From Infallibility to Cognitive Dissonance

As presented by Festinger in 1957, dissonance theory began by postulating that pairs of cognitions (elements of knowledge) can be relevant or irrelevant to one another. If two cognitions are relevant to one another, they are either consonant or dissonant. Two cognitions are consonant if one follows from the other, and they are dissonant if the obverse (opposite) of one cognition follows from the other. The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, motivates the person to reduce the dissonance and leads to avoidance of information likely to increase the dissonance. The greater the magnitude of the dissonance, the greater is the pressure to reduce dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology

The complex Bahá'í doctrine of infallibility, coupled with the sheer mass of laws, ordinances, covenants, and doctrines in Bahá'í scripture makes for a myriad unassailable cognitions, each of which is regarded as unquestionable in its own right. This does not leave the mind much wiggle room. The mind must ultimately cease to seek associations between truths, and forfeit reason, succumbing to mere obedience, though just what the mind is to be obedient to is difficult to determine. This is where authority steps in. For this reason, the concept of a covenant is crucial in the Bahá'í Faith.

Cognitive dissonance is so pronounced in the Bahá'í Faith that many Bahá'ís interpret seemingly obvious passages in some rather creative ways. They are permitted to do so, but they are told that they must ultimately defer to whatever authoritative pronouncements are made. I know one very scholarly Bahá'í who seems to sincerely believe that Bahá'í scripture uses absurdity as its primary literary mechanism.

In the end, what one thinks or believes is not critical. What is critical is obedience.