The Church, Cognitive Dissonance, and Divorce

Talk about cognitive dissonance….it just came up last evening when my wife and I were discussing the mother of a friend of our youngest. They hosted our daughter for a play date yesterday and the mother told my wife she “feared” the Republican candidates because they want a theocracy.

We live in a world filled with cognitive dissonance. While the government marches us step by step into a world void of any religious influence, one where it is hateful or offensive to even quote a scripture, the followers of the ideological left FEAR the Republicans because their ideology would force beliefs on folks. Wow.

PsyBlog, talks about (cognitive dissonance) CD:

People often display a striking ability to change both their behavior and their view of the world to try and make it self-consistent.

People will interpret seemingly inconsistent information to support their own view of the world and they will adjust their attitudes to make it consistent with their behaviour.

Psychologists have labelled the cause of this drive towards self-consistency ‘cognitive dissonance’. In the classic experiment on cognitive dissonance conducted in the late 1950s experimenters discovered that people will work extraordinarily hard to present a consistent front to the world.

The way the term is used is usually slightly off. To say that someone is exhibiting cognitive dissonance credits them with actually experiencing some discomfort at their mind bending thought manipulations in order for them to arrive at a belief that can be seen as consistent with some other belief or assertion. In other words, if the person was actually feeling or experiencing CD, they would actually BE more consistent or acknowledge inconsistency. r The discomfort would show.

However,.. “people will frequently display major inconsistencies in their thoughts and behavior without appearing to suffer any crippling cognitive dissonance“.

In other words folks create the reality they need in order to keep their beliefs as consistent as possible. Sadly today most beliefs are shaped on the basis of emotions garnered from anecdotal personal experiences. What information leaks in from outside must be twisted to fit the opinions formed by anecdotal experience and emotion about same.CD would be evidence of more rational thought during this process but I don’t see it. I see no awareness of inconsistency or self contradiction at all.

Its (CD) still a handy descriptor, but when used it should be understood to be saying that the person speaking or writing SHOULD be experiencing CD based on the inconsistency of their statements versus obvious reality, not that they ARE experiencing it.

On HuffPo I found an example of someone who should be feeling CD while writing her article regarding the church and divorce.

What the Church Needs to Understand About Divorce

This author,

Kristin Tennant is a freelance writer, author of the blog Halfway to Normal, and a contributor to the Seal Press anthology Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. Kristin lives in Central Illinois with her new husband, two daughters, and stepdaughter.
writes her wish list for how the church needs to change its approach to outreach and be more accommodating to divorced people. She makes several points, three of which I want to lift out and highlight against the back drop of a CD discussion:

1. “Punishing or shunning those who have been through a divorce does not scare others into staying married”

2. “It is absolutely possible for a church to accept and support someone who has been divorced without sending the message “We think divorce is great!”

3. “Redemption and healing come not through guilt and shame, but from a person’s ability to ask forgiveness and to forgive; to mend and strengthen their relationships, especially with God, and to bask in God’s love, forgiveness, and hope for a better future.”

All of these points are irrelevant when you consider that the church isn’t even talking to the people who are divorcED. they are attempting to influence those that are still married. yet its the divorcED that raise the ruckus.

Number 1.  is true, but irrelevant, because the problem—shunning the divorced—isn’t real. Its not happening. Its theoretical existence depends wholly on people, like the author, continually decrying it, creating a sort of boogieman at best, but at worst a hypersensitivity that makes it a self fulfilling prophecy. What happens is, divorced woman reads or hears these words about how the church shuns divorced people, then walks into the church with an enormous chip on her shoulder daring anyone deign condemn HER choice for filing a divorce and seeking her happiness. Lets say the pastor happens to mention that Gods plan for marriage is that its for life, just that. In and of itself that’s about as harmless (and true) a statement as can be made. But be SURE she will feel guilt and condemnation and that she and others in the divorcED crowd were directly attacked.So, number one is a false reality construct and will go away only when the women who believe it exists make it go away in their own minds.

This is not to say that no church exists where divorce and the divorced could be made to feel targeted. But they are plenty rare. And lets be real, a writer at HuffPo is not attending a coal heated church in Appalachia, she is likely at a large nondenom feel good mega church, a church of one of the liberal mainstream denominations, or even a Universalist type church. Her own fear of condemnation isnt allowing her to even venture into the local Baptist church, where she would expect condemnation, but find they are just as soft on divorce as anyone, mainly because they know the women in the crowd are overly sensitive.

