Christianity Without Dogma…

…is like playing tennis without a net.

It results in a certain formlessness, the reduction of an intellectually vigorous and astringent faith to something sentimental and twee–nothing but a religion of ‘spirituality’ and good works. The articulation of this ‘faith’ becomes a sad, ridiculous struggle with words which cannot have any meaning other than the ‘re-interpretation’ of that meaning according to each person’s preferences, and about which no one can argue because all have agreed that there is no such thing as objective theology.

The practice of the faith becomes vague and incoherent collection of good causes, passionate personal intentions of making oneself somehow better or following one’s idea of Christianity within a wilderness of personal opinion, sentimental conclusions. One is “on the edge of a grimpen where there is no foothold.”

It’s not even a case of the blind leading the blind.

More like the bland leading the bland.

And those in such a state cry out  with touching bravado, “Ah yes! we brave pioneers are willing to wrestle with meanings and meaninglessness. We often walk in darkness without seeing the great light, and is it not a courageous act of faith to walk boldly into that void where we may be sure of nothing except that we are sure of nothing? I once heard a sermon in Cambridge by a theologian who mistook his own  atheism for the via negativa–the spiritual way of negation. He piously said, “We who have no dogma and no certainty and no absolute authority to blindly obey, we are the courageous men of faith who “go bravely into that darkness which is the darkness of God.”

There’s a fool named Rycker in  Graham Greene’s The Burnt Out Case who is in mortal sin and mistakes the darkness in his soul for the Dark Night of the Soul.

No, give me dogma even if it damns me, for dogma is the  frame of the window through which I glimpse the heavens from my prison cell.

A final thought: a religion with no dogma? This is most often the religion of comfortable, educated, middle class people who think they do not need dogma. “What need have I of dogma when I have my pension plan in place?”

I doubt very much if this is the sort of religion that produces missionaries and martyrs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03846547501253855220 Gina

    "The bland leading the bland". THAT IS CLASSIC. Wish I'd have thought of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13636397530345545093 Ron Ratliff

    As Dorothy Sayers wrote, "The Dogma is the drama." Amen!!BTW Joseph Conrad wrote "Heart of Darkness" Greene wrote "The Heart of the Matter." :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    I think heart of Darkness was written by Joseph Conrad. But Greene would have been my second choice: his Burnt-Out Case featured a European who also disappeared into Africa."What need have I of dogma when I have my fabulous intellect?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00950026907419058094 matthew

    I've wanted to someday make a bumpersticker that says: I'm religous, just not spiritual

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Heart of Darkness–Joseph Conrad. Whoops! Blog posts are written in haste. It's Graham Greene's Burnt Out Case to which I was referring.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03123760099978887288 David

    Fr. Longenecker,I was wondering if you had read "Radical" by David Platt, and if so, would you respond to it here? It might not be on your radar, but it has been taking the evangelical world by storm and I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05469033520001541448 Lagniappe

    Similar to a recent post on dogma. Today, relativism rules which can mean anything to anyone at anytime. How foolish the imagination of man is to think that he can regulate truth to fit his form of spirituality. Tennis without a net, basketball without a scoreboard, long jumping without a measurement, sprints without a a stop watch…yes, dogma is not optional in matters of the eternal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14624843397283907934 Tim H.

    There are however, many strong dogma's within non-Catholic Christianity.That baptism doesn't actually do anything, that the normal way to access God's forgiveness is by confessing directly to God in the privacy of one's own heart, that the Bible alone is the sole authority on matters of faith and morals – these are all very strong non-Catholic dogmas. It's just that these dogma's have no authoritative source other than sensus fidelium – the sense of the faithful – which in the absence of a real authority, is nothing more than religous anarchy. Enforcement of belief in these dogma's becomes more mob-like in inverse proportion to the relative authority of the denomination which teaches it. Much to Matthew's point, there are few more spiritual than Monks of the Catholic Church for whome dogmas are something no more to be debated or discussed than is the efficacy of gravity or the need to breathe. There are few more zealous over dogma however, than an Evangelical in a weak church. -Tim-

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09412688173034951824 Andreas Kjernald

    "Bland leading the Bland" – I read that by Peter Kreeft. Is that where you got it from?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07908722169528921186 allan alquinto

    i was in a catholic parish gathering this morning where some people believed and openly declared that Jesus didn't establish a visible church, that the "church" is just within our hearts and not founded on peter as Jesus said, that the papacy has no authority, that there's no such thing as infallibility in matters of faith and morals, that the bible can be interpreted by anyone any which way he wants. these are people who serve in the Holy Mass as lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion. i tried to share the church's teachings and biblical roots of those matters to no avail.. tried to differentiate infallibility from impeccability.their eyes didn't see and their ears didn't hear.it's just so saddening to see first-hand how our holy mother church gets attacked from within and trampled upon by her own children.in spiritual matters, the danger is not that we do not know. the real danger is that we do not know that we do not know. may our Heavenly Father Shine the light of His Truth on us all. amen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09357573787143230160 Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble

    I love this!! It fits in just perfectly with the discussion I am having with moral relativists on my blog. Thank you!

  • http://romishgraffiti.wordpress.com/ romishgraffiti

    I've wanted to someday make a bumpersticker that says:I'm religous, just not spiritualExcellent. That will go next to the one I make that says: I'll shift your paradigm!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    "Graham Greene's Burnt Out Case to which I was referring."The main character was an architect, btw.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07802745592327490109 joel

    Check all the "Catholic in Name Only" colleges across the country. Their fund raising efforts are not doing as well. No Dogma, No Dollars. I'd say it goes for parishes and religious orders as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10942346114754815803 Greg

    "The bland leading the bland" quote actually comes from Peter Kreeft's talk "How to Win the Culture War"… http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/01_culture-war/culture-war_transcription.htm

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04843514873861242426 Howard

    "Christianity without dogma" is like dice without spots — the kind Big Jule wanted to use in Guys and Dolls. In either case, it's a transparent attempt to cheat.They just need Sky to wager for their souls.

  • English Catholic

    “This is most often the religion of comfortable, educated, middle class people who think they do not need dogma. “What need have I of dogma when I have my pension plan in place?”

    With all due respect Father you’re beggining to sound like a masochist for whom everything has to be as HARD as possible because ours is a religion that despises the weak, in which only Neitzsche’s superman prevails, we should all be working until we drop and the sabotours and wreckers who are physically weaker than the rest of us should have their food rations docked.

    Interesting how thin the line between orthodoxy and pharaseem is, if you wearn’t married I’m sure that you’d fit in perfectly in a Traditional Monastary


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