Doctrine: Belief Guiding Action

Doctrine has a bad reputation. As with most bad reputations, the degree of badness is not due to the actions of the subject, but the thoughts, opinions, and interpretations of those who choose to judge.

I propose the following definition of Doctrine:

Doctrine is the fundamental principles that guide an organization’s actions in support of its objectives. Doctrine is authoritative, but
requires judgment in application.

Doctrine is the codification of beliefs developed through experience. Individuals can have doctrines — their beliefs. We all have beliefs. Each of us believes differently. We can believe that it is wrong to kill. We can believe that it is wrong to act selfishly. We can believe in our right to zealously protect our family from harm.

So, is it right to kill someone we think is endangering our family?

How do you answer that question?

If your response is to say “it depends,” you are seeking to apply judgment in order to answer. If your response is a clear-cut yes or no, then you are applying an authoritative doctrinal rule, either without judgment or through prejudgment.

You have seen stories in which homeowners use deadly force against intruders. Sometimes the intruder was endangering the family. Sometimes the homeowner accidentally shoots another family member, a neighbor, or even a stranger just knocking on the door. While we have the right to defend ourselves, that right comes with the responsibility to use judgment to decide on the proper action for the situation.

Doctrine gets its bad reputation because people fail to apply judgment, looking instead to their beliefs to guide them. Throughout history, people have used the doctrine of church, the doctrine of religion, and the doctrine of fairness to justify the application of their personal beliefs — of their doctrine. The leaders of the Catholic Church used the Spanish Inquisition to enforce the organization's beliefs, which science was steadily undermining. In the age of Galileo, the leadership of the church protected the belief that the earth was the center of the universe, that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth. There was a fear that science would undermine church dogma. If that happened, church leaders thought the church's other beliefs might also be undermined.

Facts are troublesome things. Facts cause trouble when they refute beliefs. Does carbon in the air react with sunlight to create heat? Yes, that is a fact. Does air temperature increase as carbon emissions increase? Perhaps we can demonstrate this fact to be true in a laboratory. Can we prove it true in nature? There are the arguments about the veracity of the data.There have been conspiracy theories and accusations of manipulation. Pushing further, there are questions about the relevance of this fact — why does it matter?

The more detail becomes available, the more undecided people are on the subject. While some people want a simple problem, easy and risk free, others enjoy digging into the details and kicking the logic of the idea. When ad hominem attacks appear, belief is out of control.

People use facts to support beliefs. People use facts to suppress debate and discussion that undermines their beliefs. A rule of power:  when facts don’t work for you, silence the facts.

Historical Mention

Imagine that you are living in the day of Galileo. In fact, he is your neighbor.

You see him in his back yard at night, looking at the moon and stars through this thing called a telescope. You see him during the day looking at the shadow of the sun projected on a piece a paper, making little marks on the paper to track the movement of what he calls spots on the sun.

You see your elderly neighbor in his yard every day with his various tools, writing in his notebooks. He is not making any noise or any disturbance. You know that he is a man of letters and numbers, someone who writes books about math and science. You don’t have much interaction with Mr. Galileo; you just see him in his yard day and night, looking to the sky with his tools.

You go to church. Like almost everyone else, your church is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. You have gone your entire life. You attended school at the church, and the nuns, friars, and priests taught you the doctrine of the church. This doctrine includes that the sun, the moon, the stars, and the heavens above revolve around the center of the universe, the Earth. The nuns, friars, and fathers all said that God ordained Earth to be the center of the universe. These people of authority taught you the doctrine of the church, that the earth does not move, that the universe moves around the earth.

Is it safe to say that you believe that the universe revolves around the earth?

One day you hear that your neighbor, Mr. Galileo, has a little trouble with the church. He has written a book that has upset some of the church officials. It appears that in his book, Mr. Galileo wrote that he looked at the stars, the moon, the sun, and did some math. Mr. Galileo is very good at math; you know this because he helped you figure out the best spot to plant your tomatoes to get the best light from the sun. From your own personal experience, you think Mr. Galileo is a good man, and that he was right with the math on your tomatoes because your tomatoes flourished after you followed his advice.

You have not seen or read Mr. Galileo’s book. You don’t know from first-person examination what the book says. However, you hear juicy gossip about what others say is in the book. You ask some of these people what they read, only to learn that they have not read the book either. They are only repeating what they have heard, and they don’t know if those people actually read the book either. You go to church, and in church you start to hear more and more about the doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

You don’t see Mr. Galileo in his yard as much as you used to. You don’t see him in the yard with his telescope or with the contraption that he uses to look at the sun. He doesn’t get as many visitors as he used to. One day, he disappears. People are still talking about your neighbor, about how they think he got into trouble about his ideas that there are spots on the sun, about the mountains on the moon he saw with his telescope, and how he thinks the earth moves. Somebody in the market said that The Inquisition is questioning Galileo about what he said in his book. You have heard enough about The Inquisition to know that it can’t be a pleasant experience for Mr. Galileo. You have also heard that The Inquisition, as part of the church, charged to protect the doctrine and beliefs of the church, is never wrong.

Time passes, and you see Mr. Galileo in his yard. He looks tired, but is moving around and tending to his garden. You go out in your yard and learn that he has a guest visiting him, and they are talking. Curious, but not wanting to intrude, you sit behind the shrubs and listen in on the conversation.

“You have your life. They gave you your life, and did not excommunicate you for what you wrote,” says the visitor. “You just can’t write anymore, or give lectures. Why not just let it go, Galileo, and live?”

Eppur si muove!” you hear. Mr. Galileo says it again, in a stern voice, stamping his foot in the dirt of the garden. “Eppur si muove! Yet it moves! I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Yet it moves.

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