Monday, September 25, 2006

Understanding dogmas through analogy

Below is a column that I wrote back in college, and which I came across recently. I thought that it might be good to post here.


Dogmas as unbending as laws of mathematics
Strong beliefs of definition of truth should not lead to ‘restricted,’ ‘limited’ labels

Often when someone uses the word “dogma” or “dogmatic,” their minds will automatically think “limiting,” “restrictive” or “repressive,” which is then followed by negative thoughts and impressions about the role of dogmas.

The reason this happens is because of American culture’s emphasis on free-thinking; and such concepts as dogmas are seen as anathema to a society that embraces freedom of thought and expression. What this often shows, however, is a lack of understanding of the role of dogmas.

Space constraints do not allow a discussion on either Catholic theology or dogma, so instead I will use a mathematical analogy to illustrate the role a dogma serves for the believer. I will use the math problem 5 + 7 = 12 to represent a certain dogma. Five plus seven equals 12 is true, and it is absolutely true, that is, it is beyond debate, discussion or the sway of political influences. Five plus seven always equals 12 could be seen as repressive, restrictive or limiting, but what good would it do you to resist? Imagine trying to tell others, for instance, that 5 + 7 = 57.

What if you are absolutely convinced that 5 + 7 = 57 and persist in saying so? Do you think that accolades for rebelling against the “mathematical establishment” are just around the corner, or is it more likely that others will think that you do not know your math and you are probably nuts as well? Perhaps, if you’re lucky, they will at least take pity on your persistent ignorance.

Dogmas are a set of truths that have to be as absolutely true as 5 + 7 = 12 is true. Granted, dogmas may not always seem as clear cut as this math problem, but it does not change the fact that they are still unalterably true. Some math problems are a lot more difficult than 5 + 7, but just because they are difficult to understand doesn’t mean that there is no solution for the problem.

For instance, let’s take 5 + 7(403 -77). Most of us can’t do that in our head as quickly as 5 + 7, but there is still a solution to it. If you blurted out any answer, it would be harder for others to disagree with you until they could check it out for themselves. The complexity of 5 + 7(403 -77), however, does not take away from the fact that there is still only one solution. It will just take a little longer to figure it out.

So it is with dogmas. They may not always be understood in one sitting like 5 + 7 would be, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t true. Indeed, some dogmas require much meditation and contemplation before they can be understood, but the reward for understanding is often well worth the effort to find out.

Bashing dogmas because you don’t understand them, is not freeing yourself from their “restrictive and repressive” influence. Instead, it is like deciding that 5 + 7 = 57 simply because it seems so much more logical to just put the two numbers together as the solution rather than changing them into the number 12.

Deciding that 5 + 7 = 57 may at first seem to free you from “repressive thinking,” but ultimately it does not. All that happens is that you jump from one form of ignorance to another.

So next time, before jumping into the dogma-bashing bandwagon, look before you leap. You could be saving yourself a world of embarrassment.

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