Big-time cognitive dissonance!

January 28, 2021 • 11:00 am

This article recently appeared in Quillette. Given its title, I naturally read it: I was the one experiencing cognitive dissonance! (Click on screen shot.)

It’s a sad story. Author Edie Wyatt was sexually abused for years by someone who lived in her house, a situation exacerbated by Wyatt’s alcoholic, ill, and dysfunctional parents and problematic siblings. Naturally, Wyatt’s life fell apart, but she got herself together sufficiently to go to college. There she became a Marxist, but Marx didn’t save her. And then Wyatt found Jesus:

Under the belief (delusional, as it turned out) that the problem was rooted in my drug and alcohol use, I gave up both. Unfortunately, without that self-medication, I found myself face to face with the underlying pain and paralysing fear. One night, I collapsed on the floor, crying and in such physical pain that I could barely move. I picked up a Bible and read a passage from 2 Corinthians 5—Awaiting the New Body—that left me completely undone.

Not long after, I walked into a suburban Baptist church, full of strange, unfashionably dressed, conservative Christians. I was a Marxist, a feminist, foul-mouthed, a chain-smoker, and desperate. The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of fundamentalist Christians to my dying breath. They were the kindest people I’d ever known. They loved me, on principle, and in doing so saved my life.

People who advocate for a world without religion have no idea what it is like to find the relief that I found at that time. My purpose here is not to describe my “Amazing Grace” moment, but to explain why I have no patience for militant atheists. In the face of my evangelical Christianity, progressives (mostly men) have called me every unholy thing imaginable—including, of all things, a paedophile apologist.

No patience for militant atheists because she found Jesus! Do all militant atheists need Jesus? Or should we just shut up about religion?

The prudishness of Christanity also appealed to her:

. . . Objectively, I had seen that by reading the Bible, living cleanly, and changing the company I kept, my life had really improved. It was in relationship with God that I found peace, purpose, and joy. I found I could forgive, I could breathe, I could sleep, and my fear had disappeared.

Looking back, though, I do see why certain practices of evangelical Protestantism were attractive to me. Spaces in churches often are separated by sex. Physical contact between young single men and women is not encouraged. My favourite was the “Billy Graham principle”: Men in the church would not visit me alone as a single woman. The pastor would only meet me in his office with the door slightly ajar, so other staff could see in. I know that churches have been places where many people have not been safe. But the corner of Christianity I’d stumbled upon happened to be genuinely devout (to my knowledge) and serious about holiness. That’s what I liked about it. That’s what I still like about it.

What about white privilege? Well, she said that, like Marxism, it failed her:

My “white privilege” didn’t save me from childhood sexual abuse. Sexual violence almost killed me. It ruined my childhood, made me homeless, and left me with enduring scars. I can debate and theorize about politics as much as the next person. But ultimately, the politics of the modern Left is dominated by its fixation on power. And children have no power.

There’s more discussion of postmodernism and its failures, and of the biological rather than ideological basis of sex. But you can read that for yourself.

All these stances appeal to Quillette, of course, but Wyatt’s story, sad and tortuous as it is, doesn’t cohere as a political statement, which I think Quillette wanted it to be. I’m very glad that Wyatt found solace and peace in Christianity, but she wasn’t saved by God, for God doesn’t exist. He’s like “white privilege”: a phantom concocted to leverage power. She was saved by a group of people who believe in a mythical deity, and that’s fine for those who need it. But the part of evangelical Christianity that seems to be most attractive to Wyatt—the segregation of men from women and the abnegation of sexuality—may have helped her because of Wyatt’s past sexual abuse, but it’s surely not a healthy attitude in general.

What we have here is a self-help story that Quillette has adopted (and possibly helped edit) so comes off as a blow against the concept of white privilege. (And against atheism to boot!) But any white person who has a troubled life, as Wyatt did, could write an article saying that “white privilege didn’t save me.” The problem is that even the purveyors of that gutted concept don’t claim that it always gives white people a great life!

And as for the God part, well I hope that Quillette is not going soft on religion. It’s okay to write about people’s religious experiences, but not okay to claim that God can act where the tenets of social justice can’t.

