On Dogmatism


“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”
― Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

“Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”
― Joseph Campbell

“You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs.”

—Bertrand Russell


We humans are all believers and doubters, thinkers and non-thinkers, critical and less critical, self-reflective and group-motivated. We have especially cherished principles that we individually uphold, defend and even promote. In fact, we constantly aspire to make these principles the defining qualities of our individual existence. Come hell or high water, we stand by these principles.

But principles are not all eternal. The passing of time tests the meaningfulness of principles one sustains in her/his life through the years and some of them do not stand any longer. The more open-minded among us easily realize the tight spot and calmly accept the fact that they have to be abandoned. The new state of affairs calls for a fresh set of principles that address the needs of the present. On the one hand, the more innovative personalities have the natural acumen to spontaneously adapt into the new-fangled situation while on the other hand, the less creative are caught at a dead-end where their jealously guarded beliefs no longer match the here-and-now. Yet, with all the mismatch and the non-operative ideals, nobody within their ranks is willing to give up the irrelevant notions and give way to the challenges of the new despite all the odds along the way. We call this type of believers dogmatic.

But what really is dogmatism or to be dogmatic? First things first: “Dogmatism” and “dogmatic” are derivatives from “dogma”. So, as an entry point, it is important to initially get to a clear understanding of what a dogma is.

Dogmas are said to be vital pillars of a religion. There is a commonly held view that without dogmas, a religious group inevitably crumbles. Mainstream religions which are in fact likewise ancient have stood the tests of time and the pressures of socio-political aggressiveness because of their jealously preserved dogmas. A constant justification (read: rationalization) of these dogmas is even highlighted and strengthened in institutions of learning (e.g., seminaries) that train prospective “vanguards” of these religions through a time-honoured course called “Dogmatics”.

A dogma is basically an eternal principle within the sphere of a religion. A dogma´s structure and contents are basically of metaphysical nature, i.e., a totalizing conception of a certain aspect of what is believed to be reality formulated speculatively without the benefit of submitting it to the rigour of empirical analysis for the purpose of at least intersubjective and at most objective verification. But a dogma is a dogma because of its penumbra of permanence. A dogma cannot be altered “in all possible worlds” (with apologies to Leibniz) for it has the power of “mathematical incontrovertibility”. The “truth” generated by a dogma is non-negotiable.

Within the sphere of the so-called traditional, “orthodox” and “catholic” stream of Christianity, the Nicene Creed/Apostles´Creed is a set of dogmas that are unquestionable, unchangeable, eternal, permanent, indestructible. Anyone who attempts to question or reinterpret a dogma is called a heretic. This is precisely the reason why so many church councils were convened by the hierarchy of the early catholic church: To strike out heretical beliefs and excommunicate from the church their unyielding and unrepentant promoters. In a few instances, some were not only excommunicated but incarcerated and tortured even to the point of death.

Since religion is a non-scientific domain, it doesn´t accommodate the application of the scientific method of inquiry. Hence, any attempt of anybody to question in critical terms the tenability of a religious dogma through scientific analysis is a forbidden enterprise. Nobody questions a dogma and nobody interprets it except an institutionally authorized council composed of unwavering and highly stable men of “impeccable” moral characters and exceptional erudition in matters of church canons. (In the Roman Catholic Church, this council is known as the “Magisterium”.) In this sense, “dogmatism” or being “dogmatic” is an exceedingly appreciated and respected quality as it evokes an unassailable character of a man or woman of illustrious religious integrity.

But even terms exclusive to a “specialized” realm or discipline undergo an evolutionary process to the point of even breaking away from that very realm or discipline by way of appropriation. In this case, the term “dogmatism” and “dogmatic” which has been appropriated in the non-religious domain no longer carries the substance of its religious origin. However, a religious belief may be called “dogmatic” in the non-respectful and non-religious sense if such a belief has an element within it that continues to unreasonably persist despite all the pieces of evidence and logical arguments running contrary to and thus against its core meaning. To be “dogmatic” therefore in the “secular” sense is to be unyieldingly close-minded about certain beliefs despite the wide open possibilities of subjecting them to more rigorous and multifaceted tests, observations and/or experimentations of scientific and hence empirical nature.

