Essay donated by James B. Gray
Part 1 of 2: On Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy,
(correct belief and correct behavior):
An important distinction in the religious realm is that
between orthodoxy (i.e., correct belief) and orthopraxy (i.e.,
correct behavior)—which hereafter I will refer to as D and P for the sake of
convenience. These concepts are often presented as opposites—analogous to the
two sides of a coin. However, not only are there differences between D and P,
but similarities as well. My goal here, in fact, is to identify similarities as
well as differences with respect to D and P (from my perspective—admittedly—as a
A similarity that can be pointed out at the outset is both D
and P are normative concepts, in that both involve value judgments.
"Correct" belief, on the one hand, refers to belief in that which is alleged to
be true. And "correct" behavior," on the other hand, is behavior alleged
to be good. So that of the classic triumvirate of truth, goodness, and
beauty, two are involved with the concepts of D and P (although some associate
beauty with both truth and goodness). In addition, it is pertinent to note at
this point that belief and behavior (if not correct belief and behavior)
overlap in the sense that beliefs are associated with everyone (whether
in the D camp or P one). The same is true regarding behavior.
One might argue, I suppose, that belief and behavior occupy
separate realms, for behaviors are events that occur in the
physical/material realm, and beliefs exist in the intellectual/mental realm—with
the latter being, only with difficulty, thought of as "events." However, one can
make statements about behavior only after one has identified types
of things, and named them. So that in a sense, behaviors don’t even exist
until types of behaviors have been identified and named! We can observe behavior
occurring in the real world (by humans, by animals—even by, e.g., clouds), which
fact "tells" us that what we are observing is real. But all we have is "blooming
confusion" until we start using our minds to identify types of behavior and
simultaneously provide a name to each type. Which behavior (yes, this
intellectual activity can be thought of as involving behavior) may then
be followed by the development of hierarchical classifications (of either
logical division or grouping varieties).
The intellectual activity that I refer to above should not be
thought of as involving description but, rather, pre-description—and
specifically construct creation. The reason: one has not yet made any
statements regarding behaviors. Which is not to say, however, that all
statements are of a descriptive nature (e.g., there are also normative
statements). Descriptive statements are, though, the fundamental ones; and the
basic principle that should guide one creating such statements is that they
should be "truth-telling" ones. That is, they should be objective—meaning that
they should have intersubjective reliability (i.e., regarded as "true" by those
qualified to make that judgment).
Descriptive statements purport to report truths about the
real world, an assumption underlying them being that the "things" being
described are real things, not fictitious ones. Which points up the fact that
just because one creates names for things, it does not follow that those names
have real-world referents. For example, the name "unicorn" exists, but it does
not follow that unicorns exist—in the real world, at least.
Some names are created for things that are clearly invented,
rather than discovered: the world of fiction is filled with examples, as is the
world of movies. In other cases, however, names have been created for things
that some claim to have real-world referents, while others dispute
that claim—the primary case of interest here being that of "God." In such cases
it may be impossible to resolve the dispute because the parties involved cannot
agree on what constitutes adequate proof as to the existence or non-existence of
the thing in question. The fundamental difficulty involved with such cases is
that because the thing in question cannot be observed directly, its existence
can only be inferred. But inferred from what? Given that the
parties involved are unlikely to agree on an answer to that question,
their dispute will likely remain unresolved over time—and may, in fact, become
rancorous, given that each party has a psychological investment in its position.
Any given statement that makes reference to "God"—i.e., God
has certain characteristics (e.g., omniscience, omnipotence), God has done
certain things, God is currently doing certain things, etc.—is likely to be
accepted as "true" by some people, but denied by others. Those who do not
accept the statement will fall into two categories. On the one hand are those
who disagree with the statement on the basis that because (they say) "God" is
the name for a non-existent entity, the statement is meaningless. On the other
hand are those who believe that "God" is the name for a real entity "out there,"
but disagree with the given statement because they do not accept the concept of
God embedded in the statement, disagree with the characteristics attributed to
God in the statement—or both. Regardless of the basis for disagreement, the two
(or more) parties involved will likely never resolve it because of an inability
to establish objective evidence for the existence of God.
But I am getting off the track here, and must return to my
main theme—similarities and differences between D and P. I have already offered
some brief comments on similarities between the two, and therefore will devote
the remaining paragraphs below to differences—concluding the presentation with
criticisms that D people make of P ones, and the converse. In discussing
differences I do so under the headings Beliefs, Proper Beliefs, Behavior, and
The beliefs of people can be separated into the categories
"secular" and "religious." The first observation that can be made regarding
D people in our society is that they accept most of the beliefs "out there" that
can be given the label "secular." There are, however, exceptions such as denying
that the earth is old, denying that evolution (especially of the polytypic
variety) has occurred, asserting that homosexuality is a matter of choice, and
asserting that males are superior to females. So far as religious beliefs are
concerned, D people typically believe that:
||There is a Being "out there" (i.e., God) who is human-like in having the
capability of making decisions, but otherwise is far superior to humans; for
God is all-powerful (i.e., omnipotent), all-knowing (i.e., omniscient), etc.
||God is the Creator of the cosmos, including all of the lifeforms in it.
||What the Bible reports about God—as to what God said and did—is factual
information about God.
||Therefore, the facts reported in the Bible should be believed.
||Also, the behavioral injunctions (i.e., behaviors enjoined and
forbidden) attributed to God in the Bible should be perceived as intended
not only for people living during "Bible times," but for all people at all
times. Given that all of the behavioral injunctions attributed to God in the
Bible are accurate reports, they must not be obeyed selectively: all,
rather, must be obeyed.
P people tend to accept virtually all of the "secular"
beliefs current in our society, which fact distinguishes them somewhat from D
people. However, given their orientation to behavior—proper behavior in
particular—they especially have an interest in beliefs that pertain to behavior.
They have an interest in:
||Explanations that have been offered of human behavior (dealing with such
factors as the role of human biology, present context, upbringing, the
"discrepancy" factor, etc.).
||The identification of excuses that people use to engage in behavior that
they, as P people, regard as improper.
||The identification of obstacles that people (whether D or P) face in
behaving in a manner P people would "lift up" as desirable.
||The identification of behaviors that could possibly be engaged in by P
people either to help remove obstacles that prevent people from engaging in
behaviors that P people regard as desirable, or help others see that the
"reasons" they give for engaging in undesirable behaviors are (from a P
perspective) actually just excuses (and as such, not well-grounded).
The orientation of D people is to "proper" beliefs, and their
concept of what constitutes proper beliefs is very much Bible-related. Thus,
they tend to "hold up" such "proper" beliefs as:
The P person has a simpler concept of what constitutes
"proper" belief: proper belief is belief in that which has been established as
being objectively true. Which means that P people reject many of the religious
beliefs of D people, on the basis that the latter’s beliefs cannot be
established as demonstrably true. Indeed, they are likely to point out that a
belief that refers to the future by its very nature cannot be established
as true: projections are of a different order than facts (as
anyone who watches the weather news on TV knows!). But although the P person
rejects many of the beliefs associated with "Ddom," s/he has the wisdom to
recognize that the life of any person on the one hand involves projections
(whose "truth" cannot be established a priori), and also beliefs whose
veracity cannot be established definitively. Thus, the P person will harbor
beliefs as to what exists and what is true, along with projections as to what
might occur, with the full knowledge that these do not meet the rigorous
standards of scientific objectivity—which facts will not bother the P person
because s/he knows that this is simply how it must be, and one must then simply
try to be as reasonable as possible in what one believes.
Originally posted: 2007-NOV-13
Latest update: 2015-JUN-11
Author: James B. Gray