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Temporary Return of Cognitive Dissonance

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Hello all,

 

It's probably pretty obvious by now, but I'm definitely a novice when it comes to reevaluating many of the old religious claims and 'evidences' that just a year ago I would have accepted as truth without question. Although I have gotten better (I hope!) there are still times when I get niggling little doubts at the back of my mind, wondering if perhaps I was wrong to question faith in the first place. For those who've been in that situation before (and I'm guessing a lot of you have) it's extremely uncomfortable. In a nutshell, this is what I've been dealing with for the past day or so, thanks to a rather ill-advised journey into the bowels of Christian conversion testimonies (almost all of them 'miraculous' in some way), all collected and reported by Mark Ellis, pastor and president of GodReports. If you're ever looking for lots of conversion stories involving dreams and 'miraculous' healing for some reason, this is going to be your one-stop shop. I made the mistake of reading a bunch of these in one sitting without slowing down and thinking it all through, and the result was one of the worst periods of cognitive dissonance I've had for a while. Even as I realized that every story was being related by one man about whom I knew nothing and from whom I could expect little to no information so I could fact-check his claims, I found myself worrying whether these stories might actually be true. I read about Muslim leaders (even a former ISIS 'prince') coming to Christ after experiencing confirming dreams, Buddhists who were healed of stubborn physical maladies after prayer, and former atheists who converted after experiencing the horrors of hell, or the joys of heaven. Thankfully, I came to my senses and have since left that website alone. As I reexamined the stories, I noticed that everyone who had an encounter with 'Christ' had always had some prior knowledge of him–often converts' dreams would come some time shortly after the gospel was preached to them. The so-called miraculous healings were never instantaneous, as Jesus' were said to be; often it would be days, sometimes weeks after prayers were offered before a particularly stubborn illness disappeared. Partially thanks to this site, however, I have a newfound distaste for conversions post-Near-Death Experience; converts' experiences of heaven and hell were quite different and had little in common with the Bible's (admittedly) limited information on the topic. 

 

In my time perusing various testimonies, I did come across at least two that were of such dubious authenticity that I'm surprised anyone fully believed them. The first came from India via communications from an evangelist named Paul Ciniraj, a man who I later discovered has come under some fire for lying about his need for funds, as well as making unfounded and bizarre miraculous claims to keep the money pouring in. The story, 'Hindu snake goddess saw Jesus in dream and became His witness' (yes, you read that right) claims to tell the story of Nagamma, an Indian woman who as a child was bitten by a snake while feeding it milk. Although the venom was successfully treated, Nagamma afterwards began to exhibit snake-like behavior and, I kid you not, the color of her body changed. This bit was so ridiculous that it ruined any effect the rest of the story might have had on me–with such a preposterous tale, I wondered if I was reading a rejected superhero's origin story by mistake. You can read the full story here, if you want the scoop on the Stupendous Snake-Girl. Now if you'll pardon me, I have to snatch up this property before Marvel Studios gets its hands on the rights...

 

The second story dealt with a group of missionaries who went to the interior of Malaita in the Solomon Islands to evangelize a tribe (the Kwaio) known for hostility to outsiders, including cannibalism. They arrived at the tribe's territory just as the Kwaio were preparing for the impending death of their chief. The missionaries managed to meet with the chief, who accepted Christianity just before he 'died.' Then, while the tribe was preparing the chief's body for burial, the man revived with a story of how Jesus Christ took him to heaven, where he was surrounded by throngs of worshipers, and met some Old Testament prophets. Of course, the chief also got a nice view of hell in the bargain. At the end of this vision, 'Jesus' told the chief he had to go back to earth for a short time to make sure his people knew about the one true faith. The chief died, for real this time, the next morning. Considering that medical supplies and expertise were almost certainly scarce in the jungle, it's a good bet that the chief was in a coma or slipped into a death-like state where he had a near-death experience about Jesus being the only way to heaven, which he had conveniently just learned hours earlier from the missionaries. Of course, the story could have been completely made up, but even if the details were accurate the tale wasn't convincing at all. 

 

Well, that's definitely enough out of me for one post. If anyone wants to check out this website and do some digging, I'd love to see what you come up with. I tried to find anything at all on boss man Mark Ellis to check his credibility, but I just got redirected to his blog and another ministry where he contributes once in a while, called Assist Ministries. Happy hunting!

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If you truly want to be able to heal from the loss of your former beliefs and want to move, then you need to put distance between you and Christianity as much as you can. Part of the reason why you are having these thoughts is that you are essentially teasing your brain with something it has become reliant upon. Its really no different than if a Heroin addict went and bought a bag of Heroin and set it on a table in front of him and he just sat there and stared at it and played with it. Its not likely going to end well for him. At some point in the future, once you have gotten to the point where you are stable in your thinking you can visit these types of sites and see them for what they really are, but now isn't the best time for you to be doing that.

