Many definitions exist for both the term “Orthopraxy” and the term “Orthodoxy.”
Orthopraxy can be defined as “right living, right practice, right action, right path.”
Orthodoxy can be defined as “right doctrine, right thought, right worship, right honor, right knowledge, right belief.”
The two are generally seen as being opposites of one another, and these are words that get people of all faiths – polytheistic and monotheistic – arguing amongst one another.
I’ve been reading about Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy through various sources, some Pagan, some Christian, some Jewish – there is the same debate in every religion: which is more important? Right thought or right practice?
Most Pagans (but not all) will say Orthopraxy is more important than Orthodoxy, making them more stubborn than the monotheists out there, which is kind of an ironic twist to me.
The Jews and Christians seem to have come to the conclusion that Orthopraxy without Orthodoxy is a hollow practice, and that to perform rituals without understanding the underlying beliefs or reasons for those rituals is to fail to connect with the Divine, and thus that turns the Othropraxic behavior into sinful behavior.
There was one long definition of Orthopraxy I found here that I found interesting: “The application of orthodox beliefs in the form of rituals and customs.”
There are some Pagans out there who seem to take offense with anything a Christian says, on the principle that anything a Christian says must be invalid simply because that person is Christian.
To be honest, I dislike Christianity as a religion as a whole – I dislike all monotheistic faiths because I think their doctrine is poisonous to the world – but I can still see the value in the points that are made and I can translate those points across faiths.
There are also some Pagans, some Heathens especially, who think that anything that echoes Christianity in some way is anti-Heathen or anti-Pagan, which is, frankly speaking, ridiculous. I’ll get on my soapbox about cultural and religious appropriation in a later post.
To get back on topic, I found this statement on a Jewish blog, here: “The Orthoprax will do good works, but those are socially useful and divorced from any sense of divine worship.” The author goes on to discuss how going through the motions doesn’t allow a person to connect to the divine, and there is a hollowness to the faith when a person only engages in correct practices.
In another blog, this time a Pagan one, I found this statement: “If religion is only concerned with correct practice, an outward form, without concern for some kind of belief or understanding, using ordinary logic one can see that such a religion would be based on a shell, a façade. It is what is concealed within the outside that must be important, the very heart of it, for there to be intrinsic value in a religion.”
In a Methodist blog, I found this: ” What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them ,end up changing your consciousness.”
Here, I found this: “Orthopraxis was identified as a key component in Indian religions, the character of which is not proclaim a system of knowledge but rather a precise system of salvific ritual acts embracing the whole of life. Modern understandings of orthopraxis, on the other hand, tend to exclude from their understanding the authentic Indian concept of religious ritual, reducing it to a matter of ethics or political criticism.”
In other words, there tends to be an agreement between all faiths that Orthopraxy without Orthodoxy is hollow. Unlike monotheistic faiths, however, Pagan faiths do have to contend with the fact that there is very little doctrine for us to use to base our practices upon.
Because of that, there is an increased focus on reconstruction, and to me, it seems almost a desperate struggle to revive the practices of an ancient faith where the framework of thought for the ancient peoples isn’t really understood.
No matter how many artifacts we unearth and how much educated guesswork we do, the fact remains that we will never understand the thought patterns of the ancient peoples whose religion we attempt to reconstruct.
For monotheistic faiths, the argument will always be which is more important – adhering to the doctrine laid down in their holy books, or doing the work of their God in the way He asks, even when what He asks violates what their doctrine says.
For Pagans, the truth is, we don’t have a doctrine. None of our Gods have books that we can consult when we feel lost. Many Heathens will contest this and say that we have the Poetic and Prose Eddas, but those books aren’t doctrines.
At best, the Eddas are stories. Histories and myths that have been preserved, and preserved through the eyes of the monotheistic man who recorded them. The Eddas and the Sagas are stories. They show us hints of what life was like for the ancient Norse, but they don’t give us a solid framework for their thoughts and beliefs.
The closest we have to the doctrine of one of our Gods is the Havamal, the words of Odin. At best, that book is a book of proverbs, of advice, of suggestions.
The truth is, we do not have the tools we need to be an Orthodox-focused religion, and we never will. Each Heathen, each Pagan, is tasked with the formidable challenge of developing their own Orthodoxy through their use of Orthopraxy.
While monotheists can focus on what is more important in their religion, we do not have that luxury. Because of the Catholic conquest of the ancient world, most – if not all – of the doctrines of our Gods have been destroyed and are forever lost to us.
That is why we must be willing to look to other polytheistic faiths whose doctrines are still in-tact in order to learn what a polytheistic framework of thought actually looks like.
While we can base our practices on the archaeological evidence that has been found and on the practices we find in the Eddas and Sagas, the truth is that those practices may never feel as fulfilling as we wish because we don’t have an understanding of the underpinning beliefs of the ancient peoples whose religions we keep trying to reconstruct.
What we need to do is study religions like Hinduism and Shinto to understand the way the oldest polytheistic religions in the world view the relationship between humans and Gods. I’m not saying that we need to adopt their practices, but if we can research those faiths so that we can understand more fully what it means to be polytheists, that will give us a firmer ground to stand on as we work on discovering the doctrines of our Gods.
The truth is, each of the Gods has a different perspective on how things should be done and what is expected. That can be discovered through ritual practice, but it takes time, and it takes patience, and a lot of people don’t have the type of patience it takes. On top of that, a lot of people don’t understand how to interpret the messages the Gods send them.
Until you are open to seeing the influences of each of the Gods in the realms they inhabit, connecting ritual practice (orthopraxy) to belief (orthodoxy) may forever be out of your reach. Orthopraxy flows into Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy flows back into Orthopraxy, and when you can see the beauty of the way that works, what you are really seeing is the influence of the God of balance and harmony, which, in the Norse pantheon, is Tyr.
In my next post, I’ll discuss cultural appropriation and stir up some real controversy (and if you can’t see Loki in that statement, you’re really not paying attention!).