Dogmatism, Totalizing Claims, Prejudice, and Fear?

To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three,
The heart of man has long been sore
And long ’tis like to be.        — A. E. Housman

            I’m still meditating on “looking down from the pinnacle of our humility upon the dogmatic rest of mankind…” (Michael Polanyi).  Nothing is more likely to set us off, pronouncing the Absolute Law from that pinnacle of ours, than a dogmatism opposed to our own, encroaching on what we view as our own turf. But isn’t dogmatism in essence the claim that we alone have the key to the fundamental reality of the universe, and the one and only way to come to know about it?

          And I’m still meditating on Matthew’s post on April 11 over at  , when he mused: “Ironically, the assumptions that lead us to accept the Bible as inerrant and perfect are the same assumptions that stop us from fully including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals into our churches and schools. At its base is the assumption that our worldview is shared, unchanging and unwavering, throughout all time and every category we would claim for our own. It is a form of prejudice. And the foundation of it all is fear….”

         What is it, readers, about dogmatism, totalizing claims, prejudice, and fear? Why are we so attached to a world with one way of knowing, when the reality we experience is so complex and multi-faceted? I simply cannot get past the eery mirroring in the positions and rhetoric of the “hard rationalists” on both sides of the science/religion conflict today, these crusading voices in science and in religion alike who claim that they have the one truth.

         Both sides believe that the battle must be carried on in the arena of scientific fact.  Because if a magnificent poem of creation isn’t about scientific facts, then what kind of truth could it have? Dogmatists whether religious or scientific seem to live in an impoverished and tightly controlled world. A larger view of reality, as exceeding our control and ownership, and a thoughtful pluralism in the ways humans seek to know, is viewed as soft-headed relativism, whether it is Dawkins ignoring cultural studies, or fundamentalists dismissing the less scientistic branches of Christianity. Or am I now too succumbing to dogmatic generalizations?          

         Well, on that plangent note, I’m signing off for today. Tomorrow, crocheting a coral reef?  Below is an excerpt from my theory course: “Session One, part 2, The Sphere of Language.” (Click on Pages for the full text.) 


“Now it is ironic, and I think very sad, that in spite of the profound critique of Enlightenment assumptions – especially epistemological assumptions – within every Western academic discipline during the twentieth century, nevertheless, with respect to how humans come to know, we are still living in that older Newtonian thought-world, especially here in English-speaking North America. We still tend to assume there is one way of thinking “rationally,” and one way of establishing “facts” and that one way is of course the “scientific” way.

“Unfortunately, the people who believe this the most include the religious fundamentalists who are pressing for “creation science,” and who read even profound creation poems as scientific textbooks, because they assume if it isn’t scientifically valid, then it cannot be true in any sense that matters. This assumption is found abundantly in the arguments of militants on both sides of the current conflict raised by the Intelligent Design movement.

“Both sides are deeply conditioned by nineteenth-century scientism, illustrating the way that we are imprinted most deeply by the conditioning factors we most strenuously attempt to oppose, as we see in terms of everyone’s life-long attempt not to grow up to be their parents. We saw it in the first wave of the women’s movement, and we see it in the tragic efforts of religious persons and scientists to push back against the harmful dogmatisms they perceive on the other side. There is plenty of dogmatism to go around, but reactionary efforts only re-entrench certain dualistic deep structures that belong to classical modernity. This is precisely the double bind so beautifully explicated for us by contemporary theory. I believe these advances in understanding cultural deep structures ought to lead us all toward epistemological humility….

“Right now, it seems to me that to be liberally educated particularly requires that we bite the bullet epistemologically, and learn “not to patronize the past, and to see the present as itself a period.” We are living in an utterly fascinating moment in human history, and it helps to consider it in a larger historical perspective. Our moment possesses the greatest and keenest repertoire of ways of knowing, and the strongest mandates to think humbly and respectfully, in the history of the West, and yet many of us see in our times only a loss of certainties and a hopeless relativism, while others forge ahead with the same old classical Western confidence in its own totalizing claims.”

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