I Do, I Did, I Don’t: Getting Sound Mind out of Cognitive Dissonance
By Carolyn Lueders Burica
My latest favorite word phrase is “Cognitive Dissonance.” This is the internal, cerebral struggle that occurs when behavior and belief do not align with one another. For me, that misalignment came from the years-long struggle I had between believing in god versus scientific evidence to the contrary.
I was baptized into the Catholic church as a baby. Every week, my mom would bundle as many of us up as she could and we’d trudge off to church, where I was constantly being told not to misbehave or wiggle so much otherwise “god would be angry”. And after each mass, I would ask my mom to grade my behavior for god, to see if I was that “good little girl” he demanded I be.
Thus began the cognitive dissonance in my head: always be good, be humble, be quiet, be sweet OR you will make god unhappy. This was the power religion held over me.
As I grew into my early twenties, and actually broke free of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church. I didn’t exactly stop believing, I just had better things to do on a Sunday. I was also starting to re-evaluate my belief system — which wasn’t aligning with my thirst for scientific knowledge and understanding. The chasm was widening as I begun to question, but not dismiss, my beliefs.
Years passed by, and I wasn’t really part of the church any longer, but still willing to believe in god. However, the internal struggle was still growing and slowly affecting who I was presenting to the world. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but religion was turning me into a judgmental “How DARE they do THAT?” kind of person. More and more this dissonance began to eat away at my psyche.
When I went into teaching, I went into it full throttle – determined to be the best, most honorable, integrity-filled teacher I could be. I was determined never to let any student feel bad about himself (or herself); and I would allow him or her to question everything that I said or taught – because that IS the true definition of education.
To accept as truth the words of an adult or authority figure without being allowed to question the validity of that content isn’t education, it is indoctrination.
That was clearly delineated and taught to me when I was in teaching school, and I made sure never to forget the difference.
I ended up teaching at a religious school, comically enough, and that’s where my cognitive dissonance grew to a thunderous roar. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, because I didn’t have to teach religion for the first three years there. However, in the back of my mind and heart, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable being in that position. It seemed like any time I tried to teach a scientific principle, it was met with “But I thought god created the…?” I wasn’t able to answer the students’ very good, very honest questions, because there was no real answer to them. The dissonance I was experiencing came from not being able to do my job as a teacher (which is to cause kids to question) and having to keep from speaking out against the ridiculousness of the religion being taught in that school.
Three years into my position, it was mandated that I teach religion, too. Imagine this conundrum: in the morning I taught about the parting of the sea, in the afternoon I taught earth science — specifically rock formations and water cycles. I was now in a full-blown, cognitive dissonance meltdown – how can I handle teaching both subjects when one completely exposes the other for the fraudulent claims it makes?
The truth is, I couldn’t handle it. It began weighing heavily on my mind and the stress was getting to me. Add a couple of personal family tragedies, a total lack of support from so-called “Christians”, and this is a recipe for disaster. I really did emotionally implode.
After I left (was kicked out, I won’t sugarcoat it here), I began to research and learn more about Catholicism. Article after article talked about thousands of children who have been abused, raped and/or sold out from under their own mothers. Priests who were raping children then using the fear of punishment from god if the children spoke out were being protected by the church instead of being thrown in jail, where they belonged. Some Archbishops went so far as to insinuate that the children — the victims – led the priests on and actually asked to be molested. What a sick, twisted individual one must be to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. Especially a perpetrator who has taken a vow of chastity and protect and guide his “flock”. There isn’t a word strong enough to explain how vile and despicable these crimes against children are.
Unpaid, forced labor in laundries in the basements of churches led by Catholic nuns. Mass migrations of unwanted, un-escorted poor, Catholic children taken from the UK to Australia–without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Hundreds of dead, newly born babies buried in unmarked graves on convent grounds – or shoved into septic tanks — as if their lives never even mattered. All committed by the very people who were demanding others “act Christ-like and do good works.”
Horror story after horror story – none of which I ever heard the church denounce, discuss or even inform its parishioners. And what has been disseminated to the world has been met by Catholic parishioners with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and silence. I have asked several Catholics for their thoughts on all this, and nobody is willing to talk about it. They continue, however, to attend church and give money each week. Perhaps they are secretly being told to donate to help pay legal costs for the defense funds of their pedophile priests.
Now that I am fully aware of what has been allowed to happen and go primarily unpunished for decades in the Catholic church, I have denounced not only my faith, but religion in general and the existence of god in particular. There certainly cannot be an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful god if he continues to allow such evilness from his own employees. And the “free will” excuse doesn’t apply here, either. Priests wear dog collars because they consider god their master. They don’t get a “get out of jail because of free will card” either.
It’s interesting…I just now noticed my cognitive dissonance has disappeared.
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This BBSNews article originally appeared on Atheist Alliance of America.