Huffington Post’s Chris Stedman is convinced that dogmatism, which he opposes in all its “forms”, is a bad thing, and that to criticize “dogmatic principles and practices is essentially important in the effort to promote social progress”. Stedman is wrong.
It used to be that dogma was defined, via the previous Century’s Webster, in words most strong: “A formally stated and authoritatively settled doctrine; a definite, established, and authoritative tenet.” What could be more muscular than that? Dogma was a set of true beliefs, or at least a set of beliefs thought true, that were thought justified, and known to be authoritative. When you acted and justified your actions by reference to dogma, you thus behaved rationally.
Dogma now means not a truth, but a falsity that is held to be true incorrectly. There are shades of incorrigibleness and arbitrariness attached to the modern word, of willful stupidity or stubbornness. Those who hold with a dogma are either ignorant or foolish, perhaps both. Only we Enlightened few know—we are convinced!—that holding with any dogma is stupid, dangerous, harmful, and is at the very least unproductive.
Which is to say, we Enlightened few hold with a settled, definite, established, and authoritative (papers can be cited) truth that dogma is a bad thing. We Enlightened few are thus inflicted with a unique kind of insanity, one that never beset the religious—who were never so foolish as to spout, “We follow a dogma but claim that all dogma is ridiculous.” Only the highest educated among us—the highest credentialed, I mean—hold dogmatically that dogma is unjustified.
It is true, and obvious, that some beliefs held by the religious are false and that others are probably false (which is not the same thing as false), but it does not follow from this that all religious beliefs are false. Just as it does not follow that all secular beliefs are false because many are. Yet the Enlightened hope that by calling a religious doctrine dogmatic, they save themselves the mental effort required in refuting that doctrine.
Hannah Appel, a Columbia professor, whom I unfairly inform you will teach an “Occupy 101” class complete with field trips, was quoted as saying, “It’s best to be critical of the things we hold most sacred.” Appel expresses what most Enlightened folks believe, and what is often expressed by them.
If we take her at her word (a dangerous option), Appel has told us that she holds with a certain truth, a moral truth about what is best. This truth, to Appel anyway, is a dogma. If what she says is what is best, then there is (to her) that which is less than best. Again, it doesn’t matter whether or not it really is best that we be critical of all things we hold most sacred. It only matters that Appel holds to a dogma, that she is being dogmatic.
And then I would be willing to bet that she, or any of the legion of Enlightened who hear her music, does not believe that it is best to be critical of all things we hold most sacred. Step into her classroom and dare to challenge any of the pieties progressive professors profess and you will learn quickly the force of the sacred.
Truth exists, there is that which is true. Because that is so, and because it is rational to believe what is true, there is dogma. The goal of all science is dogma: the formation of authoritatively settled doctrines, of definite, established, and authoritative tenets.
You might think to escape this conclusion by saying, “There is no truth. There is only that which we believe ‘true’, beliefs which are ever in flux, and which are genetically and culturally determined,” then you are espousing the dogma that there is no truth.
If you say to yourself, “I’m not dogmatic. I’m always willing to change my mind when new evidence comes along,” then besides advertising your own self-importance, you have at least settled on the dogmatic truth that to change one’s mind (when warranted) is a good thing. And once again you have negated your primary tenet that you are not dogmatic.
If you opine, “We only hold things ‘true’ provisionally; we never touch truth, we only get ever nearer,” then you have merely re-phrased the previous argument, and have espoused the “truth” that “we never touch truth.”
If you manage to choke out, “‘Truth’ is a vote: that which most people decide is so, is so,” then you are almost certainly lying, but if not you have concluded dogmatically that truth is a vote. But the real money is on the lie: it is empirically observed that those who make this statement are those most often dissatisfied with the outcomes of votes.
The only save is to claim that dogma only applies to religious beliefs. But you’d have all the difficulties of defining religious versus non-religious statements, and you’d be left agreeing that certainty, knowledge, and truth, i.e. dogma, is the goal of religion. In other words, you’d fall back to the original position of having to demonstrate sound arguments about which religious beliefs are false and which true. Dismissing religious beliefs out of hand because they are religious is only for the playground.