Dec 21, 2009

Orthoprax Mormonism

I just wanted to share something that a friend of mine, named Joel, shared with me and some friends. I've just made some minor edits in order to fit it into this blog post, but the thoughts are his:
"Pictured is one of my favorite paintings. It's "The Doubting of Thomas" by Caravaggio. I have used this painting one time when I was asked to teach priesthood. I explained to the other members that I am not Peter, with the always undying faith, but rather I am Thomas. Unless I see with my eyes and feel with my hands, I won't believe. In Caravaggio's painting, not only is Thomas feeling the wound in the side but Christ has grabbed Thomas' hand and thrust it into the wound.

Like many, my testimony is hard to define. I can't just believe. I find it hard to understand many of my family and friends that say they have never doubted and get up in church and say "I know." I went from being a true believer to an athiest to agnostic. I stopped going to church but there was a void. I tried to fill the void with humanitarian and social justice work but that didn't work. My adviser in my post graduate studies (Anthropology) is a Jewish Cantor. He explained two things to me that became important concepts to me in coming back to church. The first was that people who are religious from childhood into adulthood have a hard time leaving religion behind. There are spaces inside the person that can only be filled by religion and not being religious leaves a void. The second thing he explained was the difference between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Orthodoxy literally means "right thinking." Orthopraxy means "right doing." He said one Jew will never ask another Jew what he believes. It's irrelevant. What matters is what you do. Judaism is not based on what you believe but on what you do. So I became an orthopraxic Mormon.

I guess what I am saying is the Thomases of the world have to work things out differently from the Peters and in Mormon culture, especially Utah Mormon culture where we are expected to be Peters. On other sites I have found, you have to be anti or pro and they leave no room for those of us who have to feel the prints in the hands and the wound in the side."

Some Christians like to attack Mormons for their emphasis on works instead of grace. One could argue that within Christianity, Mormons are a very orthopraxic people (emphasizing working out our own salvation). But within Mormonism itself, I've found that we're not very accepting of those who are orthopraxic rather than orthodox. Not "knowing" is considered a weakness and expressing doubt about the Church, the prophet, the doctrines, teachings, or anything -- even if you are doing everything "right" (i.e. going to church, keeping the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, paying tithing, service, etc.) -- is not likely to be well-received or understood.

It's been said that faith without works is dead. What about works without faith?

Thanks, Joel, for sharing this with me. To you, and to all my readers, best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and Year 2010.

FD

27 comments:

Urban Koda said...

Thanks FD! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

I can relate to this one quite well. Our High Councilman who spoke last weekend, in the midst of a rather disjointed and thoroughly boring talk, shared his opinion that the only reason a person would doubt the Church is due to sin.

I've seen others who have shared a desire to know, but expressed a great struggle with it, cast out socially by members of the Church too. It's a sad state of affairs, that's for sure!

The Faithful Dissident said...

Urban, it would be interesting to know what that "sin" is, for someone who is otherwise "living the Gospel." :D

EvolvingLesbian said...

I'd never heard of orthopraxy, but I like the concept. Actually, I think Church culture is much more accepting of orthopraxy than you indicate. In fact, one method taught for gaining a testimony of a certain principle is to live it until you believe it. Yes, faith without works is dead, but it is recognized that works are also necessary to develop faith in the first place. A testimony of tithing, for example, will never be developed without actually paying it and seeing how you feel as a result.

Nevertheless, you are right in pointing out that the Church emphasizes belief over practice insomuch as we are a spirituality-based religion and culture. With every member having the right and obligation to seek out a personal relationship with God and to feel and follow the Spirit, belief becomes paramount.

On the other hand, Mormon culture emphasizes outward manifestations of inner belief - sometimes to the hypocritical point where the public 'doing' overshadows the private 'believing,' as when people who openly smoke or drink are automatically judged spiritually inferior to a 'Peter Priesthood' type whose own doubts or failings are less obvious.

I suppose that the ultimate goal should be a perfect union of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, the latter flowing naturally from the former. In the meantime, perhaps it is enough that we exhibit aspects of both?

