Dogmatism’s Not Dead

I watched God’s Not Dead with my parents. It was the quite the experience. I had almost no expectations. I just went because my parents wanted to go. I’ll watch almost anything, when in the right mood.

God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and my parents are Christians. I was raised Christian, but not the Christianity found in the movie. God’s Not Dead is full-on fundamentalism. My mom grew up in that kind of religion and my dad in a more mild variety. I, however, was raised mostly in the Unity Chruch, which is uber-hippy, pansy-liberal New Thought Christianity.

No preacher ever threatened or even implied I might go to hell. No Unity minister would likely even mention hell, except to dismiss it. God loves you! Period. Full stop.

I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood religion. I’m a heathen these days, but I still don’t think of myself as an atheist. I largely don’t care one whit about arguments for and against God. On the other hand, while tripping on mushrooms once I saw the entire world breathe in unison, as if it were all a single being. Dude! The world is a crazy complex place, beyond the meager capacity of my human comprehension. Who am I to say much of anything about the mysteries of the universe? If someone wants to call this sense of mystery ‘God’, they are free to do so and I won’t complain.

Anyway, if God or gods or Star Trek Qs exist, I doubt they care about my belief in them or lack thereof. Do I care if tiny organisms believes in me? Not really. I choose not to step on ants and worms, but I don’t ask if they believe in me first. I won’t claim to be their savior if they accept me into their hearts and I won’t promise them heaven nor threaten them with damnation. I’m certainly not going to attempt to inspire ant and worm prophets to write holy scriptures about my greatness. I’m just a big galoot traipsing through their tiny world. That is all.

That may sound dismissive. I actually have little desire to be dismissive. Faith is a personal thing. The personal part is what matters. I can’t speak about someone else’s personal experience. I’m fine with other people’s religion, as long as they don’t seek to impose it on me or proselytize it to me.

Even a fundamentalist movie like God’s Not Dead doesn’t overly bother me. It seemed disconnected from reality, but that is to be expected. It’s not like anyone forced me to watch the movie. That said, fundamentalists are more than happy to force their beliefs onto others. If hardcore fundamentalists thought they could legally get away with it, they’d likely make watching this movie obligatory for every child in school.

Many of them are no more interested in genuine dialogue than is the radical left-wing activist I dealt with the other day (see my post: There Are No Allies Without Alliances). But most isn’t all. I wouldn’t want to broadbrush all rightward-leaning Christians. Most fundamentalists are like most people. They just want to be left alone to live their lives how they see fit. But the average fundamentalist isn’t the one I’m worried about. What worries me are the fundamentalist activists, lobbyists, and politicians.

The one thing that stood out to me about that radical left-wing activist had to do with his worldview. There were specified roles one could play, but one wasn’t free to be an individual. There is no place for someone like me in that worldview. Likewise, in watching God’s Not Dead, I realized there is no place for me there either.

The movie is full of caricatures and stereotypes. Everyone was an extreme. Either you are hard right-wing believer or else you are some secular bogeyman, the three main options being a clueless professor, a sociopathic businessman, and a Godless communist. In this worldview, there exists no such thing as a liberal Christian, a moderate Muslim, a moral pagan, an ethical humanist, a mild-mannered atheist, or a curious-minded agnostic; certainly, there is no such thing as an intelligent, fair-minded professor. It turns out the professor secretly believes in God, but just hates him, what every fundamentalist suspects about atheists.

A freethinking individual is not welcome in either of these worldviews from the left and right.

9 thoughts on “Dogmatism’s Not Dead

  1. Good post. I went to that kind of Church as a child as well with much the same result. I’m an atheist. My biggest issue is the dogma in religion. It’s just too rigid with little room for flexibility. I suppose it wouldn’t be religion then. I haven’t pinned it down what i actually believe at this point if anything at all. Works for me.

    • Dogmatism is a major factor. But I was wondering if there was something more fundamental or central. The desire for certainty is strong in human nature. It’s just that certainty isn’t the same thing as dogmatism, that certainty doesn’t inevitably lead to dogmatism.

      It seems to me that dogmatism is a failure of sorts. Dogmatism doesn’t even offer a reliable form of certainty. It’s rather weak in that it can only maintain itself by closing off from the rest of society and reality. It’s the solution that gets grasped when nothing better is found.

      In criticizing dogmatism, we shouldn’t dismiss the human impulse for a greater sense of certainty. Instead, we should find worldviews, cultures, and ideologies that are worthy of a sense of certainty. And then we should find a way of communicating them in a compelling way that inspires that need for certainty. We need something worthy to believe in as common people.

  2. What is truly scary is that there are people who do believe those films.

    Perhaps the greatest failure of American education is that so many are unable to think for themselves.

    • Yeah, that is true.

      I would make a distinction, though. There are thoughtful believers out there. This isn’t the type of film that appeals to believers on the more thoughtful end of the scale.

      The problem with this film, therefore, isn’t simply that it expresses belief, but that it expresses unthinking belief. It gives a superficial impression of thoughtfulness while lacking any depth of thought.

    • I don’t recall having seen that site. It doesn’t look familiar.

      I skimmed the article. I didn’t have any strong response to it. It isn’t where my head is at in the moment.

      I used to read many books on that type of thing. I also used to meditate regularly. My thoughts an my practice, such as it is, is much more informal these days. I keep my sense of mystery and wonder open-ended and leave it at that.

      My questions are always greater than my answers, my doubts always greater than my beliefs, my confusions always greater than my certainties. About most things in life, I have no clear and conclusive opinion. The world just seems like a strange place. That is the main thing I know.

      Some wouldn’t consider that very satisfying. But it is where I find myself.

    • If I had to give my sense of ‘spirituality’ a name, I’d call it Fortean. My attitude toward the world is with a sense of curiosity, wonder, and mystery. My problem with religion is not just the lack of factuality, but more importantly the lack of imagination.

  3. Have a close friend who used to read FT, maybe still does.

    I run into a mish mash of Jungian concepts, Atman concepts, Over Soul concepts, World Soul concepts, and what really amount to Divine Mother (Gaiea) concepts…still. And then I add a morphic field concept on top of the whole thing! Rohr’s center out west shares things that apparently help bring all these conflatings back to mind (“conflatings” IMO that is; about 99 out of a hundred times I suppose I’d agree with Center for Action and Contemplation).

    Wanted to place my “dogma” [pretty syncretic actually] somewhere in a respectable place before time runs out, but today doesn’t feel right. Anyway, in case time does run out…have you been to kheper dot net?

    Just this.

    “There is a great danger, especially when one reads certain modern studies of Buddhism in the West, in failing to recognise that the notion of ’emptiness’ about which one hears so much is not an emptiness or lack of reality as is sometimes curiously supposed but an emptiness of limitations, relativity and delusion.”

    from “Conceptions of the Absolute in Mahayana Buddhism and the Pure Land Way”
    by John Paraskevopoulos

    • I was raised in what some people call “woo”. I have a fond place in my heart for woo, of the variety you speak of.

      I particularly like the morphic field concept along with the Gaia hypothesis. I suspect that consciousness is an inherent or emergent property of matter, not just something in a brain.

      Like you, I’m a syncretist. In my syncretist curiosity, I’ve been to kheper dot net many times. A great site.

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