Cognitive dissonance is a term given to people living in a state of mental conflict which is, often, a cause of deep unhappiness. The obese person opening crisps despite wanting to lose weight is a perfect example. On the one hand the brain tells them to eat the delicious crisps but on the other they know it is hindering the desired weight loss. Only when they choose to merrily embrace fatness or else give up crisps can inner harmony be found. Otherwise self loathing is likely.
Now this is an ecclesial blog so let us leave corpulent crisp eating clerics to one side and ask a more pertinent question. Are we living at a time of crisis within the church because too many of her leaders are living with spiritual cognitive dissonance? That is to say; have lost personal belief in the supernatural reality of the church but nevertheless continue as clergy because the institutional life of the church feeds their material need. Such clerics would be deeply conflicted souls and likely to exhibit unhealthy behaviour. To use the analogy of Christ they would be like whitewashed sepulchres. Externally appearing as Christian men of virtue but inside dead and given over to ways of thinking at odds with the Gospel of Christ.
I would argue that evidence for this theory is compelling- indeed it makes sense of what we witness today. It explains why certain clerics seem desperate to water down traditional faith in a quest to embrace the secular consensus. It explains why certain clerics seem more passionate about left wing politics or homosexual activism or ‘what yoof want’ than in living and preaching a life of authentic holiness.It explains why bishops seem silent when faith is attacked yet vocal on issues like the environment.
It also helps us understand the shameful double lives, the abuse and corruption that seem so widespread. Because the person who preaches a faith they no longer believe in is living a manifest lie. And, thus conflicted, will inevitably look outside of faith for something to fill that void of emptiness. To compound problems many will not even admit the lie, will not admit the loss of faith they experience. Such people will grow to be troubled and confused. And this might explain why they become so very hostile to those who still possess the thing they lost. We begin to understand the labelling of people who retain supernatural faith as nasty or rigid, etc..
Might modernism itself even be a manifestation of wholesale cognitive dissonance? After all modernist worship is centred on downplaying supernatural aspects of faith for that which is entertaining and populist. The mystical realm denied- consider the bizarre hatred of the extraordinary form though it fed the saints throughout the ages. Consider the love of all things trendy – from the rave in the nave to those dire schmaltzy choruses. Consider the ripping out of altar rails and high altars- that encouraged us to kneel before God. Consider the erection of carpeted stage areas on which the community can gather in celebration of self.
Yes I believe cognitive dissonance is widespread and at the heart of most church problems in our day. Clearly what is needed is true faith in Jesus Christ and true worship centred on supernatural faith- to help reconnect a lost people back to the God who calls them. Pray for those whose faith has grown cold.