Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Making Dogma

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas.

Heretics, Gilbert K. Chesterton (eBook)

Many animals make tools.  Man is something more; man makes dogmas.  Man piles conclusion on conclusion, developing a philosophy, a religion.  By doing so, he becomes more human and less like a tool-making animal. 

Therefore, if man is to be considered as advancing, “it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life.”  And he must consider this philosophy right, and other philosophies wrong. 

Does this mean to suggest a rigid process – once one conclusion is reached, it can never be altered or challenged.  I would think not.  It does mean that it must be understood well by those doing the challenging; the reason it was once accepted must be understood as well.  this should be expected of those challenging existing dogma.

Since the Enlightenment, if not the Renaissance, man in the West has worked to overturn long-developed dogma – dropping one doctrine after another, growing evermore skeptical.  Challenging definitions, finally sitting as God – with no creed and no foundation:

…he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

Coming to the point where man believes in absolutely nothing – or, at least, nothing comprehensible.

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer.

But aren’t those who are most certain of their philosophy also the most bigoted?  Chesterton says no:

In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.

Our time offers stark examples of this: the bigoted are rioting on the street, holding no conviction other than destruction; the bigoted are chastising you for not wearing a mask, holding no conviction for science. They know nothing of truth, all-the-while claiming, violently, to be the keepers of the truth.

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.

We see this in the empty heads filled with ideas of violence and revolution; we see this in the empty heads believing that they are all front-line soldiers in the war on a seasonal virus.

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed.

We really know nothing of what we believe until we are challenged.  As we are challenged, we better understand the commonsense, or lack thereof, of our beliefs.  This is certainly true of our inherited Western traditions.  It is playing out evermore visibly today, with the growing cultural and political divide in society.  Yet Chesterton saw this coming more than one-hundred years ago:

The great march of mental destruction will go on.  Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed.

As Christianity is destroyed, it is not being replaced by nothing; there is no possibility of a void in religion.  There will be a new creed:

A creed (also known as a confession, symbol, or statement of faith) is a statement of the shared beliefs of (an often religious) community in the form of a fixed formula summarizing core tenets.

Today, one side holds a much stronger conviction of their creed than does the other; those desirous of destroying Western Civilization are far more religious than those who claim to defend it.  It is a religious community willing to put words into action.  This shift has been ongoing for centuries, accelerating rapidly before our eyes in the last months and years.  We haven’t seen the worst of it yet:

Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.

And you thought it couldn’t get worse after we accepted that boys could be girls and girls could be boys.  Chesterton offers that it will get sillier than even this (and, therefore, more serious).


There are no rationalists. We all believe fairy-tales, and live in them.

There is no life void of narrative.  We see the narrative of those sucking the joy out of life, those smashing windows and those wearing masks.  They live in a narrative and fervently believe the narrative. 

It must be the same for us, those in search of peace and liberty in this world:

Let us, then, go upon a long journey and enter on a dreadful search. Let us, at least, dig and seek till we have discovered our own opinions. The dogmas we really hold are far more fantastic, and, perhaps, far more beautiful than we think.

Without this, there is no life, there is no liberty.


  1. Very powerful words and ideas. I too saw the word dogma in a negative light. But that is only because dogma is used to describe a deeply held belief that is never reconsidered. You mention that they shouldn't be rigid, meaning new data is considered which may lead to an adjustment of the belief. If that is dogma, then I am good with it.

    I previously have used doctrine for that definition. I build my doctrine on what truth I find and I continue to refine my doctrine over time. If you won't refine it, you can't correct error.

    I also agree that the more you think and study the more convince you will become of your own dogma or doctrine. But as long as you accept challenges and hold them humbly there they are a benefit not a hindrance. Assuming all past generations were stupid is itself a dogma but not one that can be defended successfully against reasoned challenges.

    The violence Chesterton describes is one where an empty head is presented 1 persuasive idea no more ideas are ever allowed to be mentioned. The violence defends the 1 idea where the idea cannot defend itself. I describe a good process for building dogma or doctrine here:


  2. Great post. This is the kind of writing that, in a better state of humanity, would inspire a great movement for liberty. Too bad we don't live in that world. I can't say how much I appreciate you doing what you do, with almost no credit and no compensation for your efforts. It is truly an act of charity for which I am terribly grateful.

