Orthodoxy has never served mankind well. Like an angry Gorgon, it periodically emerges from its cave and breaths fire into religion, academia or politics, and then retreats in order to replenish the miasmic gases of absolutism, anger, and self-righteousness for its next onslaught.
Orthodoxy serves its own ends and should not be confused with intellectual exploration, which is continually informed by what it learns.
We live in a period of countless orthodoxies and they are not serving us well. But then again we humans often create paper tigers and invest them with power they don’t have themselves. It takes a courageous leader like Edward R. Murrow to call the bluff of a mental tyrant like McCarthy, as he did in 1954.
The best that religion has to offer us, often called “works” in Christianity, exemplifies the intrinsic goodness and beauty of the world’s great religions and spiritual philosophies. “Good works” enrich our communities by doing what government cannot or will not do for those who cannot do for themselves. Good works also take us outside our narcissistic selves, as they are rooted in empathy for others.
But religions also often fall prey to orthodoxy: the Taliban and Wahhabist sects in Islam, the Catholic Church’s ultra-conservative leadership, Protestantism’s countless fundamentalist branches, and Judaism’s Zionist or Haredi movements. These persistent orthodoxies deviate from the founding tenets of their own religions in their common efforts to subvert the rights and roles of women, gays, other races, and those with differing religious views. They routinely rewrite history and undermine the goals of education, the arts, and healthcare.
Orthodoxy invariably leads to strife … the Crusades or the more recent ethical implosion within theVatican, the 1400 years of violence between Shia and Sunni sects in Islam and the murderous Taliban assaults, and the discord within Judaism between ultra-orthodox and conservative Jews.
Then there’s domestic politics. A minority of orthodox conservatives have cowed their peers into bringing the legislative process to a standstill and may signal the end of the party of Lincoln … and the party that ranVermontmore or less successfully for a century.
If there is a God, he or she must have a sense of humor because those who are willing to persecute and vilify relentlessly anyone who does not adhere to their particular beliefs, are as subject to the temptations of the flesh and material corruption as the rest of us. There’s always a dash of public schadenfreude when one of them succumbs to the carnal temptations or illicit gains he has vilified.
Homophobic congressman and cardinals caught soliciting gay dalliances should really remind us of our complex humanity and how distant the absolutism of orthodoxy is from human nature. Whether Gods or prophets, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha walked the earth, teaching love, empathy, and forgiveness and they fully understood our human imperfection.