Cognitive Dissonance and the Political Christian
The term cognitive dissonance refers to an inability/unwillingness to make sense of two conflicting ideas held at the same time in the same person.* An example would be the WWII Nazi prison camp guards who would torture prisoners by day but be loving family men by night. Another would be the all-too-common habit of many professing Christians to be judgmental and negative against other Christians for being judgmental and negative.
Today I want to examine this phenomenon in the political realm. While both extremes in American politics engage in this, I will focus on the conservative side since (a) I am politically conservative for the most part and (b) it best illustrates a curious and fundamental disconnect regarding women in the church and home. I saw this point touched on briefly elsewhere, though I regret that I cannot recall the website.
The specific point is this: Many conservatives scream loud and long against government intrusion into the lives of citizens; they are champions of individual and state’s rights, autonomy, and freedom of conscience. They hold tightly to the Constitution and proudly quote that “all men are created equal”. But that’s where the turning point is: all men. When the sphere is narrowed to relationships and “roles” in the church and home, suddenly these champions of individuality become the worst tyrants and dictators. There are three castes in this sphere: the dictator (father), the working class/slaves (females of any age), and the temporary wards (sons). No freedom of conscience or speech, no individuality, no practical/actual equality, no open discussion of grievances, no fair representation. And what I find most reprehensible is that this dictator has sexual power over the working class. If these people are repulsed at the thought of masters having sexual access to slaves, they should be equally repulsed that a husband has veto power over his wife.
How is it possible for anyone to hold to both ideals at the same time? How can someone be so adamant about political equality while also practicing social or ecclesiastical dictatorship? Can anyone who practices tyranny at home or in a church be trusted with an office in a constitutional republic? And as I’ve said many times before, it is completely irrelevant to say that this home/church dictator is benevolent and kind; it’s a question of whether, not how. Just as even the most pleasant and kind dictator is repulsive to the Constitutionalist, so also must the most pleasant and kind pater familias be repulsive to the Christian.
So if you are a strong supporter of the US Constitution and a champion of individual freedom, yet also insist that an adult male must have authority over an adult female and that she and the children exist to obey and please you, I have great difficulty calling you either conservative or Christian.
Remember that in this country the goverment is “of, for, and by the people” and is accountable to them. Likewise, if you want to be your family’s or church’s leader, you must put their interests above your own and remember who you serve. Also remember that no leader in this country is to be selected on the basis of any genetic quality beyond being born on US soil, and that their terms of office are limited. So if you want to liken church/family law and order to that of the nation, then you cannot claim permanent office or deny it to others because of their genetic qualities. Not even the military decrees that the officers rule over the enlisted for life, or that all officers must be male. A lifetime authority is not a president but a dictator, and a lifetime underling is not a free citizen but a slave.
The reader might think by now that this only apples to what is termed extreme patriarchy, but again this is a question of kind rather than degree. The “softest” variety (example) is when it is believed that women are only restricted from the very top positions in either the country or the church/family. But this is no different, in spite of outraged denials, from the acceptance of kind and benevolent slavery. Just as the slavery supporters of early US history insisted that there is nothing wrong with it as long as the owner is kind, so also do supporters of male rule insist that the ruler must be kind. But if slavery has been admitted to be unethical and unbiblical in any form, then so also must be the case for male authority over female. To do otherwise is to engage in the most egregious hypocrisy.
To be Christian is to lay privilege down and take the “role” of a servant rather than a master; to be Conservative is to make government the servant of the governed. To be a hypocrite is to demand that the government serve you while you “lord over” a wife or church.
* Of course, the definition includes the element of awareness of conflict, that the person is disturbed by the clash but doesn’t know what to do about it. Yet in this context there are many, if not most, who feel no such disturbance, happily holding to two impossibly contradictory things at once. Perhaps the term self-perception theory would be more accurate.