A dogma is any non-evidenced, non-verified (many times non-verifiable) idea that is believed to be truth. It’s important to talk about dogmas because it’s a large part of every religion, it’s practically what makes them religions.
So far I have talked a lot about one specific dogma: scripture (canon) inerrancy. This is one of the most important dogmas in Christianism and it exists in other religions as well. I really don’t think it’s a helpful posture in the long-term, as it greatly infringes people’s ability to make rational choices, but when it comes to simpler dogmas my opinion is somewhat less concrete. I used to ask myself two main questions:
1. IS THE BELIEF IN DOGMAS NECESSARY?
Some people argue we have to believe in some dogma about the afterlife, because we are all going to die someday. But the content of dogmas are things we don’t have any proof of. In fact, things about the afterlife are things we cannot know about, since no one ever came back from death to tell us what it’s like. And because we cannot know these things for sure, I usually think it’s not necessary at all to have a position on such subjects. I prefer to be simply agnostic.
After all, if there really is a just God (or some sort of force in the universe that “enforces” justice), we don’t need to worry about what the afterlife is like and stuff. All we need to do is to try our best to be good people (not saying it’s easy), and the just God will reward us in the afterlife (if it exists) somehow, be it by sending us to heaven or making us be reborn in a good place, or whatever.
If the universe is simply chaotic, or unjust, then we don’t need to worry either because there is nothing to worry about, as I have discussed in another post.
But some people believe in dogmas about gods, divine beings and rituals as well. They think it’s necessary because they are means to receive love and blessings. I personally think it’s possible some of these dogmas are real. Who knows? But it’s obviously complicated to have a concrete position about it, as different religions say very different things, and none of them have good confirmations. I don’t think there is a need to believe in such things either. If there really are altruistic supernatural beings in a spiritual dimension capable and willing to help us, I guess they would help us regardless of whether we believe in them or not.
2. IS THE BELIEF IN DOGMAS ALWAYS HARMFUL?
Many people choose to think any dogmatic idea is the worst thing in the world and start trying to persuade every person they meet to abandon their beliefs. I, too, used to think like that for some time, but I have to admit it doesn’t always seem to be helpful. Or effective.
Indeed dogmas can be harmful. In extreme cases they make people kill and die for vain causes. In the more common cases, they may give a lot of false hope to the believer, resulting in very bad decisions (like people who refuse to treat a disease because they believe a deity will heal them) or, at best, in a huge deal of disappointment and despair if he realizes his dogmas were actually not true.
However, the truth is that some people are not ready yet to let go of some of their dogmas. Especially when one finds oneself in a very difficult and painful situation letting go may be much more harmful than the other way around.
Fortunately, many dogmas are relatively moderate and harmless for the practitioner and people around (like, most of people believe that there is a deity who partially protects them but they still have to act pragmatically when solving problems). In such cases, I suppose it is a better idea to just let people figure by themselves when and if they want to give up their faith.
The good point about dogmas, be them regarding the afterlife or heavenly helpers, is that they can provide optimism. Of course dogmatic faith is not the only, by far the best, source of optimism, but for many people it’s the only one they know, the only way they can find to overlook the shortcomings of life and not concern with the impermanence of the future.