In the light of what has so far been discussed, a person is said to be dogmatic if s/he unreasonably resists to submit a “dearly” held conviction into critical examination by logical analysis and/or empirical examination/observation. In this connection, a certain notion is called dogmatic if it is continued to be accepted, upheld and seen as true without undergoing the process of logical and/or empirical verification. As a case in point, to continue to believe that there is a “god” in the sky because “heaven” is “up there” is one of dogmatism because modern astronomy has ascertained us that there is no place called “heaven” up in the sky which according to the primeval cosmogony of ancient religion is the abode of a “god” and his “angels” where life is an endless experience of eternal bliss and delight (though in my opinion is a boring one). Still within the same speculative cosmological conception is the belief that down below the earth where we are located now is an ocean of “unquenchable fire” called “hell” which is the final destiny of unrepentant sinners. No different from one´s belief in “heaven” up there, the latter is also a case of dogmatism.

Dogmatism is witnessed in various areas of life where people just don´t have the humility to face and listen to critical analysis and evaluation of their “most cherished” beliefs and in the process accept the challenge of verification. In this sense, dogmatism is not simply stubbornness but one that is irrational. Irrational stubbornness is an infantile attitude and we human beings had been at that stage when we were yet children. Dogmatism understood as such is therefore triggered by a childish attitude of some people whose psychological and intellectual developments have been stunted despite the accumulation of years in their lives on earth.

Unverified beliefs held so dearly despite the preponderance of evidence contrary to them in the larger empirical and logical contexts is dogmatism at the core whether it is religious, political, economic, social, cultural, psychological, etc. We don´t call these beliefs hypotheses or theories because the latter are statements open to and are not scared of verification. Beliefs whose upholders are likewise their zealous protectors from the process of verification may appropriately be called “dogmas” even if they are not really matters of religion. However, mathematically accurate equations, logically true arguments and scientifically sustainable principles are never called dogmas even if we claim that the following—(1) the accuracy of 2 +2 = 4; (2) the validity of the argument that Juan is mortal on the basis of the premises that all human beings are mortal and Juan is a human being; and (3) the truth of the statement that the earth is spherical—are “eternally” true in “all possible worlds” like the dogmas of ancient religions.

Empirical verification though may not be scientific in the objective sense. One´s personal subjective experience is no less empirical but strictly within the context of the one who experiences. In this instance, the absolute accuracy of her/his experience is said to be verified only by her/him to whom it has happened. The exclusiveness of such an experience is therefore true only to the person who experienced it. It is therefore unfair to the person if someone—an “outsider”—would question the validity of the former´s personal experience. One´s belief in the truth of his own personal experience—though unassailable and unquestionable—cannot be construed as dogmatic for no “outsider” has the right and the ability to judge the said personal experience of another individual as such. Problems would only crop up if the person who had the experience would “universalize” her/his experience and expose it to the scientific “firing line” by making an objective claim that if such is true to her/him, it must also be true to all. It could possibly lead to the formulation of a dogmatism if unthinking sycophants of the religious cultic type would bite an individual´s “universalized” experience and transform it into an unquestionable, eternal and non-negotiable principle without the benefit of submitting it into objective verification.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 29 April 2014

On Redemption


“It was suffering and incapacity that created all afterworlds – this, and that brief madness of bliss which is experienced only by those who suffer deeply.

