Dale Ahlquist:

Dogma is a frightening word these days. People run from it.

Those of us who take our religion seriously, that is, who actually believe our beliefs, are usually told that we need to do away with dogma, which is divisive, and be “inclusive” and “tolerant” so that we can all get along.

But the problem is that “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” are dogmas.

It is not dogma that divides people. It is dogma that brings people together. The ultimate common bond is truth. That is why it is worth arguing about.

People talk nowadays of getting rid of dogmas and all agreeing like brethren. But upon what can they agree except upon a common dogma?

If you agree you must agree on some statement, if it is only that a cat has four legs. If the dogmas in front of you are false get rid of them; but do not say that you are getting rid of dogmas. Say you are getting rid of lies. If the dogmas are true, what can you do but try to get men to agree with them?

“The dislike of defined dogmas”, says Chesterton, “really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

The people who cling to the dogma of tolerance of course do not know that they are dogmatic. And as a matter of fact, their dogma is a bit mushy and vague. But their basic belief is that because there are exceptions, then there are no rules.

However, the presence of exceptions, even the allowance of exceptions, is not an argument for tolerance; it is an argument for the rule. And everywhere we look, we can see that the exception proves the rule.

– from The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton

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4 thoughts on “Why Dogma is a Frightening Word”

  1. Michael says:

    The word “dogma” has negative connotations. It is not automatically connected to the core teaching of Scripture but rather to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Some Reformed churches use the word referring to “doctrine”. It is worth looking at the references in Paul’s letters to “doctrine” or “sound doctrine” like Titus 1:9 and 2:1.I am not so sure that this quotation from the book on G K Chesterton really helps Christians who need to be encouraged to follow the plain and clear teachings of the Scriptures.

  2. brian says:

    Chesterton said, “Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.”

    1. Jon says:

      I disagree with Chesterton in this quotation. His statement depends on his definition of man, and I consider Chesterton’s definition of man inadequate and therefore his conclusion.

      While still inadequate, I believe a better definition of man is an animal with free will. With free-will comes the freedom to choose. When we accept dogma based on the authority of another we surrender some of freedom. Although we would still be freely surrendering this intellectual free-will I believe it is better to keep this freedom for ourselves. Why surrender such a gift?

      The more dogma we accept the more freedom we surrender. Fromm believed people submitted to authority because they could not handle the burden of freedom, because with freedom comes responsibility. Because I am responsible for my actions I will follow what I consider righteous and good, not what another man decrees is the proper way to live. This is my life, my opportunity, and my responsibility.

  3. Jon says:

    From M-W.com:
    DOGMA
    1
    a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet
    b : a code of such tenets
    c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
    2
    : a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

    I believe you mistakenly refer to tolerance as a “dogma”. Dogma require an authoritarian element. Dogma is determined and declared by authority. All beliefs can be Dogma, but it must be a belief declared by authority.

    Example: The Nicene creed and Apostles creed in Catholicism. These were defined by church authorities. Laymen then adhere to these doctrines.

    The above is my main issue with your essay. Applying two different meaning of the same word as equivalent although the difference is subtle one has an authority, the other does not. The dogma of tolerance only falls within the second definition if it is declared by your church authority.

    However keep on thinking. The question defines the answer. “Our theories determine what we measure.”-Einstein

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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