Good Dogma

Wrong Reasons

Posted by Vance Feld on May 24, 2017

This is a point-by-point criticism of this essay, My Early Understandings As A Realist. I’m not sure how the thesis that there’s “good dogma” is proven. It was written by @OccDemParody in response to my questioning the validity of dogma based on religious myth...Which I tweeted off-hand while I was in a real-life meeting. Now, I typically won’t even bother to refute anecdotal evidence because it is below the threshold of proof. Consider using the following questions as a lens when reading the Realist essay:

  1. Is the author “choosing” which parts of the dogma is good? If so, this is not dogma, this is personal expression of behavior.
  2. Could the author’s idea of “good” be harmful to others? The definition of “good” in the context of this document seems to be limited to the authors personal experience. That is, are the particular “goods” (the author mentions very few) really universal? A family in India, Korea or Japan may have drastically different views of what good is.
  3. The author fails to name the good dogma, so basically there’s no way to deconstruct particular good dogmas.
  4. What about all the clearly bad dogma? For example, in Christianity, Jesus positively asserts the validity of the of the old testament… So are we to take that dogma as well? What about the random political dogma (such as anti-Jewish) written-in by the Saints?
  5. If we concede that yes, good dogma exists, can it be counteracted by the bad dogma within the same doctrine?
  6. Is the value of “good” dogma be outweighed by the damage done to reason and logic by accepting a false claims? Faith without evidence is what opens the door to all kinds of evils.

I posited that no dogma based on lies, e.g. god (Christian, Islamic or any Deist Religion). This reaction essay seems to be written as an assertion that “Christian Thought” leads to 1) higher moral standing  2) superior intelligence and 3) better life outcome. However, they did not answer any of my questions directly, so I must extract their stance by analyzing these statements line-by-line. My questions were simply to ascertain their position and why they believe in god, and whether or not they believe apostasy necessarily leads to eternal condemnation/torture. In general, their message seems to be anecdotal based on personal experience (which does not qualify as evidence for “superiority”), and does not logically explain why the stance is applicable beyond their personal life.  

I have to define a few terms the author uses so as to form a basis of argumentation. Since they have not readily defined important pieces, I must posit a definition lest they correct me, it can be amended. For now, based on comments external to this and the mention of practicing or claiming to be Lutheran/Evangelical within the document, I would construct their god as 1) apostasy leads to eternal damnation 2) the bible is the literal word of god 3) sin can be forgiven by accepting jesus 4) god is morally superior to humans. Another word that lacks definition is the word “belief.” By context I guess the auther means faith

Likewise, for me, some negative things are 1) credulity 2) vengefulness 3) coercion through force/implied force. 4) greed which may differ from the author. I mention this only to point out that there is no universally “good” dogma based on lies.

Begin Quoted Essay

Authors Writing Indented Used in good faith, in return, I grant permission to excerpt or re-post with credit.

Due to indirect exposure to a Secular Humanist education delivered by my elder siblings enrolled in government school, seeds of doubt on the existence of “God” were planted rather early in my childhood.

Children are quite gullible and will believe almost anything. Had you never been told about god, you would not have conceived of it on your own. Sure, you may have ascribed meaning to things or events, or created fanciful apopheniac explanations or invent myths for everyday objects, but you would not have invented a “heaven” and “hell” and “eternal damnation” and especially not a magic man who gave virgin birth to himself to create the ultimate loophole. Just look at all the diversity in world religions, there’s no way a “blank slate” child would happen to come up with the Christian god randomly… Unless this was the ultimate Truth, in which case, every child should come out of the womb to discover Jesus, which is silly. No child comes out of the womb a republican or democrat, why should they come out a Buddhist or a Muslim?  

From the 4th grade I clearly remember that I was seriously questioning all those lessons I had learned in Sunday school.  Well, not so much the “love thy neighbor” ideals, as much as the whole question of whether God made man or man made “God” as means to answer, or at least as a “place” to neatly store away those that couldn’t be satisfactorily answered.