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think you're probably right, Evolving. I suppose that most of us are probably better at one than the other and keeping them in a harmonious balance can be difficult. My friend Joel, for instance, may lack the faith, but he certainly takes more of an initiative to do works than the average Mormon, through the humanitarian work he's done abroad.

"On the other hand, Mormon culture emphasizes outward manifestations of inner belief - sometimes to the hypocritical point where the public 'doing' overshadows the private 'believing,' as when people who openly smoke or drink are automatically judged spiritually inferior to a 'Peter Priesthood' type whose own doubts or failings are less obvious."

Also very true. So it goes both ways.

J. Falco said...

I believe the correct adjective is orthoprax rather than orthopraxic. Just a side note. Feel free to delete this comment.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think you're right, J. One wouldn't say "orthodoxic. "I'm forgetting the English language. :)

J. Falco said...

I should have posted as "Debbie Downer."

Thank you for your post. I've recently described myself to several inquirers as an orthoprax Mormon. At least presently I feel it's an honest and earnest way for me to navigate two worlds.

adamf said...

Re: the Councilman's talk - "the only reason a person would doubt the Church is due to sin" - What really irks me about that statement is that he's not at ALL referring to "sin" making people doubt, because gosh, we're all sinners. He has to be referring to BIG sins. So there you have it. Doubters must be BIG sinners.

The Faithful Dissident said...

LOL, adamf.

Andrew S said...

I agree that Mormonism is pretty big on orthopraxy and not so much on orthodoxy.

Seth R said on my blog: "The LDS faith is about community forged by covenant first and foremost. If you are supportive and loyal to that community...you can get away with an awful lot of other stuff."

I agree, but my response was and is: "what if the price of that loyalty is too much to bear?"

I agree with EL in that most members would probably be more accepting of doubters if they would only live the certain principle until they believe it. It is in my experience that members don't usually IMMEDIATELY treat doubters like the plague...rather, they say, "You should pray about it. You should read more scriptures. You should repent." Their solutions are ALWAYS orthopractical...if you are having an ailment of belief, it is because you have an ailment of action (e.g., you have some big sin that you need to fix.)

The issue that really starts severing relationships is when the disaffected starts realizing that they don't want to live a lie, and when the believer starts wondering what terrible thing the disaffected person has DONE (notice: action) to get to such a state.

Christine said...

Wow that was mind blowing! Makes you really think. It's so true.

*ALi* said...

This was really interesting, thank you! I agree there is a problem with the 'only sinners doubt' line of thought. Did Thomas doubt because he was a sinner? I don't think that's how the story goes.

Urban Koda said...

I think it's kind of an Emporer's new clothes type tactic...

Everyone has doubts, but are too afraid of the hierarchy and consequences of doubting to voice those doubts.

Comments like "Sin is the source of Doubt" work even further to reinforce the illusion of absolute faith amongst all members.

All members claim perfect faith, making those who doubt feel like something is wrong with them, and so they begin to feign perfect faith, to avoid judgment and criticism.

The end result is a group of self governing members who are all too afraid to step out of line, or express any kind of doubt and anyone who comes in contact is either absorbed into the group or repelled.

One of my key concerns when I started to fall away, was... How can it be that everyone is wrong, surely something must be wrong with me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"One of my key concerns when I started to fall away, was... How can it be that everyone is wrong, surely something must be wrong with me."

Yeah, that's what can make you feel really lonely, until you perhaps dare to start talking about it and realize that you're not at all alone. I think there are probably more who doubt than we realize, but it can be really hard for them to admit it to you. They wouldn't even want to admit it to themselves.

Andrew S said...

Then again, after reading some of the comments in this topic on Mormon Matters, I guess orthopraxy isn't so accepted.

If you live according to the church's rules, but don't agree, then some people will call you the worst kind of hypocrite.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Haha, yeah, I've been following that discussion. I think I had the "pleasure" of receiving such a comment by Jettboy here a couple of posts back.

Urban Koda said...

