Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Gap Between Dogma and Dogmatism

It's been my experience that faith rooted in cautious optimism and a smidgen of doubt is less likely to devolve into dogmatism. Having beliefs, whether they be religious or secular (grounded in faith or empirical data) is something all of us have in common. All of us believe something: especially those trapped in nihilism who profess they don't believe anything. The amount of certainty we place in our worldview coupled with an inability to accept or even process new information factor heavily in our dogmas slide into a combative one sized fits all belief system.
One sufficient, but not necessary, symptom of being overly dogmatic is the inability to consider ideas that don't originate from people who share your worldview. We're all fallible; all of us posess the human propensity for error. Our quest[s] for ultimate truth will all fall short and end in the grave, but the closing of our minds to information or empirical data is a flashing sign that points to a childish mentality grounded in low intellect and/or weak faith. 

I often hear people say we need a national religious awakening or prayer back in school. These request assume that all of our problems could be solved with a rededication to spirituality or faith. The biggest problem with that line of thinking is that we (Americans) have never lived the utopian religious fantasy those who espouse those views are nostalgic for. It's much more reasonable to ask for a collective commitment to critical thinking. 

We have political and media organizations that are invested in systematically misinforming our fellow citizens. The university, scholarship and intellectualism have become the sacrificial lambs to the shrine of dogmatism. Immanuel Kant wrote an essay titled, "What is Enlightenment" that I have quoted in the past more than a few times, the most powerful quote in relation to dogmatism reads as follows: 

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me.

We are splintered as a nation along every possible dividing line. Even agreement has suffered because of our "pure" ideologies. We can agree with each other on 90% of an issue and allow the 10% to get in the way of progress. Just remember: because you hear two sides of an issue doesn't mean you've heard every side of an issue. The certainty we cling to is often an illusion. 

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