I feel unsettled after learning what happened to novelist Salman Rushdie on Friday. If you’re unaware, he was stabbed as he prepared to give a lecture in upstate New York. He suffered wounds to the neck and abdomen and is thankfully on the road to recovery, according to his agent.
It’s believed the attack is in connection to Rushdie’s late-80s book The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims consider blasphemous as it mocked or at least contained mocking references to the Prophet Muhammad and other aspects of Islam. There’s also a character based on the Supreme Leader of Iran and after it was published, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
I’m upset by multiple things. One, the stabbing occurred during a lecture, an event you would think was safe and peaceful. Two, multiple people were so enraged by words, not actions, words, they sought to kill someone. That’s pretty intense. And problematic because to quote Rushdie, “The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”
Freedom of thought becomes impossible because instead, people sink into dogma. Dogma is thinking without logic or reasoning. And once a person does that, they start doing something because someone else told them to, which is dangerous because they can become easily manipulated by others. They fall prey to schemes and cause real harm to themselves and others.
Dogma can also be the reverse, by the way. It can be disregarding what a certain person, group, or organization says just because of their identity. My spiritual teacher says, “[D]ogma has had an extremely negative influence on ordinary people .… By arousing narrow sentiments, the adherents of dogma hope to fulfill their selfish aspirations … The followers of dogma do not want people to tread the path of rationality … The worst propounders of dogma – the kings of dogma – do not want people to develop mental clarity. They do not want the penetrating illumination of the sun’s light to pierce through the mists of dogma. They do not want people to bathe in the radiant light of the day and stand under the clear, unclouded sky.”
It’s also the case we fall prey to dogma internally, without someone acting as a puppeteer. We see this on social media with “stans,” or super fans that are overzealous and obsessive. They think the person they follow can do no wrong, and when the person inevitably makes a mistake, because, hi, they’re human, some stans dig their heels in and defend the person. People who aren’t super fans will engage in a takedown and explain why the person is trash and should be “canceled” or stop receiving support. From Merriam-Webster, “The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste.”
I understand that reaction and sometimes I think it’s warranted. However, this approach misses nuance. Every person is both a hero and a villain. Every person is capable of good and evil. It doesn’t make sense to follow a person as if they are an infallible, perfect human being. I know it’s funny to quote my spiritual teacher again here, but even he said, “Even if a young boy says something logical, it should be accepted, and if the Supreme Creator Brahma says something illogical, it should be rejected as rubbish.”
I agree. Use your brain. Dogma can be alluring because it’s easy and doesn’t require effort, but you have a brain and if you don’t use it, that’s not beneficial for anyone.
I dream of a world where we recognize no idea, person, or belief system is above scrutiny. A world where we don’t accept someone else’s words hook, line, and sinker, no matter who they are. A world where we use logic and reason to make the world a better place and bathe in the radiant light of the day.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.