Basic message: At some point they questioned if God was simply a proxy for the unexplainable.

I still had a sense of morality and specifically placed high value on honesty.  I drove me nuts to see friends of the same age hiding all their activities from their parents as I saw it as a weakness and as “living in fear.”

I’m guessing the hidden meaning here is that author feels like his own morality was in-spite of questioning god. “I still had a sense…” after aforementioned questioning.

I was determined to be myself.  At about the same age I recognized it would be far better to be despised for who I was than to be loved for who I was NOT.

So, the  posit here is that they will “be themselves”

So I played a game in my head where I treated every day as if it were a 70 mm Dolby presentation to an imaginary audience.  Determined that if something wasn’t comfortable to be witnessed by the full theater of pop corn munchers, then it really should be left not done.

However, the exact opposite claim is made here. In fact, his own behavior is now constrained to the moral judgement of others. They are basically saying that they would not do anything, lest they be judged. It is ambiguous though, and I sense hesitation since the phrase “something wasn’t comfortable to be witnessed by the full theater” since it is unclear if the discomfort is his or the theaters. I assume they mean the theater, but wonder if it’s their own discomfort.

Wheres I thought it cheap to base actions on threat of Hell or reward of Heaven, I recognized that it was still possible I might one day face some judgement.  

By your Christian god? Allah? Buddha?

My attitude was pretty much, well there God, you had given me my brain and capacity for discernment, so if simply being “a good person” isn’t adequate to pass, then so be it!

Author pretty much sides with Pascal’s Wager here. I had better “cover my bases” and not be “too bad.” Which is a rather cop-out stance. This does however reflect the views of many moderate believers in all religions. It is my opinion that these moderates offer  cover for more fundamental, higher stakes believers like Jihadists and Fundamentalist Christians. Cover not only for the worst of the spectrum, but by their insipid suggestion to society at large that their unprovable beliefs should be allowed to permeate every aspect of society (lawmaking, social policy, charity). Often such loopholes in thought are behind the guise of religious “tolerance” which would be fine if religion operated in a vacuum of personal meditation and thought and did not interfere with science, education and policy.

This understanding carried through all of my school years and, whereas I still went through the motions with occasional church visits and even the formality of a Lutheran Confirmation Class, I was otherwise evangelical to my mostly Christian friends with a goal to help them join me in “outsmarting” their religious understandings.

Why you devil, you.

As my position evolved I came to value the more “intelligent” practice of treating all but my own existence as “unprovable” and therefore “not beliefs.”  So everything was basically “an assumption.”  For instance, I would assume Antartica [sic] exists even though I hadn’t been there and seen it with my own eyes.  So if I were asked to step onto a plane to travel there, I’d have high expectation of arriving.  But not a BELIEF in Antartica [sic].


What’s more, even if I arrived and spent a week there, it would still not elevate to “a belief” since I’d have to account for the possibility that my senses might have been deceived.  Note that this was well before the Matrix movie popularized the idea of living substantially in a “dream world.”

This was made popular long before, in Plato’s cave metaphor. Somehow the author rejects all forms of epistemology here, claiming that we cannot ever validate anything as real, however, this is a flawed interpretation of atheism. This is closer to nihilism, the rejection of everything—the belief that nothing is reasonably provable.

Whereas I considered “higher power” something I’d count as highly improbable, even being called an Atheist would be an uncomfortable label, since it suggested a “belief that there is no God.”  Agnostic was also an uncomfortable label for me since that struck me as a statement of a wishy washy position of having no idea.

The author here is mistaken in that agnostic is not exclusive to atheism. An agnostic atheist rejects the postulation that there is a god while not claiming they can disprove it 100%, while a gnostic atheist claims to know that there is no god and that there can be 100% certainty.

