Thursday, July 13, 2017

How to Train Your Dogma

Dogma isn't bad - we all need a set of principles by which to live - but uncritical acceptance of Dogma is really unhelpful. We have to be able to interact with people without bringing our dogma to the party as our definition of morality. That is not to say that morality is relative, but morality is relative. It just is. Whether we're talking about contextual differences or cultural ones - or just the way experience shapes the choices people make, things get messy.

That doesn't mean dogma is bad - we really do need to know what we believe and how that affects our actions. The dictionary defines dogma as "a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true," which makes holding them loosely difficult. Still, I don't think we have to filch on our own commitment in order to provide grace and real respect for people who may think differently or think the same for different reasons, or simply haven't thought through exactly what they believe on a certain issue.

It's important to bring our dogma to the party, just not as the center of attention. What we believe informs who we are, how we act, what we think - it is as much a part of us as our skin. We should be ashamed of or feel the need to cover over those underlying beliefs that make us who we are.
But, like our skin, dogma changes over time (we have an entirely new set of skin every seven years or so, based on the lifespan of cells). Holding our dogma as something we believe in, but also something we're not imposing on others, allows us to think critically about belief in general and evaluate our own ideas. I suspect, any idea worth keeping will stand up to such evaluation, but the real joy comes in finding those things we've always taken for truth might be slightly lacking.

That's real growth and it's real respect for other people, who, themselves, have a series of experience-shaped beliefs that underlay who they are as people. Life isn't going to work out for anyone if we treat it like a dogma fight, battling back and forth until someone emerges the victor.
No one wins those fights.

The negative portrayal of dogma is precisely its perceived permanence. Dogma, in a bad light, takes on a life of its own, disconnected from the religious principles it's supposed to support. Macklemore, in his tremendously unsuccessful follow up album uses the line, as advice to his daughter, "Find God, but leave the dogma," because there's some general understanding that God is more intangible, mysterious, complex, and transformative than staid dogma could ever be.

This perception doesn't come because dogma is, in fact, unhelpful or problematic; it comes because of the way we hold our beliefs: namely with a tight fist and a stubborn will. The false idol of certainty is a comfortable mistress and we're loathe to leave her side. We don't need to give up our beliefs to truly embody them faithfully, but we most certainly do have to give up our control of those beliefs to see all they have in store for us.

Truth is truth until its not. That might not be satisfying, but it's all we've got in this world. That shouldn't mean we abandon the search for truth or minimize its importance, we just have to remember its not something over which anyone has a monopoly. People are people and whatever we believe, we believe for a reason. Beliefs and reasons are different, but it's only in address each other as people that we'll be able to find any dogma that has any hope of fulfilling its purpose.

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