Dogma: murderous or misunderstood?

I think I’ve been boring and frustrating my old friend, and current domiciliary companion, Fred Baker, with all my talk of religion, spirituality, and how I want to reinvent it for my PhD studies. It’s really good to have a counterpoint, although I do wish I were doing slightly better at convincing Fred that there is some benefit in the research I am conducting. I guess this is the nature of exploratory research though: how will I ever know until its been done! Fred emailed me a link to this article by A C Grayling – Dogma will always lead to murder in the end, scepticism is the only answer – a couple of days ago, I’ve just read it, and thought I would comment a little. I, for the most part, agree with what Grayling says.. but I’d like to add some commentary, as it’s really relevant to the line of research I’m currently embarked upon. Firstly, there is the journalistic caveat. The headline, including “Dogma will always lead to murder”, is just that.. a headline. I’m fairly sure that Grayling isn’t suggesting that the very notion of Dogma is murderous or genocidal, and if he is, he fails to explain why. A more structural criticism of Grayling’s comment however, is the logically one-sided nature of the argument. The rhetorically one-sidedness I can forgive, but there are a couple of issues where I thought that Grayling was doing a disservice to egalitarianism.

Religious apologists are eager to point to the charitable and artistic outcomes of religion either as a palliation or an excuse, but non-religious people do charitable and artistic things, too, and it is hard to detach them from the kindness and creativity, respectively, that are a natural endowment of most human beings no matter what they believe

The main crux of the article is how horrendous religiously motivated violence is. For instance the awful events in Woolwhich last week. The quote above points out that “religious apologists” talk about the good things that religious people do, and fail to acknowledge the good things irreligious people do. The screaming omission is the amount of violence carried out by irreligious people.

Image grab from Independent Article by AC Grayling

I know Grayling is writing to comment, and it seems evident he wants to be provocative based on the title. I also think the piece is beautifully written, with powerful rhetoric. But from where I am (an atheist exploring the potential to use the structure of religion, and the essence of spirituality for good) this discourse is wholly unhelpful. It polarises. It angers those with faith, and it gives an unjustified sense of correctness and confidence to those with anti-faith sentiments.

Dogma is a tricky one. I don’t believe in a god, or an afterlife, and ever since I was a little kid I’ve been smugly confident in the paradoxical belief that there is no such thing as a fact. Isn’t it possible to dogmatically believe in entropy, infinity, milky tea, or smiling? Maybe I’m missing a point.. but wouldn’t it even be possible to have a dogmatic faith in atheism? Or, perhaps a way of putting it on slightly stronger grounding, couldn’t dogma, or even religion, explain a belief system that put absolute faith in evidence-based decisions or discourse? I think so.

I do however entirely agree with the sentiments in Grayling’s piece (even if I slightly disapprove of how he articulates them). I abhor violence. But more importantly when that violence is motivated by revenge, and justified by mythology, it is even more abhorrent. Finally, I agree whole heartedly with Grayling’s conclusion: scepticism, critical thinking, asking for evidence are powerful things, and I believe we should all engage with and be taught to do them profusely. If we did, then maybe, as Grayling puts it, “in a generation or two, what happened on a Woolwich street might become close to impossible.”