, purpose and place in the cosmos, etc... The "Truth" about these kinds of questions is infinitely more awesome and more beautiful than the feeble, infantile fairy tales put forth by the various religious traditions around the world. Yet it takes time to adjust to and understand before the inherent beauty, wonder and awesomeness of nature becomes clear.

The conversation about atheism and religion is worthwhile, but it requires time, patience, empathy and perseverance on the part of the non-believer. If you're truly interested in being better equipped to handle the intricacies and potential pitfalls that accompany these types conversations - join me as I share what I've learned over the years as I've been engaged in this debate. If you stick it out, the reward of being the first person to see the look in someone's eyes as they gaze up at the night sky and see our universe for what it is (for the first time) - is truly amazing."

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