"Eliminating Cognitive Dissonance and the Silly Putty Jesus"

Jesus Christ (the actual God/Man of the Bible) is not a mythical being that we've created; He is the second person of the Holy Trinity-the Godhead. However, the Jesus of Pop American Evangelicalism is too often an ambiguous and subjective creation that adapts and adjusts to us, in order to meet our felt needs. He's like Silly Putty. We can bend him into any shape we want-we can even even press him against any image and he'll take on that image like a cheap copier. He's very accommodating of our every whim and fantasy. There's only one small problem: he isn't real. At all.

     Pop American Evangelicalism should be busy eliminating the Silly Putty Jesus; after all, aren't Evangelicals supposed to be the ones following the Bible very closely? Or is that just something that's assumed, without much evidence? Does Jesus really exist to "make our dreams come true?" Did Jesus die on the cross to "give us a sense of purpose and community" or to help us promote "leadership principles?" Did the Sovereign Maker of the Universe come and take on flesh and die on the cross so that we could become:

    "Empowered Dreamers of Destiny?" or

             "Prophets of Global Awakening?" or

                        "Radical Worshipers of the Heavenly Realm?" or,

                                 just insert whatever non-Biblical (yet spiritual sounding) phrase pops into your head...

No, Jesus came to rescue us from sin and death.

     In psychology, "cognitive dissonance" is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Dr. Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance (which was developed in the late 1950's) focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and they are motivated to reduce this dissonance, in any number of ways. It's painful to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time. One can either change one's beliefs in order to make them consistent or one can make some other superficial adjustment.

     When confronted with the Silly Putty Jesus, Evangelical Christians tend to react in two different ways: they either recommit to their false beliefs with increased fervor (often by invalidating the messenger who delivers the uncomfortable truth; i.e. "that blogger is just a mean jerk!!"), or they give up on Christianity altogether (which they've mistakenly believed was owned and operated by the Silly Putty Jesus, and thus, all their dreams have not come true).

     It's very interesting to note that Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance was formulated during research for the 1956 book "When Prophets Fail." Festinger and his collaborators, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter, examined conditions under which disconfirmation of beliefs leads to increased conviction in such beliefs. The group studied a small apocalyptic cult led by Dorothy Martin (under the pseudonym Marion Keech in the book), a suburban housewife. Martin claimed to have received messages from "the Guardians," a group of superior beings from another planet. The messages purportedly said that a flood would destroy the world on December 21st.

     As a side note, Dorothy Martin received her messages by utilizing an "automatic writing" (demonic) technique just like Sarah Young, who wrote the "Jesus Calling" book that Evangelicals have made a runaway best-seller.

     Anyway, the three psychologists and several other assistants infiltrated Dorothy Martin's group incognito, where they observed the group firsthand for months before and after the predicted apocalypse. Many of the group members quit their jobs and sold their possessions in preparation for the predicted "End of the World." When the prophesied doomsday came and went, Martin claimed that the world was spared because of the "force of good and light" that the group members had spread throughout the world. Rather than abandoning their discredited beliefs, group members adhered to them even more strongly and began proselytizing with fervor.

     So, these people had experienced tremendous cognitive dissonance when their leader was proven utterly wrong; so they increased activity and fervor in order to compensate for their internal discomfort. Hmmm....

     Doesn't this sound like a lot of church services where the goal is to prop-up shallow beliefs and bad theology with emotionalism and cheer-leading? And in the charismatic American Evangelical church, there have been so many false prophets saying so many false things that it's impossible to even keep track of it all. How many of the "New Apostles" have said false things that don't line up with scripture? All of them have. How many of the "New Apostles" have made false prophecies that haven't come true? All of them have. Yet they keep "preaching" and getting richer. Sound Biblical teaching has been replaced with: "Speaking my dream into existence" and "declaring and decreeing my destiny" and "My time of special anointing is about to be birthed..." These ideas came from the world of sorcery and "Mind Science," but they've been accommodated by charismatic churches for decades and now many Evangelical churches (that were previously non-charismatic) have accepted and adopted these charismatic practices and beliefs without pause. Why? Because it's "what people want" and it "brings in the numbers."