I had a strong idea that there “was no God.”  I had a stronger idea that “beliefs” of any sort were silly outside the belief in one’s own existence.  And the term I embraced for my set of understandings on this matter was “realist.”

The author is describing either nihilism or solipsism but claims to be a realist? Realism is the exact opposite. Perhaps comically opposite, as it is an assertion that certain things are materially real regardless of our preconceptions and that we can at least reason about what qualifies as epistemological truth.

Much later, I read Tony Robbins “Unlimited Power” and in there he described that some rather scientific understandings informed that there was a certain power of “prayer” and I actually gave it a try to determine for myself if what I dismissed as a fancy form of “meditation” might indeed help to better direct my own life’s path.

For the record, Tony Robbins is a T.V. charlatan who uses firewalking as a gimmick to make us believe prayer works. His most recent endeavors have left dozens with burns, but as to be expected due to the Adam Savage effect. Much, if any measured benefit is likely due to the placebo effect.

I also learned there that “beliefs” actually offered some value to the human experience from a practical standpoint.  

Such as what?

For example, if you look purely objectively at financial success, you might see it as a double-edged sword.  Taking into account that the affluent are often more depressed and prone to suicide than those of more modest means.

The author in my other interactions has totally avoided giving actual examples of dogma translating into “good”. This is not an example of how beliefs offer value to the human experience. I’m not sure what they’re getting at.  These two sentences don’t make any sense. They call for objectivity yet make a generalization that is not backed up. While we are off in the weeds, there is a study showing that those earning below $34k are 50% more prone to suicide. And in wealthy neighborhoods where suicide is high, it’s often those earning at least 10% less than their neighbors who give up.

In fact, I will give a counterexample, where false beliefs lead to a negative outcome. Say you “believe” you won the lottery but in fact you hadn’t. You rack up a bunch of bills and are in debt for the rest of your life. But since we’re using contrived examples, I think it serves as a good metaphor for accepting the lie of a vengeful, jealous god. Again, the metaphor is applicable to other faith-based dogma, but using Judeo/Islamic/Christian god here for convenience.

So the cold objective view on everything I had embraced, I was discovering, was possibly keeping me at a disadvantage when it came to charting my own course.

How so? I don’t see any indication of disadvantage here. Nothing indicates this being the case, not even with anecdotal evidence (the low bar for evidence set by the author). There is no comparative heuristic used that either proves or disproves your relative disadvantage.

Now I never had developed any hostility towards Christianity nor that many of Christians I knew… and I had also since come to realize that only Christians appeared to be defending any meaningful expression of “free will.”  Some but not all Christians were defending property rights, and other key aspects of Liberty that were almost entirely ignored by those running on other (mostly dogmatic) understandings.

Defending free will, property rights and “liberty” as opposed to what/whom? Believers in other dogmas? More importantly, what is “defending” free will? From what? Sounds like the author means “freedom” not free will. I don’t know how you “defend” free will any more than you can defend “determinism.” I might have been tricked into a theological debate something along the lines of “if god’s power is absolute, how can there be the devil” and the Christian says, “because of free will,” then I say, “then the devil is more powerful than god?” but I don’t think that’s the implication here. I think the author means, Freedom as in political Freedom and Liberty. I would argue the ACLU has done far more than any political christian organization. Because of the author’s slant on social media, I would posit that they are in the belief that Islamic beliefs are “toxic” to freedom. What this ignores is that strictly speaking, the text of the bible is full of slavery and tribalism (in the smite others sense). Now, if you consider there is a huge surge in Buddhist violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka (who’d have thought one of the most peaceful religions, right?) it seems to indicate that, at least for the purposes of political issues like freedom, the doctrine and dogma seems to go out the window and it’s all about the political organization and political behavior. There are those Christians who want to restrict rights of gays to marry (before that women and before that, blacks to vote). I’d hardly call that defending freedom.

