“The dogma lives loudly….”

We’ve probably all heard by now about Senator Dianne Feinstein’s remarks toward Roman Catholic judicial nominee Amy Barrett:

Dogma and law are two different things. I think, whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different; in your case, Professor [Barrett], when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years, in this country.

Let’s be clear:  Senator Feinstein’s statement cannot mean, “You are dogmatic and I am not.” Rather, it means, “I prefer my dogma over yours.” Dogma and law are indeed two different things, but law is always informed by dogma, even if we don’t call it that.

While the term “dogma” is often used pejoratively, it simply refers to a body of accepted teaching. So, yes, Roman Catholics do have dogma, as do Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and secular liberals. There is intense pressure, moverover, for people in the public eye to adopt the unacknowledged dogma of secular liberalism.

Secular liberalism is not a value-neutral position. It is a value-laden position with its own set of moral and philosophical underpinnings. One of those presuppositions is the idea of “progress,” that human beings are becoming better and better as time goes on. This perspective represents a kind of social darwinism. We are becoming better in our understanding of the natural world and in our mastery of it. We are learning to understand human behavior and human flourishing better than we ever have before. We are developing a keener sense of morality than those who came before us in history. We know better than they did. We have cast off the superstitions of the past and are moving forward into an era of unfettered humanism.

The idea of human progress, however, is an untenable myth, at least with regard to our moral and spiritual development. How anyone can hold this after the global carnage of the twentieth century is a mystery. Two World Wars, the Holocaust, the development of nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan Genocide, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, 9/11, chemical warfare, the rise of global extreme poverty… It was a bloody hundred years.

Christians, at least those who hold to traditional beliefs, cannot affirm the doctrine of progress, and not simply because of the empirical evidence militating against it. Central to Christian belief is a doctrine of sin. Sin is not just something I do wrong. It is a part of the human condition. It affects the way in which I see the world. It affects my feelings, my will, and the way in which I perceive right and wrong. Through the atoning work of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, I can begin to see things as God would have me see them, and I can begin to live in the way that God would have me live. This doesn’t mean that I will have perfect understanding, or that I will necessarily live without sin. It means that God is healing my soul. God is uncovering the imago Dei that is obscured by my sin, but which was always present nonetheless.

Nicene_latcreed

The upshot of our doctrine of sin is that Christians should not simply trust that the winds of culture are blowing in the right direction. In fact, we should generally assume that they are not. We do not simply trust “what everyone else thinks,” what seems to be “self evident,” or what “common sense” tells us. We must think intentionally through the lens of our dogma.

God created all things. God is love. Human beings are created in God’s image, but we live in a fallen world, and human beings are sinful. We need a savior, and our savior is Jesus. He died to free us from sin and death, and after three days rose from the dead. He sent the Holy Spirit to give us the new life made possible through the cross. He will come again in judgment and raise us in victory….

If these kinds of beliefs don’t live loudly within us… well… we’re doing it wrong.  What we claim to believe has become somehow disconnected from the way in which we live.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his followers,

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).

Christian, let the dogma of your faith live loudly within you. Show the world that you are in it, but not of it. We will unavoidably live according to some dogma. Thus may we be ever vigilant that we are living in and through the teachings of our faith given to us by God for the salvation of the world.

 

14 thoughts on ““The dogma lives loudly….”

  1. Christianity must stop dumping guilt and saying that we are “born in sin” and are all “sinful” creatures needing salvation. This type of thinking, popular in the 19th century is not drawing in thinking, intelligent, educated people.
    We, humans, are an evolving race. Not a “sinful” race. Most of us, albeit not all, are becoming more compassionate, kinder and less judgmental.
    These thoughts are not original, on my part at all. They are from the works of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and from one of his first books, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.”
    I hope that those, in the right wing of the UMC will read Spong’s works, as he is a prolific writer and can be accessed on the Internet, by Googling John Shelby Spong Lectures.

    • Popular in the 19th Century? Good grief. The doctrine on sin has been a part of Christianity from the onset of the beginning of the church and Christianity. Spong’s writings lead people out of Christianity, while at the same time allow people to believe and claim they are still Christian. And, Christianity has been around for 2014 years give or take a year. Do you really think it is going to die? Spong is no prophet.