The final bit:

Because of my experiences, and the newly fashionable denial of reality being promoted by progressives, I find myself sitting with the politically homeless. For now, we are all retreating to old-fashioned liberalism with unlikely new friends—an exodus to a land none of us can see.  This divergent group of progressive dissenters won’t find a land flowing with milk and honey, but we might find a place to speak the truth, to cling to those who belong to us, and protect the vulnerable. I’m not sure there is any higher purpose to politics anyway.

Nor is there a “higher purpose” to anything! 

41 thoughts on “Big-time cognitive dissonance!

  1. This reminds me a little of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, where Jurgis Rudkus tries a variety of things, including Christianity, before he finds Marxism and all is well. Wyatt does make a useful point about white privilege: whatever it is, it doesn’t protect you from the vicissitudes of life, which makes one question if it is really a thing.

    1. Some white people are privileged compared to some other black people. And some black people are privileged compared to some other white people (example the black actor Jussie Smollett). And the historical consequences of slavery and then Jim Crow still affect many blacks.

      1. I don’t disagree. Some people start off in a better position, and have advantages that others don’t. I just think that talking about white privilege adds clarity to that discussion, since it implies that it is universal and applicable to only one (racial) group.

    2. The accusation of white privilege can certainly be applied unfairly, and used as a tool to silence debate and thinking. But more correctly applied, white privilege means that there is a greater probability that you will be safe, educated, employed, and in general better off by being within the Caucasian lineage. There is no need to point out this or that exception. It is simply a matter of probability.

      1. Precisely. To recognize “white privilege” is simply to recognize that on average, other things being equal, there is a distinct advantage to being born white in the United States.

        Of course, other things are not always equal, and some black people are born into greater privilege than some white people. But this no more disproves the existence of “white privilege,” properly understood, than the existence of some women who are bigger and stronger than most men disproves human sexual dimorphism.

        That some unreflective white people fail to perceive this is no more surprising, I suppose, than it would be to find out that fish don’t think much about water. After all, as Orwell observed, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

        1. Racial privilege, where it exists, is nothing compared to the privilege even a little wealth brings. It is very important that no one pays any attention to this and that we all continue to think that racial privilege is the underlying cause to our problems. We mustn’t upset the order of things.

          1. Well, sure, but there have always been entrenched obstacles for black folk in the US regarding the primary means for the accumulation of such wealth — such as access to lending institutions and access to home ownership — combined with even more rudimentary obstacles, such as the quality of primary and secondary education and eligibility (especially back when the US was still primarily an industrial nation) to engage in the better paying trades and crafts.

            And even if we adjust for wealth per se, there remains a social advantage to being born white in the United States.

            1. Right. Stay focused on skin color, that’s the ticket. It’s the only thing that matters today, after all. No matter the current reality, racial animus is still critically important to preserving the status quo. In order to maintain the proper structure to society we must keep the rabble at each others throats; we must continue to focus on the privilege every white person enjoys at the expense of all others.

              1. If that’s what you somehow derived from what I’ve said, I’m at a loss to understand your reasoning.

                Blaming everything on race makes no more sense than sticking one’s head in the sand and claiming that race has nothing to do with inequality at all.

              2. Ken, I have read over my responses to you and can’t find where I disagreed with anything you said. Perhaps you can point that out to me.

                You know what, don’t. It doesn’t matter. You are no fool so I know you know the points I was trying to make. You didn’t like me making them in the way I did. I regret that but, well, no one cares what I think anyway.

                Have a good day.

              3. Looks like I misconstrued what you were saying, Edward. Sorry.

                This is a risk we run communicating via a limited forum such as this.


      2. It is simply a matter of probability.

        But many (most? What’s the probability of that?) people viscerally don’t understand probability. At least, that is how it often seems to me.

  2. She doesn’t understand privilege. There are so many types of privilege, white privilege is probably the most problematic and polarizing one we deal with. Sure, maybe gender privilege failed her early in her childhood, as well as possibly class or education privilege. But, she still has her white privilege, whether she knows it, or not. Now, she has very blatantly shown her own religious privilege for the world. She obviously doesn’t have education privilege or at least it’s been clouded by severe mental health issues (which likely means she’s probably also not very ability privileged). But, she still has her white privilege, whether she understands that, or not.

