Decades of Studying Dogmatism

Judy J. Johnson
Judy J. Johnson Author Interview

Thief of Reason follows a college student in a dysfunctional family who seeks counseling which sets the stage for starkly contrasting views. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

As far as I can tell, the perilous influence of dogmatism, particularly in politics and religion, isn’t going away anytime soon. That awareness plus three decades of studying dogmatism (the research focus for my M.Sc. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation), motivated my first nonfiction book, What’s So Wrong with Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief (Prometheus Books, NY), which was written for a niche market of psychology professors. During the several talks that followed, I was delighted by my academic audiences’ engaged fascination wth the topic, especially during the Q&A. Their response motivated my attempt to reach a broader audience with a fictionalized account of dogmatism. Because Canada has its share of closed-minded extremists, I wanted to alert Canadians to the dangers of this personality trait, but I confess that Donald Trump’s MAGA followers ignited a timely sense of urgency for Thief of Reason, particularly as I watched the divisive, polarized debates and recrudescence of racism throughout the four years of Trump’s administration. (Please excuse my blatant partisanship here, but my parents were born and raised in the USA so I have American relatives who are increasingly grateful for their mental tranquility now that Trump is out of office.)

Although Rick, the bright, 28-year old male protagonist, was deeply injured by his father’s authoritarian, dogmatic beliefs and behaviours, he yearned for personal insight and growth—a drive intensified by Liv, the new love of his life. Unlike many men in similar circumstances, he was not drawn to dogmatic, reactionary groups of angry protestors looking for a powerful leader who could provide an outlet for their frustration, and group identity that assuages alienation. I also wanted to show the impact Rick’s mother’s and sister’s steadfast love and support had on him, and Dorothy’s (the mother) questioning of her submissiveness to her husband and the Catholic church portrays a skepticism and open-mindedness that facilitated Rick’s gradual, more expansive understanding of his father.

What were some ideas that were important for you to personify in your characters?​

Above all, I hope readers will recognize the importance of trying to open-mindedly understand others before judging them, as difficult as that often is. I also hoped to illustrate dogmatic characters’ lack of conversation skills and provide suggestions that readers might want to consider in their own conversations, especially when discussing cherished beliefs they defensively and emotionally protect—a reaction that is fairly common even among non-dogmatic people. Finally, I hope readers will consider monitoring the habitual use of extreme words that may accompany their beliefs and ongoing experiences. Are they able to tolerate ambiguity without becoming unduly anxious? What would it take for them to change their mind about beliefs they fervently uphold? How have their childhood experiences shaped their personality traits, and how malleable are those traits?

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

Themes of: 1) genuine, openminded reasoning in contrast to closed-minded certainty, 2) respect for self and others, 3) self-awareness, 4) a generosity of understanding imperfections and weaknesses in one’s self and others, 5) authentic relationships, 6) the need to have, or appear to have, certain answers to life’s most difficult questions, 7) the normal need for social connection, dignity, and personal safety.

At times I thought it would be easier to scale Mt. Everest over the noon hour than personify so many themes in a literary style that didn’t sound preachy or self-righteous.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m considering authoring an edited book in which chapters focus on dogmatism in politics, economics, religion, science, education, business, marriage and the family, and perhaps art (poetry, music, and literature, among others). I’ll write the introduction, which briefly outlines the features of dogmatism, and contributing authors can apply these features to their own understanding and experiences in those domains.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Like pesky wasps buzzing circles around us, people who act as if they’re the sole expert on a subject put us on edge. We bristle at their arrogant, rigid certainty and refusal to change their minds in the face of abundant evidence that should give reason to pause.
Thief of Reason opens with a gripping scene of rising tension during a family dinner conversation. Polarized viewpoints spark a heated argument between an intolerant, dogmatic father and his son, Rick, a bright, twenty-eight-year-old university student who’s determined to understand his fractured relationship with his father and capture the heart of his new love-a political neophyte who, unlike himself, is devoutly religious.
With a lively injection of humour, Johnson skillfully contrasts closed-minded characters with those who are more open-minded, respectful, and inclusive-those who get second dinner invitations. Readers will think of people they’ve met or are related to, partners they’ve loved and left, bosses and coworkers they’ve endured, or candidates they’ve unwittingly voted for.
Compelling, insightful, and unforgettable, Thief of Reason peers through a powerful psychological lens that’s delightfully original and life-changing.

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Posted on April 19, 2021, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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