Number 2, well, its just not correct, not even close. The reason she says it though is addressed on PsyBlog as follows:

 “cognitive dissonance only operates when people think their inconsistent behaviour has had some bad consequence that they would rather avoid.”

The women who file divorces and lack a simple tangible obvious reason, like physical abuse, infidelity, or a substance abuse issue, are scared to death someone will call them on it. To get past that they manufacture a narrative that works in casual discourse where they won’t experience a follow up, or hear for example scripture preached that is plain and unequivocal about divorce. The consequences they wish to avoid are guilt, and doubt. Women notoriously doubt themselves, and on a decision like divorce need a nearly uninterrupted affirmation chorus for some years after taking the decision to divorce. Other women know this and offer only “follow your heart sweety” types of comments. The church indeed CAN and DOES support the divorced without saying divorce is great. But the women in the church will feel attacked no matter what, so no, they (the church) CANNOT functionally accomplish what she says they can.

As proof I offer an example she or anyone can try. Write a blog or thread entry on a widely read Christian forum or blog that simply says “divorce is generally a bad thing and everyone, men women and children would be better off if there was less of it” and see what happens. You will not be able to get away with such hateful stuff I tell you, how dare you attempt to support forcing women to stay under abusive husbands, and God wants her to be happy and men want less divorce so men can keep getting away with things and on and on.Meanwhile, the statement is not condemning of anyone, and is 100% true and harmless. The argument that ensues will be along gender lines, understandable because women file vastly more divorces than men and those are mostly lacking  tangible reasons or grounds. Women will always feel condemned at the utterance of the word divorce inside a church, even women who have never need divorced. They know women who have, and they may need to bust the move one day themselves, and don’t need no church tellin em what to do.

Finally, number 3…this brings in the aspect of how does the church handle sin in general? Here the preachers are forced to be inconsistent. They can speak plainly about porn, about adultery, you name your sin, and still the church is seen as both supportive of healing and generally plain spoken against the sin itself.

Sometimes divorce is sin. Oh my, try saying that. You cannot….period. because the women will manufacture their own guilt and shame. That’s because sinful divorce is the realm of the woman. They simply do it more than men, period.

Christian women sre so incredibly conflicted and insecure, fearing men, fearing submission, fearing the biblical admonishment on sexual access, fearing that women may or may not be head pastors, basically trying to squeeze secular feminism into evangelical gynocentrism creates a powerful (additional) storm of emotional turmoil and insecurity. So, guilt and shame are barely held at bay, and cannot be held at my unilaterally. It requires the power of the sisterhood and the support each other no matter what that goes with Team Woman. All that falls apart when the preacher deigns paint divorce in a negative light.

Why is that? Why are the constructed walls around her thoughts so weak that a mere harmless non judgmental mention of divorce inside the church can break them apart?

Again from PsyBlog:

In everyday life we are happy to admit to our own inconsistencies right up until the point where it actually matters, and we can see it’s going to matter.

As we consider why its so easy to breach the protective walls, given that they have the sisterhood, the males in the group, and even the pastors either supporting them or at worst walking on egg shells about it, maybe they should consider that maybe the Creator of the universe threw in with the force that wrecked their tenuously built wall.

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6 thoughts on “The Church, Cognitive Dissonance, and Divorce

  1. But God loves them, and you’re being legalistic if you actually think that He requires a woman not to destroy her family and steal the family assets! When Jesus warned us not to seek our own life, He really didn’t mean like when a divorcee decides to selfishly go off to Eat, Pray and Love. Remember, feelings are more important than anything else.

  2. IAL, like the butler in Arthur said (adapted to the situation here)

    I look forward to your next first syllable with great eagerness

    when you sending something over?

  3. Empath said, ” Write a blog or thread entry on a widely read Christian forum or blog that simply says “divorce is generally a bad thing and everyone, men women and children would be better off if there was less of it” and see what happens. You will not be able to get away with such hateful stuff I tell you, how dare you attempt to support forcing women to stay under abusive husbands…”

    It does not even have to be a Christian site. Quoting the differences that Marriage Savers have on their web site on a blog on the Daily Telegraph, and saying that having appropriate pre-marital counselling will lead a higher break-up rate before marriage to a lower divorce rate, it was a women who argued that having such pre-marital counselling would require women to remain in abusive marriage relationships, even when I gave her a second chance and stated that the same divorce rules hold, it is just that the married couples with such counselling have the tools to resolve differences before the relationship becomes abusive. Apparently she thinks I am the one who does not understand the situation.

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