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EPS Blog

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Existential Dissonance and Core Identity

In my previous post, I offered an example of what I understand to be a case where more than worldview or cognitive dissonance is at play in a person’s doubts.

At the heart of each person is the very deepest region of our selves. I call this region, for lack of a better term, our core identity. A person’s core identity involves the deepest sense the person has of who she is or who she longs to be. What constitutes our core identity is rarely in the forefront of our minds. Often it takes patient self- reflection and work to identify the contours of one’s core identity. Existential dissonance occurs when who we think we are or want to be, at the deepest level, comes into conflict with other values or beliefs. Sometimes we may be confronted with facts about who we actually are that conflict with our sense of who we thought we were, or of who we want to be.

One’s core identity often serves as the fulcrum for changes in one’s other values. Deep value change and change of world-view usually occurs along the contours of core identity. I will change how I order my loves if the change of order conforms to this contour. When I find that I have reversed the order of my loves, I can usually trace the change to some aspect of my core identity. The function of one’s core identity as a fulcrum is only very rarely conscious. Ordinarily, we find certain loves or beliefs simply gaining or losing their grip on us. If we trace this reordering carefully, we will find some deeper love or some sense of who we are that is at work.

Christian philosophers and apologists would do well to think hard about core identity. Unless we can hold forth a vision of following Jesus that captures the heart of a person, and not just the mind, we may find that our persuasion is more shallow than we want it to be.

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Blogger Paul D. Adams said:

Excellent, Greg! Cognitive dissonance has fascinated me since I was first introduced to it some 20 years ago. Yet your "beyond" notion of existential dissonance and tying in Augustine's disordered loves is rich with opportunity for further development (I'm thinking a full book is in order!). Thanks so much for addressing this aspect of our existence. The glance at psychology through the eyes of a philosopher is a welcomed nuance to the spiritual life that is rare, but quintessential to a holistic take on our progress in the faith. Gregg Ten Elshof's I Told Me So is a fine read to this end. See my summary review.

By Blogger Paul D. Adams, at October 11, 2011 at 7:42 AM  

Blogger Gregory Ganssle said:

Thanks, Paul. I am working on a book with some of these ideas in it. At Rivendell, we are thinking a lot about how the Gospel captures our core identities. It is fruitful in thinking both about communicating with those outside the faith, and with those of us who are within.

Spiritual formation may be largely a matter of bringing Jesus into our core identities.

Thanks for your insights and encouragement!

By Blogger Gregory Ganssle, at October 12, 2011 at 9:20 AM  

Blogger W.R. said:

So does our core identity have greater influence over our values or beliefs? Thanks so much for your work. "Thinking About God" is a fantastic book.

By Blogger W.R., at October 15, 2011 at 6:46 PM  

Blogger Gregory Ganssle said:

Thanks W.R. I do think our core identity has a great influence on our values and beliefs. What we want to be most deeply and what we think we are shapes most everything else we want.

By Blogger Gregory Ganssle, at February 16, 2012 at 10:59 AM  

Blogger Robert Bailey said:


Thank you for this trio of articles I have found them most interesting.

I have been looking at values, beliefs and core identity. I have come to the opinion that conscience has a role. This leads me to ask is not cognitive dissonance a trendy word for good old fashioned conscience.

It has come to me that we are not aware of conscience until we go against it. Hence the expression "pricked by one's conscience". I don't think anyone walks down the street thinking "I feel great because my conscience isn't giving me a hard time".

I am thinking that being "pricked by one's conscience" could be a "back door" link to discovering one's core identity, values and beliefs.

Thanks again for your work.


By Blogger Robert Bailey, at January 17, 2016 at 9:33 AM  

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