Thursday, July 01, 2004

Ideas, Dogma and Bigotry

At one point a few years ago during one of the peaks of frenzy concerning homosexuality, Christianity, and public policy, I drafted and never sent in a letter entitled, “Disagreement is not Hate.” What I wanted to do with the letter was point out that holding a particular view does not condemn a person to unblinking fanaticism. The argument that was being made by the homosexual-friendly community at the time was that to disallow homosexual activity the protection of State and Federal law was to hate them as people. After all, if we truly love people, we will allow all their behavior as right and good.

When I was wrapping up Chesterton’s Heretics today, I ran across another wonderful passage which addresses the connection between bigotry and dogma. In typical Chesterton fashion, he clarifies the complex with pinpoint accuracy in a style that almost makes you laugh for the volume of revelation. Here is one snippet:

A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions is a sort of notion that extreme convictions, specially upon cosmic matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will dissipate this view. In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.

He goes on to argue that people who have the deepest understanding about their dogmas understand (and in that sense, tolerate) the opposing points of view the best. It is those who really do not have any clear ideas about what they believe and have no deep understanding of their convictions who are the most closed minded.

The economists of the Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously. It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing.

It is the hard-headed stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves.

The source of narrow-minded politics and views on religious dogma are then from the most tolerant (in the Postmodern sense of the word). To hold no view deeply inclines you to rail against foreign ideas. More specifically, and more culturally to the point, to hold an opinion emotionally will incline you to hate people who disagree with you. At the time when I wrote the letter I mentioned, it seemed to me that reality was exactly the opposite from what the homosexual lobby claimed it to be. They claimed that Christians hated them because they disagreed with homosexuality; Christians (when their heads were on straight) disagreed with homosexuality because they had deep ideas about human nature. Christianity has ideas and dogmas, homosexuality has behavior and emotionalism. Chesterton notes:

Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent.

So what is the cure for the conflicts which arise as a result of different ideas? More and better understood ideas. A little more Chesterton:

But there is only one way of really guarding ourselves against the excessive danger of them, and that is to be steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion.

1 comment:

Cordaro said...

Man, your thoughts are truly awesome. It's so true that those who are most closed-minded are those who don't even think about what they believe. My faith as a Christian as become so much more resilient the more I am confronted with opposing ideas and the more I force myself to evaluate them. The process is incredibly painful and downright terrifying sometimes. Yet, the more I allow my foundation to be shaken, the more the "materials" of that foundation become settled and compacted. In the process, I may lose certain structures on my foundation (beliefs), but only those that were not part of the core of my beliefs; I lose those the flimsy shacks that were merely obstacles for the castle God is trying to build. There are many Christian people who are content living in shacks. At time there are whole shanty-towns of Christians. There is nothing wrong with that; they still have their shacks built upon the rock. A shack upon rock is better than a castle upon sand, where the foundation shifts wherever the wind blows; where it shifts with each "new thought" and "latest trend." But when a storm comes, who are more capable of taking in those who built their homes upon sand? It's not those who have 4-walled Shacks built upon The Rock with no room for expansion, with no willingness to construct another room. During a storm, they are most concerned about preserving those 4 walls. The sand-dwellers must necessarily run to those with Castles built upon The Rock in which there are many rooms. These rooms aren't necessarily temporary accommodations for any kind of belief or behavior; they're not even guest rooms. These are rooms prepared in advance for such an occasion, with the hope that those who come into it will choose to stay and become part of the royal family. In choosing to become part of the family, the sand-dwellers finally dust the sand off their flip-flops, have their feet washed in water, their teeth brushed and mouths washed with scriptural toothpaste; their body submerged or showered in royal water to get the sand out of their hair and ears. Finally, their names are changed and written on the master deed, and they gain the inheritance of not only the castle, but the entire Kingdom! Oh, and it's all free! And in the end, through eminent domain, God will acquire possession over the shanty-towns on the rock to which He already has perfect title. Those shacks will be torn down and the occupants will enter into His courts and shown to their new homes in the Castle!

Ok, ok! I'll stop. Haha...sorry. I got a little carried away. I should be studying for my exams!

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