Ortho Praxis is More Important than Ortho Doxy

Whitney - Miam Beach, Florida
Entered on September 24, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

This I Believe

I believe that whatever we might call “god” or “greater purpose” or “the divine” or “that which is beyond” arises out of the world of which we are a part. Religions and in a wider swath religions, philosophies, and worldviews are nothing if not about answering how we ought to live in the world. In other words, our beliefs are only as important as the actions that are derived from them. Some people believe in one god, creator of the universe. Fine. If you want to believe that, there is nothing in the world that says you ought not. That is not the challenging question. Others believe that there are many gods. Again, fine, there is nothing in the world that says you ought not. Some others believe that nature is god, that the world is, in itself, divine. Fine, there is nothing in the world that says you ought not. Finally, some believe that there is no god, no divine, only the “material” world of which we humans are an anomaly. Again, fine, there is nothing in the world that says you ought not.

I have questions for each one of these categories of thought. If you believe there is one god and that god is good, why on earth would there be anything bad? The question of theodicy. Further, if we are so supposed to believe in this one god, why would this one god create people in such a way that we know the world through our senses, through our bodies, through context? And, why would these various contexts lead us to such disparate conclusions about reality? If you believe there are many gods, then how do you explain how the world came to be as it is and how do you mitigate between competing gods? If you believe that nature is god, then, again, what is the purpose of evolutionary dead ends? What is the purpose of the human life-form that has evolved to ask these sort of meaning-full questions? Finally, if you believe there is no god, how do you defend that claim? How do you definitively answer the challenge that humanity brings to the world: a humanity that overwhelmingly believes in some sort of diety, purpose, or divine being?

It seems to me that we are stuck in our conversations about religion and nature. It seems to me that we need to make a move toward something else than these “big questions.” Maybe the move is from that of ortho-doxy to ortho-praxy that so many thinkers have called for. Maybe we need to just admit that the only appropriate response to these big questions is “agnosticism.” We can only see, hear, taste, smell, and touch “so far” into the past and future. What we have is our limited knowledge of past, present, and our hopes for the future. Maybe we just need to get over the Ultimate questions bequeathed to us by the processes of Modernization and Globalization and begin to focus more on how we are going to live together on this planet, as part of this planet, in a community of life.

What I believe is that Truth is a distraction from Ethics and how we ought to live on the planet. So much has been sacrificed to the Ideal of Truth: wars are waged over it; sexism, racism, classism, and even speciesism are a product of this search. What if truth is a homo sapien invention and one that is only as good as the action it produces in the world: for the health of the planet, for future generations, and for the emerging planetary community that we find ourselves in at the beginning of the 21st centurty.

Religion, I believe, is an aspect of human being; it is an aspect of being human. At its etymological core it means “re-reading” and/or “re-binding”. Thus, religion is something that humans do: we re-interpret our worlds and “bind it” together in a meaningful way. As humans, we cannot escape this demand. As citizens in a planetary community amongst other life-forms, and the earth itself, we cannot afford to interpret our lives without the rest of the natural world any longer. We cannot afford to create meaning for our life as if that meaning were not emergent from the rest of the natural world. We are planetary beings, whatever we are. Whether you believe that God is one, that God is many, that God is emergent from the natural process of cosmic and planetary evolution, or that God is a myth and non-existant, you still have to answer the question of how we as human beings are going to live together on a planet in which we are radically inter-related with the rest of the natural world. Ortho-praxis is much more important than Ortho-doxy. If we don’t start focusing on this, I think we will never move beyond our human-centered squabbles about what is “True” and “Right”. These Squabbles matter little to the rest of the natural world of which we are a part. In order for humanity to join the earth community, we must start focusing on how our meanings and our meaning-making matter(s) in and to the world around us. This, I believe.