Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress and discomfort that comes from holding two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time. This is not the mere hypocrisy that might come from a career nutritionalist who secretly binges on bacon-covered donuts. This is more akin to poor HAL 9000 whose programmed purpose was to relay accurate information, but simultaneously attempted to obey orders to withhold information from Bowman and the crew.
While I didn’t consider mass murder as a solution to my problem, in 2010 (coincidentally, the year that fictional HAL was restored and healed), I could no longer ignore the decades-old splinter in my brain caused by my fundamentalist Christian views and my brushes with logical and scientific discoveries that seemed to conflict. My life was crumbling on many fronts, so this particular indulgence certainly didn’t seem of timely import, but I couldn’t shake it. It was giving me literal headaches.
And so, I did what any golden Mennonite poster-boy would do… I set out to gather the evidence that the Bible was true, in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15.
Like the awkwardly-healed leg bones that I shattered in middle school, I had been silently carrying this mind splinter since I was a teen. Never quite right, always there, but rarely affecting my life or consciousness.
This wasn’t my first crisis. I was a fresh-faced teen already on his way to a Doogie Howser software career, taking a brief stop at Canadian Bible College in Regina to double-check God’s life map. Fortunately, my first-term marks were high enough to bypass pesky prerequisite requirements and I was allowed jump straight to senior-level apologetics classes. There my eager-to-be-comforted intellect was wrapped in a warm blanket of authorities, vague notions and the traditions of generations. Cherry-picked interpretations were given to me in a warm mug while thick velvet choir curtains shielded me from outside questions. Google was years away. I left satiated.
My big disconnects were the global flood and creation. I took to Amazon and ordered the best books, and hit my browser for the best websites. Within a week or two, I was sure to have personally inventoried all of the clear evidence for these historical events and I could return my mind to other concerns.
But when I started reading, the evidence wasn’t there. Far worse, what the most renowned minds had written was flimsy. Straw-grasping. Incoherent. Transparently false. I found myself laughing out loud at the scholars I was turning to to save me. The ones who believed what I believed.
And then it came. My beliefs were intellectually dishonest. I had no good reason to believe them. At this point, I had literally nothing to replace them with. I knew nothing of modern cosmology, abiogenesis, geology or evolution.
All I knew what that intellectual dishonesty was worse than cognitive dissonance.
At the time, I was still a leader to hundreds of teens memorizing scripture week-by-week. I had nothing to say to them. I immediately delegated all Bible teaching and all public prayer. This was easy to do under the guise of mentorship, but I couldn’t disrespect them with my unbelief.
I prayed my last public prayer. Lost.