Thursday, October 29, 2009

But What Will Protect Us From Orthodoxy?

Aric just put up an insightful post pointing out the speciousness of the argument that orthodox doctrine will save us from catastrophe. I must ask the question, however - What will save us from orthodoxy?

It is a fallacy to claim that orthodoxy is necessarily, or even on balance, a force for good in the world. For the vast majority of the history of Christianity, orthodoxy has been a stated justification for preventing women from being ordained, warfare, assassination, torture, execution as "heretics" of whoever is inconvenient to the status-quo, slavery, imperialism, genocide, repression, censorship, and any number of awful things you can think of.

Now I'll be the first to support the claim that political and theological motivations are complex. Sex, money and political power are caught up in claims of orthodoxy - of course they are, and we can't lay bad stuff at the feet of orthodoxy alone. What we can do is easily look back in history to find loads ways that orthodoxy has been used as a justification for really horrific things. Far from saving us from catastrophe, orthodoxy has been an engine of catastrophe.

Is it without value? Not at all. But the idea that orthodox = good does not hold water after even a cursory glance at history. So even given a case where we can point out where orthodoxy has staved off disaster, we must also acknowledge places where orthodoxy brought disaster upon us, or was called upon to justify what we would now identify as evil.

Perhaps I should say "what passes for orthodoxy", since too often supposed orthodoxy seems so distant from Christianity as I understand it that I feel like my head is going to explode. It must be said, however, that moving toward orthodoxy does not mean moving toward good, and the orthodox have been villains (as well as, yes, heroes) many times in our past.


Aric Clark said...

Indeed, if any "idea" can be said to be dangerous it is the idea that it is acceptable to commit violence in the defense of ideas. Ultimately "orthodoxy" is no more dangerous than "heresy". They are just ideas. Just thoughts in people's heads.

I like most of the ideas that usually go by the label "orthodoxy" - that Jesus was God's son, that God is a trinity, that God and the Holy Spirit are at work through Jesus in a special way redeeming the world etc...

I can't deny the fact, though, that a disturbing amount of violence has been done "in the name of" these ideas which is more than a little ironic considering a crucial idea I get from orthodoxy is "don't hurt people".

Doug Hagler said...

The last point I like most - it is a case where orthodoxy expands beyond "It is right to intellectually assent to the following things" to "It is right to do the following"