Monday, February 20, 2006

Religion vs. Dogma, Part II

In my last post, Chana asked me, "How would you, if you had the power or ability, change the system so that it yielded more open-minded thinkers as opposed to dogmatic followers?" I'd like to expand upon my answer there.

I think it might be useful to look at the Twelve Traditions of Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Although it's debatable whether Twelve Step groups are religious institutions, I believe that all religions and religious institutions can learn from their focus on achieving a goal ("to carry [AA's] message to the alcoholic who still suffers") while avoiding distractions.

They are:
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

5. Each group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.



Perhaps religious bodies could adapt the Twelve Traditions to ensure that religion never strays from its original purpose and never becomes ensnared in the dogmatic. Here are some of my suggestions that any honest religious body should have no problem endorsing:

1. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - [insert "God" / "our consciences" / "God as we understand Him or Her or It or Them/etc." / "the Torah" as appropriate.] Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

2. The only requirement for membership in our religion is [having a Jewish mother / believing in Jesus / wanting to be a better person.]

3. A group associated with [our religion] ought never endorse, finance or lend the [religion's] name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

4. Every [religious] group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

5. [The religion] has no opinion on outside issues; hence the [religion's] name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

6. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.


If religions followed these six traditions, there would be no Jerry Falwell (#3, #5, and #6), no religious interference with government (#3 and #5), no commercialized books/red string bracelets/Left Behind movies (#3 and #6), no Intelligent Design movement (#3 and #5), no discrimination against those of other faiths or no faith (#5), no excommunication (#2), and, finally, no enforcing of dogma (#1 and #2).

And what will we have lost besides dogma, commercialism, and egotism?

12 comments:

Chana said...

Thank you for posting about this.

A couple questions, however-

If you mean the religion as a whole when you put forward your Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step chart, I can agree with your points. But do you mean individual members of a religious body? Because I don't see how it would be fair to say that religious people are not allowed to have opinions on outside issues/ enterprises.

Also- what do you mean when you say a religion must be self-sufficient or supporting? Are you stating that religions could not/ cannot accept donations, and if so, what is dogmatic about that/ why would it be problematic?

Foilwoman said...

Chana: Applying the AA rules, it would be the group that couldn't take the positions. The individuals can, but as John Smith private citizen, not John Smith, AA member (or Southern Baptist or Conservative Jew or whatever).

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana, I agree with foilwoman. An Orthodox Jew should of course be allowed to have an opinion about politics, for example. But this business of rabbis and pastors telling their congregations who to vote for is bad news.

Are you stating that religions could not/ cannot accept donations, and if so, what is dogmatic about that/ why would it be problematic?

Maybe this one isn't as important. Donations can definitely be useful in poor communities, but the flip-side is that the community becomes somewhat beholden to the donator.

I guess I'm more interested in religious groups adopting rules similar to these than that they adopt these particular ones.

Begreatfull said...

Jewish:

I'm A gratful memeber of AA for the past couple of years, I love this post, I wish many people would have program in there life.

I like the way you apply it with religoun and judasim.

The world would be a better place if we can all be more humble and accept one another.

Sadie Lou said...

#2. needs some explanation. According to your example--there would only be ONE requirement or is that option open to many requirements?
Frankly, this 12 step program of yours is pretty practical but #2. is the only one that wouldn't fly. "Just believing in Jesus" lends itself to "believing in Jesus' teachings" and "Jesus is the Son of God" and "God had a whole bunch of other stuff to say" so...there would, no doubt, be OTHER requirements.
I like all those other steps.

Jewish Atheist said...

sadie lou:

I'm not sure. It sounds like you want to throw all the dogma in there up front. :) I'd keep it as general as possible. I.e. what's the least someone could do and still be considered a member of your group?

Random said...

I'm not sure this flys at all. I agree with Sadie that a religion should be able to set it's own criteria for membership and not have them dictated to it by outsiders (after all, a country club can...), but that's actually probably the least of my problems with this post.

As for your other points, 1 and 4 sound reasonable enough. 3 is good in parts but goes too far (the ban on "finance or lend the [religion's] name to any related facility or outside enterprise" would seem to have the effect of stopping the Salvation Army from running soup kitchens for the homeless for example, which I thought you actually supported despite your problems with other areas of the SA's activities). 6 would not work as it seems to ban evangelism, which is a core component of many religions (though I agree no religion should allow it to cross over the line where it becomes harassment - Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons are entitled to knock on my front door, but not to wedge it open). But it's 5 however that's most completely impractical - for example, how do you go about defining an "outside issue"? To take a current high profile example, most religions have a commandment along the same lines as "thou shalt not kill", and presumably therefore would feel themselves qualified to give advice to their flock on how to approach issues like abortion and capital punishment in the light of this. Would you ban them on the grounds that these are "outside issues", despite the fact that the faith in question would not agree?

