The difference between dogma and doctrine is the difference between faith and thought.
The extent to which an ideological system is taken on faith is the extent to which it is dogmatic.
The extent to which an ideological system is by its leaders expected to be taken on faith is the extent to which it is dogma proper.
Accepting an ideological system without actually grasping or understanding the system’s ideological roots and elaborations — its claims, tenets, and principles — is ultimately the thing that distinguishes the dogmatic from the non. Ideas and claims and principles accepted upon faith, even if they’re accurate, though without one’s having independently thought about and considered the principles in toto (and thus not having fully grasped them), are dogmatically held principles.
Cults are among the most obvious examples of dogma-in-action, but it is important to note that neither religion nor God nor supernaturalism are the distinguishing characteristics of dogma. Any ideology, religious or non-religious, can become dogmatic, and some of the most notorious dogmas in history have been secular — Marxism perhaps foremost among them all, certainly in terms of the sheer numbers of people killed and imprisoned in the name of it.
What delineates and separates the dogmatic from the non isn’t primarily falsehood versus truth, but rather the level of independent examination which any one individual adherent gives to the ideological system, and the individual’s subsequent grasp, or lack.
A system of beliefs, whether true or false, becomes an actual dogma when the preponderance of adherents accept it upon faith and when such is expected of them by those in positions of leadership or authority.
Dogma exists along a spectrum. It is for this reason possible to be “somewhat dogmatic,” as it is also possible to be “extremely dogmatic,” as it is also possible to be at points in between.
“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons,” wrote Anaïs Nin, sagely, and her words, in my opinion, capture the essence of dogma.
“You are rather dogmatic in your espousal of atheism, Mr. Shermer,” said a caller on the radio to Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine.
I agree with this caller, as well: atheism has undoubtedly, within many circles, become a dogma, fully fledged, and under the label of “new atheism,” this dogma (i.e. the “new-atheist movement”) went to a whole new level of atheistic dogmatism – that is, before imploding, in no small measure because of the dogmatic political-economic views which new atheism came to adopt as part of their package, which political-economic views consist largely of the standard progressive-liberal ideology of today: instant dismissal and hatred of anyone on “the right,” for instance, as well as a deep advocacy of state-forced altruism and compulsory egalitarianism.
I note here as well (not quite parenthetically) that none of the new atheists I’ve ever heard or read — and I admit my exposure is intentionally limited, in large measure because of this very subject: their insufferable militancy and dogmatism — none, I say, whom I’ve ever heard or read have made the full and fundamental case for atheism, though Christopher Hitchens and a couple of others danced closely around it a few times, and that case isn’t metaphysical or ethical but epistemological: because God, like Grendel and little green men, is an arbitrary claim, and arbitrary claims are inadmissible.
Many atheists will argue that atheism provides its own protection against dogma. Atheism is on principle opposed to faith, they will say, and therefore any attempt to take atheistic principles on faith cannot be done. I agree that atheism doesn’t require faith — and I often hear believers incorrectly charge that atheism is just another sort of faith — yet I still think the atheist argument isn’t accurate: atheism does not, in my opinion, provide its own protection against dogma, inasmuch as any system of beliefs, even scientific, must undergo deep scrutiny, which means that proponents must individually put forth the effort required in order to critically examine and understand the system. If and as far as this isn’t done while yet proclaiming the truth of the doctrine, it is dogmatic.
A system of beliefs, whether accurate or inaccurate, becomes a dogma when the preponderance of proponents do what I’ve just described — and, even more, when the official leaders and spokespeople for it replace reasoning with militancy and any kind of decrees from or of authority: things expected of a person to either accept or obey — or the person is a heretic.
I regard this subject as complex.
The determining factor, I’ll reiterate, is the extent to which the belief-system is blindly propounded, and blindly accepted.
It almost goes without saying here that not all atheists are dogmatists – just as not all Marxists are dogmatists, just as not all religious people are dogmatists.
Some of the most learned and genuinely intelligent and well-educated people to whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking are religious — one, a Catholic priest named Father Schmidt, was a doctor of philosophy, theology, and psychology. He was also a calm and exceptionally erudite man, with a scintillating sense of humor, witty, laid-back, an occasional drinker at a bar I once tended, and I learned a lot from him, and definitely no dogmatist was he. He was the opposite, in fact, and he and our conversations meant a great deal to me.
This issue can be no better illustrated than in the fact that if any self-described liberal-democrat (among the most dogmatic of people with whom I regularly come in contact now, which is why I single them out here for illustrative purposes) were to entirely divest himself or herself of partisan political dogma, even for a short time, and replace it with a sincere and deep examination of any number of economic claims made by garden-variety conservatives, with whom I do not align myself, by the way — how price controls create shortages, for instance, or how minimum wage laws create greater unemployment — this same self-described liberal-democrat, if sincere in his or her critical examination, would indeed see that many of these mainstream conservative economic claims are undeniably accurate, the progressive-democrats wrong.
Militant atheists aussi: they are invariably among the most intolerant of all dogmatists I routinely come across – some even going so far as to say that Issac Newton and Galileo Galilei, neither of whom these atheists knew personally and both of whom believed passionately in God, were “lesser” than, for instance, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, both of whom are atheists! (My incredulity, I assure you, is nothing against Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, whom I like just fine.)
The error here — an obvious error, in my opinion — is in placing all or even most moral merit upon the notion that disbelief in God is the fundamental virtue. It is not.
