Dogma is a coward’s refuge.
And it isn’t the same as faith.
Faith is a choice to believe in something–a god, a doctrine, a political philosophy, a person’s character–in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Dogma is a refusal to believe in something because it differs from what you choose to believe.
Faith need not exclude other beliefs; if I choose to believe a thing and you choose to believe something else, we can discuss our disagreement. Or not. We can still respect each other. Your belief does not diminish mine, nor mine yours. Faith allows that we may both be right.
Dogma, though, is entirely about exclusion. If I choose to believe a thing and you choose to believe something else, there is only one outcome: you must be wrong, and I must prove it, or stick with the dispute until you let it go, or shout you down. Because your belief is a threat to mine. If you are right, the thinking of dogma goes, I must be wrong, so I can never accept the possibility that you are right.
Watching–or engaging in–a debate between people of faith, who genuinely seek to understand each other’s point of view, is a joy. Voices may rise, emotions may become heated, but at the end, both parties leave understanding more than when the debate started. And so does anyone who witnessed the exchange.
A debate between people of dogma, on the other hand, is all about winning. When the only possibility in my mind is that I am right and you are wrong, I cannot grow–I can only bring you to my way of thinking. Or I can shut you down. Arguments of dogma are often little better than adult versions of the classic kids’ argument: Is not! Is too! Is not! The best we can gain from an argument of dogma is training in logical and rhetorical jiu jitsu, the art of standing a point on its head and picking it apart until it no longer resembles its original form. At its worst, dogma brings bloodshed.
Faith is much more difficult to attain than dogma. Faith requires we understand why we choose to believe as we do. It requires we accept other points of view and strive to understand them.
Dogma is often a stepping stone on the way to faith. But too often, we stop at dogma and never make the effort to attain faith. Too often, we demand dogma of those we choose to lead us. We cheat ourselves, thinking winning is more important than understanding.
Faith and understanding demand more of us than dogma and winning. They are harder to attain. They lie on the far side of effort, thought, questions, and fear, and so they are the product of courage. There’s no courage in simply rejecting all conflicting views.
Let’s demand faith instead of dogma, of ourselves and our leaders. Let’s demand our leaders make the effort to understand. Let’s demand courageous leaders, not cowards.