    1. I think the use of the word “privilege” to define the model of social status you’re talking about is deeply unhelpful. If the desired endpoint is that no one should experience disadvantage through their position on the spectrum of some factor (skin colour, class, education, gender etc.), then what the “privilege” model seems to be calling for is establishing a situation in which *everyone* shares that privilege. But in such a situation the notion of privilege simply evaporates, since the word’s meaning is inherently positional — it signifies an *added advantage*, not a norm. Instead, what people considered unprivileged are suffering from is *disadvantage*.

      I can understand why activists, tired of a lack of progress in getting people to understand or do something about other people’s disadvantage, might want to re-frame the issue in a way that makes more fortunate people more aware of their luck, and thus more likely to question why others don’t have it, but it also creates a defensive response (“Well I’m not damn well privileged”) that’s likely to be counter-productive to their cause — which should be the cause of anyone of good will, but is less likely to be if one deliberately uses a word that invites division and misunderstanding.

      1. Sure, I understand and agree with what you’re saying, but that’s what this is. I didn’t come up with it.

        Privilege: An unearned advantage that a dominant group has over marginalized groups.

        The definition fits all types of groups which is why she’s mistaking one for another, as I see it in this situation.

  3. Wow – just wow. There is much to pick apart here – and PCC(E) has done an excellent job.
    One thing sticking with me is this line:

    And children have no power.

    Conservative Christianity, at its core, does not believe children should have power. It does not empower children, it does not give them agency. Evangelical Christian lobbying is the reason why the US is the last nation on the effing (‘scuse the language here – feeling salty) planet to not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    I’m glad she’s happy, but this piece is ridiculous.

    Okay, one more thought. The whole Billy Graham Rule is just hateful nonsense founded on the idea that men are inherently deviant, would-be rapists. And that the only thing standing between any given man and an assault is an open door.

    1. Sometimes the Billy Graham rule has protected men against false accusations. I knew an educator who was counseling a young couple, and the young woman told her partner that the teacher had made a pass at her. The young man angrily confronted the teacher. When the three of them met to discuss it further, the young woman admitted she had made it up, because she wanted to make her partner jealous. The educator immediately had an office door with a glass panel installed.

    2. And that the only thing standing between any given man and an assault is an open door.

      Surely the religious apologist means “that the only thing standing between a religious man and an assault is an open door.” ? After all, if there were a God, he wouldn’t put these thoughts into a god-fearing man’s penis. Surely?

  4. “People who advocate for a world without religion have no idea what it is like to find the relief that I found at that time.”

    That is simply untrue, as Edie Wyatt must know. Many, many atheists (including myself) have gone through religious phases in their youth, often adopted with relief, enthusiasm and commitment, and experiencing the same sense of acceptance and escape from the restrictions (real or perceived) of a previous life. It’s just that for them, it doesn’t turn out to be the endpoint.

    1. That is simply untrue, as Edie Wyatt must know.

      She’s probably still in the phase of thinking that “if they don’t believe these things that I believe, then they can have no redeeming characteristics at all.
      She’s one step away from concentration camps and a final solution for the different. She may not have said that to herself yet, but the reasoning to get there is in place.
      Typical god-squaddy.

  5. That is indeed a sad, sad story. I don’t know of this one in particular, but I do tend to view personal salvation stories with a degree of skepticism. This could be totally made up.

      1. The bible is full of tedious prose, yet she somehow opened a bible to a passage that “left her undone?”

  6. I can’t imagine the trauma this woman has experienced during her life, and it warms my heart that she found a group of people who love and accept her. However, she really should wait until the dust settles from being saved to fawn over evangelical Christianity.

  7. This is not a story of white privilege. It’s a story of misery by people Hyatt should have been be able to trust, of a lost childhood, UP bringing.
    The church she found was itching for a “victim” to pass by and to fill a hollow churning urge within herself (Hyatt) they found each other.
    Misery and god IS how religion works but if it’s a haven for Wyatt’s betterment and relief,
    so far so good…
    Sadly to live a life adhering to a lie of pure fiction is to this atheist a form of misery IMO.

