There are three terms that often get used interchangeably (and wrongfully so), yet few people truly understand what they mean.
Dogma: Something held as an established opinion, a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds; or a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church
Belief: A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; or conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon
Faith: Something that is believed especially with strong conviction; i.e. a system of religious beliefs
The problem with confusing these terms is that most people do not understand what it is they believe. This isn’t so much in the case of the belief itself as to WHERE the belief comes from. Many of us are raised with a certain prescribed religious or ethical code that was followed by our parents or other members of the family. Hence, what we believe is often the product of what we were raised with or what we were told to believe. But why do they believe what they do? What reasons were they given? Do these beliefs actually make sense to us or are they something that we just took for granted without determining whether it is right for us?
Dogma vs. Personal Belief
There is a very enticing element to accepting a code of ethics or beliefs as they are given. For one thing, it keeps one from having to try to find out the “truth” (which in this case is highly subjective, so we will use this term to refer to personal truth) and what it would mean for that person. Anyone who has ever questioned the nature of something, especially categories that pertain to the unknown or “gray areas” (i.e. politics, philosophy, religion, etc.), knows there is a great deal of discomfort that comes from having no sense of direction. This is the very aspect that causes people to select a system and subscribe to it without giving it another thought. Having any answer is better than no answer at all. Or is it?
When one accepts another’s beliefs without question or further investigation, they discount their own experiences. Because that is exactly how belief is created. They are based upon the interpretations of our own encounters … what we know to be true in this life, which unfortunately is tethered to our senses. We really have no other way to determine “truth”, even if our senses are not always reliable. Incidentally, by accepting another view without having come to the conclusion by oneself, one has sold off the validity of experience and self-interpretation. As no one is alike, that means no one person will ever interpret the same thing the same exact way. Experiences can be interpreted similarly, but never identically.
Furthermore, there is also the issue that one’s state of mind changes time to time as well. Hence, how one interpreted an experience at one time is not necessarily how it will be seen at another time. It is important for one to always question what they have encountered throughout their life. As experiences accumulate, different perspectives emerge. It is important to be open to these new perspectives instead of clinging to the old beliefs because they have always been there.
Religion vs. Spirituality
One can be spiritual and religious at the same time, yet few ever are. Everyone has run across this type of person on a routine basis. It’s the person who professes to believe in something, yet commits actions that contradict it. This is also the same type of person who will make a showing at religious function, put on a good face for the community and those they deal with, but do not actually live up to the way of life they claim they uphold. Others just attend functions more out of duty as opposed to actually wanting to be there. It has become a habit. This is the “going through the motions” syndrome. It’s a very simple trap for people to fall into and the only way to avoid it is to make sure one understands why they are prone to do what they do.
Another sign that religion is lacking spirituality is when the dogma or beliefs act more as a crutch. Reliance on a system of belief can be just as detrimental as accepting a system of belief strictly from another’s opinion. When one stops challenging or questioning their own beliefs, they have allowed themselves to become stagnant. Beliefs turn to dogma and dogma becomes a way of keeping a person in one place. The majority of the time, this isn’t carried out by an organization or institution … it is done by oneself. Any religion or system of belief is meaningless if an individual does not give it validation. No matter how good of a case they present, the argument does not stand unless it is accepted.
Incidentally, one can become a slave to oneself in much the same way. When one no longer has a connection with what they believe, but still use those beliefs as default guideline to get around thinking, one is only living a half-life. It is simpler to take the easy way out and adopt some guidelines that sound good on the surface, but really hold no real significance to the individual. The difficult task is to shed away those rules, beliefs and ethics that were accepted for any reason other than the fact they hold true on a personal level.