On the Pope, Politics, and Cognitive Dissonance

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila


Many non-Catholics who are anti-socialist due to its premise and abysmal historical outcomes are likely scratching their heads over the seeming national homage to the Pope who is visiting the U.S. just now and promoting, many argue, that very political ideology [1].

Many Catholics who are anti-socialist are likely also scratching their heads for the same reason.

Only for Catholics, it might be a lot more difficult to extricate the Pope and his influence over them from the politics, the icon from the ideology. And the world Catholic count adds up to a LOT of people [2] to be in any kind of mental dilemma in a period in time when we especially need our wits about us.

There’s likely a third group that also might be stepping back from all the papal pomp and wondering: but wait a minute, whatever happened to “separation of Church and State”? as they listen to the religious leader address the secular Congress of the United States in exquisitely crafted though still undeniably didactic verbiage while he chides this nation for its worst elements and promotes the lofty sounding “ideals” of his political views and how America might come alongside. See [3] for the text of his full address.

However, as an ex-Catholic, it is because of my concern for the multiple effects of the Pope’s influence on the former group that I write this post. And to help others understand the power of that belief system to control its members via cognitive dissonance (defined below).

For although many outside the Catholic Church are strongly influenced by Pope Francis as well, it is not in the same powerful ways—the same thinking and behavior-influencing ways—that Catholics are.

And we are talking about his strong influence over roughly 16% of the world’s population.


One concern has to do with the phenomenon, noted above, called “cognitive dissonance,” i.e., “The psychological tension that occurs when one holds mutually exclusive beliefs or attitudes and that often motivates people to modify their thoughts or behaviors in order to reduce the tension” (free dictionary.com, emphasis mine). Thus, the intellectual difficulty of holding two opposing views for whatever reasons.

For non-Catholics and non-believers in general who might be pondering the church/state separation issue, there is a tried and true solution to alleviate this aspect of the pain of cognitive dissonance: critical thinking, although it might take turning off the memes and media for a while (also carefully crafted).

For someone in this camp, the thinking might go like this, if given voice:

Oh, I get it. The man is promoting globalism/socialism/Marxism/the New World Order.

Angst over. Dissonance resolved.

However, in the case of the Roman Catholic, the solution is not so easy, and this is my greater concern. His or her thinking, suffused with Roman Catholic doctrine and tradition, might go more like this, on some level, if given voice:

I can see that what the Pope is promoting aligns with classic socialism/Marxism, and from the research I know that the outcome of that system is devastating for nations and their people, BUT on the other hand the Pope is “the Vicar of Christ[4] as the Church teaches and when he speaks on “faith and morals,” (and that’s what he keeps talking about), he is infallible [5], especially when he speaks “ex cathedra [6]…

For the Catholic who truly understands his/her religion, and/or who has been taught none other, and/or told that to defy the Pope is to defy God, Himself in some significant, soul-damning way, THAT is a particularly potent triumvirate of beliefs.

Not only is their leader, as believed, the only representative of God, Himself in the world, he is also “without error” when teaching “in the chair,” so to speak, of his infallible authority

One suffering this kind of cognitive dissonance would have a particularly hard time resolving the mental, psychological and spiritual anxiety, given such Church-binding beliefs.

And the bottom line, given other teachings: no one wants to burn for eternity. For to disobey official Church doctrine is to have committed a sin, likely a “mortal sin,” i.e., the category of sin that damns one to Hell [7].

Even if one still has a few doubts, going along to avoid the mother of all consequences set in stone by the Mother Church is a powerful motivator to adjust one’s thinking—and to comply with whatever the Pope dictates.

In other words, keeping in mind the average Catholic believes his/her faith system to be to the saving or damning of his very soul in Heaven or Hell for all eternity (with likely a sojourn of indeterminate time in Purgatory even if destined for Heaven eventually [8], for the committed Catholic there is only one way out of the dissonance: follow Francis and do what he says.

Thus, the root of the behavior change power of cognitive dissonance when applied to the quandary in which many Roman Catholics may find themselves.

Non-Catholics, even unbelievers, might be very impressed by the beauty, bucks, and/or brawn, as it were, of the religious institution called the Roman Catholic Church, and all that is highly influential, but it’s the mental and spiritual beliefs connected to an eternity of consequences that leave but one option for devout followers of Francis: obey. And note: if you dissent, it will not be easy.

And of course for political opportunists of any belief system it would be hard to resist the alignment with one such as Pope Francis who controls such a large sector of global human resources, or what are we called now in New World Order-speak? “the human domain.”


Post script: On the hope of Christians and encouragement for all:

Word-smithers, meme-meisters, and cognitive-dissonance fabricators are quite clever, this is true. And they look good. And they have all that education and wealth and power…

Nevertheless, as believers in Jesus Christ we have this power—and comfort:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

And this promise:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)–popes, pomp, and politics notwithstanding.

Feeling a little “cognitively dissonant” lately because of the push-pull of worldly powers amping up for greater control?

Let me encourage you to ask the real God for clarification, in Whom there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning (changing)” (James 1:17).

And regarding those who place their trust in Him–He will neither confuse nor monger fear.


[1] Type in “is the pope a socialist?” in your search engine and be prepared for many articles both pro and con. Or, by reviewing Francis’ statements and checking for the contemporary socialist buzzwords such as “sustainability,” “social justice,” “income/gender/environmental, etc., equality”, one can also easily connect the ideological dots.

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-21443313

[3] From http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/09/24/pope-francis-full-address-congress/72728244/

[4] On the Catholic view of “the Vicar of Christ”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15403b.htm

[5] On the Catholic view of “papal infallibility”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

[6] On the Catholic view of “ex cathedra”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05677a.htm

[7] On the Catholic teaching on mortal sin: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm#III

[8] On the Catholic view of “Purgatory”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm

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1 Response to On the Pope, Politics, and Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Cathy says:

    Thanks P,
    You were brilliant in the assessment, of the Jesuit Pontiff and the People’s Response!
    It sickened me, seeing how Roman Catholicism has metasticized into, the culture!
    Francis is a Flaming Socialist! Giving up your Will and Intellect, in submission to a Socialist is Beyond Reason!
    I give EVERYTHING, to my Lord and Saviour, and will have Salvation!…The Great Divine Promise!


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