Standing by God or by ourselves?
How Dogmatic Can You Get?
For Holiday magazine Clifton Fadiman once gathered up a delightful collection of puns. The one I liked best was, “Any stigma will do to beat a dogma.” Of course, if you don’t know the original, you won’t really appreciate this brilliant turn.
Nothing seems to scare people more today than for someone to accuse them of being dogmatic. The accusers forget, of course, that to say, “You are too dogmatic” is to make a very dogmatic statement.
These and like thoughts came to mind as I was reading Leslie Weatherhead’s The Christian Agnostic. Some of the claims on the dust jacket are interesting. “He does not pull any punches.… He sincerely believes that the theological demands of Christianity are a barrier to an honest participation by many [that word “honest” right there is interesting—whose honesty?].… He insists that many of the dogmas which modern adults observe are not valid in themselves [and I take it that such insistence is dogmatic].… He believes that many agnostics are much closer to belief in the true God [shall we examine the term “true” God?] than many conventional churchgoers.” On the whole, I get the impression that this is pretty dogmatic—and, interestingly, pretty loose—reasoning.
To quote Weatherhead himself, “The certainties of the Christian faith are very precious to me. They are what I call the essentials, and they are very few. To add to them and then demand belief in what has been added as well as in the fundamentals seems to me a criminal activity” [italics mine].
The word “criminal” is a pretty clear one, but just what does Weatherhead mean by “certainties” and “essentials” and “fundamentals”? And who is he to say we have no right to “add to” what he believes ...1
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