      • Please, Sandralyn, take a look at the pews of most Christian Churches. Who is occupying those pews? The pews are occupied by older people who attend for the fellowship with people whom they have known for many years.
        Some attend because they like the minister/pastor/priest, and half listen to the message which often excoriates our LBGTQ+ sisters and brothers, tells us that the Bible is actual “history” and that we are in need of constant forgiveness for our sinfulness. Would younger, more educated people want to hear that message? No, they would not.
        Do you see an influx of young people? I know that I do not, and I have attended many Protestant Churches, and see the people going into the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches. Like the Protestant Churches, they are predominately over 70 years of age.
        The only well attended churches are the Mega-Churches, mostly located in the south and mid west, and they offer entertainment in the way of large choirs, and orchestras. People attending do so for the entertainment, not for the message that harkens back many centuries, tells people one of two things.
        One, is “pray that you will be rich and healthy and you will be rich and healthy.”
        The second type of Mega Church tells the attendees that “you were born in sin, you are a sinful, worthless worm of earth, thus, you need to be saved.”
        Neither message is helpful or true, and that is the message that Dr. Spong articulates. Yes, he is a “prophet” in that only the Mega-Churches will survive, for a time, and not due to the message, but due to the entertainment.

  2. Brilliantly thought out and so indicative of the left’s war on speech that disagrees. If THEY espouse a viewpoint, it’s reasoned thought. If a Christian, (or even a deist) espouses one, it’s OBVIOUSLY suspect because it’s informed by a God-centered worldview. Thanks for speaking out. Feinstein, a “catholic”, needs a reeducation in the values espoused by her church.

    • Senator Feinstein really cannot allow her Catholic religious tenets and rules, which she may practice in her own life, to dictate laws that affect the entire nation. Please, I know that you are ardent in your beliefs, but we are not a Theocracy. We are a Democratic Republic, and as such we have separation of Church and State.

      • Yes, we are a “Democratic Republic,” which means I have a vote. And my vote is informed by my Catholic faith–or am I not to be allowed a vote because of that? Mr. Watson’s observation is pertinent: “Dogma and law are indeed two different things, but law is always informed by dogma, even if we don’t call it that.” The question isn’t whether a given set of values will be enshrined in law, but whose values they will be. And within the bounds of Constitutional protection for minorities, I have every right to advocate for those values to be mine.

      • I never said that you could not vote, or advocate for the values that you hold. We believe that each person should vote and live their life according to the religion, or lack there of, that they choose. You are an ardent Catholic, and we support your every right to practice your religion, and live your life according to Catholic values.
        Our point was that your religious values may not be that of others. As a Democratic Republic the tenets that you hold dear cannot be the tenets for the entire country.
        Please, please do not misinterpret our post. Just as we use our religious tenets to rule our lives and our votes, we do not think that our religion should be appropriate for the nation, due to separation of church and state.
        As long as someone’s values, rules, tenets or way of life do not injure others, they must always be free to practice those values, rules, tenets and way of life.
        We apologize if we were unclear in this matter.

  3. David, your work is a stiff breeze of right witness to truth; no wonder the demons are raddled. Your witness clears the air, exposes nonsense, and expels debris that has choked the lungs of the church and clouded our vision. You are helping us make straight paths for our feet (Hebrews 12:13).

  4. Dr. Watson,
    Once again you have written thoughtfully and stirred the embers of a fire that has been allowed to dissipate.
    One the truths you point out is the modern dogma of progress, that we and the world are getting better and better. While that came crashing down briefly after WWI, when Barth issued his commentary on Romans, it keeps re-emerging with force one way or another. I fear it is retained in the mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Having been a part of the “liberal experiment” within in the church (and I define American culture at-large as a liberal experiment–both conservatives and progressives are really liberal), I believe it has continued to move at a rhythm of “one step forward two steps back.” We are like the man in the parable of Jesus, one demon is cast out only to have that same demon go out and bring back seven more friends just like himself. Technology, revolutions, advances in rights, and social engineering, no matter how good the intention or noble the goal have a demonic streak lying beneath the surface. We suffer the full-blown effects of the knowledge of good and evil. Solzhenitsyn was certainly correct when he said the fault line of good and evil runs straight through the human heart.
    Looking back at the New Testament, we have quenched the flames of eschatological humility that is the foundation of Christian dogma. “Make disciples of Jesus Christ”? By all means. But I think we would do better to remember it is in order to witness for the “coming Kingdom.” Instead of holding faith, we are held by the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Faith, the orthodox faith, is for mortals.
    Last time I looked in the mirror, I was one of them.

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