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Cognitive Dissonance and the Shroud of Turin
One of the many examples of bad behavior in Mistakes have been made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and harmful actions by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson is Oprah Winfrey’s public endorsement A million little pieces by James Frey, which was a literary fraud. It was a mistake any talk show host could make, but Oprah tried to justify her mistake on The Larry King Show and made a series of irrational statements, such as “the truth is not important.” Tavris and Aronson say there is a “pyramid of choice” that King and Winfrey were at the top of because they had similar moral values. However, after Winfrey made her mistake, she descended into a position of moral inferiority. Her subsequent public apology drew much praise because it is so unusual for people to admit they have made a mistake.
The authors analyze this type of behavior with cognitive dissonance theory, which has “inspired more than 3,000 experiments that, taken together, have transformed psychologists’ understanding of how the human mind works” (loc. 226). The theory is that Oprah suffered mentally and emotionally because her idea that the book was good didn’t match reality, and she minimized her suffering (at first) by making self-justifying statements. The following quote from a famous psychoanalyst shows that anxiety or stress can prevent a person from thinking intelligently and rationally:
Consider, for example, a person who listens to a letter and has critical thoughts about it. A small inhibition would consist in a shyness to express criticism; a strong inhibition would prevent him from organizing his thoughts, with the result that they would occur to him only after the discussion was over, or the next morning. But inhibition may go so far as to prevent critical thoughts from coming out at all, and in this case, supposing that he really feels critical, he will be inclined to blindly accept what is said or even to admire it; and he will not be entirely conscious of having any inhibitions. In other words, if an inhibition goes so far as to control desires or impulses, there can be no awareness of its existence. (The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, Karen Horney, MD, New York: Norton, 1937, p. 55)
In religion, there are three fundamental truths that cause anxiety or cognitive dissonance: 1) The existence of God. 2) Resurrection of Jesus. 3) The inauthenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
The existence of God
We know that God exists because of the arguments of Thomas Aquinas and Ètienne Gilson: Finite beings (humans) exist. Finite beings need a cause. Therefore, there is an infinite being (God). You can see that this argument is actually a test by examining the question of whether or not humans have free will.
Evidence for free will is that slavery is illegal, but it is not illegal to own animals and raise them for food. This may suggest that people who think that people do not have free will have bad judgment. However, there is no need to make a decision on this matter. No one is arguing that slavery should be legalized because humans are no better than animals. It does not show poor judgment to speculate whether or not people have free will and to play devil’s advocate by promoting the philosophy called positivism. However, regarding the question of God’s existence, a decision must be made: Is there life after death? Will we pay for our sins after we die? It is because of the need to make this decision that one’s statements and thoughts about the existence of God can reflect badly on one’s character.
The following four statements are learned, intelligent, rational, and honest ways to justify the decision that life ends in the grave:
1) God has not given me the gift of faith. 2) The concept of God is contradictory. 3) If God cared about our welfare, He would not cause so much suffering. 4) The argument for the existence of God is not convincing.
It is irrational to say, “I don’t believe in life after death because God doesn’t exist.” When a person says this, they are going down the “pyramid of choice” for the sake of self-justification. The statement is absurd because it makes no sense to consider whether there is life after death if God does not exist, and to consider whether or not God exists if you are not trying to decide whether there is life after death.
Resurrection of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus is a historical event. Jesus’ followers scattered in fear and disillusionment after the crucifixion, but renewed their fellowship within a few years and swore up and down that Jesus appeared to them after he died.
The Christian belief is that Jesus is alive in a new life with God and if you follow Jesus the same good thing can happen to you. There is a gap between this belief and the historical event. This gap has widened because there are many apparently knowledgeable, intelligent, rational and honest people who do not believe in life after death.
This does not cause me any stress because I understand that most non-believers are not knowledgeable because they do not know the argument for the existence of God. They are not intelligent because they do not understand why humans are embodied souls. With the exception of Jean-Paul Sartre, who said “man is a vain passion”, they are not rational about the meaning of life. They are not honest because they use the false rebuttal: “Who made God?”
Many Christians relieve stress by asking what caused the Resurrection of Jesus. This question cannot be answered because the Gospels were written many years after the Resurrection. But if you assume the question is a good one, it justifies inventing hypotheses to answer the question. The two most common hypotheses are: 1) Jesus’ followers were hallucinating. 2) There was a bodily appearance in the life of Jesus, that is, a video camera could have recorded the event. The next step is to assume a high probability for the resurrection theory and a low probability for the hallucination theory. These assumptions of probability are accompanied by the explanation that those who disagree are materialists, agnostics, or atheists. This reasoning turns belief in Jesus into a historical event, albeit only a possible event. The gap between this highly probable event and belief is closed with the idea of a “leap of faith.” The net result, however, is self-justification and placing unbelievers at a low level on the “pyramid of choice.”
Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin contains a blood-stained image of the front of Jesus and the back of Jesus. It is clearly the work of a craftsman or artists who used a crucified victim or volunteer and methods that have been lost to history to tell the gospel stories about the crucifixion of Jesus. Evidence that the Holy Shroud never touched Jesus is the unusual size of the linen cloth, blood stains without spears and the existence of a detailed image. The Holy Shroud is a sign or reason to believe in Jesus, but many Christians prefer to think that it is evidence supporting the theory of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus.
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