In my post “Why Do Christians Think Questioning Their Beliefs is ‘Attacking Them?’” Pt. 1, I began trying to answer this question as posted on Twitter by someone. I then listed some of the answers that others gave as responses on Twitter, and am going down that list with explanations that are based on my experience as a Christian. I wrote about two of them in part 1. In this post I will be continuing down that list with “cognitive dissonance.” I’m only writing about one this time, because the whole thing can get a little messy.
“Cognitive dissonance.” For those who perhaps aren’t familiar with what cognitive dissonance is, Merriam-Webster defines it as “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” Psychological conflict indeed. You don’t even have to go out of Christianity to have this; read the Bible a few times through and you’ll have enough psychological conflict to keep a therapist well-paid for a good while.
There is a practice in the faith called “Apologetics.” It’s a whole system designed to explain and validate Biblical concepts to those who are finding these concepts difficult to swallow (for whatever reason it may be). Christian apologetics is designed for both believers and unbelievers alike, and often succeeds, for believers anyway, in reconciling conflicting ideas just enough that the believer can maintain some semblance of peace about her sometimes delicate faith.
Now what happens when some big, bad wolf comes along and starts asking the believer challenging questions about the validity of Christianity and starts giving reasons for why he or she cannot believe? What happens when someone starts bringing up possible problems with the reasoning within certain areas of Apologetics? Well, this could potentially mess with the Christian’s sense of peace in the faith that her entire life revolves around. She wonders if what she believes is really true, but she still clutches onto it desperately (there are a number of reasons for why that is, but that’s for another post).
Merely challenging a Christian’s beliefs and providing reasons for one’s disbelief might seem, to a non-believer, to be a rather casual affair. After all, most generally aren’t attacking the Christian herself, just her beliefs, right? Right? Think again. Depending on the level of involvement that the Christian has, the church, the beliefs, and the people might be an enormous part of her life. After all, a Christian’s life is literally supposed to be “lived for Jesus.” She had a “spiritual experience” in which her heart, her very self, is believed to have been made new. She was “born again.”
And she believes this. All of it. Well, usually. Mostly. I mean, YES! YES, she really believes it without the shadow of a doubt.! Really.
An unbeliever expressing exactly why he or she cannot believe is not merely posing a personal objection or question. That unbeliever could now be renewing the Christian’s cognitive dissonance that the apologists work so hard to placate, or the unbeliever could be intensifying the psychological discord that is already there. The questions can cause the Christian to doubt, and that doubt will trigger the defensive reflex. She may withdraw from this “attack on her faith by Satan,” and she’ll probably pray to God to forgive her for doubting…. meanwhile she’s possibly still doubting while she’s praying for forgiveness for it.
A challenge to a Christian’s faith is commonly taught as being a DIRECT ASSAULT on a Christian’s faith by Satan, who is trying to devour their soul. THAT is why “just” asking questions or pointing out contradictions or pointing to any number of other reasons for unbelief is often seen as an attack. It causes cognitive dissonance which can lead to doubt, and is seen as a direct attack against them by Satan through the one asking the questions. In the minds of many, this sort of thing is literally “spiritual warfare” with YOU, the unbeliever, being a “tool of the devil.”