Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cognitive Dissonance

In my neighbourhood it has become trendy to post a blue sign on your front lawn, one that reads, “Leave fossil fuels IN THE GROUND”. I walk by several of these each morning.

These messages adorn the snow-covered lawns of $800,000+ homes with their natural gas furnaces blasting away in the face of our Canadian winter, their driveways filled with SUVs and other premium fossil fuel-consuming vehicles.

Such cries for change are eminently dismissable, their transparent virtue-signaling drowning in cognitive dissonance and unintended irony.

Awareness and Action

Now I suppose creating awareness is something, even if there is no evidence that the families with signs on their lawns take what they are saying too seriously. After all, they have made no visible investment in their cause of choice beyond a printed sheet of plastic that — again ironically, given that plastic is an oil product — declares to the world “I’m a good person and I care”. But everything else about their lifestyle belies the environmental concern they have taken the trouble to promote.

Still, I guess the message gets out. Sort of.

But most Christians are all too aware that inconsistency between a message and the conduct of the messenger creates communication barriers and blunts the force of God’s word in the lives of those to whom we witness.

That’s not exactly a new thought. James says that “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like”. The awareness of what we ought to be that is created by constant exposure to the word of God does us no good if we don’t bother to do something about it.

Three Ways Out

Faced with inconsistencies between what we say and what we do, we have three possible responses:
  1. Continue living inconsistently and try not to think about it too much;
  2. Shut up; or
  3. Adjust what we do to match what we say.
The first option should be a non-starter for believers. Oh, I’m sure we’ll all continue to carry on inconsistently in some areas of our lives. Maturity, ruthless honesty and self-awareness don’t always come easily or instantly, which is why objective third parties are very handy. This is one of the benefits of regular Christian association. Iron sharpens iron. My brothers and sisters in Christ can often easily see the inconsistencies in my life that I am in the habit of rationalizing away.

Trampled Underfoot

The second option should be equally repulsive to us. When we cease to be salt in the world, we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. I suppose there’s still some kind of glory for God in that, in the sense that if I become a cautionary tale, I prove God right.

But does that really sound like a good plan to you?

Still, it is probably better to shut up than to carry on inconsistently. The Lord tells Israel through Amos:
“Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”
If we must choose between options 1) and 2), at least shutting up has the virtue of being consistent. But it’s not really ideal, and we know it.

The Ever-Flowing Stream

And Amos doesn’t stop with “shut up”. He goes on to say this:
“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The problem with that, really, is the cost, isn’t it? Justice and righteousness don’t come cheap.

Living consistently with my beliefs has a price. For those who want to leave fossil fuels in the ground (or, to be more realistic, to leave as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible), the price is public transit, a bicycle or shoe leather, and a smaller home heated more expensively and much less efficiently. There’s a cost attached to living consistently, and not all of us are prepared to bear it.

Rubber, Meet Road

I was reminded of this yesterday in a conversation with an old friend. He and his wife have pretty much adopted an abandoned teenager. She’s living as a member of their family in a household that already had four young children.

And my first thought is that this has a cost. There’s the cost of food, clothing and shelter. There’s the cost of post-secondary education. There’s the time cost: time spent with an adopted child is time not spent with the ones you brought into the world, and you wonder if they will notice or, worse, harbour resentment. There’s risk too: your adopted child might not continue walking with the Lord, especially given her background and complete lack of exposure to good parenting in her formative years. She might rebel, or not appreciate your efforts. She might not be a good fit. She might create stresses on your marriage. All kinds of things could go wrong.

Easing the Dissonance

Then again, I imagine the priest and the Levite who passed the half-dead man by the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan did their own risk assessments too. Those robbers who beat him up might still be around. That man lying there could be faking it. What if he has a knife? And somebody else will probably be along any minute; somebody better equipped to deal with the problem. Let’s just scoot by on the other side of the road …

Yes, living consistently with our faith has a cost attached to it.

On the bright side, you never have to worry about cognitive dissonance.


  1. A bit off topic but I recently had my tablet repaired and then installed Windows 10 on it. During that process I came across info on how to convert a blog into e-book format (using available software) for public sale and consumption. This can even be done for you for a fee. My estimate is that you have enough material for that.
    In case you have not seen this yet and this is of interest to you, here are links to a few conversion sites.

    My wife and I belong to a book club and we usually read the e-book version which can be available in Audible, Kindle, e-Pub format. Sometimes I find the same book for free in Pdf e-book format from some torrent site. The Windows store has a free reader for that Pdf format. Might be worth considering if you want to reach a wider audience. If you would want to make it available for free then one of the links is for creating a Pdf e-book.

    Btw, don't seem to be able to append comments from tablet Windows 10. Comment disappears when pressing Publish button. Appending therefore from Windows 8.1 phone.

  2. Oddly enough, Q, I can't seem to comment from my Brave browser either. I have to open Google Chrome to be able to respond or approve comments. Others have mentioned they can't comment from Mac laptops either. The comments, as you say, simply disappear.

    Thanks for the epub info. I wouldn't rule out doing something in that format at some point.