Thursday, September 11, 2008
"Religion Without Dogma": Uh huh
I walked past a booth on the lawn of the Univeristy of Victoria advertising the Unitarian Church today; the banner across the booth said, "Religion Without Dogma".
Hm. Isn't that like saying "dinner without food", or "war without conflict", or "sexual intercourse without penetration"?
If we make the definition of religion so elastic as to accomodate both institutions founded on, and thoroughly saturated by, dogma (like, say, the Catholic church), AND an institution virtually inherently free of dogma (like, say, a fire department, or to hear Unitarians tell it, the Unitarian church), then we have defined the word "religion" right out of existence - and then we couldn't even talk about "religion" anymore. As any kind of meaningful concept, it wouldn't really exist. And if that is the case, then the Unitarian slogan really ought to be simply, "Without Dogma".
But that poses another problem, because as anyone who has ever visited a Unitarian church knows, it is not that it is free of dogma - only that it is free of certain dogmas. But that is only to say as much as we would about any other church in the world, including the Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, or Moonie. It's not dogma versus no dogma, but one dogma versus another dogma.
Unitarians, for example, do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the saviour of mankind, or that he makes people speak spontaneously in unknown languages. But they do believe in certain "progressive" ideals, like the morality of "eliminating poverty", "eliminating sexism", etc., which, insofar as they turn out to be coherent ideas, have as little rational basis in the end as the belief that Jesus is still alive and living up in the sky watching everything we do. And I'm not sure how to characterize a devoutly-held belief lacking any rational or evidentiary basis as anything other than a dogma...(?).
Any institution entirely free of dogma does not qualify as a religion (your local poker club, for example, as opposed to your local Catholic church). So, taking the Unitarian slogan seriously, we would be forced to say that Unitarianism isn't actually a religion.
But since the Unitarians are actually deluding themselves by thinking that Unitarianism does not rest on factually and logically unsupportable beliefs (dogmas), Unitarianism does in fact qualify as a real religion. It has just substituted humanist dogma for sectarian dogma.