Making Gay OK: Cognitive Dissonance, Confirmation Bias and the Normalization of Homosexuality

In Sexuality by eric holmberg3 Comments

Cognitive dissonance“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” George Orwell, 1984

In Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, the fascist government of Oceania and its enigmatic dictator Big Brother attempt to brainwash the masses to accept non sequiturs like “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength.”  But in the real world such paradoxical memes inevitably lead to mindlessness – or madness – or are forced to eventually give way to the constraints of cognitive dissonance: the psychological stress that results from holding conflicting ideas or values simultaneously.  Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that people are profoundly motivated, consciously or subconsciously, to achieve consonance – to reduce this conflict or dissonance – by eliminating or at least suppressing one of the conflicting ideas.

For individuals who find themselves experiencing erotic, same-sex desires for the first time – and let’s acknowledge that for most these feelings are involuntary – cognitive dissonance in the form of guilt or shame is very common. A good example of this was described by Robert Bauman, a conservative, pro-family Republican who served as a Congressman from 1973 until he lost re-election in 1980 following a scandal involving a sixteen-year-old male prostitute.  In his 1986 autobiography, Baumann recalls the homosexual feelings that later began to emerge when, at the tender age of five, he was molested by a twelve-year-old neighbor, thus joining the hundreds of thousands of other victims of sexual abuse who would come to experience same-sex attractions.

“This was not a matter of chance attraction to a forbidden object.  This was a frightening force from deep within my being, an involuntary reaction to the sight, smell and feel of other boys.  I neither understood nor accepted it.  And I came to hate myself because of the presence within me of this horrible weakness, this uncleanness of spirit over which I seemed to have no control.” Robert Bauman, The Gentlemen from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative (New York: Morrow, 1986), p. 163

Homophiles (people who like (from Greek philos, love or like) or support the normalization of homosexuality) love to blame the negative feelings Baumann experienced on the projections and expectations of a “homophobic” culture.  But studies show that even in the most “gay friendly” societies – like Holland and Denmark – the higher levels of psychological problems found among homosexuals are essentially the same as for those in less “enlightened” societies. The reason for this is that the dissonance, the guilt, is rooted in the individual’s conscience and not the culture.  Because humans are created in the image of God and the binary, male-female unity is a vital aspect of that image (Gen. 1:27), each of us possesses a deep-down, “written on our heart” knowledge (Rom. 2:14-15) that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong. As a result, when a person first experiences homosexual desires, cognitive dissonance like Baumann described is the inevitable result.

The same-sex attracted person can reduce this dissonance by affirming their conscience and rejecting their homosexual feelings as wrong, refuse to act upon them – in other words embrace abstinence – and then seek help in dealing with the root causes of these inclinations in the hope of joining the many others who have transitioned into heterosexuality.

The other option is to embrace the homosexual identity and then set-out to muffle or, preferably, silence the conscience by convincing oneself that being “gay” really is okay.

The most common first step here is to enter the same-sex-attracted-feedback loop that is the “gay community.”  This can be a LGBT club at school, a gay-pride march, an activist group, immersing oneself in gay-affirming pop culture (music, television and movies) or simply hanging out or hooking up with other same-sex attracted people.

And yet even with all this, the conscience can still nudge; dissonance can still rear its ugly head.  And so the next step in eradicating any residual conflict comes through what psychologists call confirmation bias, the rejection of any and all evidence or testimony that dis-confirms, that negates, disapproves, questions or even simply ignores the validity of one’s position.  And so every reminder – any suggestion from any source – that homosexuality isn’t every bit as natural, good, moral and conducive to individual and cultural flourishing as heterosexuality has to be eliminated.

A perfect example of confirmation bias can be seen in the work of homosexual activist Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, a not-for-profit created to counter Focus on the Family’s now defunct Love Won Out’s ministry to people coming out of the homosexual lifestyle. Besen has been extremely vocal in insisting there’s virtually no such an animal as an “ex-gay,” making that assertion the virtual focus of his calling.

Now here’s an incredible thing: Oprah can do shows about women who lived as heterosexuals for decades and then one day embraced their inner sexual fluidity and jumped on the broad gay-way. But according to Besen and many other homophiles, the same thing can’t possibly happen in reverse. The thousands of people who have self-identified as homosexuals and lived the lifestyle – sometimes for years and even decades – and that are now happily married to an opposite-sex spouse or are celibate and waiting on one: a.) Were never really gay in the first place, or b.) Are living in denial, suppressing their true nature and desires, often out of what Besen describes as misplaced religious guilt.

Are you kidding me? Imagine an inebriation activist who insists that there’s no such thing as an ex-drunk because he and some other buddies couldn’t stay on the wagon or never really wanted to get on it.  According to them, every alcoholic who is now sober was either never really a drunk or is now just living a lie.

This is all just confirmation bias on steroids.

And make no mistake about it, denying that there’s such a thing as an ex-homosexual is just the beginning. There are many in the homosexual community as well as the homophiles that support them who have been emboldened by the growing acceptance of gay marriage and other trends in the culture. The gloves are coming off as they are driven to eradicate every vestige of dissonance, any trace of mores, behavior, thought, tradition and public policy that in any way suggests or reminds people that heterosexuality is normal, God-ordained and morally or ontologically superior to homosexuality.

And that is precisely why the slippery slope exists…and gets steeper and steeper as we descend.

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3 Comments on "Making Gay OK: Cognitive Dissonance, Confirmation Bias and the Normalization of Homosexuality"

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Connor Grant Lyons
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This is horrible. The only people who would profess this deluded opinion on homosexuality would be one who hasn’t dealt with it themselves. Meaning ONLY STRAIGHT PEOPLE THINK THIS! I am a gay man and am coming across this convoluted only because it showed up as one of the first 3 links in my google search “Normalizing Homosexuality,” which is NOT what this article is going for at all. You are holding back the human race from moving forward to a place of acceptance and personal freedom. I myself had a traumatic experience of coming out and even tried to… Read more »
James Ledbetter
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While looking through articles on cognitive dissonance for a doctoral dissertation, I stumbled upon this piece that I thought I would read for personal enjoyment. I’m Christian and was elated to find a like-minded individual interested in the human psyche and religion. Consider me surprised when the “author” took a turn down a road that has been traveled by every other so-called “Christian.” What you don’t seem to realize is that there is a clear difference between Christianity and your garbled opinions and interpretations that have, in fact, only been spoon fed to you by someone else who probably had… Read more »
Dave
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Excellent article! One of the most balanced presentation of this extremely significant cultural issue. I found your article in my search of articles on “cognitive dissonance”. I am a Christian and a substance abuse counselor. My belief is that there is nothing new under the sun in terms of effective and healthy therapy. I believe our Creator has already given us all the discovered “therapy” in is Word. We “dis-cover” it, call it a therapy or theory and slap our names and glory on it. Sad. So, “cognitive dissonance” just seems to be a fancy phrase (“theory”) for what we… Read more »
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