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In dogma we trust

I've been thinking a lot lately about faith.  Many anti-theists talk about how faith is such a bad thing.  I think that I would like to make a distinction between faith and dogma.  For the purpose of this post, I will stick to rather simple definitions.  I'm sure many theists and atheists alike will disagree on the definition, but these are those that I'm using.  "Faith" will mean "belief in something without evidence".  "Dogma" will mean "a principle which is accepted as incontrovertibly true".

To me, faith is not in itself a dangerous thing.  It may often be silly.  However, it is often times relatively harmless.  It is harmful when it leads to dogma, or dogmatic thinking.  But just believing in something without knowing proof of it really isn't that harmful.  In the loosest interpretation of the word, I have faith in many things.  I have faith in medicine.  I have not taken the time to put in my due diligence to learn about the medications that I have used.  I've been taking metformin for over two weeks now and I know very little about it.  I just trust that the doctor knew what he was doing when he prescribed it, and that it will help me become better.

Now, this is silly on my part.  Or, perhaps foolish.  It may be that the doctor was in a hurry and didn't think well about the prescription to make sure it would be the best option for me.  It may be that there were things he was overlooking when he prescribed it.  There may be any number of reasons why taking the medicine may actually be bad for me rather than good.  And if I were purely skeptical, I would take the time to find out as much as I possibly could to decide for myself whether taking that medicine is the best course of action for me.  But I didn't.  I just trusted the doctor and have gone with it.  So far it has been helping to stabilize my blood sugar levels, so I can say that it is working to do what it was supposed to do.  Also, I have not noticed any adverse side effects.  So there is some evidence to indicate that the decision was a good one.  However, that evidence did not exist prior to taking the pill, so at that point in time I suppose I have to admit there was some "faith" involved.

But dogma is a problem.  Dogmatic thinking is very harmful.  It is why people are still racist today.  They believe various teachings which are to be accepted as universal and eternal truth, such as that God cursed black people with a dark skin because of something their ancestors did ages ago.  Dogma causes bigotry.  It is why people are anti-gay.  It is why people are anti-Muslim or anti-semitic.  It is why disagreements and even wars happen.

The danger of dogma is that one adopts the opinion of "I'm right no matter what you say, and if you disagree then clearly you're wrong."  That's much different than simply the faith-filled statement of "I believe this even though I've never seen any proof to substantiate it."  Insisting that you are right even when presented with evidence to contradict your belief is dangerous.  That is a denial of reality.  It can cause aggressive behavior.  It can cause violence.  It can cause relationships to be torn apart.  It can cause so many harmful things.

So, if you must have faith, if you must be religious or spiritual, or believe things for which you have no evidence, at least be open to the possibility that your beliefs are wrong.  When presented with a rational argument about why you may be wrong, listen to it.  Consider it as a valid option.  If there is evidence to support the claim that black people should not be treated as slaves, then listen to it.  Don't hold any belief so sacred that you won't even allow yourself to hear an argument as to why that belief may be invalid.  That can cause serious problems.  A closed mind is a breeding ground for bigotry and violence.

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