September 23, 2006

Practical Uses for Dogma

Posted in martial arts, philosophy of religion, science, scripture at 2:04 am by Jerry

For those who know me, it may seem strange to hear that I have valuable uses for dogma. But it’s true. I think there is a place for all dogma and their kin — rules, structure, and creeds. To me, they are tools I can use to educate myself.

My autodidactic method is to search for the principles behind whatever practices I’m learning and make those principles my pretend “dogma”. Through this playful process, I’m making principles into universal ideologies, and applying these absolutes to every one of my experiences in the world we live in. By this method, I can personally test these principles for a fuller understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. This way, I get to explore where they are consistent with reality and where they fail.

For instance (if I may use my martial art training as an analogy once again), the closest teaching in my Kung-Fu class to a formula or “kata” is what we call the “Five Circles”. So I’ve decided to make the Five Circles absolutes for all physical applications possible. The Five Circles are meant to be used in such a way that the movement of our bodies must work as a unified whole, maintaining the whole body’s strength and speed in any force it applies on an object.

However, if I find enough comfort in the Five Circles as a “dogma,” and if I really wanted to, I could make this dogma an end in itself. I could make my pretend dogma real for me. This is seriously a dangerous route to take. An attacker on the street will not be willing to challenge me (my balance, strength, and speed) only according to the limitations I’ve used to train within. For practical purposes in the real world, I need to always be aware, consciously and unconsciously, that my “dogma” is only a means to learning.

For me, rules were made for us instead of us being made for rules (reminds me of Jesus’ reference to the use of the Sabbath). My belief in these rules, as I’ve referred to in a previous post, is my act of temporary faith, or scientific faith. It is a faith that must include a certain amount of doubt. It is a faith for the purpose of greater understanding, rather than an avoidance of understanding.

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