Dogma Has A
Short Shelf Life
In the movie, Hoffa, starring Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and more, one of the opening scenes has Nicholson and Robert Prosky firebombing a laundry in retaliation to the owner’s refusal to join the union.
Unfortunately, the bombing goes badly wrong and Prosky’s character, Billy Flynn, is caught in the flames. Dying in the hospital, Billy is coaxed to confess by the attending priest. That could be tricky for two reasons.
Billy is convinced he was acting justly, which doesn’t require confession, and more importantly a confession might possibly lead to the conviction of Hoffa and his new sidekick played by DeVito.
Billy’s response is surprising and unexpected.
He looks at the priest, breaths an expletive and then makes an unforgettable quote.
Never let down. Never let up. Never forget.
I don’t know if that really happened but I don’t doubt people have expressed that kind of devotion in the face of life and death situations. I also don’t doubt that Hoffa was able to elicit that kind of devotion.
But here is the point. Devotion is not always what you think.
Generally, we view devotion as an honorable thing and devoted people as committed, reliable and good. In fact, devotion is a popular topic in religious circles and the truly devoted are among the best religion has to offer.
But is that completely accurate? According to Hoffa, devotion can apply to less principled types.
Devotion has a moral sense that doesn’t fall within the boundaries of traditional thinking. People frequently commit themselves to causes, groups and ideologies that are questionable at best. It happens all the time.
And once established, devotional connections are difficult to dislodge, regardless how right or wrong they may be. According to a Michigan study, devotion becomes more resolute in response to challenging facts. The followers of Hoffa didn’t let the law get in the way.
In reality, devotion is just devotion. It’s neither good nor bad, and it has many dimensions to consider. You find it everywhere, even among the unsavory.
Based on that thought we could make some interesting observations about devotion.
Devotion Happens Naturally
Every person expresses devotion, both the good and the bad. No one is capable of living without devoting.
Some devotions may be strangled, such as when a parent forces children into unwanted molds. They require them to design rather than build structures.
The ability to maintain a devotion may weaken under pressure but everyone devotes, and most have more than one. The list is long: fitness, married partner, children, cooking, reading, learning, good idea, business, a neat clean house, narcissism and more.
Good parents don’t attempt to force their kids to devote. Instead, they channel the natural tendency of children to embrace devotion in a healthy direction. They identify what enlivens their kids and feed it. They allow for personal choice.
Devotion Is Personal
There are three parts to devotion:
- Objects. The things to which we devote.
- Mechanics. The practical things we do to express devotion.
- Rationale. The reason we devote to good things instead of bad ones.
Parents loudly preach the first two.
Objects are the things to which we devote and we make the mistake of pushing our personal devotions on others. In a sense, devotions are at the heart of camaraderie. People like those who like what they like.
Parents make the mistake of assuming their children will automatically adopt their devotions, but it doesn’t work that way. Every person opts for things to which they are attracted and suited. You can’t force the issue. Devotional tastes vary.
Mechanics can also be problematic. Some people may practice piano in the morning. Others will practice midday or in the evening.
Some people can listen to music while they study. In fact, it helps in some cases. Others are distracted.
Some churches observe the Lord’s Supper daily or weekly. Others may observe it only once a year or even less. Some baptize new converts only after they have completed a course in Christian basics. Others baptize them immediately.
Different churches promote varying regulations for salvation, church membership, worship, personal life, marriage and more. I’m not arguing for any particular approach. The problem is the different approaches are often mutually exclusive. Following the mechanics of one church cancels possible acceptance in another.
Emphasizing the first two items: Objects and Mechanics, falls in the area of dogma, which is nothing more than teaching a list of ideas without rationale. Dogma works only in the early stages of development. Eventually rationale must feature in the conversation.
Enforcing dogma and refusing rationale is like imposing conclusions on others blindly.
There is no such thing as a second or third generation sense of devotion. Devotion can never be second hand.
This is particularly important when we need to promote devotional objects that may not come naturally. The best way to accomplish that is with a lot of reasoned discussion.
Devotion Is Irrational
Devotional attachments may or may not reflect good sense. In fact, the direction a devotion takes will often be influenced by one of two predominant factors: Relationship or Rationale.
Since devotions are often enforced without explanation – no questions allowed, no rationale offered – relationship becomes the connecting point.
It works two ways:
- We develop devotions first and then build relationships with people who share the devotion, birds of a feather analogy.
- Or, we build relationships with people and maintain acceptance by adopting their devotions. Flock first, feather later.
That’s why parents become concerned when children show too much interest in the wrong kinds of people. Spend too much time with bad sorts and you will develop the same feathers.
To avoid this we need to reject the idea that:
Children must be seen and not heard.
And learn how to balance good reasoning and authority.
A person who isn’t heard at home, as a young person, may never feel significant enough to be heard later, as an adult.
Devotion Can Be Addictive And Obsessive
It’s a fine line between balanced devotions on the one hand and addictions on the other. The best way to avoid the trap is to develop rationale thinking.
Don’t misunderstand. No one is only rational all the time, like Mr. Spock, but developing ways to manage life rationally is protective. If rational ability is never developed, the only connection to devotion is emotional.
Devotion Isn’t Usual Or Normal
You don’t express devotion by doing usual everyday things.
Husbands who wish to be devoted to their wives must do more than go to work, pay the bills and discipline the kids.
Devotion requires a bit more creativity.
Devotion Has Hierarchy
We are taught in religious circles to put God first, and some folks are offended by that. Admittedly, without explanation it can come across a little insensitive. Irrational even.
But, once you read through the Bible you realize that putting God first means giving everyone their due. God is first when everyone else is in the right place. When the right hierarchy is observed you will often place others before yourself.
Devotion Really Matters
A good question to ask is why does this matter? Why be concerned about devotions? The answers are obvious.
One, devotions give your life purpose. Choosing the right devotion gives your life meaning. The wrong one makes it meaningless.
Two, devotions always cost something. The cost is an investment when the devotion is aligned with truth. The cost is a waste if not.
Three, devotion is where personal development occurs. Right devotions produce the benefit of personal growth. Wrong devotions thwart personal growth.
It’s important to get it right.