Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Being Dogmatic

For something to be of use, it must have a specific function and specific parameters. This is true of everything in life, whether a pineapple, a music CD, a word, a widget, or a human being. A word is the prime example of the necessity of definition. Imagine, for a moment, a word which has no definition. It can be used as a verb, as a noun, as an adjective, as an adverb, as a conjuntion, as a pronoun or even as a preposition. At first glance, it would appear that such a word would be universally useful. After all, a word that can be used to mean anything can be included in any or even every sentence. However, at second glance the weakness of such a word is revealed--in trying to convey everything, it is suitable to communicate nothing at all. Since this imaginary word has no standard definition, though it can used everywhere, no one can discern what it means. This example reveals that a word is only useful if it conveys a specific thing. The narrower the definition of word, the more clear it communicates the author's intent. The broader the definition of a word, the more room there is for ambiguity and confusion. The definition of a word is what limits its scope and gives it usefulness.

Much in a the same way, human beings have specific parameters. We exist in the physical world with certain bodily dimensions and functions. Likewise, our minds have the capacity to process large quantities of information, both consciously and subconsciously. Using our minds and emotions, we formulate values, beliefs, and personal preferences for and against numerous things. As humans, that which separates us from lower beings is our cognitive capacity. The fact that we can think, ponder, reflect and abstractualize is what makes us human. Those who are most developed as humans, are those who have thought about things and reached definitely conclusions about a broad array of things. While a young and inexperienced person may not especially know what his favorite sort of liquor is, what sort of qualities are desirable in a mate, or what the most reasonable metaphysical stance is, one who is well-developed knows his answer to such questions. In this manner, those who are the most developed in their humanity are those who are the most dogmatic. Those who are not very dogmatic may be human, but they certainly aren't very developed in their humanity.

Any firmly held belief is a dogma. According to the dictionary, a dogma is: something held as an established opinion; especially: a definite authoritative tenet. In this sense, all values, all beliefs about facts, and all established personal preferences are forms of dogma. If I believe that the sun truly exists, that is a piece of dogma. I will unapologetically defend my belief in the existence of the sun to anyone who disagrees. Similarly, if I hold the view that murder is wrong, that is a piece of dogma. If I especially enjoy playing bass and I adamantally dislike asparagus, those are both pieces of dogma that define me as a person.

There are two ways that a person can avoid becoming dogmatic over the course of time. The first way is to adopt a whimsical flippancy to one's stances and to alter them frequently. Such a person loves the color red one week and hates it the next. Such a person flits about, perhaps going from job to job without ever settling on one, perhaps going from lover to lover and never committing to one, or perhaps trying various hobbies but never whole-heartedly choosing one of them. Their preferences and tastes change constantly, and so their soul never becomes more defined. The main thing that defines the flippant person is the constanty of the chaos and disorder in their life.

The second way to avoid becoming dogmatic is to refuse to define oneself, out of timidity. Such a person is afraid to choose a religion, because such a choice necessarily entails a rejection of all other religions. Such a person is afraid to marry one person, because such a choice leaves him no longer free to marry another. Such a person doesn't choose a favorite color, since that would imply the existence of many other, wonderful, non-favorite colors. Since every choice involves a necessary and inseparable rejection of all other available options, the timid person avoids formulating fixed values and beliefs. This person values openmindedness and tolerance above personal development.

While openmindedness and tolerance are almost never practiced by those who pride themselves on such traits, it remains that neither openmindedness, nor tolerance are traits worth pursuing. A person who is truly openminded has quite nearly stripped himself of his humanity. A person who is insufficiently dogmatic demonstrates an utter apathy towards all that exists and towards all that is done. A truly openminded person will say, "I care not whether he commits murder." A truly openminded person will say, "I don't care whether you give me chocolate or vanilla." A truly openminded person will say, "I do not care whether she commits adultery." Thankfully, there are very few people who are truly openminded. Those who typically describe themselves as openminded and tolerant, are neither especially openminded nor are they especially tolerant. They are often quite dogmatic, themselves.

To be dogmatic is simply to believe fully in what one believes, whatever that may be. There is certainly right dogma and wrong dogma, but their is nothing intrinsically harmful about being dogmatic. On the contrary, there is something quite worthy and respectable about being dogmatic. To be dogmatic is simply to be assertive in one's beliefs. If one is opposed to murder, such a stance is of no value unless one is quite dogmatic about it. The only humane stance to adopt is, "I believe that murder is always wrong, and nothing will change my mind on the matter." Similarly, the sufficiently developed man will also be unafraid to say, "That man is a murderer, and therefore is worthy of death, because he has wrongfully killed someone. None shall convince me otherwise." Not only that, but a person's dogma will always lead him to being a judgmental sort of person. His dogma itself approves of certain actions and condenms others. Even those who preach against "closemindedness" and "judgmentalism" are quite closeminded and judgmental. The man who says, "There is nothing wrong with homosexuality," and, "It is wrong and unjust to call homosexuality a sin," is quite as closeminded and judgmental as the man who condemns homosexuality, because he is precisely as dogmatic. One man is dogmatically for homosexuality and the other man is dogmatically against it. One man is intolerant of those who judge homosexuals and the other is intolerant of those who practice homosexuality. Now, it may be that one of the men is right in his dogma and the other isn't, but it certainly can't be said that either is less dogmatic. Anyone who is even remotely human is quite dogmatic about a good number of things.

