Alas, it seems that answer isn't sufficient for some folks, who insist that proper ideology is necessary for proper practice:
My main issue is that I see that orthopraxy stems from orthodoxy, not the other way around. Right action stems from right thought. One requires the other, as right thought without right action is impotent, but right action is unattainable without right thought. Right action and right thought are philosophical terms, and there are several interpretations from theological and philosophical schools as to their meaning. I understand right action as being aligned with right thought, that is, correct actions flow from correct thoughts. In the case of the Gods, respect for the Gods in ritual flows from respect from the Gods in thought. The reverse is also true. Making an offering to a God if you disrespect that God while doing so is itself a form of disrespect.
In theological terms, this means that within polytheism, an orthodox position is that the Gods are real and that They are due worship. Orthopraxy that flows from this position, then, would be to treat the Gods with respect, and to do things that are worshipful, such as pray or make offerings. In the Northern Tradition/Heathenry I would be required to make prayers and a certain offering, such as mugwort, to a Sacred Fire. This is personal orthopraxy which flows from the orthodoxy I have just described.
|Did someone say, "orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy"?|
Now it should be noted that Sarenth and I are using different terms, and it's entirely possible that our disagreement comes from the fact that he's specifically talking about the "separatist Polytheist" community that has arisen in the last couple of years, and I am specifically talking about the broader "Pagan/Heathen" communities.
the dictionary definition of polytheism:
belief in or worship of more than one godWhich leaves the room open for both those who believe in, as well as those who simply observe the outward modes of worship of, many Gods.
The origin of the split
It may be of interest that the split between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, at least in the modern Heathen community, originally stemmed from the vicious fights within Asatru between the folkish and universalist camps. At the time (the mid-late 90's) Theodism was actively engaged with the Asatru community, and tensions were high, and the fights within Asatru threatened to spill over into Theodism and tear it apart along similar lines.
It's not something found in Asatru as a rule, but it's certainly something to think about in the broader context of the current debate. Especially when we're not talking about specific organizations (which can of course be exclusionary along any lines they wish), but broad definitional categorizations like "polytheist", which no one person or group of people can claim to own, no matter how much they might want to exclude people who disagree with them, be it on politics, theology, or some other ideological question.
A thought experiment
That said, I submit the following thought experiment as a way to explain why an insistence on orthodoxy, that is, "right belief" is simply impossible on a practical level.
One of them believes the Gods have a real existence outside of ourselves, and one of them believes the Gods are merely mythological archetypes.
Which is which?
Unless you can answer me that question, then I submit that the answer doesn't matter, and you shouldn't care. It's impossible to police, as long as the non-believers take my advice from a week ago and simply go with the flow, as it were. That's apparently what they're interested in, supposedly.
The empathy of understanding
I did ask a while ago why atheist pagans didn't just call themselves atheists, and insisted on remaining within the Pagan and Heathen communities. While I did get some answers (from John Halstead in particular, who started this whole conversation), I am still no closer to understanding their reasons. Heck, they're even writing a book on the subject, and I have no idea why they call themselves Pagan.
But you know what? That's not remotely the point! I don't have to understand their position to understand that they might well have a reason. I'm not their judge. So when Sarenth says something like this:
Without the orthodoxy of the Gods being real, holy, and due offerings, the orthopraxy of offering to Them in or out of ritual makes not a lick of sense.I have to hold myself back from yelling at the screen, "it doesn't make sense to you, but it might make sense to them!"
That attitude is really emblematic of a complete lack of empathy. "I can't understand it, so there can't possibly be anything to understand." That's the attitude that leads some leading separatist polythieists to call non-believers "degenerates".
That sort of attitude does somewhat undermine Sarenth's arguments that "adopting orthodox positions does not mean that we’ll suddenly *poof* turn into fundamentalist Christians today". I've certainly never said any such thing, but I can see how, with that sort of attitude and name-calling, others might.
Tradition, not ideology
What I am saying, however, is that orthopraxy does not, in fact, stem from orthodoxy. Orthopraxy stems from tradition and custom. Just as the house-wight doesn't care if the homeowner believes that Jesus is the son of God as long as he gets his bowl of porridge with a pat of butter every Yule-eve, so too do the Aesir not care if the people making offerings to Them honestly believe in their heart that They exist, or whether they have doubts, or whether they adopt a more intellectual understanding of Them.
And how can we tell? One of the elements of blót is the taking of auguries and omens to see whether the offering has been accepted. Not all of us have the benefit of Gods talking in our ears all the time, after all... Does your kindred or tribe or whatever harbor respectful unbeliever practitioners within its midst? If that really was something the Gods didn't want, it would be reflected in the luck of the tribe. I've never heard of a systematic study being done, of course, but I would think if that did happen, the circumstantial evidence would quickly make the situation clear.
The modes of disrespect
Now, I do agree with Sarenth on one key point, when he says:
Making an offering to a God if you disrespect that God while doing so is itself a form of disrespect.That's certainly true, and I made the very same point in my earlier post. Those who go out of their way to disrespect the Gods (whether it be in an insulting verse, like Helgi Skeggjason did, and got outlawed for) or by making public statements referring to our "sad little gods" (like John Halstead did, and apologized for, and then proceeded to start hurling insults at people, rather than the Gods, which is... better... I guess), do deserve to be shunned and ostracized.
But I would also point out that trying to define away people for what is in their hearts, rather than what they have done, is equally as obnoxious and harmful as getting up on a rock and shouting "the gods don't exist, and you're fools for believing that they do!" Deeds, not thoughts. Actions, not beliefs. Orthopraxy, not orthodoxy.
Einarr or Eirik? If you can't tell the difference, then they're both doing it right.