“I Love You, But You’re Going to Hell.”

Evangelicals say things like this all the time about gay people.

Threatening someone with eternal damnation is a mind-control tactic. And saying (or even just accepting) that someone is going to hell because (you think) you’re morally superior to them, that’s just cruel.

This produces a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. And so to ease that feeling of cognitive dissonance, we adopt self-justifying narratives like this.

I’ve finally been reading a book that’s been on my list for a while: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. It’s an exploration of cognitive dissonance theory and how we can foster a healthier skepticism towards our own prejudices. One of my highlights in the book keeps coming back to me on this point:

“I dislike those people” collides with an equally strong conviction that it is morally or socially wrong to say so. People who feel this dissonance… will eagerly reach for any self-justification that allows them to express their true beliefs yet continue to feel that they are moral and good.

So in this category, I would include:

  • “I love you, but you’re going to hell.”
  • “Hate the sin; love the sinner.”
  • “It wasn’t me. It was the booze.”
  • “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”

That way I can continue to look down on, discriminate against, and mistreat people whom I have othered, all while continuing to think of myself as a basically good, decent person.