“Weariness that wants to reach the ultimate with one leap, with one fatal leap, a poor ignorant weariness that does not want to want any more: this created all gods and afterworlds.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction — its essence — has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”  ― Isaac Asimov

“Redemption” is a most important religious concept more specifically in the Judaeo-Christian faith and theological tradition which in a very significant way is closely associated with salvation. Redemption/salvation as a divine act operates in a situation of “captivity” where “evil forces” have held people in a state of “imprisonment”/“confinement” /”enslavement” and must therefore be released and liberated therefrom through a much stronger and mightier power. In Judaeo-Christian theological understanding, redemption requires the sacrificial act, even to the point of death, of a “redeemer” in behalf of those who are “held in captivity”. Such a redeeming act serves as a payment to finally free the captives.

The theme of redemption in the Christian theological apparatus highlights the role of Jesus of Nazareth as the divinely anointed (mashiach) saviour and redeemer to liberate all of humanity from being captives of sinfulness whose final judgment is death. Without Jesus (which in Hebrew is “Yehoshuah” meaning “saviour”) the Anointed (which is the English for the Greek “christos” and the Hebrew “mashiach” transliterated to “messiah”), there is no redemption and salvation of humanity from the judgment of death. In traditional Christianity, Jesus Christ (which literally means, “the anointed saviour”) is therefore the ultimate redeemer and saviour of humanity.

But this matter cannot simply be isolated from its historical rootage in the Judaistic (or Jewish) faith experience and theological formulation. The very concept of an “anointed saviour” is fundamentally Judaistic/Jewish. It is the Judaistic weltanschauung (or worldview) which holds the ontological view that humanity has “fallen” from divine grace because of the “original sin” committed by the first “divinely created” human beings. Such event led to the emergence of a human world conditioned by “sinfulness” which has not only affected human morality but also the entirety of “creation”. In this sense, the Judaistic worldview gives us the metaphysical notion that “God” created a universe basically endowed with absolute perfection but such perfection has been marred and thereafter destroyed by the sinfulness of humanity. It is from this present state of moral failings and cosmic imperfection that the world has to be redeemed and finally saved. With that in mind, the flawed condition of humanity is powerless to even initiate the simplest act to restore and redeem the “old glory”; such role is solely God´s, no more, no less. This mindset has led the Jewish people to conceive of a “God-anointed” saviour—a “Messiah”—who should come on earth to redeem and save humanity and the cosmos and hence restore God´s creation into its original state of perfection.

The worldview which highlights the significant mission and role of a messiah to redeem and save humanity from sinfulness and imperfection is not therefore exclusively Christian but originally Jewish. In this connection, we may logically infer that Judaism doesn´t have a necessary connection with Christianity but it is and will always be the case that Christianity derives from and is thus necessarily connected with Judaism. It is from Judaism that the “messiah-ness” of Jesus finds meaningfulness and legitimization. Originally, the long wait for the coming of a “messiah” is a Jewish hope which until this point of time hasn´t yet been fulfilled. But in Christianity, such has already been realized in Christ (the anointed) Jesus (saviour).

Christianity has taught Christians—both serious and nominal—that all human beings are sinners and hence need a redeemer and saviour to liberate them from divine judgment which is death. Though faced with such a grave problem, Christians are however assured of God´s omnipotence to provide a “redeemer and saviour” which is God´s very own “son,” Jesus. This Christian ontological formulation is derived from the Jewish metaphysical conception that human sinfulness has been “inherited” from the original sin of the first human beings whose story is mythologically expounded in the Genesis accounts of creation and fall.

However, a much deeper and more serious understanding of this matter has led the majority of most recent more erudite Bible scholars and theologians to trace the historical events which triggered the rehearsal of stories that found their niche in the first book of the Jewish bible. From their more in-depth investigative research studies which are mainly qualitative in character, the notions of humanity´s sinfulness, imperfection and “lostness” as well as humanity´s being in captivity and the judgment of death which requires the coming of a redeemer and saviour all emanated from the Jewish people´s experience of captivity in Babylonia from 605 BCE to 538 BCE. The event was of course historical but the “existential” reflections of the Jewish people on the tragic experience of being exiled and enslaved in a foreign land (Babylonia) became the rallying point that led to the articulation of a speculative cosmology which highlights the absolute and vital significance of divine power in the Jewish “faith narratives”.

This cosmological conception creates in our minds the image of an originally perfect cosmos which includes the earth and the life found in it whose “crowning glory” is humanity (“adam” in Hebrew). Historically, this was Israel whose apex of glorious existence as a great and powerful kingdom was achieved during the Davidic and Solomonic reigns. Then the kingdom was divided with the north being the Kingdom of Israel and the south being the Kingdom of Judah. From then on, the process of gradual deterioration has seeped into the cultural lifeblood of the two kingdoms: The north had been overrun by the Assyrians and the south had been held in captivity by Babylonia under King Nebuchadnezzar. Such events are theologically represented as the “captivity and fall of humanity”. Israel of the north and Judah of the south had fallen because they “sinned” against God. With this was an anticipation of death which to them was the inevitable consequence of their transgression. This tragic state of being was even poetically expressed by the Psalmist:

By the rivers of Babylon

There we sat down, yea, we wept

When we remember Zion.

We hanged our harps

Upon the willows in the midst thereof

For there they that carried us away

Captive required of us a song

And that they that wasted us

Required of us mirth, saying,

Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord´s song

In a strange land?

(Psalm 137:1-4)


From this existential reflection of the Jewish people´s faith experience emanated the need for a “messiah” to redeem the “fallen people of God”. This is the historical event that triggered the Genesis mythology of creation and fall. The original rootage therefore of the Christian doctrines of human sinfulness and redemption/salvation through a messiah is the Jewish faith experience. Taking the matter at its core, what Christianity has actually done through centuries and generations is to swallow hook, line and sinker the Jewish ontological formulation and theological metanarratives to feed the non-reflective Christians with the “universalized” parochial stories of an ancient people and in the process create in them a cultural apparatus that doesn´t realistically connect with the most recent developments in modern science.

To further intensify the grim and dismal sinfulness and “fallen-ness” of humanity, Christianity has even concocted terrifying stories based on pre-Copernican cosmogony of a three-tiered universe to control and manipulate the so-called “believers” that there is a place of unquenchable fire called inferno for people who have not been redeemed and saved by the “blood of the lamb” (i.e., Jesus). However, the promise of redemption and salvation is eternal bliss in a place called heaven.

Instead of highlighting and enhancing human spirituality, Christianity has capitalized on the materialistic power of behaviour manipulation instead of promoting the spiritual and ethical teachings and principles of Jesus, an honourable and humble human being who once walked on earth and whose serious advocacy was focused more on love and compassion towards the disadvantaged, the destitute and the dehumanized.

In the light of what has been so far discussed, the redemption that we need at this point of human history is from the unrealistic, unscientific, manipulative, exploitative and enslaving teachings and doctrines of pre-Copernican, pre-Galilean, pre-Newtonian, pre-Einsteinian and pre-quantum-mechanics religions that have continued to persist even as late as in the present third (in fact, fourth) wave civilization of the twenty-first century.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 23 April 2014

How Relevant is the Past?


“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

–George Santayana


“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

–Marcus Garvey


“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”

― Michael Crichton


“Relevance” pertains to importance and/or usefulness of anything or anybody at the present moment. “Relevance” is here and now. “Relevance” is present tense. Something we cannot ignore or set aside at this point of time is within the purview of what is considered to be relevant. An idea or a concept material to a clearer and better understanding of a state of affairs is relevant. Being able to talk sense about a pressing concern of existential magnitude is a case of being relevant. Relevance, in its logical configuration, cannot be relegated from the present condition. Being relevant is therefore being within the vortex of present reality.

But present reality is not an isolated space-time point. It is a constant transitory stretch of a temporal continuum that connects with the past behind it and the future before it. The whole spontaneous temporal trail cannot have a point of disconnection as an objective reality that sustains the cause-effect trajectory which makes the human condition thinkable, sensible, explicable and hence, reasonable. What we call the present is yesterday´s future and tomorrow is the present becoming past.

Our reckoning of the interconnectivity of events is always in the context of time-space category. Since we cannot do away with the cause-effect conduit, every aspect of time-space reality is calculated to be relevant. In a larger context, the all-encompassing metaphysical conception that brings to light by way of meaningful articulation the interlocking web of existence both known and yet unknown “embraces” the boundless spatio-temporal span and brings human consciousness on a higher plane of realization that the past, the present and the future constitute the “timeless Now” or the “eternal Present,” if you will. To this Einstein concurs with the statement: “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

In that sense, the concept of relevance is deemed to adapt to such “timeless totality,” on the one hand, and specifically permeate, on the other, its successive divisions that bring to light in temporal details the focal episodes of yesterday, today and the anticipated tomorrow. With this in mind, the past which directly connects with the present (and thus indirectly with the future) is indubitably relevant. A more enlightened understanding of the present is drawn from the circumstances of the past and one´s keen rehearsal in her/his signification of the past is of prime importance to make every conceivable detail of the present distinctively comprehensible.

It is the uniqueness of the gift of human memory that enables us, in normal circumstances, to track down the interconnectivity of things and events in conceptual terms. By and large, we are highly developed entities who along the way of our complex evolution have refined within us a tremendous rational capacity to naturally and instinctively perceive reality in terms of cause and effect. Within the parameter of this logical path, the empirical mind assigns past triggering factors which collectively constitute the cause to every present event which constitutes the effect.

In this configuration of empirical reality, the relevance of the present is constantly drawn from the relevance of the past. In fact, we could even meaningfully conjecture that the past as it constantly (but not necessarily) takes its normal trajectory towards the present has a more solid and substantial relevance over the present qua present. It is only the afterthought of the “present” that confers it with a certain degree of substantiality that may equal that of the past, for an afterthought of the present is an aspect of the past.

Henceforth, the relevance of the past is elevated to a specialized category of intellectual pursuit called History. In this connection, we could reasonably say that the past after all is not final and irrevocable for in History, the past is an open-ended proposition that may be subjected to change. In other words, through a signification of the past as a matter of History, finality or irrevocability is never achieved, for in History, the past is continually infused with a fresh breath of meaningfulness. Every now and then, History constantly revitalizes the past by transfusing it with new lifeblood achieved through interpretation and re-interpretation to make more sense of what is obtaining in the present. In the bosom of History, the past will remain substantially relevant as long as there is the present and the drive of human intellect to better and more meaningfully understand it in the light of what the past unveils.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 08 April 2014

The Dynamics of Social Integration


“I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being–neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.”

― Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Integration in society is basically a sociological issue that touches on the problematization of how an “outsider”—individual or group—gets acknowledged, accepted and finally absorbed in a social milieu whereof it is not originally a part. The issue of colonization, though, is outside the sphere of the present discussion since basically, colonization doesn’t seek integration but rather domination. A case in point that exemplifies the latter is the entry of Zionist Jews into Palestine to impose its hegemonic rule over the Palestinians in one of the most violently oppressive campaigns of a colonial power over the original inhabitants of a geographical area in the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Ideally, social integration involves a process which consists of presence, willingness, affinity and synchronization. Presence, which is locative, is the actual existence of a non-native individual or group in a social condition where it participates in the common and ordinary grinds of daily circumstances. Willingness is the positive attitude of such individual or group towards the ethos and practices of the society where it finds itself and which it now embraces as its own. Affinity is its feeling of oneness in spirit with the native or original members of the society. Lastly, but never the least, synchronization is the efforts to further enhance and smoothen its bond of conformity with the cultural landscape of the adoptive society.

Technically in social integration, the adoptive society is the one that calls the shots. It is a matter of fact, though, that acknowledgment, acceptability and absorption always depend on the endeavour of the “outsiders” to win the appreciation, approval and admiration of the native denizens. This is how the logic of dominance works. Social integration cannot just automatically happen as willed by the “outsiders”. In certain instances, the process could even entail a tedious struggle on the part of the “outsiders” until they finally achieve integration. As a case in point, it took many generations in a succession of eras until African-Americans in the US were finally integrated in American society. In the present discussion, though, I don´t intend to touch on the controversial topic that triggers the question whether African-Americans are genuinely integrated in American society now as there are pros and cons on this concern.

