Dogma: a system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior…
A couple days ago I drove a neighbor to pick up his car at the shop. I love this guy; we frequently exchange favors. He’s a squared-away individual, very active in his conservative Christian church. In Texas, ya’ll that can be dang far to the right.
Our conversation turned towards religion, and as he discovered my Universalist leanings, he suddenly felt compelled to
confess his creed. The points are familiar.
- God created us “good.”
- We fell into sin through Adam and Eve.
- No amount of ritual sacrifice could appease God’s wrath over our rebellion.
- So God sent “his” son Jesus, an unblemished lamb, to pay the price for our transgressions.
- Only those who believe in Jesus will enter “heaven.”
- This is all made clear through the Bible, the infallible word of God.
What struck me was his rhythm, his cadence. He was marching to his chosen drummer. I listened quietly, and rather than deride the simple rigidity of his stance, I recalled the countless Sundays I presided over worship services as a Presbyterian pastor. Our liturgy contains a section called “Affirmation of Faith.” It’s a time to recite, in unison, one of the classic confessions of Christianity. In my tradition this means
a selection ranging from The Apostle’s Creed to what we call The Brief Statement of Faith.
Every Sunday, grooving our brains with familiar dogma, imbedding it ever deeper in our consciousness. It harkens back to God’s supposed command to the Israelites: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…Deuteronomy 11:18-20
I know the importance of oral tradition. I realize that a modicum of socialization is necessary to keep order. I think it’s important to recall – even recite – both the triumphs and failures of history, learning from both. And I see how the best of corporate confession can point people towards acts of mercy and justice.
But I’m looking for life beyond creeds. I seek an experience of the infinite that is ever freer of the human grids we impose upon it. I want to taste freedom and openness to life as it is – TODAY. I want to relish Mystery without defaulting to dogma.
Joseph Campbell once said, Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
Anais Nin said it more bluntly, When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons.
There is a rich, purposeful life beyond dogma. You know it. I know it. Let’s embrace it together and discover more fully what it means to be human in the vastness of what surrounds us.