"If religions followed these six traditions, there would be no Jerry Falwell (#3, #5, and #6)"

From what I know of the man I can't say this would be a huge loss.

"no religious interference with government (#3 and #5)"

Are you really saying that religious groups should not seek to educate their faithful as to how to vote in accordance with their beliefs? After all, political parties, businesses, trades unions, Hollywood actors and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all do this. By what form of natural justice should faith groups alone be excluded from such behaviour?

"no commercialized books/red string bracelets/Left Behind movies (#3 and #6),"

And no St Matthew's Passion, "Ben Hur", "Virgin in Prayer" (thanks CK), etc. either. Forgive me for thinking this will not be a net benefit to civilisation.

"no Intelligent Design movement (#3 and #5),"

Not sure how this follows (the creation of the universe is not an "outside issue" for any faith group that I'm aware of), but not a bad thing if it can be managed.

"no discrimination against those of other faiths or no faith (#5),"

No objections to this - however you seem to be replacing it with "discrimination against those of all faiths" instead (see my response to "no religious involvement" above), which is every bit as bad.

"no excommunication (#2), and, finally, no enforcing of dogma (#1 and #2)." Eh? you're allowing a faith group to have at least a basic test of fitting in (No. 2), then not allowing them to expel people who don't meet it? Are you seriously saying (for example) that if someone explicitly denies that Jesus Christ is the son of God a Christian church should not be allowed to say that he is not a Christian? Granted, a faith group should not be able to use the machinery of the state to enforce it's beliefs, but it should be allowed to use it's own machinery.

Foilwoman said...

Random: The whole idea of excommunication (if one believes in a loving god) seems a bit contradictory, and bit back to the whole "us" vs. "them" wars (really) that have given religion a bad name. Definitely, to have an exclusive club, you have to keep others out, and if that's what the group is about, great, but that's one of the things about organized religion that seems most offensive to me.

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

I'm not sure this flys at all. I agree with Sadie that a religion should be able to set it's own criteria for membership and not have them dictated to it by outsiders (after all, a country club can...)

Absolutely! The rules would be completely voluntary, not imposed by the state or something.

3 is good in parts but goes too far (the ban on "finance or lend the [religion's] name to any related facility or outside enterprise" would seem to have the effect of stopping the Salvation Army from running soup kitchens for the homeless for example, which I thought you actually supported despite your problems with other areas of the SA's activities).

Good point. In a perfect world, members of the church would still open soup kitchens but wouldn't use them to advertise, as it were. But maybe that's unrealistic.

6 would not work as it seems to ban evangelism, which is a core component of many religions

This might be a problem for some. It would still allow members to evangelize, but not on t.v. or in the media unless they could do it anonymously somehow. I.e. door-to-door Mormons would be okay, but televengelists wouldn't.

To take a current high profile example, most religions have a commandment along the same lines as "thou shalt not kill", and presumably therefore would feel themselves qualified to give advice to their flock on how to approach issues like abortion and capital punishment in the light of this. Would you ban them on the grounds that these are "outside issues", despite the fact that the faith in question would not agree?

You're right that this is difficult. In AA, everything but alcoholism is an outside issue, but it would be harder to define it for religious groups. I think rabbis/pastors should be allowed to explain to their congregations their reasoning against abortion or capital punishment, but shouldn't act as if the religious group itself opposes it, unless the issue is spelled out in #2. (i.e. if your #2 includes following the ten commandments AND the commandment said "No abortions" rather than "No murder." Obviously from the Torah/Bible, some killing is permitted, so "No murder" doesn't *obviously* apply to abortion.) After all, at least a quarter of Evangelical Christians are pro-choice, and many prominent Cathlics are pro-death-penalty.

Are you really saying that religious groups should not seek to educate their faithful as to how to vote in accordance with their beliefs? After all, political parties, businesses, trades unions, Hollywood actors and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all do this. By what form of natural justice should faith groups alone be excluded from such behaviour?