It's an interesting phenomenon... I've had friends who will voice concerns about something in the Church Organization, and yet as soon as I agree with them, it puts them on the defensive and then they start the apologetic games.

I think pretty much every member has doubts, but the vast majority are too terrified to share them or even admit it to themselves.

John Dehlin said...

I heart the Faithful Dissident.

The Faithful Dissident said...

And The Faithful Dissident hearts John Dehlin. :)

velska said...

I have expanded the idea of this a little further in a little post titled Are Faith and Doubt Always Mutually Exclusive?, but the short version is, that doubt is natural. It is just natural, that we "doubt" things. That is just processing of information, that needs to be reflected against our beliefs about various things. Belief here is not just religion.

We may doubt a principle of physics, and we can find out the "truth" of it by experimenting. The same way I think faith is not only believing, but active doing. Faith is taking a step into the "dark" of unknown territory. That kind of thinking follows from Alma's chapter 21.

The kind of "active doubting" that I'm talking about could also be called refusing to believe, meaning that we just decide to stick to our guns and not even try something. That is naturally an exaggeration.

I really liked EvolvingLesbian's comment; I have similar ideas about orthopraxy and -doxy. I think that just as faith without works is dead, works without faith is dead. If I can not exercise enough faith to even want to believe in what we are "trying out" something, I think we should change strategy.

I don't know the final answer, naturally, unlike some (Jettboy?).

That was meant as a friendly nudge, but you can't see me winking here...

erichard said...

It is not the actions that are the real sins-- As 2BC 63 says:

19 For if a man or woman steal, lie, commit adultery, or bear false witness, I say unto you these be not the sins, but the results of the former sin which already hath taken place, which is a rebellious heart.
20 For the sins are not the actions, but are the rebelliousness and stiffneckedness which precedes the evil acts.
21 For is this not the example of the repentant publican who beat upon his chest and said, "Forgive Me LORD, for I am a great sinner", for he had committed many evil acts, but yet he had not closed his heart to the truth and was forgiven.
22 And the Pharisee who knelt beside him said, "LORD, I am glad that I am not like this publican and sinner." Behold, this man committed not the acts yet received not forgiveness, for his heart was closed to the truth.
23 Who then was the greater sinner?

Richard

velska said...

A thought popped up that I thought I'd share as long as we're talking about orthodoxy and -praxy.

Mormons are required to be both orthoprax and -dox at least to some extent to be eligible to enter the temple.

You see, in the Temple Recommend interview one is asked about belief (orthodoxy) first, then about practice (orthopraxy) after that.

So as Evolving suggested, we Mormons strongly believe, that as well as faith being dead without works, works likewise are dead without faith. One sanctifies the other, and only in perfect union can they sanctify man.

Respectfully submitted,
--velska

Anonymous said...

Velska, I completely agree with your assessment of Mormonism requiring both orthopraxy and orthodoxy. With such questions involved in (honestly) obtaining a temple recommend, I find that many people who are perfectly willing to be orthoprax, contributing members are shunned to the side when they cannot attend the temple. These people are thus culturally punished by not being able to engage in a "celestial marriage" with an orthodox spouse, all because they read a book or learned some history that has permanently damaged their faith.

Soxy Pirate said...

It's been said that faith without works is dead. What about works without faith?

Hebrews 11:6

Anonymous said...

Some Jews have a saying: "Were there are 3 Jews,there are 5 opinions".
Remember Abraham 3:25; "And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will DO all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;"
Mortality's test seems to be largely one of obedience.

Pedro A. Olavarria said...

It would be good to review the temple recommend interview questians. How many of them refer to orthodoxy? How many of them refer to orthopraxy?

madsquid said...

You ask if works without faith are as dead as faith without works.

Works without faith are Pharisaical Piety, and are dead.

However, the people you describe who have "doubt about the Church... even if [they] are doing everything "right" (i.e. going to church, keeping the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, paying tithing, service, etc)" are NOT faithless. I would argue that they indeed have faith, even if it is a work in progress (and all of us have work-in-progress faith, don't we?) So, their works are not truly dead.