At the end of the day, does it really matter the type of "conversion" experiences other people have? No, it doesn't mean anything. Fantastical stories are just fantastical stories. Nothing more. They don't validate a religion or a belief system. They are primarily subjective to the person they may have happened to. Humans are drawn to fantastical stories, its part of the reason why Christianity is as strong as it is: some God-Man came down and conquered death and is giving me an opportunity to live with him forever. Look!, he even did amazing things like heal people and turn water into wine, etc. But we all have come to understand that its just a bunch of fantastical stories. They likely never happened.

Move on with your life. Study the weaknesses of Christianity if that will help you move on. But perusing sites like that do nothing for you.

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Awareness of cognitive dissonance is a sign of a healthy brain.  It is a tool used to resolve conflicting information.  It's presence demonstrates you have the intellectual honesty to compare conflicting data sets.  

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To add on to the advice from others, I want to encourage you to read conversion stories of other faiths: especially in islam, judaism, hinduism, and a few others, you can find countless stories of people who have all sorts of spiritual experiences...all (apparently) from a different and competing god. 

 

Then ask yourself this - how can 3 or 4 or more competing gods (who all claim to be the real god) give each one of their followers the same/similar religious experiences?

 

The next (and final step) is to analyze the source of these religious experiences -- and consider the possible conclusion that they are not supernatural but instead a result of the human brain, with all its complexities, enabling itself to bullshit itself. Emotions are fickle. Reality can seemingly be altered by how we perceive stuff.

 

Consider what shrooms or other drugs can do to people and the experiences they seem to have. When you consider these things, suddenly the logical problem above goes away: it's not 4 competing gods with various truth claims, it's 4 different people who's underlying brain are giving each individual the same experience, albeit incorrectly assuming the source, because our brains are wired similar enough to work in similar enough ways to produce the same sort of experiences. 

 

Hope this helps.

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All religions have their supernatural woo conversion stories. When I was younger I believed these things because the adults around be believed them. It took me a while to realize something that many of them are straight out lying. I used to think that no one would lie about such things because they are obviously believers and it would have been like blasphemy to lie about such things as direct communication from god or Jesus. But somehow they don't see it that way. And these lies actually gain them more credibility in the religious community. The new convert now has a great story about meeting god somehow. And the Christian that converted them can spread a great story about witnessing a miracle. Other people see how much the community loves the story so they make up a crazy woo story of their own.

 

I saw one of these recently with a Muslim who supposedly died and came back while he was in hospital. He found himself in hell. He can't believe he is in Hell after he was such a good Muslim. He prayed for god to take him from Hell. Then he was in Heaven and he saw Jesus. He praises Jesus for taking him from Hell but he is confused so he asks him where is Allah. Jesus points to Satan and says, "There is your Allah!" and he sees Satan with Allah written on his forehead. Jesus says that he will bring him back from the dead if he will tell everyone what they have seen so that they can be saved. Christians really really love this story. But technically he's not obeying Jesus's wishes since dream Jesus wanted him to tell the story to Muslims so they could convert. I have a feeling he doesn't share it so much with the Muslims.

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Thanks for the support guys.

 

I have actually done some digging to find conversion stories from other faiths with some success, but I've found that they aren't nearly as well-known (probably because they don't fit the popular narrative that the Church wants everyone to believe in, and they simply get drowned out by all the Jesus). If anyone knows where I might find stuff from the Jewish or Hindu side of things, I would definitely be interested in looking at that; I've currently had the most success with Islam or Mormonism (which are both basically just offshoots of Christianity). One of the more interesting stories I came across dealt with a former Catholic priest who was in a coma for months (the result of a construction accident) and returned to the land of the living having seen, as he imagined, a vision from God–a god who called himself 'Allah.' After this supposed message from God, the priest converted to Islam and led some of his congregation to do the same. 

 

One thing I found interesting, especially when examining different converts' near-death experiences, was that even when they supposedly went to the same places (heaven, hell, etc.) the descriptions of those places and the details of what went on there were quite different–almost as if these 'visions' were the results of a highly imaginative brain...

 

In a couple of cases that I read about, drugs were quite obviously at work. One former atheist credited his conversion to the incredibly 'realistic' encounters with demons he met while under the influence of drugs. Because of the way the man told his story it was so obvious that his demonic visitors were nothing more than phantasms created by his drug-addled brain, and yet he accepted the veracity of his experiences without question after the trip wore off. Emotion is a powerful thing, and even though I'm thankful for the different feelings and impressions that help color the world around me, it is nonetheless a little disturbing that emotion, if left to itself, can make just about anything seem reasonable (although the shrooms help too). 

 

 

 

 

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Do you think researching in this area is likely to provide actual verifiable evidence that you can use?

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SK, focus on this "What if God is imaginary".  Think about what this means for you personally.  Now look at the world and the interactions of the people in it, and their behavior sets.  Does the phrase "god is imaginary" explain what you are observing?  The answer should be yes. 

 

Now, from this point, going forward, everytime you feel cognitive dissonance upon you say to yourself in your mind "god is imaginary".  Then, apply it to what you are thinking about.  

 

This worked very well for me in the first couple of years.  Used it quite often.  I still have it in my tool box, but I do not need it nearly as much as I used to.

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