click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Dogma of Dogma

The Dogma of Dogma

Judaism prizes free speech -- but it also prizes critical thinking. Does "Dogma" think -- or just take cheap shots at something precious to Christians?


Amidst a flood of controversy, the film "Dogma" assails many aspects of Christianity as an institution. Filmmaker Kevin Smith claims to be a religious Catholic. Yet the Church has condemned the film. The original studio dropped the film for fear of repercussions.

On the other side, proponents of the film decry such opposition as an infringement upon the right of free speech. How do we reconcile the value of free speech with the need for reverence toward religious matters?

Everyone agrees that free speech has its limitations. The U.S. Constitution curtails free speech when it harms others. You can't yell "fire!" in a crowded theater.

But how about when the harm is not physical, but emotional? There, too, U.S. law prohibits slandering someone publicly, and ensuing lawsuits take into account not only financial harm but psychological and emotional harm as well.

Jewish law goes even one step further. Under the laws of Loshon Hara,(improper speech), Judaism forbids speaking negatively of others, even if what you're saying is true!

Freedom of speech is no excuse to needlessly lambaste what others believe. Free speech is a vehicle to correct mistakes; it is not a license to ridicule. People must respect each other, and it's wrong to attack a belief system "just for the fun of it." If you disagree with an idea, express it in a respectful manner. You can even use humor if it serves a constructive purpose. But don't insult people; just critique ideas.


The film's lone representative of organized religion, Cardinal Glick (played by George Carlin), is a slick and savvy PR figure, more salesman than saint. The caricature of the Cardinal is not an honest and upright critique. It's a cheap shot. The only reason "Dogma" gets away with it is due to the particular bias of our time. Not much different than Shakespeare's anti-Semitic portrayal of Shylock as the greedy Jew.

Most of the movie is downright silly. Angels discover theological loopholes that allow them to go against God's will. God fancies coming down to Earth to play skeeball. Prophets are oversexed teenagers who spew obscenities. The savior of the world is a woman who works in an abortion clinic. The heavenly force responsible for all worldly creativity is an Indian woman who works as a stripper. In the end, God appears as a mute woman who does handstands and smells flowers.


"Dogma" derides the dogma of Christianity. But in truth, the movie advances its own dogma of "political correctness." God and the assortment of heavenly hosts are representative of multiculturalism. God is a flower child, the 13th apostle is black and complains the white authors purged him from the New Testament, and the angels are pro-choice. Only the metronome, the powerless voice of God, is a white male.

All this is obviously part of the joke. Perhaps such a spoof seems innocuous, and the Christians who are protesting the movie can't take a joke. But we have to ask ourselves how we would feel if a spoof was made of those beliefs that we hold dear?

How would people react if a film made fun of political correctness, which is, in fact, the dogma of today? What if workers in an abortion clinic were portrayed as ex-cons who had murdered children and saw the clinic as providing them a legal way to do the same thing? Would liberal groups band around such a film in support of free speech?

No one would dare make such a movie for fear of the intense public protest that would undoubtedly ensue!


Free speech is crucial to Judaism - in fact, the entire process of transmitting Torah is predicated on open communication. Critical thinking is also a backbone of Judaism. However, "Dogma" is not a movie likely to inspire people to think. It will either reinforce their belief that organized religion is silly and flawed, or it will simply offend.

"Dogma" goes beyond friendly fun. It is hurtful to millions of Christians. We must always ask ourselves: Does the benefit of this criticism outweigh its offensiveness?

January 29, 2000

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Mark Carbutt, October 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Is he really doing anything the Church hasn't done itself

I understand that Dogma maybe offensive to some people but I have no doubts that the same people who complain about Dogma would laugh at someone else with the same and probably more negativity. In the end the church itself has done the same thing in the past it would never allow people to have beliefs that differed from its own hell people used to be burnt for heresy, and although they may not do that today that opposition still exists and why because people do feel to strongly about there beliefs in God. I don't believe in God but I have no problem if others do but I can't take people preaching to me about Gods will and Jesus after the churches past in the end I have always thought the church was not today perhaps but was a dictatorship so my comment really is "Don't comment on someone having different ideas than you when the institution that your defending does the same thing to everyone, if you don't like what someones saying don't listen thats what I do when I hear a preacher it's about time you learnt to do it to"

(4) Denise Hall, November 21, 2001 12:00 AM

Two sides to every story

It is really easy for someone to make fun of or insult my beliefs and call it a joke or free speech. Those same people however become very offended when I challenge their lack of religion or the validity of their free speech. I was very offended the first time I saw the movie. I feel that in general Americans have one view of Catholics, a bunch of mindless people who spend one hour a week standing up and sitting down, who are subservient to the pope. I guess it just appears this way to someone on the outside looking in and unfortunately that is all most people take the time to do. I think it's important to express the fact that although I agree with the church's doctrine, I do not always find the church to be free of fault. It is the doctrine that I follow, not the church. Movies like "Dogma" remind me of that, but I think they reinforce negative stereotypes to those who have not been exposed to the non-Hollywood, non-"Go in peace my son", non-holier than thou church. The SECOND time I saw the movie I learned something. Even in America, we have a tendency to sometimes think that the church is white and male, despite our diversified clergy. Maybe the savior of the world isn't a woman, but maybe a woman can be as informed as a man. Maybe there wasn't a black apsotle or an Mexican controller of creativity, but believers of other ethnicities are just as qualified to be leaders in the church as someone who is white. Kevin Smith had a right to make this movie. People have a right to love or hate it. But I encourage anyone who reads this to at least have empathy and respect for those who believe differently than you. You may need both of those things if the shoe is ever on the other foot.

(3) Tamara Adler, November 17, 2001 12:00 AM

I think it is necessary for society to challenge dogmatic institutions, and I have always been a great fan of satire, because I think it reveals truth in a fun and interesting way. If anybody wants to make a film to show hypocrasies of Judaism, I'm all for it.

BTW, The movie was hilarious and thought-provoking, but since when has Salma Hayek been and Indian?

(2) Anonymous, February 1, 2001 12:00 AM

not necessarily...

while i think that much of "dogma" was indeed silly, it addresses an issue central to kevin smith's religious ideas that impacts many people with similar views. smith has issues with the Bible and a strict, literal interpretation of it. i've seen him on interviews discussing his problems finding a Christian denomination that "fit his faith." he is using this movie as a condemnation of what he feels is wrong with a divided faith that is non-adaptive to the times. he's not being just "mean." dogma makes some viable criticisms. they point out western cultures trend of portraying Jesus as white. he talks about how G-d likely disapproves of Christianities denominations being seperate. he expresses concern with catholocism's "out-dated-ness." i could go on and on listing the movies "pluses." i think that taking a narrow view of a movie such as this is frivolous. you miss seeing the impact of it. Christians and Jews alike should see this movie and learn. maybe they'll hate it, but it could make them look more closely at a religion that may not be so perfect.

(1) Anonymous, August 6, 2000 12:00 AM

Thank you

I think you really got at the heart of the issue here -- regardless of whether we're Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, we should all be saddened that something held sacred has been attacked for the very virtue of it being held sacred. There's a book written by Dick Keyes (a Christian) called True Heroism in an Age of Celebrity Counterfeits that deals with some of the same issues -- namely, how the cynic has moved to center stage in American culture, and trashes everything held dear by others for the simple reason of it having been held dear. How do we turn things around?

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment