Have you seen the bumper sticker “My Karma ran over your Dogma”?
Well, as a modern reverend who has studied the diverse religious traditions of the world, I’ve been pondering this bumper sticker all week. It’s clever, I agree. But what is it saying?
I started by asking the collective wisdom that is… Yahoo Answers:
There were two dozen or so answers, including a few confused people that were offering dog training advice. Maybe Yahoo Answers wasn’t the best place to start. I decided to break it down...
My meditation teacher’s definition of karma is simply “action”. And this action is related to the moral law of cause and effect. It’s like Newton’s third law in physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So choose your actions carefully.
But how about Dogma? Webster’s dictionary defines dogma as “something held as an established opinion” or “a code of tenets”.
Then it offers a second definition: “a doctrine… concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church”.
And I think that is the definition that has landed the word in what I’d like to refer to as The Dogma Pound. Dogma is the dicey word. For many of us it brings uncomfortable emotions. The word “authoritative” makes me want to recoil like from a hot flame. I see the Inquisition, Holocaust, or the looming Death Star. Then the word “morals” makes me even more nervous. Which morals? According to who?
In today’s modern American world, many of us experience more religious freedom than our ancestors back through the centuries—even if it doesn’t always seem like it from our tv sets. We can be relig-“ish” or jew-“ish”. Many of us are “unchurched” or “nones”. Some are S-B-N-R (spiritual but not religious). And dogma is a loaded word many of us use as a catchall for all the things we don’t like… those experiences and viewpoints that haven’t sat well with us in our religious journey.
Recently I found myself saying, “I’m an interfaith/interspritual minister because I don’t want to be filled with dogma or preachiness.” I put dogma in the Dogma Pound. Totally ratted it out. So, today I’m going to start reclaiming the word dogma by suggesting three steps. I’m hoping you’ll think about joining me.
Step one: Seek and define your dogma
Let’s go back further than Webster, to the Greeks. The Greek word, which dogma comes from means “that which one thinks is true,” “to seem good” or “think.”
So, what do you think? What seems “good” to you? If you are in a religious tradition that has a creed or scripture that you haven’t really explored since puberty, check it out. Seek out people that can help you understand the doctrine of your faith. Try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you don’t have a tradition, start collecting the ideas and thoughts that are meaningful to you on a deeper level. Try them on. See what fits. “Notice... and inquire.”
Step two: Own your dogma
Personalizing our beliefs makes them rich. Living them out in our daily lives brings us to community. And being invested in a community of likeminded people can help give us courage to make change. To take our dogma from beliefs and thoughts into action toward a higher purpose outside of ourselves.
Step three: Curb your dogma bias
Dismissing another person’s thoughts with disdain as “dogma” doesn’t help anyone. It makes the divide between us greater. If my dogma is different than your dogma, maybe we have some things to learn from each other. Let’s take those ideas out of the Dogma Pound to the Dogma Park and let them play around with each other. See where they might be complementary. And let’s rub up against each other’s boundaries. This is where compassion and healing can happen.
So, there’s the challenge:
By doing these three things, you might even let your dogma determine your karma, rather than create roadkill from it.
Read more from Sarah Bowen in Void if Detached: Seeking Modern Spirituality Through My Father's Old Sermons.