Friday, March 28, 2008

And Now, In The Center Ring! Orthodoxy versus Orthopraxis!

Comparative religion has been an interest of mine for a long time, so when my partner explained this basic division of types of religions it seemed completely intuitive to me. What do you know? There's a word for the kind of religion I practice: orthopraxic! We don't really care so much about what you believe, as long as you do the rituals (properly).

I had an experience a few months ago, however, that showed me how non-intuitive the concepts are to some. A discussion broke out in my workplace which was vaguely concerned with changes in language usage. I happened to bring up how disturbing I find it that the words faith and religion are becoming synonymous. Where does that leave religions that are not primarily concerned with belief?

The guys in my office never heard of orthopraxis (not surprising, I hadn't either until recently) and it was such an alien concept to them that they accused me of making it up. Lying. They said I, a devout ENFJ, was lying.
Creepy Sidebar
Adding to my paranoia, the Blogger spell checker apparently doesn't know the word either. It's underlining it as if it doesn't exist. At least Wikipedia is on my side.

Their reaction to the idea that a religion based on action rather than faith was explosive. They shouted over each other; insisting that it couldn't be true. Seriously, it was bizarre. Despite carefully trying to explain the terms orthodoxy and orthopraxis as they are used in cultural anthropology, both of them continued to insist that it was impossible that a religion could exist that was not faith-centered.

In all honesty, part of the reaction could have been to my manner. It never occurred to me that the concept of orthopraxis needed careful presentation. I just stated the facts as I was aware of them. In my opinion, though, the more emotional component arose from a kind of memetic immune response. In simple terms, they flipped out because the orthodoxy meme in their heads perceived an incoming threatening idea and was defending itself.

The scarier thing to me is that I don't think either of them would consider himself religious. That's how deep a hold the monotheism meme has on our collective psyche. It's like we're possessed.

1 comment:

Jon Hanna said...

I've been thinking about the difference between orthopraxy and orthodoxy lately for various reasons.

I've come to the conclusion that the assumption that religion == faith in post-Christian society (ironically, while a large number of Western Christians are looking at the value of orthopraxy compared to orthodoxy, and it's always had a strong place in the Easter Churches) isn't a Christian or Monotheistic hangover, but a Platonic one. I think it may go back to Plato's valuing the ideal over the material.

Of course Plato was himself a monotheist, though not quite as most commonly defined these days.

However, I don't think monotheism entails a bias towards doctrine over praxis just because Plato demonstrated both, but if anything his monotheism came from his idealism. Given the lack of Christolatry in early Christianity, and the greater emphasis upon ritual and obedience to religious laws in Judaism than in Christianity, I'd suggest that Platonic influences upon Christian/Western philosophy (at a time in history when those were becoming one and the same) lead to mainstream Christian thought being defined along such lines along with thinking on other matters (consider that we think of science preceding technology, when often the reality is that a technological advance is made and then the scientific explanation of how it works comes after).

Since this influence upon secular thinking was not of an inherently Christian nature it did not depend upon it, and was not attacked by attacks upon the Christian influence on philosophy during the Renaissance (which if anything revitalised the influence of Greek philosophy like Plato and Aristotle - whose precedence of essence before matter is also comparable) and the Enlightenment. Indeed the very Enlightenment image of the heroic scientist implies thought preceding action and hence doctrine preceding praxis. Since enlightenment thinking influenced both political secularism and the most common form of atheist thought outside of Marxism.

In all therefore, I don't think the reaction of your colleagues shows a monotheistic influence, but rather an influence upon Western thinking that it shares with monotheism.