Orthodoxy – Correctness in doctrine and belief (from Greek orthos “right” + “doxa” belief)
Orthopraxy – Correct practice or action (from Greek orthos “right” + praxis “action”)
A couple folks on a Heathen listserve I belong to started throwing these words around, and while I was pretty sure I knew what orthodoxy meant and I’d heard orthopraxy before, I really had no idea what that second word was talking about. So, being the word-nerd I am, I looked “orthopraxy” up, read a few essays on it, found the etymology, and then pondered my own opinion. ‘Cause, er, that sounds like normal behavior to me.
And I’d like to share what I found, because I thought it was fascinating and applied very well to The Realm. (Cue Jessica Rabbit singing “Why don’t you do right… like some other men do….”)
Orthodoxy (in the religious sense) is the state of conforming ones beliefs and rituals to a predefined set. What is and isn’t orthodox is defined differently by various faiths. For example, in the Catholic church it is orthodox to believe the Eucharist (the bread and wine of communion) mystically becomes the body and blood of Christ,* whereas in the Methodist church it is orthodox to believe they are symbolic. We have an axe of orthodoxy swinging in politics today. Rick Santorum is running (and not exactly losing) on an assumption of national conservative Christian orthodoxy. He believes America should believe certain things about homosexuality, abortion, contraception, God, the Bible, etc. And, I suppose in corollary, that minorities (like we Princesses) and heretics (like the majority of Americans, who now believe gay marriage should be legalized – still includes The Princesses) should accept that as deviants we are allowed to exist, but our opinions are unworthy of serious consideration.
That’s the problem with orthodoxy. It doesn’t allow freedom of thought. Mix it with politics…. and that’s dangerous stuff. Many of the most commonly practiced religions today have a tendency to focus on orthodoxy – on correct belief. But that’s not what religion has to be about.
There is some debate on exactly what “orthopraxy” means, but taking it down to its root, it means to have an expectation of right (i.e. moral or ethical) behavior regardless of the beliefs (religious, social, or political) that leads one to behave that way. Paganism’s inherent reliance on orthopraxy over orthodoxy is why we don’t argue about whether we should worship Diana by the light of the full moon in a skyclad circle or worship Freyr with a horn of mead (and our clothes on) in September. This lack of dependence on orthodox belief and ritual, however, doesn’t stop us from expecting others to behave with honesty, tolerance, courage, and integrity. We still have cultural traditions that we pass down and group standards of behavior that we expect upheld. But we tend not to freak out that somebody has been corrupted by evil if they think differently from our personal beliefs or even from Paganism in general.
I’ve heard it frequently argued that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. I’ve even heard it argued ONLY orthodoxy can lead to orthopraxy, that without orthodox beliefs, a person can’t behave right. This seems to be the rhetoric of a lot of politicians today – that we need to return (belief in) Jesus to our courtrooms and classrooms or else our country will continue its path down the shitter, as if orthdoxy to a particular faith will lead people to be ethical citizens and miraculously solve all our problems to boot.** But reality doesn’t work that way. For example, it is not a rare event for politicians who proclaim values from the rooftops (Mark Sounder, John Edwards, and John Ensign to name a few recent ones) to end up leaving politics in disgrace. I have no doubt those men truly believed the creeds they stated of fidelity and family values, but orthodox adherence to any particular faith’s beliefs do not stop people from bad behavior. Beliefs really don’t stop people from raising Cain when those beliefs are forced on them. (To quote Princess Leia Organa, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”***) On the other hand, there are people like Einstein whose beliefs were so unorthodox they defy labeling, and from every account I’ve ever heard he was an incredibly moral human being – he behaved in a manner most people would describe as “right” or “moral” behavior even though very few people agree with his belief system.
I’ve stated before that I have many friends (including my husband!) who are Christians (we’ve interviewed a couple for Finding the Faith that Fits You) and they all share the (often) unorthodox belief that GG and I are not going to Hell because we’re Pagans. We are friends because of the things we do together and the common moral values we share. Despite our varying religious leanings, our orthopraxies have more in common than they do distinct. We arrive at our conclusions in different ways, but we all strive to make the world a better place, and that is the good religion (and non-religion) can do in the world irrespective of doctrine. Once we get over our need for right belief and focus on right action, we can begin to live ethically in a diverse community.
Of course this gets into the question of who gets to define “right action”… but that question’s for another day.
What do you think, realm? Were you familiar with the idea of orthopraxy? Do you agree with the way I interpret the word?
* Because of this, there are very specific ways in which the Eucharist is allowed to be disposed of in the Catholic Church. TheScott (who is Catholic) has a funny story about this, but I won’t tattle on him. (Although if he wants to share it in the comments…)
** For the record, I don’t think America is going down the crapper. We’ve got some issues, sure, but that’s not a sign of impending apocalypse.
*** What’s sad is I didn’t have to look that up to quote it (or spell Leia’s name right). I’m not only nerdy, I’m geeky, too.
+ Featured Image: Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Wallsend by SEChurchPics