I covered this. Religious leaders should be allowed to explain reasoning, etc., but not to say that the religion itself implies you must vote this way or that way except in the most extreme examples.

And no St Matthew's Passion, "Ben Hur", "Virgin in Prayer" (thanks CK), etc. either. Forgive me for thinking this will not be a net benefit to civilisation.


Good point.

Not sure how ["no ID movement"] follows (the creation of the universe is not an "outside issue" for any faith group that I'm aware of), but not a bad thing if it can be managed.

The ID movement is a political movement which is trying to change school curricula and textbooks. Religion should be allowed to teach its members its creation story, but not force it on anyone else politically.

No objections to this - however you seem to be replacing it with "discrimination against those of all faiths" instead (see my response to "no religious involvement" above), which is every bit as bad.

No, I'm not. All these rules would be voluntary.

"no excommunication (#2), and, finally, no enforcing of dogma (#1 and #2)." Eh? you're allowing a faith group to have at least a basic test of fitting in (No. 2), then not allowing them to expel people who don't meet it?

They can enforce the dogma that is in #2, but not anything else. I.e. if #2 reads "believes that Jesus is the son of God," you can't excommunicate someone for believing that the Genesis story is allegorical.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

This is an interesting post. I crafted a brilliant reply yesterday, then I somehow closed the popup box and lost it forever. And I didn't have the will to take another whack at it again just then.

For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - [insert "God"] … Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

Personally, I agree with you. My view of the clergy has always been, they're just ordinary Christians called to play a specific role in the life of the church.

That said, there's a logical problem with your proposition. What if God commands a hierarchical church structure (as many churches believe he has)? In that case the leaders are obliged to govern.

And I must add that democracy is no way to run a religion. Shall we determine what acts are sinful and what doctrines are true by majority vote? I don't think so.

The only requirement for membership in our religion is [having a Jewish mother / believing in Jesus / wanting to be a better person.]

I agree with this, in principle. Membership requirements should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Every [religious] group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

You've taken it a step too far. I would accept, "ought not to solicit outside donations". But why should a church feel obliged to reject a donation that is given spontaneously?

In the mid-nineteenth century, George Mueller, who operated orphanages in Britain, followed that principle:

Mueller made a point to never tell any one of their needs but to solely rely on God and He provided. Through the years God granted Mueller over 7,500,000 dollars, which covered their funds for employing staff, building and purchasing buildings, and feeding children.

And finally:

[The religion] has no opinion on outside issues.

The problem here is, what issues are "outside" of God's purview?

The West gets ever richer at the expense of third world countries. Shouldn't God and the church be concerned about that? How about global warming? How about the aboliton of slavery? — William Wilberforce made that his life's work, stemming from his evangelical Christian convictions.

But I understand why you resent religious influence over the US Government. I would just handle it differently than you propose.

I wish the church would respect the distinction between the public and private spheres of activity. It is appropriate for the church to speak to public matters, like third world debt relief. But with respect to private matters — for example, same sex marriage — the church should enforce its mores only on its own membership.

You and I should start a church together, JA. I'm sure it would be a very laudable endeavor, and absolutely no one would join.

Jewish Atheist said...

Q:

That said, there's a logical problem with your proposition. What if God commands a hierarchical church structure (as many churches believe he has)? In that case the leaders are obliged to govern.

True. Some of the rules will have to be different for certain religions.


And I must add that democracy is no way to run a religion. Shall we determine what acts are sinful and what doctrines are true by majority vote? I don't think so.

We could leave it up to God. For example, Christians could leave gay people alone and let God worry about whether they're sinning or not.

You've taken it a step too far. I would accept, "ought not to solicit outside donations". But why should a church feel obliged to reject a donation that is given spontaneously?

Money comes with strings. But, again, these are just suggestions off the top of my head, based on the AA ones.

The problem here is, what issues are "outside" of God's purview?

I think I covered that in my response to Random.

You and I should start a church together, JA. I'm sure it would be a very laudable endeavor, and absolutely no one would join.

It would be fun. :) I think we could get people to join by making it fun. Just think, you aren't required to believe anything in particular and you get to play ping-pong, go swimming, watch movies, or whatever at church!

United We Lay said...

Is indoctrination really the way you want to carry a message though? Shouldn't the ultimate authority be the will of the pople, not some invisible force that doesn't exist? If you let people pretend that their purpose has a authority that is supernatural, you're really not accomplishing anything.