So whereas I’d run many more decades as “a realist” I began to strongly recognize that I liked Christians (as a whole) a whole lot more than most of the cross-fearing vampires that pronounce themselves “smart” for “not believing” in “God.”

Pretty much everything after this is indirect ad hominem and generalizations.  

As many more decades past I learned more about different religions.  My overall opinion is now that there are three religions I’ll count as “positive dogma.”  I used to spend hours arguing with a deeply devout Christian woman and at the end of the discussion she would credit me for high integrity.  I also acknowledged that the teachings of Jesus were excellent from a philosophical standpoint.   So Christianity was right up there with Buddhism and Shinto in my favorite three.

The author acknowledged that Jesus was good, Buddhism and Shinto, but offers no reason why this revelation is of any use to anyone else. This also disclaims belief, it merely states that the philosophy is “good.” But what makes it good? We have to remember that they are not philosophers, they are worshipped figures, literally messiahs. The problem is we are taught (and at least in the Bible and Quran, are told over and over again) that this is the word of god, and that any philosophical implications are divinely mandated and should not be questioned, including anti-Jewish sentiment. Another problem with biblical Jesus sayings is that it is a mix-mash of 80 various texts with collisions and often political interpretations woven in, for example the Gospel of St. mark is likely a protest by gentile Christians against the influence of Jeruselem. This is one of dozens and dozens of examples of political Jesus railroading “philisophical” Jesus (which probably was a mythical man, but that’s a whole other topic).

I retain sufficient discernment to identify most of the rest as mostly garbage.  And I’ll be pleased to see enrollment in all those others substantially reduced and expect the condition of humanity to be greatly improved for it.

So basically the author is advocating for the elimination of all religions except his golden three. However, I simply and emphatically contend that if eliminating the fairytales of all but three improves mankind, surely eliminating the last three would certainly do a lot of good. Ideas, laws and epistemology should remain debatable by humans without dogma clouding judgement. At least if all “faith”-- the believing without reasonable proof was eliminated, affronts to the psyche of humans don’t get to hide behind a veil of deception. Any dogma or decree can be perverted into violence, given enough political pressure to do so (see Sri Lanka violent Buddhists).

I ultimately deemed that morality is for women and children but that principles (built on objective understandings) should drive the behavior of men.  What’s more, perhaps influenced by Heinlein’s writings, I embraced an ideal that women should set the religious tone of a household.  To share her traditions with her children and that the man should be more of a stoic silent partner in the realm of faith formation.

I’m not sure what make of this paragraph. I see nothing having to do with “good dogma” or faith per se, just who should practice which aspects of it. My first instinct here is to say it is misogynist because of how it’s worded, but maybe that's too strong. It’s exclusionary at best, assuming the nuclear family is a homogenous, straight couple from the same cultural background. The statement is a blanket statement, not taking into account that the “nurturing mother” and “stoic father” are cultural prevalences, i.e. our roles are conditioned to exhibit this type of behavior. It’s not so much the specific attributes assigned to each gender in this case, but that somehow this is supposed to be useful or prescriptive outside anything except their own family. For instance, my mother was quite stoic and analytical, whereas my father was nurturing and inquisitive. I wouldn’t make a declaration of (the good value) of an ideal based on my personal happenstance experience, that’s using a contrived example with a sample of 1 and trying to generalize it.

I’ve since made a practice of weekly attendance at mass, and have rarely missed a week to be there with bride and our children.  Even in secular terms the ability to sit still and reflect on the past week and future plans serves a very real practical purpose regardless of whatever degree of religious belief.  And I had also learned in my study of Japanese culture and history to value aesthetics and the ceremonies connected with what I accept as “positive” dogma.

The author fails to define what is “positive.” Is positive dogma selected the good parts of various belief systems? How is a ceremony “positive dogma”? What specific dogmatics are positive? How do we determine which dogma is good? Can we separate the good dogma from the bad? Who gets to separate it, the preacher, the practitioner? Meditation is reasonably proven to increase well being, as evidence by brainwaves, heart rates and blood oxygen levels from controlled breathing. All of this “positivity” can be achieved without “dogma” but rather the notion that one one should reflect upon their own life and calm the body.

