“The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You”

“The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You” September 25, 2020


And if you are a Christian and it doesn’t, it should.

But in today’s polarized and polarizing political climate, the faith of our civic servants is even more controversial than when we elected the first Roman Catholic to ever serve as President of the United States.  So, Diane Feinstein’s indictment of Amy Coney Barrett back in 2017 wasn’t particularly surprising then, and it isn’t surprising that it has resurfaced.

But the controversy surfaces what might seem a pretty thorny problem until we get clear about some basic truths.

One, everyone has a dogma that lives loudly within them.  We may not admit it.  We might not call it a dogma.  We might even evince an endlessly open, even diffident attitude toward that small set of things that governs our conduct in the world.  But the fact of the matter is that no one other than a college freshman can thrive for very long without making commitments.

Two, for that reason, everyone has to navigate the obligations that come with the work that they do and their personal commitments.  That entails recognizing that we live in a world where very few people, if any, agree down the line on what they consider non-negotiable.  It forces us to acknowledge that – in spite of those differences – if society is to function at all, working together across those differences is absolutely essential.  And it obliges us to remember that the work that we do requires us to attend to responsibilities that may not completely comport with our values.  If we find ourselves doing work that is deeply and irrevocably incongruent with our values, then we should look for other work to do.

But the problem lurking behind Diane Feinstein’s question may be this: politics have become our dogma.  Nowhere has that been clearer than in the synagogues this week where rabbis replaced reading from the prophets with readings from the work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Ginsburg was a thoughtful, committed jurist and wrote some brilliant opinions.  She will undoubtedly occupy an important place in the history of the Supreme Court.  But the fact that her work – or the writing of anyone, for that matter – might replace the sacred texts of Judaism on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah – points to how much we have elided our politics with our religious life – or, if you will, the dogma that lives loudly within us.

So, though it is well worth our attention and, for some, their vocational energy, it is worth remembering something else about civic service of every kind, as well as voting and partisan politics:

Our politics won’t save us

From the emptiness of our lives,

From a lack of meaning,

From the absence of purpose.


Our politics won’t save us

From our need for God,

From our need for healing,

From the bitterness that divides us.


Our politics won’t save us

From the need to worship,

From the demands of our faith.


Our politics won’t save us

From personal responsibility,

From the need to care for our neighbors,

From the need to care for those who experience







Our politics won’t save us

Because life involves more than politics,

Because our brokenness transcends the political,

Because even the political itself is larger than

One country,

One moment,

One office,


One election.


Our politics won’t save us

Because politics are downstream

From the darkness of our own souls,

The lies we tell,

And the contempt we display toward one another.


And until we change,

Until we turn,

Until we repent,

Until we acknowledge that there is a God,

And we are not…


Our politics will continue to be

Our Tower of Babel,

A soaring testimony

To our hubris,


A witness to the bankruptcy

Of the dogma that lives loudly within us.

Frederick W. Schmidt, September 25, 2020

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