Sometimes it seems like many theologians are tripping over themselves to throw off the dogmas of the past and enter into a brave, luminous realm of [insert theological fad here]. I admit, I’m one to be just as allergic to dogma as the next, but I want to clarify what I intend when I do the throwing-off, because I think it is a point that is sometimes missed entirely when dogma and its supposed evils come up. I think I’ll start with some assumptions that I see here and there and address them one by one.
1. Dogmas are from the past and the past is unconnected to the present. In the words of Utah Philips, “I can go outside, pick up a rock that’s older than the oldest song you know, come back in here and drop it on your foot. The past didn’t go anywhere.” Obviously, things change over time. Circumstances and social location are in part dictated by the time you are alive. On the other hand, I agree with Utah in saying that the past didn’t go anywhere. Its still here. It can fade, or change, but it still has to be honestly dealt with, and anyone who thinks what they’re doing is really new is almost certainly delusional.
2. Dogmas come from authority figures and we don’t trust authority that much anymore. How many conversations start or end with “a recent study showed…” We still trust authority, most of the time almost entirely uncritically. We just trust different authorities. Letters after your name, or a lab-coat, or publishing your findings…somewhere obscure; these are the things we trust. We trust experts. Its just that the expertise we expect of them has changed.
3. Dogmas all come from old dead white men and must therefore be discarded. First, just because something comes from a particular person in a particular social location doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Those evil, finger-steepling old white men may have been right. Of course we should question whether we think they were, but it shouldn’t be an assumption. We’re not less constructed by our own social location, and aren’t any closer to an objective understanding than they probably were.