Playing with Dogmas: Instead of Dogmas in a Box, Dogmas in a Sandbox!

Yesterday, we meditated on the importance of healthy criticism of institutions–but also the dangers of destroying them altogether, as fascists want to do.

“There is no creativity without play and fantasy.” – Carl Jung. Sketch by Arturo Espinosa on Flickr

Recently, Pope Francis called out American bishops who become “closed up inside a dogmatic box.” 

It is good to hear a Pope criticize his own institution and confront American bishops for their “suicidal attitude” of clinging to something and not wanting to see beyond that….Because it is one thing to take tradition into account—to consider situations from the past.  But quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.

What is a dogma?  For me a dogma is an effort to name a mystery in a partial way in order to explore it more richly—and playfully.

Dogmas are for playing with!  (All ideas are.)  After all, Thomas Aquinas says the nearest word for contemplation is “play.”  To contemplate on a dogma is an invitation to play.  Much more fun than hiding ideas and self inside a sealed and unchanging box forever!

Nothing in the universe is unchanging—evolution applies to everything we encounter.  It is a law or habit, of the universe.  All is in flux.  Even our most cherished dogmas.  Cardinal (now Saint) Newman wrote a book on the The Development of Doctrine ten years before Darwin’s Origin of Species. Even doctrines and dogmas develop and evolve.

Peace through a prism: “Los Angeles: Looking for Peace (Olhar a Paz).” Mural by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

How does one play with and develop dogma?  Well, how does one play with anything?   One engages one’s imagination around it.  “What if?…” we ask. 

What if a Trinitarian model is not just a literal model of Divinity but a playful model of how the world works? Mom, Dad, child is a trinitarian model after all.  So is sculptor, clay and pot.  So is painter, paints with canvas and a painting. Seems like there is a lot of Trinitarian energy going on around us all the time. 

Sometimes 1 + 1 = 2.  But Trinitarian thinking tells us sometimes 1 + 1 equals 3.  It introduces some fun, creativity and surprise to the everyday equation. 

Dogmas are meant to be played with.  Just as a football field offers a parameter in which to play a game so it doesn’t just spill out everywhere, so a dogma provides a springboard of a notion plus a parameter within which to play one’s heart out.  Like a sandbox. 

To be continued.

See Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, pp. 148-156.  (Originally, On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style.)

And Fox, Whee!  We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide To Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality.

And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality, pp. 226f.

Banner Image: Children playing in a sandbox. Photo by Michael Swan on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Pick a dogma, any dogma.  Play with it.  What happens?  How healthy is it to move from box to sandbox, from serious clinging to serious play with our cherished ideas and beliefs?

Recommended Reading

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer

Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality

Years ahead of its time when first published in 1976, this book is still bold and relevant today. Perfect for anyone who thinks mysticism needs to get out of the head and into the body. Matthew Fox begins the Preface to this book by stating, “This is a practical book about waking up and returning to a biblical, justice-oriented spirituality. Such a spirituality is a way of passion that leads to compassion. Such a way is necessarily one of coming to our senses in every meaning of that phrase.” One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, this title explores the importance of ecstasy in the spiritual life. Fox considers the distinction between “natural” ecstasies (including nature, sex, friendship, music, art) and “tactical” ecstasies (like meditation, fasting, chanting); he goes on to consider that a truly authentic mysticism must be sensuous in its orientation, so to cultivate the maximum amount of ecstasy for the maximum amount of people.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

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5 thoughts on “Playing with Dogmas: Instead of Dogmas in a Box, Dogmas in a Sandbox!”

  1. Avatar

    Those that choose to confine ‘their play’ in a small sandbox must rely on many, many, fixed beliefs that are set in stone, and unmovable. There is not a lot of fun for most as only the leaders can fit into the sandbox and everyone else sits outside and takes direction from those in power i.e. in the box itself.

    On the other hand, ‘the sandbox’ may be too big for the level of contemplation we are able to bring to it. A sandbox the size of a large and expansive beach might tempt us to look for ways to ‘boil the ocean’ of ideas. Understand that overreaching prematurely can become a big distraction and very little might be accomplished, but worse yet it may leave many confused by a multitude of ‘newly hatched and half-baked’ ideas.

    The Mystery is limitless, but we are well advised to ‘peel back one layer of the onion’ at a time and then continue to do so. Our limited human faculties need to be enjoined with ‘divine inspiration’ that emanates from within us and this takes both thoughtfulness and time. But it also means that we do not have to be content with a fixed existence in a ‘confined sandbox’. If the Mystery is living and growing, so too will be the sandbox in which we play and live. Our sandbox is to be inclusive and enjoyed by all with shared values for the common good. Why allow some in that only want to destroy and ‘kick sand’ in our faces? We can’t control ‘nice’ but we can control welcoming. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    The mystery and elusiveness of God’s LOVING LIVING SPIRIT for me in Faith is Its’ Divine Creative Joyful Flow in the Sacredness of the Eternal Present Moment within, through, and among Us in Its’ LOVING DIVERSE EVOLVING ONENESS….

  3. Avatar
    Happy Go Lucky

    These are such amazing and wondrous topics for discussion in the last weeks. I did not know the extent of the Opus Dei’s influence until now.

    Pope Francis has been critical of the Church since the beginning. In his book “The Name of God is Mercy” he calls out priests right and left. It was the most revolutionary book I’d ever read! One criticism that comes to mind: Be truly careful and get the absolute best employees for the jobs, in the churches, that interface with the public, the congregation. Get people who are very suited to being compassionate, intelligent, and helpful, because they are the emissaries of God from your church. At the time, I had noticed how uncaring and downright rude the front office receptionist/office manager was, You were also supposed to speak to her through a glass window. There was no human contact at all wanted, it seemed, by the church. The Pop’s criticism was so true. And it was all for the benefit of the congregation, not the priests and their convenience and comfort.

    These ideas of criticizing our institutions, to help and defend them, is pure genius.

  4. Avatar

    PLAYING with D O G M A ____ WHEEEEE all the way home, indeed! Matthew – in this and the following meditation — you actually accomplished a sense of playfulness, a sense of freedom and creativity! I am feeling energized, lighter actually. As you know, I’ve been reinterpreting dogma from a feminist then evolutionary perspective for decades now. But, always with trepidation as though some Christian Boogie Man was going to drag me off to the Inquisition. It didn’t stop me, but my writing in the area of Correct Belief was never light and playful. BUT OF COURSE< as you point out in reflection number 2 – the evolutionary process is playful, full of surprise, and freedom and JOY!

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