The galaxy can be a complicated place.
Din Djarin, the title character of the Disney+ show The Mandalorian, learns this quickly. Played by Pedro Pascal, the stoic gunslinger has led Star Wars fans into unexplored corners of the much-loved franchise and become the world’s favorite foster dad.
As Din travels to various planets tracking down the mysterious alien child Grogu (better known as Baby Yoda) and eventually seeking a good home for him, he meets people whose beliefs severely challenge his own. Din’s soul-searching becomes the heart of the show, and his willingness to question his worldview makes a good example for us as well.
Trained as a bounty hunter by a secretive religious community of Mandalorians on a backwater planet, Din thinks he knows everything about his culture and his personal convictions. His people even have a mantra to remind them to hold fast to their beliefs: “This is the Way.”
But what, exactly, is the Way? Is it protecting the Mandalorians’ covert on the planet Nevarro at all costs? Is it keeping his face hidden from even his own people? Is it caring for foundlings, orphans who are rescued and reared to preserve Mandalorian culture? What if fulfilling one of these tenets jeopardizes another? Worse, what if some of them aren’t essential for a Mandalorian to follow?
Suddenly, Din feels pretty relatable. As Christians, we may be confident in our convictions until a leader we admire is exposed as not the role model we knew them to be. Or until we meet people who challenge our private stereotypes. Or until a community we belong to starts expressing values we don’t hold. We find ourselves feeling pulled in two directions, torn between beliefs that no longer agree or reconsidering our loyalties.
The name for this tumultuous feeling is cognitive dissonance. Psychologist Leon Festinger coined it in 1957 after observing firsthand a group of people have their greatest anticipation fail to materialize—he infiltrated a doomsday cult. Its leader said she had received messages from a higher being that a giant flood would destroy North America, and she convinced some people to come to her house to be picked up by a spaceship.
When the foretold day passed, the most ardent believers didn’t admit they were wrong. Instead, they believed that their devotion had prevented the disaster. Their conviction became stronger than ever.
Festinger replicated these types of responses in research, and he identified the ways we go about trying to reduce the dissonance. We can discard one of the conflicting beliefs, add new beliefs that tip the scale one way or the other, or tell ourselves that a certain belief is more or less important than its opposing cognition. We may even know we’re siding with a deception but do it anyway.
For example, former pastor Joshua Pease told CT that he sees cognitive dissonance at work when churchgoers learn about abuse that takes place in a church setting.
“Church members can’t reconcile their identity—my church is a good place with good people—with reality,” he said. “Far too often this leads to minimization (‘What happened wasn’t THAT big a deal’), victim blaming (‘Well, if you had done _____, maybe it wouldn't have happened’), and denial (‘I know that person; they would never do that’).” Younger Christians especially may simply leave the church if no one confronts an issue of abuse seriously.
Din’s instinct in situations loaded with cognitive dissonance is to cling to his original beliefs. But he later learns nuanced ways to reduce his internal conflict.
Sometimes his mental wrestling helps him cling to a cognition he already holds: When he suspects the Empire wants to harm Grogu, he reneges on his bounty hunting contract with them and rescues Grogu instead, risking his life, the secrecy of his covert, and his status in the bounty hunters’ guild.
Other times, Din warms up to the idea that he’s wrong. His parents were killed by battle droids when he was a boy, and now he wants nothing to do with droids, even bumbling repair models. But a reprogrammed bounty hunter droid rescues Grogu from stormtroopers and then sacrifices itself to save Din and his allies. On the next visit to the repair shop, he lets the droids work on his ship.
And then he faces the big one: Mandalorians must never remove their helmets. If one did, “You can’t ever put it back on again,” Din explains. His days as a Mandalorian would be over.
At least, so he thinks. In an early episode of season 2, he and Grogu are saved by freedom fighter Bo-Katan Kryze and her Mandalorian entourage. They promptly take off their helmets. Din doesn’t react well, initially. He demands to know how they stole their armor and insists, “You are not Mandalorian.” Bo-Katan—who is actually heiress to the Mandalorian throne—realizes that Din belongs to an extremist sect of Mandalorians, the Children of the Watch.
How does a person proceed after a revelation like that? As Christians, we affirm that each of us is flawed and sinful, knowing what’s good for us while resisting change (Rom. 7:15–25) and eager to point out others’ flaws before examining our own (Matt. 7:3). But admitting we’re wrong hurts, and research has shown that refusing to admit it can actually feel pretty good.
One way is to surround ourselves with friends with different perspectives. The droid that saved Grogu was reprogrammed by Din’s friend Kuiil, who insisted that it accompany Din and Grogu to a showdown with the Empire. Din relents because he trusts Kuiil, not because he’s changed his mind about droids.
This approach has been valuable in my own life. I’ve had professors I trust suggest new approaches to doctrine and politics that I would’ve rejected from a stranger. I can see humanity in controversial issues by spending time with people impacted by those issues. “As iron sharpens iron,” so these people have refined my beliefs (Prov. 27:17).
Another important habit is to examine our priorities and be conscious of which cognitions are essential, and which are not. Din Djarin may not have realized at first that he was doing this, but every risk he takes for Grogu points to it.
In the penultimate episode of season 2, Din is trying to locate the Imperial ship Grogu is on to stage a rescue. He’s undercover on an Imperial base—having traded his armor for trooper gear and helmet, already a small concession to his rule—and his computer terminal’s security system wants a facial scan. People are watching. This is his only chance.
He takes off the helmet.
It’s uncomfortable to watch, and even worse when an officer comes over to check on him. Din’s so nervous he can’t even think to talk himself out of the situation. But he got the coordinates he needed.
After he rescues Grogu and is about to entrust the child to a Jedi for training, he takes it off again to say goodbye. This time, he’s under no pressure. Tears form as Grogu gets to touch his face and look into his eyes.
The dissonance isn’t completely gone for Din. He still has to figure out what his Mandalorian creed will be in light of Bo-Katan’s revelation. But when he took his helmet off, he let one belief outweigh others: Be the family to the foundling in your care.
When our worldview is shaken by painful realities, we can find the way in the midst of cognitive dissonance by setting our priorities straight. Christ’s death and resurrection are “of first importance” (15:3); love is “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31); the Word of God is more trustworthy than human leaders (1 Thess. 2:13). These may not resolve the dissonance—they may make it worse—but prioritizing them will not lead us astray.
We’re called to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1). Sometimes that won’t be comfortable. Jesus told his fellow Jews that they misinterpreted their own Law—six times in one sermon (Matt. 5). Where they rationalized, he refocused them on love. When we encounter a similarly jarring revision of what we think we know, it’s okay to dwell in that cognitive dissonance. We can take a cue from Din Djarin and pursue truth, following Christ, who is our Way.
Alexandra Mellen is copy editor at Christianity Today.
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