Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Dogma making you dog-tired?

The Satanic Verses, by Salmon Rushdie, and Not Wanted on the Voyage, by Timothy Findley
Something about the very word ‘dogma’ makes me dog-tired, especially when the dogma is delivered doggedly.  Being a strong believer in examining beliefs, and questioning how those beliefs impact a person and society, I’m not such a fan of dogma. 

Back in the day when The Satanic Verses hit the blasphemy fan, various clerics defended their vitriol by claiming that if any writer had written anything that critical of Christianity or Judaism, those clerics would have just as vehemently decried (and threatened) the writer.  Not so, actually.  I’ve never heard of a fatwah or the equivalent aimed at Timothy Findley for his Not Wanted on the Voyage, his anti-dogmatic and anti-patriarchy view of the Noah’s Arc story.  I strongly suspect the real reason that the Ayatollak Khomeini reacted so emphatically was because of how Rushdie describes him and his takeover in such vivid and unflattering terms. 
Raised Roman Catholic, I couldn’t help but feel anxious as I read Rushdie’s forbidden novel, not just because the fatwah included not just Rushdie, but anyone and everyone associated with the book in any way, including the floor cleaner who worked in the shop where the book was for sale.  I felt anxious because it did feel blasphemous to me, despite my complete lack of Islamic indoctrination.  I turned some of the pages quite gingerly, aware of ephemeral black robed men pointing their fingers at me, chanting the word, ‘blasphemer’.  A friend who was raised by intellectual atheists had the same eerie awareness of those black robed figures while she was gingerly turning the pages of Findley’s criticisms of cruelties induced by  God fearing men.  (The horrifying God he describes would and should instill fear in anyone)  There is something about blasphemy that is quite anxiety inducing, I am afraid. 

Blasphemy aside, Rushdie’s book is fascinating, although loaded with historic, religious and cultural allusions.  I relied on this professor’s website to help me to understand many of them: http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/satanic_verses/.  
Findley’s work is more accessible, although I do recall this novel causing some stiff backs and white knuckles at a book club discussion one evening.
I can’t help but think of the famous Socrates quotation, “The unexamined life is not worth living,”  when I come across people who confine themselves to the dogma into which they have been immersed.  As I’ve written in another post, we do need to examine our beliefs.  Whether those beliefs have to do with nationality, religion, politics, education, scientific theory, it doesn’t matter.  Questioning what you have been told to believe, thinking it through, is the only path to lucid thinking.

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