It is interesting that Pope Francis, in a recent interview has called for priests to be normal guys who play soccer rather than “preaching dogma”. The Holy Father’s opposition to dogma would seem to fit with his appreciation of ambiguity and a generally fuzzy approach to all things Catholic. By blurring distinctions and erasing boundaries, a new muddy approach to the faith seems to be the main agenda.
What’s the point? There are several things going on here. Firstly, a fuzzy approach to dogma eases ecumenical and inter-faith discussions. Secondly, the blurring of boundaries makes a more casual approach to Christian morality possible.
This ambiguity and antipathy to dogma is nothing new. In Chapter five of my book Beheading Hydra I discuss “Religion without Dogma”. Some time ago Rusty Reno wrote a book called The Return of the Strong Gods in which he chronicled the post-war effort to eradicate dogma. Philosophers, political thinkers, economists and theologians, reflecting on two disastrous World Wars concluded that the chaos in Europe for the last 500 years was caused by dogma. They decided that dogma divides so they determined to rid society of all kinds of dogma–including religious dogma.
The destruction of dogma was not only going on in philosophical and political circles. Reno shows how both Protestant and Catholic theologians in the postwar period were anti-dogma. Thus Karl Rahner’s proposal of the “anonymous Christianity” in which atheists and non believers might be saved because they were nice, well intentioned and well behaved people.This fit well with a NuChurch mission of reaching out to the marginalized, those of other faiths and no faith to break down barriers and “overcome binaries”
While this is a warm and cozy religion it is not really Christianity. In fact it’s not even religion. It is a humanistic invention–the sort of thing you would invent if you sat down and decided to invent a religion that everybody would think was really rather nice–but which demanded nothing but nice-ness.
It is a kind of counterfeit Christianity–like all counterfeits it looks at first like the real thing, but on examination proves to be a fake.
It is a fake because the Christian faith–and especially Catholicism–is intrinsically a dogmatic religion. Dogma is a specific theological proposition that expresses a truth about religion and which must believed–not just intellectually but with an affirmation of faith.
Dogma is specific and particular. It is THIS and it is not THAT. It is defined and particular. Christianity must be dogmatic because of the incarnation. The Son of God, the Second person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity took human form of his Blessed Mother and was born at a particular time and place in human history. It happened THERE an THEN not elsewhere and at another time. Because of this particularity dogma is particular and specified.
Catholicism is also particular and objective in a way that Protestantism is not. The sacrament of the church is a specified and particular object real and concrete in human history. Likewise the sacraments of the church are valid or they are not valid. They can be defined by their form, their matter and their minister. If they have not proper form, matter and minister they are not valid sacraments. This particularity in sacrament and dogma defines the Catholic faith and while it is nice and feels good to imagine a world and a religion without dogma be assured that such a church would not be the Catholic Church.
It would be the invention of well meaning people–a sentimental castle in the sky–a fantasy faith with as much substance as a champagne bubble.