In Spain, however, social integration is generally a no-sweat situation for South American migrants who more or less very easily get amalgamated—that is, acknowledged, accepted and absorbed—in Spanish society. In this particular instance two leading factors are contributory: (1) language, which is spoken by 100 percent of both the native and the migrant camps and in a lot of instances (2) racial stock, as many South Americans have very strong traces of Spanish consanguineal influence.

Racial homogeneity is one foremost threshold that spontaneously possibilizes social integration. Despite some minor differences in their languages which nevertheless all belong to the same rootage, social integration in the racially monolithic Scandinavian societies (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland) is peanuts. Such a condition is further buttressed by the stable economies of these societies which are all on equal footing.

Economy is a serious consideration in the issue of social integration and this factor works perfectly well in the Scandinavian scenario as in the case of Finland whose people are not basically of the same racial stock as the rest of the region. But social integration is not a problem at all for like the others, Finland´s economy has high stability level. However, in the case of the more economically unstable European countries like Romania and Bulgaria, their membership in the European Union (EU) does not guarantee the easy social integration of their people in the more economically affluent EU-member countries.

Others may disagree with me on the issue of economic polarity as a crucial factor in social integration. But I am of the opinion that one serious consideration why Moroccans (which are of Afro-Arabic racial stock) have a real hard time getting socially integrated in Spanish society is not mainly racial but more basically economic. I would further assume that this condition is likewise true to people of other poorer societies seeking greener pastures in more economically well-off and hence stable countries.

Up until this point, the issue of social integration is yet taken in the macrocosmic level. Social integration, though, is also of microcosmic significance as in the case of small ethno-linguistic groupings in a wider geographical locus existing side by side with and of course dominated by a mainstream cultural formation. In the context of a microcosmic grouping, social integration is generally stringent. As a survival mechanism, a microcosmic formation jealously guards certain aspects of its cultural exclusivity. With this goes a clear awareness of how many of its cultural beliefs and practices diametrically run counter to those of the mainstream. This specific orientation prevents the micro group to seek full social integration in the cultural life of the mainstream society where it considers itself a perennial “outsider”.

On the issue of social integration, the clash point between the macro and micro is very real. The macro may ignore the micro on the one hand but on the other hand, the micro likewise snubs the macro. The gypsies (or more formally known as the Romany people) of Europe, taken as a micro in relation to the macro context of mainline European societies, are never fully socially integrated in the latter societies. The disconnection though is mutual as none seeks to be socially integrated with the other.

Religion is another crucial factor in considering the issue of social integration. Exclusivism practised by and in some religious groups is a micro instance that makes integration a Herculean exercise for those seeking it and one hell of a bullshit for those on the other side of the fence who abhor even the thought of just trying to experience it. But religion is not always micro across the board as there are state-wide societies grounded on strict macro-religious standards. These are societies that place a lot of tremendous and heavy cultural, legal and moral burdens on foreigners living in their societies like overseas contract workers from much freer societies who have found employment there. For the latter to seek and to be socially integrated in such societies is next to impossibility.

The world has witnessed the social disintegration of South Africa in the last half of the 20th century as well as its integration towards the end of the century. But the question, “Has there really been an authentic social integration of South Africa´s black and white populace since the dismantling of the apartheid or everything has just been a farce as always?” still lingers in the minds of thinking people.

In the 21st century, the most hostile place in the world where two nations exist side by side defying the possibility of social integration is Palestine (also known as Israel). Apartheid is alive and kicking once again in this part of the world where the leading taskmasters—descendants of the tragic victims of Nazi racism in mid-20th century—are now the ranked and rabid racists of the 21st century.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 01 April 2014