Capitulation and Retreat

Alright, so apparently I have capitulated too much (as opposed to, say,”the blogger doth protest too much, methinks”) to Larison’s recent critique of my use of the term “dogmatic.”

In sum, I used this term in distinguishing religious fundamentalists from Cultural (or Civilization) conservatives.  And I would like to say, for the record, that my original take, the substance of it, still stands.  I think even Larison backs this take, and that his objection is primarily with my term “dogmatic.”  For instance, he writes:

The key characteristic of a genuinely fundamentalist mentality is its hostility to complexity, historical context and the possibility of a text being multivalent; fundamentalists are to some extent the terrible simplifiers of rich dogmatic traditions. I assume Kain uses dogmatic here to mean inflexible or uncompromising, but this does not take into account the inherent flexibility and minimalism of dogma.

This simplification is in contrast to, the higher liturgical Churches “that have the most developed sense of church tradition that take the greatest interest in the historical development of doctrine and cultivate the strongest attachment to ecclesiastical history on the assumption that God continues to work through and in history.”

Now, in an attempt to avoid a debate with Larison on the minutia or nuance of religious terminology, the proper definition of dogma, and so forth, as I am quite sure he is far more knowledgeable on religious matters than myself, I shifted the subject over to a discussion on specificity and generalization and how those concepts worked within an ideological debate.

I am now going to do an about face, thanks to comments in that thread, and play devil’s advocate for a moment.

First of all, Cascadian wrote:

I very much enjoyed Larison’s piece. However, I’m not sure that everyone, including the Catholic hierarchy, conceive of them as such easily interpreted/malleable sign posts. Do a bit more reading before you capitulate.

He then followed that statement up with this:

I personally, like Larison’s take on it, but as you have stated yourself, this is hardly a universal understanding of the term. I think what Larison misses is that you allowed for religious folk to be, in your terms, cultural conservatives. Larrison’s piece puts himself well in this camp. He’s religious but he’s not without an understanding of broader contexts and history. He can only say that dogma, under one reading, can be included in this camp. That’s fine and interesting but doesn’t really detract from your initial post/point.

Whereupon Bob, backs Cascadian up with this:

Cascadian is exactly right. In your selection from Larison he says, “I assume Kain uses dogmatic here to mean inflexible or uncompromising, but this does not take into account the inherent flexibility and minimalism of dogma.”

Well that definition, “inflexable” and “uncompromiing” is standard American usage of the word. It is not shocking that you would the word as understood.

The only reason to quote that passage is to refute it, but you fall into the Larison can do no wrong trap so common on the web. Larison is not infallible.

Alright, alright.  I didn’t mean to capitulate or claim that Larison is always right or infallible or what have you.  (He may be, I honestly don’t know!)  I only intended to discuss the importance of having a good understanding of the debate one is about to enter and to fully flesh out your ideas to avoid miscommunication.  For instance, my use of dogma means one thing to one group and another to a different group, so maybe my choice of words was poor.  Essentially, in the end, the only problem Larison seemed to have with my post was my choice of the word dogmatic. And even that, as Bob points out, wasn’t really wrong so much as easily misconstrued by one subset of the population.  To most Americans, I suppose, dogmatic really does mean ideas that are set in stone as opposed to Larison’s “guideposts.”

I posited earlier that generalization is bad, and that specificity can lead to more amicable discourse.  Well what if generalization is actually sometimes very good–what if simplification can actually do more to advance your case than too much specificity?

For instance, my colloquial use of the term dogma actually was more than likely read by most people as meaning exactly what I meant it to mean–that is, inflexible or uncompromising.  Certainly that I linked it to fundamentalist religion should have at least implied this.  Contextually, I don’t think I was at all out of bounds, and so Larison’s response was as much semantics as anything else.

And beyond that, Larison went to such great lengths to underscore how dogmatism and fundamentalism were different, how one abused the other and so forth, and yet I do think in my post it is quite obvious that I was using dogmatic in a very particular way, and not at all as a reference to the higher liturgical tradition.  So what speaks to the most people?  What is more clear, concise, or meaningful to the larger questions?  My brief, yet simple and broad definition of fundamentalists conservatives as inherently dogmatic or Larison’s in-depth theology lesson on dogma vs fundamentalism?

Larison writes:

The different senses of Scripture are a good marker for distinguishing fundamentalists from religious conservatives. Religious conservatives assume that there is more than one, while fundamentalists are intent on the literal or plain reading alone.

Honestly, though, was I saying anything different when I discussed my Fundamentalist vs Civilization conservatives?  The former I chastised as dogmatic in the sense that they are “intent on the literal or plain reading alone” whereas the latter I freely admitted could also be religious, and were more often than not both religious and aware of the longer, historicist view.  I generalized where Larison got to the nitty gritty theologocal specifics of the matter.

So I’m sorry for capitulating.  Larison’s rebuttal of my initial post wasn’t much more than a linguistic quibble, and for the most part he made use of unnecessary specificity on a widely accepted generalization which, taken in context, served exactly as I intended it to.  For the purposes of his own religious views, I can understand where the need to articulate this arises.   Indeed, his post is a good read, and informative, but hardly refutes my initial distinction.  Perhaps it was never inteded to.

And so I capitulate again, this time to you, dear readers….

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

3 thoughts on “Capitulation and Retreat

  1. I applaud Larison for his nod to historical context and allowing for the multivalent, but those qualifiers broaden any discussion, something the dogmatic are loath to do.

    Thanks for the discussion and I promise I’m finished beating this poor horse.

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