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.

(photo by r. nial bradshaw)

4 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance and Intellectual Dishonesty

  1. Thanks for this, I’m fascinated. But I have so many more questions. To state just a couple: How was your life already crumbling? Why were the (literal) creation and flood stories linchpins of your faith? Where were your mentors and fellow intellectually honest thinkers of faith, who you deserved to consult and challenge with your doubts?

    I am not soliciting your answers to these questions, not waiting for your defenses or explanations. I merely pose them as evidence I see of a journey that does not yet seem to be complete.

    I know you only just, and then only because of this scripture memory program. Like you, I am both a graduate of and former leader in it. Like you, I fought my body’s own betrayal by cancer before my time. Unlike you, I continue in faith and, I gather from your account here, as a young adult chose a path which departed somewhat from the practices of my formative tradition… out of public high school I went straight to public uni, and while I’ve never cottoned much to the sciences I do not know a time when my religion did not conflict with the prevailing culture.

    It has also been said that genius is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one’s mind at the same time. I’m no genius, but faith is something like that too. If doubt can be said to be faith’s twin (and I do believe it is), I hope that in your present and future struggles you find a real peace in being able to reconcile the material with the infinite.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have just YouTube Noah’s ark and have gains so much undisclosed information, that is being kept from us. The devil doesn’t want us to know the truth, but it’s out there if you look and listen.
    Also YouTube: garden of Eden and Moses there’s is scientific proof. Look up proficiency that have come true… It’s a real eye opener.


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