Friday, May 27, 2005

Fulton John Sheen and Dogma

Way back in the 1970's, I purchased an excellent book written by my hero and good friend Fulton J. Sheen entitled "The Electronic Christian" and published by the Macmillan Publishing Company. In this important book (indeed every book written By Sheen could be labelled as important), the saintly Archbishop who thoroughly intrigued his audience throughout the 1950's as "Uncle Fultie" - a Catholic counterpart if you will to Milton Berle's "Uncle Miltie," explains the importance and indeed the necessity of a religion with Dogma. Here is his essay:

The modern man must decide for himself whether he is going to have a religion with thought or a religion without it. He already knows that thoughtless policies lead to the ruin of society, and he may begin to suspect that thoughtless religion ends in confusion worse confounded.

The problem is simple. The modern man has two maps before him: one the map of sentimental religion, the other the map of dogmatic religion. The first is very simple. It has been constructed only in the last few years by a topographer who has just gone into the business of map making and is extremely adverse to explicit directions. He believes that each man should find his own way and not have his liberty taken away by dogmatic directions. The other map is much more complicated and full of dogmatic detail. It has been made by topographers who have been over every inch of the road for centuries and know each detour and each pitfall. It has explicit directions and dogmas such as, 'Do not take this road - it is swampy,' or 'Follow this road; although rough and rocky at first, it leads to a smooth road on a mountaintop.'

The simple map is very easy to read, but those who are guided by it are generally lost in a swamp of mushy sentimentalism. The other map takes a little more scrutiny, but it is simpler in the end, for it takes you up through the rocky road of the world's scorn to the everlasting hills where is seated the original Map Maker, the only One who ever has associated rest with learning: 'Learn of Me...and you shall find rest for your souls.'

Every new coherent doctrine and dogma add to the pabulum for thought; it is an extra bit of garden upon which we can intellectually browse; it is new food into which we can put our teeth and thence absorb nourishment; it is the discovery of a new intellectual planet that adds fullness and spaciousness to our mental world. And simply because it is solid and weighty, because it is dogmatic and not gaseous and foggy like a sentiment, it is intellectually invigorating, for it is with weights that the best drill is done, and not with feathers.

It is the very nature of a man to generate children of his brain in the shape of thoughts, and as he piles up thought on thought, truth on truth, doctrine on doctrine, conviction on conviction, and dogma on dogma, a very coherent and orderly fashion, so as to produce a system complex as a body and yet one and harmonious, the more and more human he becomes. When, however, in response to false cries for progress, he lops off dogmas, breaks with the memory of his forefathers, denies intellectual parentage, pleads for a religion without dogmas, substitutes mistiness for mystery, mistakes sentiment for sediment, he is sinking back slowly, surely, and inevitably into the senselessness of stones and into the irresponsible unconsciousness of weeds. Grass is broad-minded. Cabbages have heads - but no dogmas. (pp. 74-74).

God love you Fulton J. Sheen....I couldn't have said it better.

Paul Anthony Melanson

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