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Is Dogma Always Detestable?

“My real difficulty,” a friend of mine recently remarked, “is that I detest all dogma.”

Now the word “dogma” is derived from the Greek word “it seems.” In the classical authors it means an opinion which seems true to the person concerned, and thus, by a natural transition, the tenets of a particular school of philosophers.

“Queen Anne is dead,” is a dogma in the first sense. It seems true to most of us that this royal lady is deceased. “It is wrong to burn people alive for their religion,” is a dogma in the second sense, for this is a tenet of a school of thought to which most people belong.

My friend, on inquiry, admitted that she did not “hate” either of these dogmas, from which it would seem that what she hated was not dogmas in general but the dogmas of institutional religion.

Arnold Lunn

I do not believe that a decay of dogmatic belief can do anything but good. I admit at once that new systems of dogma, such as those of the Nazis and the Communists, are even worse than the old systems, but they could never have acquired a hold over men’s minds if orthodox dogmatic habits had not been instilled in youth.

Bertrand Russell

Dogma is the basis of all personal and political liberty because it represents a shared premise—as in the dogmas of the American declaration of independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

He [William F. Buckley] finds that Yale has sometimes professed to have no teaching “orthodoxy.” “Objectivity” is its shibboleth. He finds also that Yale has an unadmitted orthodoxy; it does attempt to inculcate values. And what are these values? Mr. Buckley finds that they are agnostic as to religion, “interventionist” and Keynesian as to economics, and collectivist as applied to the relation of the individual to society and government.

John Chamberlain (from Intro to God & Man at Yale, 1951)

You don’t avoid holding the assumptions by which you live just because you decline to give them explicit dogmatic status.

Michael Mason

The purpose of this chapter [‘Fact, Belief, Truth, and Knowledge’] is to state in dogmatic form certain conclusions which follow from previous discussion, together with the fuller discussions of “An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth.” More particularly, I wish to give meanings, as definite as possible, to the four words in the title of this chapter. I do not mean to deny that the words are susceptible of other equally legitimate meanings, but only that the meanings which I shall assign to them represent important concepts, which, when understood and distinguished, are useful in many philosophical problems, but when confused are a source of inextricable tangles.

Bertrand Russell (from Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, 1948)

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. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.

G. K. Chesterton

[During the hey day of analytic philosophy] Oxford philosophers of all sorts seemed to take it for granted that we think in words. So it seemed to them self-evident that the most solidly based way of addressing a philosophical problem was first of all to get it clearly formulated in language and then to set about analysing the formulation. The result was that what they were addressing was never direct experience but always a linguistic formulation.

Bryan Magee (from Confessions of a Philosopher)

An unconscious dogma is the definition of a prejudice.

G. K. Chesterton

Tennyson, a very typical nineteenth-century man, uttered one of the instinctive truisms of his contemporaries when he said that there was faith in their honest doubt. There was indeed. Those words have a profound and even a horrible truth. In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos. The doubts of the agnostic were only the dogmas of the monist.

G. K. Chesterton

There are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.

G. K. Chesterton

The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way they are held in theology. Science is empirical, tentative, and un-dogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific. The scientific outlook, accordingly, is the intellectual counterpart of what is, in the practical sphere, the outlook of Liberalism.

Bertrand Russell

Dogma can afflict every belief system, including secularism. Witness much of Western Europe today. There, people are calcifying the Enlightenment principles of social tolerance and individual liberty into an orthodoxy according to which anything goes. What is being tolerated includes the tolerance-trashing bigotry of Muslim fundamentalists.

Irshad Manji

Somebody complained to Matthew Arnold that he was getting as dogmatic as Carlyle. He replied, “That may be true; but you overlook an obvious difference. I am dogmatic and right, and Carlyle is dogmatic and wrong.” The humour of the reply should not blind us to its everlasting common sense.

G. K. Chesterton


[The primary meaning of dogma is received truth of a religious nature.]

The reigning dogma of our time is equality.

Throughout Western Europe, diversity is the new dogma.

But Republican dogma is not troubled by this contradiction.

Gordon Brown has told us that this is not the time for outdated dogma.

The dogma of woman’s complete historical subjection to men must be rated as one of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind.

Every man who repeats the dogma of [John Stuart] Mill that one country is not fit to rule another country must admit that one class is not fit to rule another class.

Thoughts about Dogma & Dogmatism

Dogma does not mean the absence of thought, but the end of thought.

G. K. Chesterton

Dogmatism is puppyism come to its full growth.

Douglas Jerrold

Faith, by its nature, is secure enough to handle questions. Dogma, on the other hand, is threatened by questions. By definition, dogma is rigid, brittle, often brutal, and therefore deserves to be threatened by questions.

Irshad Manji

It is rare for the Church to define doctrines [or dogmas] which have not been attacked or questioned. The divinity of Christ, for instance, was taught by the Church from the first, but was only solemnly defined at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.

Arnold Lunn

Is it belief in God we need to get rid of, or is it dogmatism?

M. Scott Peck

Almost everyone believes in God—provided they have the right to define him.

It’s a dogma eat dogma world.

The postulate that Christendom in the first nine centuries was occupied in unimportant theological discussion, which can be treated as comic or irrelevant, is the negation of the truth. On the contrary, this gradual definition of the Faith and exclusion of heresy was the very core of the whole process. It informed all men’s minds.

Hilaire Belloc

The cardinal doctrine or dogma of Western intellectual culture is that God has not revealed himself and that therefore no revealed religion is true.

A dislike of defined dogmas really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.

G. K. Chesterton

The gateway to Christianity is not through an intricate labyrinth of dogma, but by a simple belief in the person of Christ.

Norman Vincent Peale

From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery.

John Henry Newman

The salient characteristic of dogmatists is their adherence to dogma in the face of overwhelming evidence that contradicts it.

Steve Aplin (Nuclear Energy Consultant)

The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.


There is a self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of existing modes of knowledge.

Alfred North Whitehead

It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held, and not in the dogma or want of dogma, that the danger lies.

Samuel Butler

When people are least sure they are often most dogmatic.

John Kenneth Galbraith

No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

Robert M. Pirsig

You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.

Dorothy Parker

Dogmas are definite convictions articulated in clear sentences.

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