Like many of you, I am often concerned with the polarization of our nation, of our world, and of our church. How have we become so polarized, I wonder? I’ve been pondering this for some time, and found what I believe to be the answer. Polarization isn’t the disease, it is the symptom of the disease. Like Covid 19, the disease presents itself in numerous different symptoms, but the disease itself is a virus. In this case the disease is something that we rarely hear discussed anymore — dogma.
- What is Dogma?
- An Example of Dogma
- The Danger of Dogma
Dogma is a word we rarely use these days. One relatively recent occasion is when, in a previous confirmation hearing of Amy Cony Barrett, a Catholic, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said to Mrs. Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly in you.” What, precisely was she talking about? What is dogma, anyway?
What is Dogma?
One definition is as follows: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
The key word in that definition is “incontrovertibly.” In short, dogma is something which cannot be questioned. In practice, people who adhere to dogma consider it to be sacred, and any questioning of that dogma to be the equivalent of blasphemy. And classifying something as blasphemy conveniently removes the need to refute it using logic and/or evidence.
Dogma: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
Once you recognize it, you can see evidence of dogma all around us. Ideas and logical arguments need not be opposed if we can label them as blasphemous, or its equivalent. I will provide an example in which my views have been labeled as blasphemous by both extremes.
In practice, any questioning of dogma is considered to be the equivalent of blasphemy. And classifying something as blasphemy conveniently removes the need to refute it using logic and/or evidence.
An Example of Dogma
Increasingly, the topic of origins has become encased with successive layers of dogma. For example, if I believe that the earth was created in six literal days, my views, and my arguments, need not be answered, according to one side of the debate. Scientists who are also atheists would deny any belief in the sacred, yet their behavior is identical to the religious zealot who believes someone has committed blasphemy.I am labeled as ignorant, or unscientific, I am therefore beneath the need to dialogue with. To the scientistic mind, I have committed blasphemy
On the other hand, if I point out that no biblical author shows any interest in the question of the age of the earth, and that the numbers associated with two of the genealogies in the book of Genesis are not linked to Creation but rather to the Flood, I am labeled as someone who denies the inspiration of Scripture. The fundamentalist considers me to have committed blasphemy, and once again, my reasoning and evidence need not be considered.
The question of origins has become so encrusted with dogma on all sides, it is virtually impossible to have any actual discussion or conversation. And that demonstrates the problem of polarization.
There are a number of topics in the public square where people continually declare that, “We need to have an open and honest conversation on (plug in your favorite issue), but that conversation is then short-circuited because any opposition or even questioning of certain ideas is labeled blasphemy, whatever the term for that is in that particular sphere. So, “We need to have an open and honest conversation,” actually means, “You need to surrender your views and accept mine, because I know the truth and different opinions or questioning is blasphemy.”
From both sides I increasingly hear statements like this: “There is no way that any true Christian could (vote for X candidate, oppose/support government provided universal healthcare, have this view on race, oppose/support X immigration policy, wear/not wear a mask, oppose/support Christians meeting for worship, oppose/support women’s ordination … I’m sure you have your own list).
The more dogmatic we become, the more we resemble the beast who cares not for our reasoning and intellect, but demands submission and obedience above all.
The very phrase “any true Christian” betrays the dogmatic mindset, but sometimes the phrase “any intelligent person” serves the same function . And thus we find ourselves polarized, and having placed off-limits the very tools by which we might resolve some of these issues.
The Danger of Dogma
The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” God invites us to “come, let us reason,” and Paul exhorts us to “let everyone be convinced in his own mind.” The dogmatic mindset assures that our walk with God remains shallow and distant, that our intellects will become duller, not sharper, we will become increasingly unreasoning and unreasonable, and that the urge to coerce rather than persuade will grow in strength.
Some might argue that this is only a sign of the end, but one of the clearest characteristics of the antichrist in the end times is the movement toward coercion. The more dogmatic we become, the more we resemble the beast who cares not for our reasoning and intellect, but demands submission and obedience above all.
So, it is possible that polarization is a part of the developing in time events. But as Jesus said about such things, “For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
Whether the end is imminent or not, as Christians we should seek to find ways to bridge these gaps. We must be able to distinguish between our own dogma and that which is truly sacred. Otherwise we each become our own little god, dividing the sheep from the goats based on our preferences, and like the beast of Revelation 13, seeking submission rather than reconciliation.