Cognitive Dissonance.

The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

About 3 years ago we prepared a marketing strategy at our church to analyze how Canadians think.  We had previously created two of these strategies in 2001 and 2009.

Marketing studies are difficult, but the gathering of data is essential to making educated projections of behavioural habits.  The most difficult process is summing up the concepts into a few identifiable traits.

Now, I’m not a big fan of generalizations.  However, sometimes they are helpful for clarifying trends that define the values of a period in history.  Categorization does have a valid place in analysis.

The latest study identified three categories which stood out:

  1. Radicalized Individualism– Each person defines everything from their subjective narrative and feelings.
  2. Extended Adolescence– Adolescence is pushed forward a decade and the concept of maturity is suppressed in favour of expression and entertainment.
  3. Cognitive Dissonance– People hold completely contradictory values in tension by never addressing them objectively.

Over the coming months I am going to take some time to address these ideas so we can understand how we think and how people around us look at the world.

Pluralism can be a term used to define an appreciation for differing views, and, when done civilly and with productive discussion, can be a good cornerstone for an effective society. (Romans chapter 14 is a good example of this type of thinking.)

A way in which pluralism has gone wrong is when the presentation that all value systems are equally valid happens.  In reality, those presenting this agenda don’t actually believe it. They prioritize their values as much as anyone else; sometimes, even more dogmatically than a dyed in the wool fundamentalist. This argument is usually presented in order to avoid a discussion or to shoot down opposition to their views. The drawback of this kind of argument is that it invariably leads its proponents down the path to despair and meaninglessness. If everything is true then nothing is true. If everything is valid, then nothing is valid.

Ravi Zacharias is quoted as saying,

In the 1950s kids lost their innocence.
They were liberated from their parents by well-paying jobs, cars, and lyrics in music that gave rise to a new term —the generation gap.

In the 1960s, kids lost their authority.
It was a decade of protest—church, state, and parents were all called into question and found wanting. Their authority was rejected, yet nothing ever replaced it.

In the 1970s, kids lost their love. It was the decade of me-ism dominated by hyphenated words beginning with self.
Self-image, Self-esteem, Self-assertion….It made for a lonely world. Kids learned everything there was to know about sex and forgot everything there was to know about love, and no one had the nerve to tell them there was a difference.

In the 1980s, kids lost their hope.
Stripped of innocence, authority and love and plagued by the horror of a nuclear nightmare, large and growing numbers of this generation stopped believing in the future.

In the 1990s kids lost their power to reason. Less and less were they taught the very basics of language, truth, and logic and they grew up with the irrationality of a postmodern world.

In the new millennium, kids woke up and found out that somewhere in the midst of all this change, they had lost their imagination. Violence and perversion entertained them till none could talk of killing innocents since none was innocent anymore.”
― Ravi Zacharias, Recapture the Wonder

These kinds of Pluralistic arguments have in left us in a place where civil discourse is muted and most people are left making things up as they go. Combine this with the narcissistic pull of society, and your everyday person becomes a paradox.   Often, their tastes and their words don’t line up.  Many will profess to uphold the idea of feminine equality with great passion.  But high numbers of people watch pornography that depicts women in degrading situations and listens to music that describes exploiting them as well.

In order to correct the paradox, we need to:

  • Reconcile identity politics with opposition to racism.
  • Reconcile genderless society with women’s rights.
  • Reconcile intersectionality with self-help.
  • Reconcile the claims of Pluralism with the obvious prejudice against the Judeo Christian parts of society.

History will probably look back on this time and consider society insane.

But how do we respond?  Responding with truth or dialogue only leads to disengagement and animosity.

Years ago, when I was in school, the first inkling of how post-modernism was influencing change in society was illustrated by a man who spoke at my school who quoted the following scripture:

1 Chronicles 12: 32 

Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do

Perhaps we should start by praying for this kind of wisdom.

Understanding should precede effective response.

Secondly, we need to realize we are talking to people like us.  Many of the ways of thinking that bother us in other people are mirrored in our own tainted view of self.  We need to remove the plank in our own eye before we draw the sliver from our brothers.

Thirdly, the times are reflected in millennium history.  Every 500 years or so, society has a massive garage sale.  Many ideas are challenged and re-thought.  I would define post-modernism as a mood, rather than a movement.  It is, in some ways the last gasp of the combining “isms” of the twentieth century vying for recognition.  Marxism, feminism, fascism and humanism are all trying to get our attention.  I remember hearing a speaker saying he wished more “ism’s” became “wasm’s”.

Fourthly and most importantly, when society is pulled one way, another opportunity presents itself.  Everything happening is not altogether bad or even futile.  Discerning people can make a culture-changing choice.  God always reserves a remnant and an opening for His message of good news to thrive.

We need to be listeners.  The gift of listening to someone and taking time to understand them is a lost art.  Our culture has grown into sound bytes and shouting over each other in an attempt to dominate other ideas.    Looking someone in the eye and letting them tell their story is a gift we can give others.

In conjunction with listening, we need to build relationships with other people.  Love and truth go hand in hand. If we are willing to invest in people, they are more likely to speak authentically.   This helps us grow too.

Finally, we are all hungry to learn.  The shallowness and contradiction of our culture has led to a renewed interest in discussing complicated issues of meaning and purpose.  Finding meaning and purpose is the God-given cry of every human heart.

Share your thoughts.