Posted on Jan 6, 2013
Commenter Fleegman has come to the conclusion that
All I’m saying is – as you agreed – the primary motivation for Christians [to oppose SSM] is accepted Christian dogma on the subject. Since this is irrelevant as far as the law is concerned, you have to come up with secular reasons.
There are at least four errors here related to “dogma:”
- An error concerning what dogma is
- An internal contradiction in Fleegman’s thinking
- A further misconception about Christian thinking
The fourth error may be the most telling, but I have to go through the first three to get to it.
1. The current connotation of “dogma” as beliefs accepted uncritically, unthinkingly, by force of authority is historically inaccurate and misleading. The term is related to doctrine, which simply means teachings; thus, accepted Christian dogma is equivalent to accepted Christian teachings.
But very few “agreed Christian teachings” started out that way. The history of Christian doctrine is a history of conflict and resolution, with battles waged in exactly the same way intellectual conflicts are still fought today: papers and conferences. Rumors of political authorities settling these issues are completely false, and to the extent that ecclesiastical authority has been brought to bear on it, it was primarily through conferences (or councils, as they were more likely to be called). Or in other words, a lot of learned people got together, studied the paper, and came to consensus. Nothing unusual about that: it happens all the time in the 21st century.
Granted there was some politicking going on as well—just as there is in academia today!—but the long passage of time has a way of sorting such things out. The councils’ decisions have stood the test of time. Not all of them, mind you: the Reformation, for example, is evidence of active, continuing, and lively thinking about Christian doctrine. It shows that our predecessors’ doctrinal authority is always up for review. It shows that Christians continue to think critically.
Anyway, the councils pronounced on basic doctrines relating to the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and so on, and their pronouncements became the Church’s teaching. No council, however, tackled the question of same-sex couples uniting in marriage. There has been no pronouncement of dogma upon that topic. The closest thing to it is perhaps the Church’s teaching that the Bible is the authoritative rule of faith and practice (also a disputed topic in church history, settled in much the same way). Since we take the Bible as our authority, and since the Bible teaches that marriage is for man and woman, we have an authoritative reason to believe that SSM is impossible and/or wrong.
So the stigmatic connotation of unthinkingness associated with “dogma” is historically naive at best.
This is a frequent error made by non-believers, by the way: see here, here, here, here, here, here, and especially here, just on this blog in the last twelve months. We have to recognize that it reflects current usage of the term, though. Therefore as I continue here I will highlight that current connotation, using the term stigma-dogma as shorthand for “teachings accepted unthinkingly, uncritically, by force of authority.”
2. Part of Fleegman’s intent in this comment (echoing what others have said; see my earlier work on this) seems to be to show that Christians oppose SSM for unthinking reasons (note also his comment here). He sets aside the reasons that we offer, claiming that they have been necessitated by our dogma: rationalizations, not reasons. But if dogma is supported by thinking, it is no longer stigma-dogma; and if it is not stigma-dogma, then the accusation of dogmatic thinking loses its power.
3. But Fleegman brings up another problem: “accepted Christian dogma is irrelevant as far as the law is concerned.” Here again he has a false conception of dogma, for Christian thinking is very often informed by secular sources. Augustine and Aquinas, perhaps the two most influential Christian thinkers since the first century, relied heavily on secular sources all the time. Aquinas’s work is almost as much a commentary on Aristotle as on Scripture. This was frequent in the mid- to late-medieval period. It has been frequent throughout church history.
And it is still frequent today. It’s exactly what I and others are doing when we bring forth secular reasons (along with Scriptural ones) to oppose SSM. In other words, just because Christians accept some teaching does not make that teaching “religious dogma” of the sort that’s irrelevant to law.
4. The stigma-dogma view of Christianity is bigoted. What Fleegman does in this comment is to sweep away at least half, probably even more, of the reasoning we bring to the subject: the portion that comes from sources other than Scripture. He tells us we’re lying when we claim these reasons are important to us. He tells us we’re motivated only by uncritical, unthinking acceptance of authority.
In short, he denies the reality of who we are, in favor of his own self-concocted image, which he imposes upon us. That image is a stereotype. It is bigotry in action.
It’s also arguably stigma-dogmatic thinking of his own, since it is a favored belief of his to which he holds tenaciously in spite of contrary evidence.
So I call upon Fleegman and others who accuse Christians of “dogmatic” thinking: take a close look at yourself. Do you approve of stereotyping? Do you like bigotry? Do you see how you cling to your beliefs about Christian stigma-dogmatism in spite of evidence to the contrary? Wouldn’t you rather live according to reality? Wouldn’t you rather treat your fellow human beings rather than as stereotypes or caricatures?
P.S. I’ve already pointed this out to Fleegman, but he was simply wrong when he said I agreed with him that Christians’ primary motivation is accepted dogma. I don’t know where he got that from.