Issue #82 -------
November 5, 2003
Dogmatism is puppyism
come to its full growth.
--- Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)
I would like for you to meet Willie. Willie is six years old, which is into middle age in dog years. He's a "weenie" dog, or so I'm told. I'm not quite sure why they call him that, except a few months ago, after observing his behavior for a time, I heard a person whisper to another, "Oh, what a weenie!" Well, I guess they just didn't understand Willie. You see, Willie is a watchdog. And a good one, too. He watches everybody. No matter who you are, no matter what you are doing .... Willie is always watching! Sometimes when you don't even know it. Day or night; early or late; fine weather or foul. Doesn't matter. Willie sees all.
The other day I was working in the garage and got this strange feeling that I was not alone. I looked around and didn't see anyone, so went back to work. But the feeling persisted. Finally, I caught a glimpse of movement near the outside door. There was Willie, peeping around the edge of the door. Willie was doing what Willie does best ... he was keeping his eyes on me. This often requires a dogged determination and canine cunning. Willie has an abundance of both. When it comes to sneakiness and craftiness, this little creature is the peeping pup extraordinaire. He can slip up on you totally unawares; Willie is subtle. He never blinks; he never speaks; he just watches. Willie is a watchdog.
I've often wondered what Willie is thinking. What is going through his mind as he fixes his gaze upon someone? Is he puzzled? Perplexed? Is he amused? Amazed? Perhaps he's just curious about the behavior of others. I wonder if he's judging, and maybe even condemning? Or, is he pleased with the actions of these "humans" with whom he lives? I asked him once, but he just cocked his head and stared at me with those big eyes. Watching. Waiting. For what I shall likely never know.
Somehow I think the apostle Paul might have known some of the ancestors of Willie. He spoke of some "false brethren" who had some of the same characteristics. They had "sneaked in" among the disciples to "spy out" their liberty in Christ Jesus (Galatians 2:4). These were dogmatists with dogged determination, intent upon bringing those free in Christ "into bondage" to their own perceptions and preferences. Paul sent these pups packing in record time! "We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour" (vs. 5). But it didn't stop them from watching. Their eyes were always upon these liberated "liberals." Sneaking in. Spying out. Prying into ... picking apart. Tail-wagging terrorists committed to curbing the freedoms of others and impounding them behind the walls of their own tedious traditional tenets.
In a messianic poem depicting the encompassing of the Messiah by evildoers, the situation is described thusly: "For dogs have surrounded me" (Psalm 22:16). Just a few verses later we find this plea: "O Lord, be not far off; O Thou my help, hasten to my assistance. Deliver my life from the power of the dog" (vs. 19-20). David prayed that the Lord would not be gracious toward the treacherous; those who go around the city and "howl like a dog," who "belch forth with their mouth" (Psalm 59:5-7), and who "growl if they are not satisfied" (vs. 15). Isaiah refers to shepherds without understanding as greedy, unsatisfied dogs (Isaiah 56:11). Maybe Paul summed it up best in his warning -- "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision" (Philippians 3:2). Dogs do not appreciate that which is holy, any more than swine have appreciation for pearls (Matthew 7:6), thus we should take care in our dealings with both (the two-legged as well as the four-legged variety).
Such watchdogs have always existed in the family of God. The danger lies not in the fact that they are always watching; the danger is that some weak disciples may become intimidated by them and thus may yield to their dogmatic demands. To do so subverts the "truth of the gospel," declares Paul. Therein lies the deadly danger of dogged dogmatism.
What exactly is dogmatism? It is simply the "arrogant assertion of opinion as fact, without the benefit of substantive validation." The word "dogged" is just an adjective signifying one who is "stubborn; persistent; never giving in." Saul of Tarsus exhibited "dogged dogmatism" when he persistently persecuted those he assumed to be the enemies of God. When some men made the trip from Judea to Antioch to proclaim to the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1), we see yet another example of dogged dogmatism in action. When sectarians today castigate others who differ with them on various points of party preference, when the family of God is fragmented into warring factions, we again see the effects of dogma. When disciples allow the pulpit to be used to bash Baptists, malign Methodists, lambaste Lutherans, and condemn Campbellites, the hounds have found a home!
Church watchdogs feel "called of God" to keep their eyes on you if they perceive you to be outside the party parameters. One will never be far removed from their watchful gaze. Every statement you make, every sentence you write, every action you take will be scrutinized. If fault can be found, if blame can be placed, if motivation can be questioned ... it will be. Those out of step with the dogmatic drumbeat, who can't keep in step with their fellows in the party parade, are "marked." They will be watched ... they will be warned ... and, in time, they will be withdrawn from the ranks of the faithful. Daring to be different is deadly among dogmatists. Thinking outside the box only results in expulsion from the box. Uniformity is the plea of dogmatists; Unity, especially among diverse disciples, is anathema!
George Orwell (1903-1950) was not too far off in the predictions of his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The now famous caption on one of the Ingsoc posters was -- BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU! This poster is described as "one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move." Like Willie the watchdog, Big Brother is always there, always watching .... nothing escapes his penetrating gaze. I fear the party slogan of Ingsoc may well represent the thinking of religious partyists and factionists today -- "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." They are devoted to conflict, they denounce freedom, they decry independent thought.
Yes, the Willies ... the "weenie hounds" ... of this world are never far away. Around every door, in every dark corner, outside every window, there lurks a watchdog, eyes fixed and ears cocked and mind closed, doggedly determined to impose his dogma upon those who dare to be free. May God give us the courage and conviction of the apostle Paul who "did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel" might prevail, and may our God one day bring us "through the gates into the city" where we will have the eternal assurance that "outside are the dogs" (Revelation 22:14-15).
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Al, I watched a show on the Discovery Channel this weekend about "hauntings." The setting was Columbus, Georgia. In this community there was a family who was besieged by "spiritual" contacts. The mother and daughter were both diagnosed as "mediums" who were receptive to communicating with the dead. One part of the show that I found interesting was that during the night (on different occasions) the father and daughter awoke to find they had similar scratch marks much like those a cat would make. They attributed this to the spirits. They were very traumatized by these events that occurred over 10+ years. This show brought to mind the accounts of the demons that possessed folks during the time of Jesus. Do you believe the "demon spirits" are still active today?
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