11 June 2013

Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

I've been reading Jonathan Haidt's illuminating, enjoyable and disconcerting book The Righteous Mind (Vintage Books, 2013), and in addition to thinking about morality, the book has prompted me to think again about religion.

Religion is more than mere assent to a set of doctrines (orthodoxy). It also encompasses a set of ritual acts and normative behaviors (orthopraxy). Some religions emphasize orthodoxy over orthopraxy, and some the opposite. In religions that emphasize orthodoxy, maintaining the right beliefs is central, and behaviors and rituals are allowed more leeway. Christian fundamentalism in the US exhibits this emphasis. Note particularly how many politicians and religious leaders have committed adultery, for instance, but have been brought back into the fold as full-fledged members because they espoused the correct beliefs. Furthermore, relatively speaking, the ritual practices of US Christian fundamentalists are pared down and more loosely structured.

Religions emphasizing orthopraxy care more about one's outward behaviors and performances than about an individual's beliefs. So long as the cohesion of the religious community is upheld, the internal wrestlings of belief and doubt are less important. Much of Islam, Catholicism and Eastern Religions fall under the orthopraxy rubric.

Now, of course, these are broad generalizations, but I think they are instructive. I was raised in an orthodoxy-style religion. Faith, or the designated set of beliefs, came first, and actions followed from that. I think that is why when I came out I had such a difficult time with religion. By accepting my homosexual nature, I was eschewing a portion of the orthodoxy. Pretty soon all the orthodoxy became questionable, and I had to leave. For years afterwards I looked around for a new orthodoxy to adhere to. But eventually I couldn't find an orthodoxy that fit me.

Had I been raised in a religion that emphasized orthopraxy, would my post-coming-out have been different?

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