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Re: Dogmatism

Oct 30, 1995 08:38 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker


>>You say that, but when you start shouting, you help illustrate my
>>point. Dogmas are required beliefs, and the prohibition against
>>dogmas *is itself a dogma*. <grin>

>No, a prohibition is not a belief. A belief is the acceptance
>of a truth-functional proposition, i.e. something that may be
>true or false. "Don't impose dogmas" is not a belief, but
>rather an organizational imperative or principle or value.

I think you're making an unnecessary distinction here. We can
have beliefs in the form of "nouns" or static ideas about things
and in the form of "verbs" or the proper way to do things.

The idea that dogmas are wrong is a belief. The prohibition
against the use of dogmas can also be required. Perhaps for
defined actions the term "vows" rather than "dogmas" would
be appropriate?

>The American Heritage Dictionary defines dogma as:

>"1. A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such
>as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by
>a church."

>To the extent that Theosophical groups set forth their
>doctrines "in an authoritative manner" and act like churches,
>they are dogmatic.

True. And if the sense of authority is valid and justified
then dogma in this sense is good.

>"2. An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or
>opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true."

>Again, it's the authoritative nature of the belief, etc.,
>that makes it dogmatic.

Perhaps it's just the word "authoritative" that's disliked?
We could also say proven, canonical, an integral part of the
system, or an inseparable part of the philosophy.

>"3. A principle or belief or a group of them."

>By this definition any organization from the American
>Library Association to the DAR has dogmas; but it's
>too broad.

Too broad for what purpose? If dogmas are the integral,
defining doctrines of a system of thought, they are authoritative
in the sense that they both define it and speak for it.

>>A good sign of the presence of a dogma is in the *reaction* of
>>people holding it. The response to challenge is immediate,
>>passionate, and defensive.

>Ten years ago I'd have said Theosophists were not dogmatic. By
>the above criterion, older but wiser, I'd now say they include some
>of the most passionate, defensive dogmatists who ever lived.

A dogmatist is a follower of a system of thought, someone that
believes in and subscribes to it. This does not mean that there
is narrowness of mind, nor inflexibilty in thought. The dogma
*defines*, it does not *limit*. The sense of limitation is
self-imposed by followers that exclude other writers, other
philosophies, other approaches.

>>This is a matter of style, a manner of presentation, an approach
>>that was taken by the founders of the Theosophical Society. It
>>is not, I'd suggest, an universal approach to the Mysteries, but
>>rather an approach tailored for the individualistic and
>>opinionated Western temperament of the 1800's.

>Which is no longer Western but approaching global saturation.
>Too late to turn back now!

Yes, opinionated individualism can be found throughout the world,
and we have to tailor our propagation of Theosophy to take it
into account.

>>I would submit that the prohibitation against dogmas is a dogma of
>>theosophical groups. And other dogmas are the three objects of the
>>T.S. A belief in Universal Brotherhood *is required*, and not

>As I recall the phrase is "acceptance of the principle" which
>is not belief that a proposition is true, but agreement to live
>in a certain way. You're stretching the meaning of dogma here.

You're allowing dogma to be ok as a "verb" or in regards to
action, but disallowing it in terms of a "noun" or belief about
things. I'd say that we can have defining beliefs to the
theosophical scheme as well as a defining code of conduct.

>>With science, there is an established body of proven knowledge
>>that are dogmas. They are *required belief* for scientists. After

>NO WAY! Let Don or somebody tangle with this! What science
>are you speaking of?

All science. There is an established body of knowledge that
is considered true until proven otherwise. That body is the

>Please name a required belief of that science.

The earth is a sphere in space, and not a flat surface. Ice
melts and becomes water, when heat is applied, and with further
heat becomes steam. Water is H2O. Seven plus eight is fifteen.

Most of what is established is not speculative, not a mere
opinion, but considered proven and therefore part of
the scientific canon. It is considered true and authoritative.

>I bet you can find scientists in good standing who don't
>accept it.

Being dogma does not mean that there can be unproven theories
that are later verified, shown to be reproducible, and accepted
as new dogma, perhaps changing previous beliefs about life and
nature. Dogma refers to the defining nature of the beliefs, and
not to the degree of flexibility in how they are held.

>If you're talking about rules of evidence, etc. those aren't
>beliefs but conventions of how science operates.

The ideas behind the methodology is part of the established belief
of science, and not some higher order of belief that is itself
beyond question. It is part of the dogma or defining nature of
the sciences.

>One can justify them with dogmatic statements but in themselves
>they are just operational principles.

How we do things can be either an autoritative or required part
of an established system or optional. The methodology that science
follows is required for something to be considered scientific.
The methodology could change in the future, but as it currently
stands it is considered authoritative.

>>Dogma is the skeletal or foundation ideas that give structure to
>>and shape our belief system. Without it, we are philosophical
>>invertibrate, holding "jellyfish philosophy".

>Just call me a jellyfish philosopher.

I'm not sure that I can call you that. Even if you don't subscribe
to a particular system of thought, you have significant ideas that
form the framework of your worldview. These ideas are to you the
personal equalivant of dogma, as are mine to me.

>>Each person has cornerstone beliefs that his worldview is based
>>upon. With Theosophy, these are the core teachings that define the
>>essential nature of its system of ideas.

>Eldon, I really think HPB would disagree with you most
>sharply. She explicitly said Theosophy is "not the tenets but
>the principle of rational explanation of things" (paraphrase).

When she says that, she's talking about it in terms of *process*.
It can be viewed as *process* as well as *content*. I'd consider
both as well-defined. With process we have vows or requirements
regarding how to live our lives or do things. With content we have
the specific doctrines presented as a consistent body of thought.

>>You don't think, then, that Theosophy is literally true?

>HPB doesn't, as I understand it. Rather, Theosophy (i.e. the
>body of teachings in our books) is a fragmentary presentation
>of a vast and largely unspeakable wisdom.

I agree that our written literature is fragmentary and refers
to things greater than can appear on the written page. But this
does not negate it as a definite body of doctrines or teachings.
We go from being a collection of doctrines to a dogma or an
authoritative body of thought when the ideas are well-defined,
true in nature, and accepted as coming from a bona fide authority
figure (e.g. HPB).

>Its statements can be taken at many levels of meaning, let's say
>seven for convenience. Such a multilayered and symbolic and
>fragmentary teaching cannot be "literally true" in the way you
>seem to mean; literalism is its mortal enemy.

I'm not speaking for literalism. The theosophical body of thought
is not the literal words on the printed page. It is not merely a
collection of HPB quotes. But it is a system, it is (I'd say)
true, and it can be taken as canon or a consistent, proven body
of thought.

-- Eldon

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