In order to be more fully human, and more defined as a human, every person must pursue dogmatism. That is, every single person should continually seek to more clearly define precisely what he believes, and seek to hold his beliefs with more and more certainty. Let each man be thoroughly convinced in his own mind, that his position is the right one. Ideally, let his position actually be the right one. Each man should be not easily swayed in his beliefs, since they should rest soundly on a great deal of evidence and experience. Each man should be prepared to give a defense for anything that he firmly stands for, and should live in accordance with his own doctrines. Our beliefs, values and preferences are what defines us, as human beings.

All people are religious beings, including the sort that are religious in an irreligious sort of way. Let our spirituality be something that is clearly defined and our practice of it be practical and definite. All people are philosophizing beings, including the sort that are philosophical in an unphilosophical sort of way. Let out philosophies be well thought-out, mentally rehearsed and firmly believed. All people are moral beings, including the sort that are moral in the most immoral sorts of ways. Let our code of ethics have a sharpness and consistency that is worthy of being respected and followed. All people are aesthetic beings, including the sort that appreciates aesthetics in a very unaesthetic manner. Let our artistic tastes and preference be refined and specific. The dogmatic individual is the most developed one, for he knows who he is, what he believes, what he loves, and what he hates.

To say that one likes all wines is simply to reveal a lack of a developed palette, but to say that one possess a keen fondness for merlot and a sharp distaste for chardonnay displays a preference that is more complete. To say that one loves all types of women is merely to say that one hasn't figured out which sort he likes best. To say that all religions are good and have their place is to reveal a lack of knowledge of religion or an unwillingness to define oneself, whereas the fanatically religious individual knows exactly what he believes. To say that one likes doing everything simply means that one hasn't discovered which things he especially enjoys or dislikes, whereas to state with certainty that one loves playing basketball and driving fast cars is to reveal a more complete personality. As humans, we are defined both by that which we like and that which we dislike, by that which we firmly believe and by that which we highly doubt, by that which we passionately love and that which we fervently hate.

If there is one thing that all people should aim value for, it is a deeper dogmatism. Let us be dogmatic in everything. Let us be right in everything. Let us ensure that whatever beliefs we hold align with reality and yield good fruit. Once that is done, let us hold those beliefs with unshakable certitude. Those who are firmly dogmatic and well-developed in their selection of dogma are capable of enjoying life the most and making the most impact on the world. Just like a word, no human can be very great or effective unless he is sufficiently defined.


  1. Reading Chesterton lately, I presume? Very nice.

  2. Speaking of Chesterton, he quipped, "The purpose of an open mind is the same as the purpose of an open mouth: It's meant to close on something." Good piece, Silas.

  3. Michael Vincent WallerApril 13, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    What do you make of of the Dogmatic Value of Aesthetics?

  4. I believe you are talking about true knowledge of ones subjective self. its wonderful to have very certain knowledge of things, especially about our personal preferences. But the core of the idea of dogmatism as i see it, is an inflexibility of beliefs or an unwillingness to question previously held beliefs, which can limit the certainty and quality of knowledge.To be dogmatic, implies A sort of judgement on all that is possible or able to occur in the subjective or objective universe. when we impose rules upon the universe as a whole and declare, " this CANT be the way it works" when the new evidence suggests that it very well can.
    As we cannot claim complete knowledge of the objective world, or even our own subjective universes(opinoins,emotions, etc)we must forever be flexible and update our impressions of "what is able to occur and exist or be true" which we can never claim complete knowledge of.
    I see what you say about true knowledge of oneself and the world, it is what we are all after. But we are all biased by what we are able to observe in our lifetimes and experiance, we could not possibly claim to hold all possible knowledge and percieve everything precisely they way it is, we have to always update our old impressions in light of new information, and avoid being dogmatic, yet we wish our convictions to also be unshakeable certaintys and hold true complete knowledge of all things, which is a goal not achievable in this short lifetime. we can know things,sure. But we are limited by time.

  5. Well written argument, Sir. I think dogmatism is a positive thing has been defined incorrectly over time and is seen as a negative characteristic.

    Intelligent dogmatic people are not close minded, and they take scientific, proven facts and truthfulness to base their opinions and use it to the best of their ability. They refer to it as a hypothesis in scientific terms.

    Dogmatic people who form opinions on half the facts, or how they are feeling that day, or what is going on around them, are not fully understanding of the world.

    People who form incorrect opinions that can be proven wrong. For example, some believe a certain religion is the way of life because the Bible told them. They are the people not being open minded to other religions for fear of going to "hell" instead of exploring and educating themselves about the changing world around them.

    1. The world may change around us, however, GOD never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Man tries to change God, thus a multitude of religions. Prove me wrong that salvation is a gift from God. Prove me wrong that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins. Prove me wrong that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentence. What would one suggest their authority is that forms their belief system? Themselves? Exactly my point.

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