There’s vastly much more to human virtue and human life, and billions of excellent people believe in God — and, let us never forget also: caritas maketh up for the multitude of wrongs, because caritas, like agape, like benevolence, like kindness, is (unlike atheism) a fundamental virtue, gentle, patient, compassionate, timeless.
Think of dogma like this:
It is a system of beliefs arranged and organized and placed into a tidy-looking bundle, which is made of wet clay. In accepting the bundle, one accepts as well, by necessity — by virtue of what dogma is — all the items packaged inside, and those items, too, are each made of wet clay. Often it happens that in the course of unpackaging the bundle, one finds a number of things unexpected inside – items not necessarily loved or even liked. And yet these items are a part of the totality of the package. The longer you keep the bundle as your own, the more the wet clay hardens — until, eventually, this clay is no longer wet or damp but now completely solidified. It is hardened dogma.
Dogma hardened past a certain point is impossible to re-soften or remove — not without tearing out a large section of the dogma-holder’s mind.
For this reason, dogma is the deadliest thing known to the human mind.
This subject is entirely rooted in philosophy and underscores the fact that philosophy — true, actual philosophy, as distinguished from academic philosophy which is nothing more than endless lexical hairsplitting and bears no resemblance whatsoever to actual philosophy — is a fundamental human need: the most fundamental human need there is.
To further concretize the point: it’s simple, for example, to refer to oneself as an “environmentalist” — yet there are so many notions and ideas and assumptions subsumed under and bundled within that package, that simple-to-say ideological package and title: vast sequence-chains and theories, complicated interpretations of data, much of which is incomplete and incompletely gathered — so much so, in fact, that one is very hard-pressed indeed to meet any self-described environmentalist who’s actually investigated seriously the innumerable ideological claims beneath this ideology. And yet who would want to come out as anti-environmentalism?
The same could be said about many other isms — and this doesn’t even touch upon the subject of all the divisions and disagreements and subdivisions within any of these isms; nor the sects and sub-sects and interminable schisms, which in turn spawn more dogmas, which in turn spawn more isms.
Nor does it touch upon the deliberate prevarications and misrepresentations — the propagandistic “over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is,” as Albert Gore so famously expressed it, “as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are.”
Albert Gore and all the others know full fucking well that the overwhelming majority of people who hear these “over-representations” are going to believe these dogmas with no qualms or questions asked, no independent thought given, without so much as a glance into actual data which would shed light onto these tenets of what Gore, in a rare moment of honesty, called “over-representation,” which is pure dogmatism. He knows also that these same people will then make it their life mission to convert the rest of the world to their apocalyptic vision, with the four horseman from the Democratic wing trumpeting in their ideological dogmas. I am here to tell you that this is no small thing.
I speak from deep personal experience when I say that person can spend his entire life combatting such dogmas.
I write about dogma at length here because it’s a subject I’ve thought and thought about, beginning as early as my early teenage years, and I still think a great deal about it — even more, now, for this chapter and book. The subject, in short, is intricate, labyrinthian.
“Rejoice not in injustice, but rejoice in the truth,” I believe it says somewhere in the first Corinthian.
It also, in a very significant way, strikes at the heart of the subject-matter of independent thinking as an art.
It strikes at the heart of this subject-matter because dogma as I’ve come to understand it and define it here is the very antithesis of independent thought — its polar opposite and nemesis. Independent thought is critical thought. They are synonymous. They are a critical examination of ideas and ideologies, as a way of life.
Dogma is dangerous. It is the most dangerous and deadly thing known to humankind.
It is an attempt to circumvent the process of thinking — to short-cut the effort that thought and active thinking require. It erects barriers and stumbling-blocks to independent thought and individual inquiry. It creates murderous division and strife.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a current case in point. It is most definitely dogma — and, if nothing else, the CRT acronym instantly gives it away. Why do I say?
Because jargon and dogma go together like white wine and fish.
Yes: Critical Race Theory and its handmaiden #BlackLivesMatter are both dogma. You may now have my blood in a dish.
Environmentalism, I repeat, is also dogma — in fact, it’s pure and unadulterated dogma: dogma piled on top of dogma piled on top of the most obvious sort of dogmatism. That is environmentalism.
Climate change is dogma, insofar as the term “climate change” is so sloppy and imprecise as to be virtually meaningless since climate is non-static by definition (sloppy terminology is always a dead giveaway, incidentally — always and infallibly a foolproof sign of dogmatic supposition and presupposition). I know of no serious scientist or human being who doesn’t understand that climate is non-static by definition — i.e. climate by definition changes by the second, every single moment of every single day of every single year — and yet how many of these dogmatists use the term as though it’s holy write, clinging to it with blind passion and so much sanctimony and zeal, so totally moved, wielding the term with dogmatic fervor and force. Meanwhile, there have never, in all of recorded history, been fewer climate-related deaths than in the last decade, of course. And this can be proved.
But no discussion of dogma would be complete right now if I were to neglect mentioning the thing which in many ways was the hook that yanked my brain painfully enough to provoke this book. I’m referring, as you no doubt already suspect, to the ideology that’s sprung up around SARS-CoV2 — complete with its own jargon-loaded lingo as well, its own acronym-set, its own jargon-rich nomenclature, all of which became dogmatic in a shorter span of time than anything we’ve ever seen — ever — and on that point I’m willing with anyone to bet a sky0high wager.
I ask you, reader, with all due deference and respect, to at the minimum hear and process this at least:
Thinking and true thought, as against some bundle of hardening clay beliefs, are their own unique human beast. They are the only true antidote to any kind of dogma, because thinking and true thought are investigative by definition, as they are also inquisitive by their very nature.