I had noticed significant improvements in my own life once I began my own participation in weekly mass.  And whereas that’s certainly not something I’d present as “proof” of “higher power” I might be counted as “more receptive” to the idea.  And at minimum it stands against claims that “there is no such thing as positive dogma.”

This is anecdotal and fails the bar of reasonably demonstrated. If I asked a gay man in the 60s what “positive dogma” did for their lives, they would have an opposite opinion. To be more timely, if I asked a transgendered individual what “positive” dogma does for them now, they would not have the same answer as the author. Therefore, you cannot claim to have “universally good” dogma. If the author is picking and choosing, then that means there is no good dogma, only good people (such as the author) since they are being anti-dogmatic in their personal selection of values.

And before the “very smart” reaffirm their position that “only the stupid can believe in Jesus or God” it remains true that Einstein was Agnostic, many highly intelligent people I personally know have deep faith, and most extreme idiots I know think they’re a “genius” for being “too smart” to believe in God.

Again, anecdotal. It could be that where you grew up and those around you were educated in religious contexts and their reason was left undeveloped. I’m not saying this is what happened, I’m simply saying that personal experience is subject to self-selection and confirmation bias.

Now it takes more faith to believe Socialism will ever work than a belief in God, so it’s safe to say that, in addition to being a mental disorder, liberalism is also a virulent religion in its own right.

This statement is totally unrelated to the topic, gross generalization that in fact actually demonstrates the author’s closed mindedness. Also it demonstrates a lack of knowledge of Liberalism and Socialism. Liberalism emphasizes personal action while socialism emphasizes collective action. It’s also logical fallacy. The same could be said about capitalism. Is there a perfectly capitalistic system? No. There will always have to be a 3rd party to deal with tragedy of the commons and  externalities, enforce property rights etc. There can also be no pure socialism either, because markets will prevail. It’s also kind of wrong, there are many aspects of socialism (collective action) in the U.S. such as police, fireman, roads, hospitals, military, education, jails, etc., etc.

At least I know not every human action has to be “logical” and that a certain amount of participation in what might be counted “arbitrary” ceremonies adds to the quality of our finite time here on Earth.

Well sure, ceremony is quite entertaining, be it a football game (arguably one of the most arbitrary and bizarre rituals in existence), baking a turkey for Thanksgiving, giving a box of cigars for a baby… but this is not religious dogma and certainly there are bad ceremonies like hanging misbehaving freed slaves in the courtyard or snipping off the clitorus.

Mostly I’ve come to observe that most “atheists” aren’t all that intelligent.  Most carry as their primary claim to “smart” as their rejection of “silly beliefs.”  And so they pat themselves incessantly on the back for their big achievement while embracing every possible replacement dogma.  As long as it’s not “Christian” they’ll gladly bow to Allah, or Bill Nye the “Science Guy” and embrace every last bit of dogma that collectively makeup what I now call out as the #DEMOCRATRELIGION.

Some good Christian Love right here! Funny, but also subject to any other self-selection biases.  And I speak for all atheists, we do not deify Allah, Buddha, or other humans. We take it upon us to treat any topic as a skeptic-- the default position is no belief and any attempt to convince us otherwise must have reasonable evidence. The onus is on the convincer. It also has nothing to do with the Democratic party, as there are atheists in all countries and of all walks of life. There is no achievement other than not being duped. I see this paragraph and see a child throwing a tantrum. So, I end with this since the author wants me to pat myself on the back. Fine, I’ll gratify that. Perhaps Plato nailed who the real martyrs are: those who come back into the cave to free others, now blind in the dark because their eyes have adjusted to the light, are killed by because the cave dwellers take the blindness as a sign of weakness.