By Bert Hetebry
Orthodox: Following or conforming to the traditional or generally accepted rules or beliefs of a religion, philosophy or practice. (Oxford Dictionary)
Humanity:1. Human beings collectively. 2. The quality of being humane. (Oxford Dictionary)
Reasoned discussion is interesting, engaging, respectful and often enlightening. To consider a situation, event, philosophic stance from different points of view canvassing the intricacies and nuances of an argument, to explore differences and possibly agreeing to disagree while retaining respect for those whose views are disagreed with becomes difficult when the rule of orthodoxy is applied. Throughout history the defence of orthodoxy has caused rivers of blood to flow. To dare to differ from the strict rules enforced by a ruling group, whether it be a religious body or some other authoritative body can become a bloody, lethal affair. To dare to challenge the dictates of those in power is dangerous. Even today, in an ostensibly democratic environment, orthodoxy rules, debates are reduced to simplistic thought numbing platitudes which mobilises fear and division toward those who seem to threaten the orthodoxy.
The history of Christian churches in Europe is marked with repeated violence in efforts to retain its orthodoxy, its doctrinal purity as dictated by the church hierarchy, from Rome.
One challenge to orthodoxy which had a profound impact was the nailing of his 95 theses to a chapel door by Martin Luther, questioning among other things, the sale of indulgences, whereby a wealthy person could buy his way to salvation, a blatant fundraiser for a church which was more concerned about building great cathedrals than caring for the most needy. The action of so publicly questioning the orthodoxy, the way in which the church operated if you will, started the Reformation, where the new denominations were formed, first the Lutheran Church, later in Geneva Jean Calvin formed what became the Reformed Church and so the church splintered into independent denominations which led to the Thirty Year War where religious deviance was attacked with the full force of military actions.
Schisms in the churches and the resulting persecutions led the Puritans to charter the Mayflower and settle in New England, in what is now the USA, the Amish from the lowlands of the Netherlands to settle in Pennsylvania, the Huguenots from France and Belgium to settle in South Africa, the escapes from persecution to settle in newly found lands where there was the freedom to live and worship as each sect determined was their interpretation of the Biblically mandated way to live and worship, each in their own ways forming a new orthodoxy which led to their own means of persecution such as the Salem Witch Trials which resulted in the public hanging of thirty people deemed to be guilty of being witches.
Religious orthodoxy and the conflict between orthodoxies stem from differing interpretations of teachings, among the Christian churches, the interpretation of the New Testament texts, but a more profound conflict is between the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, the sign of being of God’s People was marked for the males through circumcision which was conducted on the eighth day after the child’s birth, a mark he would carry for life and committed him to the written law as handed to the Israelites by God, through Moses after the escape from slavery in Egypt as chronicled in the book of Exodus. Additionally, the over-arching laws of the Ten Commandments were directed into minor laws in the book of Leviticus, and taught through the worship services and sacrifices called for through those laws. The Exodus was seen as confirmation of the promise God made to the patriarch of the Israelites, Abraham, that his offspring were God’s chosen people and the land of Israel was the land God promised to Abraham’s descendants through time immemorial.
The New Testament sign of God’s grace is through baptism, a washing away of sins with water. Baptism is a sign that the person being baptised is reconciled with God but that sign is invisible. In other words, the person is one of God’s people, saved through the grace extended by Jesus Christ carrying the punishment of his or her sin.
Two orthodoxies in conflict for over two thousand years is the basis for the persecution of Jews throughout the ages.
Baptisms were recorded by the church, confirming the birth of a person, confirming that they legally exist, but the church did not record the birth of those who were not baptised, Jews, who were circumcised, or Gypsies who practiced Believer’s Baptism, a baptism of a person old enough, mature enough to understand the teachings of God’s Grace extended through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Both groups were alienated, were barred from owning land and the wealth that enabled or any other benefits accorded subjects of the realm within which they lived.
Through the learning of the written laws they lived by, Jews were highly literate, and using those skills developed business skills, marketing and money skills which were at times welcomed when a region was struggling but spurned when things became good again, through the leadership of Jewish management.
Gypsies were not as literate and became more a travelling group, performing menial tasks, itinerant workers who were often preyed on for their labour of despised when they ask for a fair return.
Religious orthodoxy has been a cruel means of control and alienation throughout history, but other orthodoxies have been as alienating and bloody. Political orthodoxy is one such example and the control the Communist Party had in the USSR and still has in China serve as examples, but the sometimes insidious nature of politics that can be a divisive in democracies as political parties and their leaders position themselves using fear and bribery as means of attaining and maintaining power. This was so clearly demonstrated in the campaign held leading to the referendum on the Voice last year. Orthodoxy is inherently conservative and the campaign to not change the constitution was marked most poignantly through the empty slogan “If you don’t know, Vote No”.
The ‘debate’ from the conservative side of politics was filled with misinformation, essentially dumbing down any arguments to empty sloganeering and a refusal to listen.
In much the same way, the holders of the keys to orthodoxy in other places run to the same rule book, empty slogans and fear, the rise of the Party for Freedom in The Netherlands which campaigned on fear of difference, fear of racial difference, fear of religious difference. The Tories in Britain campaigned for Brexit, fear of foreigners, fear of loosing their Britishness, Trump in the USA, Make American Great Again, and fear of immigrants, fear of difference. Empty slogans, generalisations to describe whole populations as rapists and murderers or any other epitaph to engender fear.
The enforcement of orthodoxy has dreadful outcomes for those specifically targeted, the most recent can be witnessed in both Afghanistan and Iran, where fundamentalist regimes have power and enforce their rule of Sharia Law on their populations. The forced growing of beards for men and complete covering of women, denying girls education in Afghanistan, and a recent example in Iran of a protester who was executed by hanging on a crane placed at the main intersection of a town, his crime, waging war against God, essentially campaigning for freedoms which are being denied, in this case, the rule that women must have their heads covered.
And then there is Israel, where the Orthodox Religious Zionists are the most powerful political group, although a minority, they hold politically privileged positions. The rise of Zionism in the late 19th century and the beginning of immigration to Eretz Yisrael, coming home as it were to the land God promised to Abraham in Genesis, if the timeline is correct some 4000 years ago, to retake the land at first little bit by little bit but since 1948 laying claim to it exclusively for God’s Chosen Ones. Using the communication tools of orthodoxy, to dumb down the argument, refuse to recognise that the people who have lived there for as long as time can be recorded are not defined as a people, but as terrorists, empty slogans which are never explained to denigrate and dehumanise. That was reminiscent of when Nazis tattooed a number of their prisoners, their names were obliterated, they were dehumanised, made a number.
An important question which deserves an answer is which takes precedence, Orthodoxy or humanity? A brief run through history it appears unfortunately that orthodoxy takes precedence.
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