Ideas vs. Beliefs

Twenty years ago this year, the movie Dogma was released to theaters. It was written, directed, and starred in by Kevin Smith, and was one of my favorite movies of 1999. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are the cast away angels Loki and Bartleby who’ve found a loophole that a Cardinal played by the late George Carlin created which will allow them to get back into heaven.

Except that exploiting this loophole would mean the end of all existence (of course), so they must be stopped. You should probably watch it just for the Mooby the Golden Calf board member meeting massacre alone. That scene is priceless.

Within the last year, I wanted to watch it again, so I checked my regular sources. I couldn’t rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, it was not available on Netflix, and there are no existing copies of it at the Library in town. I shrugged this off and forgot about it for a while.

Then last week, I asked Google why Dogma was so hard to find. It’s a little complicated, and involves the Catholic League, the Weinsteins, and the economics of Hollywood. Kevin Smith explains it more here.

So, before the price of Dogma DVDs and Blu-Rays skyrocket anymore, you may want to get your hands on a copy if you’re interested. Even if you have to pay quite a bit, you can probably get a lot more for it later. I found a special edition DVD for $18.99 and had it delivered. I watched it last night for the first time in almost 20 years.

You forget a lot of stuff over time, but something definitely stuck with me over all those years that I had forgotten came from this movie: the philosophy that it is better to have ideas than beliefs… especially in the realm of religion.

Here was some dialog between Rufus, the little-known 13th apostle of Jesus Christ played by Chris Rock, and Bethany, who we eventually find out is the Last Zion played by Linda Florentino:

Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name – wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.

Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?

Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier…


This dialogue struck a chord with me.

It is very difficult to really open up and talk to people who hold strong beliefs. When those beliefs are challenged, many people get irritated and have a hard time suppressing this anger.

I have no problem conversing with people that have ideas. With this state of mind, it is like Rufus said, we can easily change our own ideas when we discover faults. At the very least, we see the weaknesses in our ideas and can be left to strengthen them on our own.

Indeed, the theme is an important one, as one of Rufus’s last lines is asking Bethany if she believes. Bethany simply responds, “No. But I have a pretty good idea.”

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