Someone commented quite recently to me that “I’d been hanging out with psychologists” I wonder if the unspoken ‘too much’ at the end was parenthesised or not. The truth is, I haven’t – or hadn’t, but events in the Church have engaged my attention, searching for meaning from reading about the philosopher Antony Flew’s conversion to more well-known, classical psychologies.
Cognitive dissonance might be described as the uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two conflicting ideas at the same time. Winston Smith for all. The proposal is that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. H’m. I wonder where I’ve heard that before. Experience can clash with expectations, as, for example, with buyer’s remorse following the purchase of an expensive item. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. With me, usually embarrassment because the shirt looked better on the peg than it does on me. It’ll be interesting to see if the PCC react similarly to the choices they have made. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzlingly irrational and destructive behaviour.
Wikipedia tells me that: “A classical example of this idea (and the origin of the expression “sour grapes”) is expressed in Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes. In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one’s dissonance by criticising it.”
I am in a state of cognitive dissonance over St Paul’s at the moment. I would like to believe and indeed sometimes do that it is a vibrant, self-sufficient, active and indispensable part of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, in practice it looks more like a small beauty spot – let’s be charitable – whose removal or not will do nothing for the furtherance of the Kingdom of Heaven. When the primary part of the engine has had enough and demands replacement while still new and probably under guarantee, one asks a number of questions – all contributing to a cognitively dissonant mindset. Were the grapes sour in the first place? Probably not. Were they out of reach? Perhaps they were, after all. It will make everyone’s lives so much easier if we choose to believe so.
I’m not convinced.