Cognitive dissonance and the Shroud of Turin
Posted On July 10, 2023
One of the many examples of misconduct in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, And Harmful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson is Oprah Winfrey’s public endorsement of A million little pieces by James Frey, who was a literary fraud. It was a mistake any talk show host could make, but Oprah tried to justify her mistake on The Larry King Show and made a series of irrational statements, such as “the truth is not important.” Tavris and Aronson say there is a “pyramid of choice” in which King and Winfrey were at the top because they held similar moral values. However, after Winfrey made his mistake, he descended into a position of moral inferiority. Her subsequent public apology received much praise because it’s so rare for people to admit they’ve made a mistake.
The authors analyze this type of behavior with the theory of cognitive dissonance, which has “inspired more than 3,000 experiments that, taken together, have transformed psychologists’ understanding of how the human mind works” (rank 226). The theory is that Oprah suffered mentally and emotionally because her idea that the book was good was inconsistent with reality, and she lessened her suffering (at first) by making self-righteous statements. The following quote from a famous psychoanalyst shows that anxiety or stress can prevent a person from thinking intelligently and rationally:
Consider, for example, a person who listens to an article and has critical thoughts about it. A minor inhibition would consist of a shyness to express criticism; a strong inhibition would prevent him from organizing his thoughts, with the result that they would not occur to him until after the discussion was over, or the next morning. But the inhibition may go so far as not allowing critical thoughts to arise at all, and in this case, assuming he really feels critical, he will be inclined to blindly accept what has been said or even admire it; and he won’t realize that he has inhibitions. In other words, if an inhibition comes to control desires or impulses, there can be no awareness of its existence. (The neurotic personality of our time, Karen Horney, MD, New York: Norton, 1937, p. 55)
In religion, there are three fundamental truths that cause anxiety or cognitive dissonance: 1) The existence of God. 2) The Resurrection of Jesus. 3) The non-authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
existence of god
We know that God exists from the arguments of Thomas Aquinas and Etienne Gilson: Finite beings (humans) exist. Finite beings need a cause. Ergo, there is an infinite being (God). You can see that this argument is actually a proof by considering the question of whether or not humans have free will.
The evidence for free will is that slavery is illegal, but it is not illegal to own animals and raise them for food. This could suggest that people who think that humans do not have free will have poor judgment. However, there is no need to make a decision on this issue. No one is arguing that slavery should be legalized because humans are no better than animals. It shows no lack of judgment to speculate on whether or not humans have free will and to play devil’s advocate in promoting the philosophy called positivism. However, regarding the question of the existence of God, a decision must be made: is there life after death? Will we pay for our sins after we die? It is because of the need to make this decision that one’s statements and thoughts about the existence of God may reflect poorly on one’s character.
The following four statements are informed, intelligent, rational, and honest ways to justify the decision that life ends in the grave:
1) God has not given me the gift of faith. 2) The concept of God is contradictory. 3) If God cared about our well-being, he would not cause so much suffering. 4) The argument for the existence of God is not convincing.
It is irrational to say: “I do not believe in life after death, because God does not exist.” When a person says this, he is descending the “pyramid of choice” for the sake of self-justification. The claim is absurd because it makes no sense to consider whether there is life after death if God does not exist and to consider whether God exists or not if you are not trying to decide whether there is life after death.
The resurrection of Jesus
The Resurrection of Jesus is a historical event. Jesus’ followers scattered in fear and disappointment after the crucifixion, but they renewed their fellowship after a few years and swore that Jesus appeared to them after his death.
The faith of Christians is that Jesus is alive in a new life with God and if you follow Jesus the same thing can happen to you. There is a gap between this belief and the historical event. This gap is widened because there are many presumably well-informed, intelligent, rational, and honest people who do not believe in the afterlife.
This does not cause me any stress because I understand that most non-believers have no knowledge because they do not know the argument for the existence of God. They are not intelligent because they do not understand why humans are incarnated spirits. With the exception of Jean-Paul Sartre, who said that “man is a useless passion,” they are not rational about the meaning of life. They are not honest because they use the spurious rebuttal: “Who made God?”
Many Christians relieve stress by asking what caused the Resurrection of Jesus. This question cannot be answered because the gospels were written many years after the Resurrection. But if you assume the question is a good one, you justify inventing hypotheses to answer it. The two most common hypotheses are: 1) The followers of Jesus were hallucinating. 2) There was a coming into the bodily life of Jesus, that is, a video camera could have recorded the event. The next step is to assume a high probability for the resurrection theory and a low probability for the hallucination theory. These probability assumptions are accompanied by the explanation that those who disagree are materialists, agnostics, or atheists. This reasoning makes faith in Jesus a historical event, even if it is only a probable event. The gap between this highly probable event and faith is closed by the idea of a “leap of faith.” The net result, however, is self-righteousness and placing non-believers low on the “pyramid of choice.”
The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin contains a bloodstained image of Jesus’ front and Jesus’ back. It is clearly the work of artisans or artists who used a crucified victim or volunteer and methods that have been lost to history to tell the gospel stories of Jesus’ crucifixion. Evidence that the Shroud never touched Jesus is the unusual dimensions of the linen cloth, the uncut bloodstains, and the existence of a detailed image. The Shroud is a sign or a reason to believe in Jesus, but many Christians prefer to think of it as evidence supporting the theory of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.