Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy
When studying the many religions in the world, it’s not uncommon to see publications categorize the many faiths as being either predominantly Orthodox (correct belief) or Orthoprax (correct action/practice). Writers and scholars often use this dichotomy as a good shorthand to help the reader quickly get familiar with how adherents will view their own religion.
For example, Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity) is typically categorized as being much more orthodox than orthoprax (in spite of hearing about “Orthodox Christianity,” which is ironically more Orthopraxic in this definition than Protestants). The belief that one must simply believe in Christ to be saved, or that individuals are saved regardless of his or her works, is an orthodox type of belief. Even Calvinism’s TULIP doctrine is more orthodox than orthoprax.
Many eastern religions get categorized as orthoprax. Judaism and Islam are prominent examples of religions that put a greater emphasis on doing certain things rather than getting as picky about overly deep or specific doctrinal issues. Buddhism, Confucianism, and some eastern Christian religions also typically get categorized (rightly or wrongly) as heavily orthoprax.
The writings and internal debates within these faiths often reflect their different focuses. A look at the Talmud often tips off the reader to how critical it is for Jewish scholars to identify the correct things to do. Islam’s 5 pillars put a heavy focus on performing the specified actions well and with the proper frequency. Protestant Christianity is rife with debates about what the Bible means, and has a substantial history around determining the nature of the God we are to believe in (as exemplified in things such as the Nicene Creed).
Of course, nearly every religion that predominantly falls into one category has significant elements in the other, but the categories help outsiders (especially outsiders coming from a faith in the opposite category) to more quickly comprehend the new sets of standards that they approach. But, although the dichotomy can help, it has some major failures. It’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t encapsulate what most faiths seem to deem as most important of all. Behind what you do and what you believe hides the essence of what true religion actually attempts to mold, and what I think God is most interested in: who you are.
Orthoeínai: Correct Being
I should point out that the word “Orthoeínai” is one that I’m pretty sure I made up. It’s my best attempt to take the same root as the other categorizations and tack on what, to the best I can tell, is the ancient Greek word for “being” in the same tense as what’s used in Orthodox and Orthoprax. (If you’re an expert in Ancient Greek, feel free to let me know if this is right or what a more correct term would be at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In spite of the made-up properties of the word, I think a focus on Orthoeínai is the best focus for those who truly want to live and understand religion at its essential level.
First, Orthoeínai adequately encompasses both practice and belief. Many great people (and also the writers of the Dark Knight Trilogy) have emphasized the importance of action in defining who you are. Others (from other great people to psychologists) note that you are what you believe. Given this, the concept of “Orthoeínai” may be accused of doing nothing beyond rejoining the two principles that were purposefully divided. But Orthoeínai can encompass additional principles that Orthodox and Orthoprax ignore.
Aspects of Correct Being
The first task with understanding Orthoeínai and how it might help is to identify what your “being” encompasses. Then, we can identify which of those aspects a religion may seek to influence. Without claiming to cover everything (there’s an incredible amount of debate as to what “you” really are), your “being” may, in addition to your beliefs and actions, also include your desires, your physical body, and perhaps your soul.
Most prominently, Orthoeínai captures desire. Certainly, “who you are” should include what you desire, what you hope for, and what you need. Indeed, the abstractions and hypotheticals that one entertains and elevates may often contrast against what one believes or does, leaving a user of the prax/dox dichotomy without tools to account for it.
Some may see religion as trying to shape desires so that people more fully do the required actions and believe the required doctrine. I tend to see the reverse: that commanded actions and beliefs are tools to help mold one’s desires. After all, my desire for Christ grew after I learned more about Him and strove to keep the commandments He gave.
We can divide your physical being into micro and macro issues. At the micro level I won’t have much to say; it includes things like the cells and atoms in your body, and some prominent features like DNA and meta-genetics. Perhaps God changes your DNA as you alter your religious standing, but I can’t say much about that.
There’s plenty of evidence that religions seek to alter macro aspects of your physicality though. Many faiths look to alter people’s appearances, whether it be through requiring a certain level of modesty, having mandates for or against tattoos, or making circumcision a significant indicator of unity in the faith.
Sometimes religions also seek to alter the location of their followers. The Israelites were brought out of Egypt to a specific “promised land.” Muslim’s are required to do a Hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca) if they have adequate means to do so. I’ve often heard people say to “stand in holy places” (perhaps coming from 2 Chronicles 35:5 for Christians or Doctrine and Covenants 45:32 for the Christians called Mormons) as a way of avoiding sin and causing problems with other aspects of your being.
Addictions and habits can be a significant part of your physical being as well. Some may reduce this to actions, but additions deal significantly with deeper brain functions and chemistry, making a mere look at actions insufficient to capture how addictions impact one’s being.
I suppose it isn’t too crazy to think that God and religions might be most concerned with the “soul” part of a human’s being. All the “doing” and the “believing” that people do wouldn’t be particularly useful if one’s soul didn’t change in some way (be it ownership (e.g. from Satan’s to God’s), form, etc.) Unfortunately this concept is too metaphysical and faith-dependent for me to be able to say much on it (otherwise I might be writing about “Orthopsuché”–my made-up word for “correct spirit”–instead of Orthoeínai), but it’s likely the most important thing to God of all. All of your actions, beliefs, desires, physicality, and more, are likely centered around creating a spiritual existence most fitting according to God.
Overcoming Intellectual Barriers
If nothing else, recognizing the existence and importance of correct being may help people overcome some struggles of faith.
For instance, I’ve known many people who struggle with the idea that simply happening to believe the correct thing guarantees a superior post-mortal existence. This is often a very prominent difficulty when people are faced with seeing many people who do wonderful, self-sacrificing things who are of different faiths, while seeing people who have “correct belief” act poorly.
On the other side, I’ve known many who have a hard time accepting the idea that moving one’s body in a certain way or performing certain seemingly arbitrary ordinances could heighten one’s immortal standing. After all, it can seem fairly strange that certain, very specific physical attributes could affect one’s eternal, intangible spirit.
Recognizing that neither the belief, nor the action alone are the primary concern can help overcome these struggles of faith. The beliefs, the actions, the desires, the physicality, and more all contribute to creating a more perfect being. The type of being a person is may be exposed by his or her actions, beliefs, desires, etc., but these actions, beliefs, desires, etc. also alter the type of being a person is.
An Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy dichotomy may still be a useful categorization of many faiths. An Orthoeínai categorization may be a useful perspective on the purpose of those doxes and praxes. And what is their purpose? What kind of being should you be? As Christ said:
Keep seeking truth.
You may also be interested in: