Monday, October 19, 2009

Dogmatically Uncommitted

This afternoon in our one of our classes I was moved to chase a few thoughts. My rumination was prompted by a reading out of This I Believe – a book about people’s personal beliefs/credos. The reading was quite unexceptional except for this one statement. The author said that all of his belief statements ended with a “?”. This is the idea that sparked my waondering…
When we frame our convictions as dogmatic assertions we become victims of the trap that our own convictions carry. Dogmatic statements are made all the time. Dogmatic statements can only be made when we intentionally ignore or avoid those parts of our ideological framework that cause us problems. No ideology is free from its problems. Every ideology in order to be cohesive must at some level make assumptions that are not supportable with reason. It is common for us to form incontestable assumptions that support the construction of our convictions. It is even more common for us to develop our ideologies upon exactly such incontestable assumptions with out even acknowledge that they exist. In other words we build our convictions on things we assume to be true but we in fact may not even be fully aware of their influence on our convictions. What is astounding is that in full confidence we are able to make unwavering dogmatic statements of our beliefs.
This serves to prove a) that we are arrogant, b) we are ignorant, and (c) we are wrong. When we make dogmatic statements that we believe are unshakably true, tell ourselves and others that we have arrived at ultimate truth on the subject at hand. If it were possible to prove that anyone was able to lock down incontrovertible truth on any subject than that sort of arrogance would be justified. Dogmatic statements deny the existence of other explanations that might serve to shed light on the idea that we are claiming truth about. Lastly dogmatic statements leave us wrong since we can clearly see that even in some of our fiercest held beliefs we have changed our minds over time and come to learn that the way we understood things in the past was faulty. It is only reasonable to assume that we are currently in some position of wrongness about our convictions. Dogmatic statements suggest that we are not wrong and won’t be in the future but we can clearly see that we will be.
Nobody really behaves that way though. People make dogmatic statements all the time but they rarely stop seeking to either support their position or refute other contrary positions. Some of the best will even make dogmatic statements and then change their minds. None of us are truly convinced that we have locked down truth so if we are honest we keep searching. There in lies the trap. We make dogmatic statements only to have those same statements force us into greater self doubt – at least if we are intellectually honest.
Perhaps, at the risk of sounding dogmatic in this, there is a more intellectually honest position to take and one that is better able to service our pursuit of truth and ultimately a meaningful relationship with the origin of truth itself. A more honest position might one where we openly admit that such and such is the position we take in the light we have presently. Or perhaps we can adopt the old rabbinical structure of every answer or position deserving to have a better question asked of it.
Then again I might be wrong…

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