Cognitive dissonance – or – in which I see Jesus at the mall

Picture a small blonde four-year-old at a large suburban mall. It is 1970. I am with my parents, who are Baptist and do not embrace the emerging culture of the day. I trust them completely. I am young – and wide-eyed. We are walking toward Hudson’s nearing the large granite hippo that other kids play on; however, my parents, who are better than theirs, are aware of the safety hazards and keep us close.

And then I see him, tall, relaxed, peaceful looking, long hair flowing, smiling like he does in the Sunday School picture of himself and the little children. He is passing us, walking in the opposite direction, getting away. I turn and crane my neck. There he goes. I must say something before it is too late.

“Look. There’s Jesus.”

“Heidi, that was only a hippy,”

They share a quiet laugh, pleased that I have such a wonderful imagination and that they have a new story to tell their friends in church tomorrow. We don’t even stop walking.

That was when I knew. My parents did not really believe. If “the faith” were real – or if they at least believed it to be real, they’d have at least turned around to look. A living Jesus would have been a possibility.

And that was when I stopped believing, I think – although I did not consciously know it. But a quiet, cognitive dissonance was  born in my heart and mind that day, whispering one word,”truth.”

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” [emphasis mine]  ~Ayann Hirsi Ali

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