    “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” - Chesterton

    “A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” - C.S. Lewis

    "It does mean that it must be understood well by those doing the challenging; the reason it was once accepted must be understood as well." -Bionic Mosquito

    This is such an important point.

    Here is a great discussion along these lines by Don Livingston on ""What is Wrong with Ideology. I may have shared this here before.

    "Let us, then, go upon a long journey and enter on a dreadful search." - Chesterton (in post)

    I think part of this search is to further develop the historical narrative Hans Hoppe delivered at PFS 2018, by researching the growth, climax and decline of the quasi-libertarian order of the Middle Ages and what ideas, characters, and events most led to its surrender to the modern state. What was Christianity's role in these events? How did the conflicting Christian notions of passive obedience and active resistance to tyrants factor into these developments?

    I'd love to have a book (or series of books) written in the style of Murray Rothbard with the level of detail as found in his "Conceived in Liberty" but focusing on the European Medieval period as seen through the eyes of an Austrolibertarian historian. Maybe that's asking too much?

    1. It might be, but if anyone is up to that task, it would be David Gordon.
      Perhaps you might like to contact him?

    2. Thank you, ATL.

      I had a conversation once with someone who felt strongly about introducing women as priests, etc. He was quite sure the time was right.

      I asked him what he knew about why the practice is currently what it is. He knew nothing of this. I suggested that it just might be true that the practice developed for good reasons. While the reasons to change might also be good, the discussion can't be taken seriously if it does not include why the practice evolved as it did in the first place.

      No answer.

  3. "They live in a narrative and fervently believe the narrative." - Bionic Mosquito

    We certainly need a rock solid core of belief in the good animating our actions, both in matters of the mundane and the transcendent, but the problem is our standard of certainty is much higher than those people rioting in the streets. I struggle myself with what I can know for certain, especially when it comes to matters of the faith.

    For instance, should I trust in the Septuagint or the Masoretic texts of the Old Testament? Were some of the verses in the Gospels added hundreds of years later? If so, which ones? Should these be thrown out of my belief system or can I trust they were inspired by the Holy Spirit? Should I trust in the Testimonium Flavianum in whole or in part or reject it altogether? Does it matter if Josephus corroborated the story of Jesus in the Gospels? Why was the Old Testament God condoning mass slaughter of human life? Is God flawed like us? Is He really omnipotent and omniscient? If He is not, does it affect my faith? If He is flawless, the Old Testament seems to show that at least we are or were (until redeemed by Jesus) His one mistake, but doesn't that imply He made a mistake too? He had to hit the reset button, so doesn't this mean He is not infallible? Or is the story of Noah more of a metaphor, for the purification of humanity or the individual soul through God's will? If it is a metaphor, how much else of the Bible is as well? Genesis? Is it something that can be determined stylistically by a professional scholar? If so, which one is trustworthy? And so on and so forth ad infinitum.

    I suppose there is some level of detail in any historical inquiry we will either 1) never know for sure, or 2) never all agree on, so it is best to find some common ground enough of us can agree on, so long as it is ground worth standing on both in light of consistent ethics and of solid evidence. But where do we draw the line?

    I often criticize William Buckley for cutting people like Mel Bradford and Murray Rothbard from Conservative Inc., but it is possible that someday someone like us will have to make those same kinds of decisions. Where should he or she draw the line? Sure I could draw a line of intellectual and religious purity, but maybe only a thousand or so would make the cut, and thus our impact on the world might be very small. But if we drew it less severely to recruit more members and have a bigger impact, it would necessarily dilute any impact we'd have because our message would have been tailored closer to the norm.

    1. ATL,

      "For instance, should I trust in the Septuagint or the Masoretic texts of the Old Testament?"

      Probably the Septuagint. It predates the Masoretes and was written before Jesus, was used by NT authors, and predates the Anti-Christian edits the Masoretes made. I still read the Hebrew just to see it in the original language. But if I had to choose one vs the other on specific wording, I would at least use the Septuagint to form my opinion.

      I can't answer your other questions, but I don't consider humans a mistake by God. I think it is in Ephesians that Paul describes the church as revealing the manifold grace of God. God displays his glory and sin, redemption, grace, resurrection are all things that do that.

    2. ATL, the best response I can give - both for salvation and for the role Christians can play in this world - is here: