Not long ago, I posted a “Dawkins Scale of Belief” on my timeline, just for funsies. Basically, the scale classified belief in stages numbered 1 through 8, one being a “Strong Theist” and eight being a “Strong Atheist”. I was astounded by how many “ones” I personally know. Yes, I’m aware I’m friends with a lot of religious people, but it was still surprising to me the certainty which many of my friends asserted their confidence in a supreme being.
I follow a page on Facebook called the “Atheist Republic” and have found that there are communities on the “eight” end of the spectrum which are just as dogmatic in their assertion that the metaphysical/spiritual realms was a bunch of humdrum.
I don’t bear any personal ill will toward people who identify strongly on either end of this spectrum but I do, however, think that their dogmatic assertions about the impossibly unknowable realms of existence is quite narrow-minded. Is there a God, or are there gods? Maybe. I don’t know. Is the existence of a God or gods disproven beyond a shadow of a doubt? Nope. Because it’s impossible to do. So the best you and I can possibly do is speculate, and hold tentative positions on these matters.
Religious belief, or lack thereof, isn’t really the point here though. It’s the frame of mind itself that has the potential to be dangerous. Dogma is dangerous as a whole. It leaves no room for correction or paradigm shifting revelation. Dogmas are divisive, and leave no room for middle ground or critical thought. They are arrogant, not humble, and are unteachable. These sort of belief systems are not only found in religious communities, but also in the phenomenon of “identity politics”, or even the realm of politicized sexual theory (militant LGBT lobby).
Human beings are bound to belief. It’s part of the way we understand the world and reality we interact with. However, beliefs must be able to be challenged for progress to be possible. Without this possibility, beliefs become archaic and oppressive. It doesn’t matter how that belief is branded or marketed to the masses. Belief systems that are unalterable historically become oppressive. That’s just the nature of the inflexible mind. Those who would control others love dogmas.
I’ve found that the one true way to combat dogma is to engage in authentic conversation. Conversations, by their nature, are relational. Human beings, as social creatures, need community with others. Ever wonder why people talk to their pets if other people aren’t around? Conversation is the mechanism in which we seek to discover truth. This is why counseling is so vital to mental health.
When you befriend those who are different from you, you begin to break down many preconceived, inaccurate assumptions you may have harbored prior to the conversation. You begin to discover a depth to the other person. They become three dimensional rather than two. You begin to see the person as a whole rather than a caricature, and in that place it becomes harder to hold on to prejudices, or to dehumanize that person.
The Nazi’s were able to carry out their murderous mission because they effectively dehumanized the Jewish (and many other) communities. Their identities were blended into a collectivity rather than a body of individual beings. They were scapegoated. They were isolated from others by the state-sanctioned oppression. By the time families started disappearing from their homes these communities had been thoroughly ostracized from the general German population. The groundwork was laid long before the government police began kicking down doors.
That is the nature of dogma. It doesn’t allow people to ask, “Is this true?”. It simply says, “This is true.” and disallows any further discussion.
Look at our culture today. Isn’t our entire political discourse dominated by dogma? Right and Left wing talking heads reading talking points as religiously as fundamentalists read a Bible. Atheists speak of how religion cannot be tolerated to create a better society.
What is the remedy to this splitting into factions? Conversation. Conversation brings humanity back into the equation. It allows us to see those we disagree with far more clearly even if the conversation ends in disagreement. Conversation creates bridges to future conversations on the issues that matter most to individuals. A society that retains its ability to converse is a society that retains its freedom, and doesn’t yield to demagoguery or marginalization of collectivities.
So why don’t we have a conversation this year?
Maybe if we choose to do so, we’ll all learn something new.