Dogmatism: Peaceful vs. Murderous

By P. Andrew Sandlin
November 01, 2001
Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment (justice) unto victory. (Matthew 12:18-20)

We orthodox Christians are nothing if not dogmatic. To us, certain matters are beyond dispute the creation of the universe by the Triune God; the atoning death, bodily resurrection, and second coming of Jesus Christ; the divine inspiration of the Bible; and so on. They are cornerstones of our Faith and life. We are quite dogmatic about all of this.

The religion embraced by the men who murderously decimated the World Trade Center and assaulted the Pentagon on September 11 is also dogmatic. But there is a huge chasm between these two dogmatisms.

Rightly or wrongly, President Bush, Congress, and the vast majority of the American people are willing to go to war to mete out justice for the acts committed on 9-11. This willingness reflects a dogmatism every bit as dogmatic as that of the Islamic hijackers.

We live in a Western democratic society whose highest values, so it is asserted, are freedom, tolerance, and openness. To some, dogmatism is often considered the great enemy of this society (evidenced horrifically by the dogmatism of the 9-11 suicide hijackers). The alternative to this dogmatism is moderation, usually thought to best be evidenced in tolerance. The theory is that people who avoid strong beliefs, that is, dogmatists, are less likely to try to upset other people's beliefs. The less dogmatically one holds a belief (it is held), the less likely he is to attempt to convert others to his belief, and the less likely he is to attack others who hold differing beliefs.

Of course, it is hard to combat the logic behind the terrorist attacks ("America is the Great Satan that is corrupting the world and must be destroyed") employing such anti-dogmatic thinking. After all, opposition to these staggering attacks requires a conviction that they are evil, horribly, dreadfully, monstrously, unspeakably, evil. This conviction cannot exist without a healthy dogmatism.

Ironically, Western democracies hold as a conviction the danger of dogmatism as dogmatically as the most fanatical fundamentalist Muslim. This is why they are willing to bomb entire countries to protect and defend it. The West is dogmatic about its opposition to dogmatism.

Inescapable Dogmatism
Dogmatism is inescapable. It is only what one is dogmatic about that varies. The Islamic fundamentalists are dogmatic about a worldwide Islamic theocracy. Western liberals are dogmatic about a worldwide constitutional democracy. These two visions are on a collision course and quite literally at the late World Trade Center and soon on the ground in Afghanistan.

The dogmatism of the United States is a residue of our Christian heritage. Our dogmatism insists that dogma be propagated and embraced by peaceful means. Orthodox Christians believe in persuasion by evangelism, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of non-Christian Americans agree with the Christian tenet that one comes to faith by peaceful persuasion, not by violent coercion. The vision of the founders did not exclude dogmatism (the Constitution is quite dogmatic), but it did exclude coercive dogmatism. Hold your beliefs dogmatically, but always remember that other people are free to hold differing, and equally dogmatic, beliefs. If you can't persuade peacefully, don't persuade at all. Jesus told His disciples: "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet" (Mt. 10:14).

Mr. bin Laden, in contrast to Jesus Christ, feels obliged to use the tactics of murderous atrocity because he has failed in the tactic of peaceful persuasion by which the Christian gospel is spread. We believe in a peaceful dogmatism; he believes in a murderous dogmatism.

The Death of Postmodern Dogmatism
The inescapability of dogmatism has come to the forefront in a staggering way as a result of the atrocities of 9-11. The West, to that point, was dominated by a "postmodern" outlook. This is the idea that meaning is an "individual construction," that there is no universal truth, that no particular morality is "privileged," that there are only "private realities." It is simply relativism: There are no absolutes except, presumably, the absolute that there are no absolutes.

That monstrous fiction came crashing down forever with the twin towers of the Word Trade Center, though it may take trendy, secular academics a few years to discover this.

We have been searingly reminded that there is great evil and great good in the world. Evil is not a matter of "private preference," or, worse yet, individual dogmatism. The postmodernists seemed to believe that the only real evil is a dogmatism that believes there is a universal right and wrong. All of them know better after 9-11.

Let us recover a dogmatism that despises evil, including the sort of evil so piteously and graphically displayed 9-11, the murderous dogmatism of Islamic terrorists.

The solution to the evils of murderous dogmatism is not to abandon dogmatism altogether, but to recover a steely dogmatism so dogmatic about its validity that it demands the peaceful exchange of the ideas that underlie it.

This is a dogmatism worth defending to the death.

Topics: Theology, World History

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

More by P. Andrew Sandlin