     More recently, another psychological study found that playing pleasant music (Mozart, in the study) can decrease cognitive dissonance. In other words, if one is holding two or more conflicting beliefs simultaneously, the resulting tension can be decreased by listening to soft music. Of course, the best thing to do would be to eliminate whatever false belief is causing all the trouble! And yet, this helps explain why a soft rock "praise band" is a vital part of any Evangelical service nowadays. While the parishioner sits and listens to a sermon that conflicts with Biblical Christianity (usually in a subtle, sneaky way), he is eventually lulled into compliance by an emotional chord progression played repeatedly in the background.

     As an accomplished musician I know about this from playing for many years on the "worship team." We musicians would often be out in the lobby talking and eating donuts during the sermon, but we had to watch for the pastor's signal to come up and play while he delivered his emotional ending plea. Charismatic churches compound this charade by calling any emotional response "The Holy Spirit," or by saying "you could really feel the Holy Spirit fall down during the service this morning!" Do we really believe the Holy Spirit was somewhere (up in the rafters maybe?) and by playing a certain type of music that we can "call Him down" as if we had some kind of mystical God whistle? In truth, emotional music is, well, emotional. That's why can you feel very similar feelings at any concert when certain similar music is being played. In the church, this is plain old emotional manipulation, and it's been a hallmark of American Evangelicalism ever since the days of Charles Finney.

Here are some thoughts on how to fend off cognitive dissonance for good:

1. Diligently eliminate all false teachings from you life.

 This is what God's Word tells us to do. Check out all these Bible verses. This will probably take some time and effort-do it anyway. This will also probably make you unpopular with some people-do it anyway. Even though Jesus and the Apostles tell us repeatedly to "watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing" we've been told by Evangelical "experts" to do the opposite; we've been told to just be accepting, non-judgmental and positive. As for me, I've been more at peace than ever before by ignoring all the "experts." If Jesus is the head of the church, shouldn't Jesus be the head of the church? Why are we allowing "vision-casting" pastors to promote the Silly Putty Jesus? Probably because he tells us whatever we want to hear. But it's all deception, and true freedom comes from the true Gospel.

2. Question everything.

 Seriously. Question your own presumptions before you even start asking questions. For example: instead of saying, "I want to go to a church where the pastor can really keep my attention with exciting and humorous sermons" or "I want to go to a church that I'm comfortable with" or "I want to go to a church that's relevant to my needs" you should be saying "I want to go to a church that carefully follows God's Word-no matter what!" The pastor who keeps your attention with his exciting and humorous sermons is quite possibly preventing you from hearing about Christ and Him crucified for your sins.  Is hearing a little pep talk about improving your "life skills" a good enough reason to attend church? Do you really expect so little from the God of the Universe? Question everything, but make the Bible your final authority. Which leads to the last point...

3. Stop following the teachings of men. 

Do you want to follow Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior? Great! That means taking up your cross and denying yourself, it doesn't mean "having your best life now." Evangelicals believe that the Bible is God's Word, yet they read it very infrequently, and then they often misunderstand it when they do. It's not a "manual for life" or a set of instructions for "achieving you dreams." It is God revealing Himself through the redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ. He came to earth by taking on human flesh through a virgin birth; He lived an amazing life full of astounding miracles; He had authority and wisdom far beyond any human; He died on the cross where He took our sins upon Himself, and then He was raised from the dead. And then He gave us His Word-His unchanging and objective Word. We need not doubt anymore.

That's enough.

              Actually, that's much, much more than enough!

Why would we add anything to this? What pathetic "new" teaching of man could possibly be better than the true Gospel? When we focus on the shocking, stunning and truly wonderful miracle of Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sins and the complete, final and unconditional forgiveness we've been granted, we won't have any need for the shallow teachings of man to tickle our ears.

Leave the Silly Putty Jesus behind, and find true freedom, forgiveness and hope in the real Jesus!


Also, here's an article about cognitive dissonance that you might find helpful:

Creating Straw Men from Cognitive Dissonance