  8. I am surprised no one has figured out Quillette yet. It has a highly commendable policy on free speech and against Identity Politics, wokeness and the loony left. But its anti environmental
    stance is, like Jordan Peterson’s completely doddy and uniformed, and is an offspring of its
    thinly disguised right wing/libertarian belief system. So for their initial years they appeared to be the
    savior of independent thinkers, rationalists, etc. But the veneer starting wearing off last year and revealed their true inclinations, and this article now adds a religious tone that support my suspicions.They published Shellenberger’s totally misleading meretricious pro nuclear pieces twice, and posted a podcast with him claiming he was a leading expert on energy. They refused to post my rebuttal or indeed anything pro environment. So read Quillette careful and understand that they are
    a wolf in sheep’s clothing.Retain your skepticism for them as well as everyone else.

    1. Serious question: Do you think there is a market for the kind of publication you’d like to read? I increasingly doubt it.

    2. I agree, they seem to have drifted somewhat from their original mission and they sure do have their loony right moments (hahah yes, like J.P.)
      Still… they do publish some good stuff (even if they turned down one of my own articles once* – a strike in their favor if there ever was one!) 🙂

      * I wanted to appear there because a lot of the cool kids, the Big Atheists still read it.

  9. “The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of fundamentalist Christians to my dying breath. They were the kindest people I’d ever known. They loved me, on principle, and in doing so saved my life.”
    She found a community that was nice to her and that is what saved her. Not god but decent people who were united around a belief in god. This is a common story among my friends who are Christians. They found a friendly home in an uncaring world. I think they are deluded but I admire their dedication to helping others in need.

    1. A woman trying to win me for a pentecostal church spoke of people as either angels and demons. Fundamentalists may be a lot less kind to their outgroup, that is people who cannot or do not want to convert. I suspect overt friendliness to newcomers and hostility to outsiders are part of the same coin.

      1. Oxytocin/Vassopressin work like that (R. Sapolsky, can’t find the exact cite at the moment): you are correct, they work in concert together – in group loyalty/out group hostility.

      2. My religious friends are genuinely nice which is why they are my friends. So of them sheepishly admit, that they were insufferably evangalistic immediately after their conversions. They are more community minded and charitable than me or most of the progressives that I know. For example, they have spent lots of time at food banks and similar places during the coronavirus crisis.

  10. The (quite long) article caught my eye the other day also.
    She missed out on a lot of her education I think and emotionally – with her nightmare upbringing (some people have ALL the luck, don’t they?) made an irrational choice. Churchy people seemed to be the first people she met who didn’t abuse her (body, just her mind).

    You can see that sometimes in those who are infected by religion who have had emotionally turbulent first years. It is sort of like how a drowning person will grab hold of ANYTHING to survive. I wasn’t sure of why Q. published it at all as it seemed like evangelical propaganda to me.

  11. If only she “believed” psychotherapy, and the power of speech’s therapy 😉 (I know also Coyne thinks psychotherapy is mumbojumbo, sadly).

    She would have found a deeper peace of mind, built on more solid ground.

    Unfortunately, though, given her situation, it probably would take several years of therapy before feeling better. Religion is much faster, and so if she *really* does feel well, good for her.
    (It’s still a tragedy.)

    1. No, you don’t “know” that I think psychotherapy is mumbojumbo. I think that Freudian psychiatry is mumbo-jumbo and that antidepressants are overrated, but you’re dead wrong in what you say. Where on earth did you get that idea?

  12. Ok sorry, I remembered incorrectly from and old article, and i summarised it wrongly 🙂

    (I agree that antidepressants in general are overrated, especially if you do nothing else to improve your life)

  13. I don’t get the point of articles like the one this woman wrote but, unfortunately, you see them all the time.

    She grew up in a chaotic and dysfunctional manner and this church apparently provided her some sort of structure. This has nothing to do with the validity of Christianity or religion in general. For example, you could substitute “Muslim” or “Hare Krishna” into every place she mentions Christianity to the same effect.

    “Not long after, I walked into a suburban Baptist church, full of strange, unfashionably dressed, conservative Christians. I was a Marxist, a feminist, foul-mouthed, a chain-smoker, and desperate. The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of fundamentalist Christians to my dying breath.”

    Revised version.

    “Not long after, I walked into QAnon meeting, full of strange, unfashionably dressed, conservative Christians. I was a Marxist, a feminist, foul-mouthed, a chain-smoker, and desperate. The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of QAnon members to my dying breath.”

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