Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beyond Cognitive Dissonance

What is deeper than one’s world view?

I got an email from a student some years ago. He wanted to meet for lunch because he was facing doubts about his Christian belief. He had been significantly involved in the Christian community of undergraduates at Yale and was well versed in the Scriptures. He was also a careful thinker.

We met and I began to probe. After about forty-five minutes I realized that it was not the case that there was a particular issue or question that was troubling him. He did not say, “I cannot come to grips with horrendous evil” or “I can’t help worrying over the plurality of religious beliefs.” He was troubled by doubts but they seemed to be unfocussed.

Finally I asked him about his relationships. Yes, he had begun dating a classmate, and she was not a believer…. You can see what was happening. He was experiencing dissonance. What he thought he believed as a Christian was coming into conflict with his new relationship. We have all seen people walk away from their faith in Christ in similar circumstances.

What kind of dissonance is at work in a story like this? It is not cognitive dissonance – that is, an experienced conflict between two beliefs. It is more of an existential dissonance. It is dissonance between beliefs on the one hand, and something deeper than beliefs on the other.

It turns out that it is not only what I think is true that will shape how I pursue my life. It is also what I think is most important. Augustine wrote that when it comes to our moral and spiritual well-being, what we value is more important than what we believe: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves” (Enchiridion 117). In the City of God, he wrote, “So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love.…” (City of God, book XV Chapter 22).

A good person loves the right things and in the right order. The root of moral and spiritual disorder, Augustine thought, is that our loves are disordered. He would say that our moral failures are not a result of our loving bad things. Rather, we love good things, but we love them in the wrong order.

I’ll explore this further in a future post. But for now, what do you think about the above story? Is there more than cognitive dissonance involved? How might this student have disordered loves?

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5 Comments:

Blogger ChosenRebel said:

Hey Greg,
Good post brother. it reminds me of something J.P. Moreland said to me during my time at the International School of Theology: "Most graduate students don't lose their faith because of better arguments encountered but because they want to fit into the 'club' of academia." He was right and in perfect sync with Augustine.

What we love, the proper ordering of our loves, is a critical component of spiritual formation. Our heart always follows our treasure. Always.

Staying faithful, Marty

By Blogger ChosenRebel, at October 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM  

Blogger Gregory Ganssle said:

Thanks, Marty!
It is hard to believe it was nearly 35 years ago that we wondered where God would take us! It has been beyond my imagination! Thank you for your faithfulness over the years!

By Blogger Gregory Ganssle, at October 14, 2011 at 7:25 PM  

Blogger Ashley Crist said:

I arrived at your blog via a tweet from J.P. Moreland.

Thank you for this post. Knowing our identity in Jesus can mean the difference between a life of strife or a life of freedom.

Interesting when you think about beliefs and values in the context of obedience... Even if we really want to do good, always come up short and later on struggle with guilt. On the other hand, if we value Jesus above all else, He becomes our righteousness and our life and everything that flows through Him is good.

By Blogger Ashley Crist, at November 17, 2011 at 5:01 AM  

Blogger Gregory Ganssle said:

Ashley,

Very good thoughts. What it means to be a Christian can be captured in the phrase, "Aiming to be a faithful follower of Jesus."

As you say, this focuses our attention and concern on Jesus rather than on less important things!

By Blogger Gregory Ganssle, at February 16, 2012 at 10:57 AM  

Blogger Gregory Ganssle said:

Ashley,

Very good thoughts. What it means to be a Christian can be captured in the phrase, "Aiming to be a faithful follower of Jesus."

As you say, this focuses our attention and concern on Jesus rather than on less important things!

By Blogger Gregory Ganssle, at February 16, 2012 at 10:57 AM  

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