Can Cognitive Dissonance Explain the False Equating of Keeping the Commandments to Love?

“Moses with the Ten Commandments”
Original painting by Rembrandt

Is a car an automobile?  Careful how you answer.

I like to think about things and put them in logical categories, but there is always a danger in doing so.  A few months back, Seth Godin wrote “Your first mistake might be assuming that people are rational“.  Indeed, that is what I’ve always heard.  Feelings generally come first, and then we tend to justify those feelings on whatever rational basis we can find afterwards.  To me, this has always been the essence of what is called “cognitive dissonance”, where a person seems to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time.  It goes a long way towards explaining human behavior.  However, it may be that there is a flaw in that view.

Some new research indicates that the cognitive dissonance can work the other way as well.  First let me go over once again what is wrong with the notion that keeping the laws of God and godly love are somehow equal, and then let’s explore what this new research indicates as a motive for making them so.

Equality or Cause and Effect?

If a statement implies another statement, there is a relationship between them.  If A implies B, then the logical notation is A=>B.  Word synonyms work a lot like this.  If I say “automobile”, then it implies “a passenger vehicle designed for operation on ordinary roads and typically having four wheels and a gasoline or diesel internal combustion engine.”  In this case, A=>B.  Also, “automobile” implies “car” in the English language.  Therefore, we can say A=>C as well.

In some cases, B=>A.  Is it not true that “a passenger vehicle designed for operation on ordinary roads and typically having four wheels and a gasoline or diesel internal combustion engine” implies an “automobile”?  Yes!  In fact, it is the very definition of “automobile” at  So, what we have is that not only does A=>B, but B=>A as well.  What we have is a “material equivalence”, and that is denoted by A<=>B.

However, it is not true that C=>A.  A “car” is not the same as an “automobile”.  A car may be a streetcar, a railroad car, part of an elevator and more.  It is a broader category than “automobile”.  So, even though when the average American says “car” most people will think of an automobile, it is fallacious to equate the terms.

Keeping the Law is not love.  However, true Christians will keep the Law because they love.  This is where people like Gerald Flurry show themselves to be deceived.  Even the unbeliever has some idea of what love is!

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Jn 13:35

Unbelievers may not keep the Law, but they will recognize love!

In short, it is concentrating on the wrong things.  It is claiming to believe what the Bible says but then denying its very words!  The commandments are integral to love, but they are not of themselves love.

The Pharisees were meticulous rule makers and keepers.  They tithed on herbs.  However, Jesus stated more than once that they were filled with unrighteous thoughts and motives.  Their law keeping was of no use!

The Bible Says to Love

Tom Stafford at the BBC wrote two interesting articles on cognitive dissonance that make sense in light of why some justify the wrong things.  In “Why people act out of line with their beliefs“, he wrote:

Leon Festinger’s Dissonance Theory is an account of how our beliefs rub up against each other, an attempt at a sort of ecology of mind. Dissonance Theory offers an explanation of topics as diverse as why oil company executives might not believe in climate change, why army units have brutal initiation ceremonies, and why famous books might actually be boring.

Participants in a study were told to explain 2 boring tasks to the next person that was supposed to do them, but they were told, asked, begged of, to state how “enjoyable” or “fun” the experiment was.  Participants were given plenty of incentives to go along with this ruse.  The difference was that some were volunteers, some were paid $1 and some were paid $20.  The subjects were followed up with some questions about how they really felt about the experiment.

You would probably think that the people paid $20 were the most likely to say they enjoyed the experiment.  You would be wrong.  In fact, the people given $1 were the most likely to say they enjoyed the test and would volunteer to do it again.

No one likes to look foolish or cheap.  $20 is $20, so it was easy to justify telling someone else how enjoyable the whole experience was without actually believing it.  The people given $1 did not have that to fall back on, so they wanted to believe it rather than feeling they were being either cheap or callous.

Notice how it is a little thing, and many I’m sure would say exactly that.  What’s the big deal, after all?  Well, if people can get so caught up in something small, what does that really say about human nature?  Can getting caught up in small things derail people in their beliefs?  Actually, don’t we see that all the time?  How major are most of the controversies that cause splits, anyhow?

Reasons Don’t Stop Cognitive Dissonance

However, that’s one thing.  It is justification under fire.  It is consoling after the fact.  It’s all emotional, right?  After all, as I stated at the beginning, isn’t cognitive dissonance usually a case of not thinking about what you are doing first?  Another study suggests that isn’t always the case.

In another article also by Tom Stafford, “Why we don’t always know the true causes of our actions“, he writes about students being asked to evaluate some posters, 2 were art, 2 were funny cats and 3 were cartoons.  While all had to evaluate them, only half were asked to give reasons for liking or not liking each poster.  64% of those asked to give reasons took home art work, and the fact that most was not a surprise since it was previously established that most of the students showed a preference for the art posters.  Of the others, the control group, 95% took home the art work, which is a significant difference.

There was a follow up, though.  The control group was much more likely to have put and left their posters up, and if they wanted to sell them they would have asked for more than the experimental group.  In short, the “reasons” group was more likely to have cognitive dissonance in spite of supposedly using reason and logic for their behavior.

The person who is asked to give a reason they like a particular poster is more likely to concentrate upon colors, humor and other smaller things than the person who is not asked.  It is only after the initial experience wears off that the person realizes that they really preferred the other poster in the first place.  They lost sight of the bigger picture (pun intended).

You might also see the consequences of this regularly in your line of work. Everybody knows that the average business meeting will spend the most time discussing trivial things, an effect driven by the ease with which each member of the meeting can chip in about something as inconsequential as what colour to paint the bike sheds. When we’re discussing complex issues, it isn’t so easy to make a contribution. The danger, of course, is that in a world which relies on justification and measurement of everything, those things that are most easily justified and measured will get priority over those things which are, in fact, most justified and important.

This has repercussions in the real world that I’ve blogged about a few times.  Many companies end up measuring the wrong things, and often the most important things are the unmeasurable.  However, companies over and over talk about “metrics” and measuring things like “customer satisfaction”.  Let me ask you something: Can you really measure customer satisfaction or customer loyalty?

I keep coming back to the call center that measures the length of the call.  Is a short call really so important if the customer’s problem is not taken care of?  They may call back, thus wasting more time.  Worse, most won’t.  They will simply shop somewhere else.  Yet, there are companies that thrive on putting the screws to the customers in ways that are downright unethical, but they can show you all sorts of wonderful metrics.

You want to know something else that can be easily measured?  How many years since you were baptized.  How many Sabbaths you have missed in a given period of time.  The number of Feasts you have attended.  How many Laws you “keep”.

It is easier to measure that than to try to measure love, isn’t it?

Let’s get it right: Love is not keeping the commandments.  Love is outgoing concern and affection for others, including God.  The commandments do not define love, they define how to love.  The difference is apparently too subtle for some.

Or, perhaps, it is just that love is not measurable, and so it is easier to concentrate upon the trivial and meaningless.

And, let’s face it, most of the “rules” these guys go by really are meaningless because they are not even found in the Bible to begin with.  Like the Pharisees, it is easier to make mountains out of molehills to determine who measures up, literally, and who does not.  Of course, the metrics are always tilted to make certain groups look good, aren’t they?

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