Tag Archives: orthodoxy

Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – X

5 Elemental Challenges — Earth (part 1)

With the incredible growth of SBNR, we would expect problems to become more obvious. This doesn’t mean the problems are new — they may be age-old. A kind ’Box reader pointed out a Kundalini guru grandiosely instructing female disciples to worship him sexually, seemingly true and a fine if small-scale example of an abuse that has gone on for centuries.

But a connecting link amongst newer destructive cults is their being held in a simplistic belief portraying some monomythical manifest destiny, whose top-down administration becomes an orthodoxy, an ideocracy, and finally a psychosis. This is the irruption of social patterns from religion into SBNR where they do not necessarily belong, and the combination of them with ego. The worst cases yet are probably Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate and Aum Shinrikyo. There is certainly something quite modern about these; they are trying to take SBNR social forms but can’t manage it and regress dramatically and destructively.

What we in the West call Religion can tell big stories. It can say “we are all [x]”, “god is [x]”, “the universe is [x]”, reducing the world to simplified summary without fear of essential contradiction. Cheerleading a storyline that has to pass through a narrow bottleneck of easy crowd relatability can’t really work for SBNR, which has to be complex and democratic. Insisting upon those storylines can backfire dramatically.


Straight Track of Knives

Henderson’s The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy

Henderson’s The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy (1998) is such a valuable cross-cultural study of the rhetoric of ideocratic Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Neo-Confucianism; I’m just going to summarise key points & strategies below, and anyone who likes to do so can apply them more generally. He backs everything up of course.

Orthodoxies claim to be fixed since the foundation of a tradition but are not. They develop later but try to disguise their newness, usually successfully.

Social conflict is bitterer if ideocratic. The signs are: a) The total personality is engaged in the belief system (Balu’s “religion”, cf. modern pseudoskepticism) which makes a person the ‘bearer of a group mission’ so sectarian identity trumps all others; and b) The danger is perceived to be within the state and not without. The Byzantine regimes were more afraid of heresy than of armed insurrection.

There was no heresiology or ideocracy on record prior to Christianity, which was also the first Western belief system to state that choice (heresy = Greek hairesis, “choice”) was neither necessary for freedom, which it was in Hellenism, nor even legitimate, which it still was in Judaism.

Ideocracy is established as against heresy. Heresy gives it its reason to exist. It is by characterising heresy that orthodoxy comes into being.

Early Christian heretics outnumbered the orthodox. The later Monophysite heresy alone covered more ground than the orthodox creed and would probably have become the mainstream itself if Islam hadn’t come to its territories. “Orthodoxy” may in fact simply = winners. Early centuries of Christianity were polyparadigmatic. Zhu Xi, the major Neo-Confucian founder, was a heretic himself until pardoned posthumously.

Mysticism both attracts and repels the orthodox. It is always too various to blanket-condemn, and results in healing which brings the faithful in, but it just never hunkers down to tow the line either and often outright contradicts restrictive dogma.

Narrowness of an orthodoxy always increases over time.

Orthodoxies attribute pristineness to themselves. Other ways are sullied, overbalanced in a particular direction, and/or have “fallen off the main way” to be of interest only to some “minority”.

All Orthodoxies mischaracterise the heresies that mother them. They reliably lie on details of the opposing beliefs, and this distortion increases with time. They also lump together multiple heresies that they feel they have already dealt with — “This is just… [x-and-so], they’re all one in the end,” a view erasing not only the distinctness of beliefs but also their history. In fact heresies can be entirely invented by heresiographers — Henderson gives the Cainites as an example, “a product of the imagination of early Christian authors,” says more than one scholar he quotes.

Note finally:

Henderson characterises the Neo-Confucian as a major Chinese orthodoxy (which it was) but points out that Confucius himself cared neither for sects nor for debate, that is, he did not believe in arriving at views by means of argument. He also valued aporia.


Orthodoxy claims to hold the relationship to a tradition which the inner voice of strength, leading into transcendence, holds for individual human beings — the central way, equivalent to the central channel/middle pillar/vagus nerve. And yes, wisdom traditions at a stretch could be seen as living beings. (After all they need to eat, and can provide means of eating for some of their members. They are subject to the same ecological realities faced by all human groupings.)

But neither the internal harmonising nor the passing-through-death experience are visibly in operation on a group level on anything like the scale that can occur with individuals. Kundalini does not exist on a societal level. The consensus voice in a group as I have shown is very far from transcendence and in fact blocks it as often as not, being equivalent to groupthink. I suspect the rhetoric of orthodoxy exploits the individual’s psychological need for centredness — at some level it may be believed that being at the centre of group opinion is equivalent to a centredness of the Self. Cults certainly work off that principle, acceptance in the group being sold as a self-acceptance — that acceptance can then be withheld in order to manipulate.

Why do people not know this voice in themselves? Clearly belonging to a society which usually denies an overarching personal truth doesn’t help. But equally, having brought in the question of free will before, I’d have to admit many don’t like the idea of the sheer work that can be involved in course correction to harmony with the best self. This intransigence shows itself outwardly of course, in our societies, but change on the inward level is possible at exactly the transcendent scale that 2012 sufferers mistakenly believe they will see on the societal.


Of gorgeous silk,
Is cosmos’ soul
Yet ever whole.