The Demands of Orthodoxy

One of the tragedies of Western individualism is the creation of a climate in which we think it is not our responsibility to acquiesce or adhere to a system of thought, practice, or belief that causes us discomfort. A system that perpetuates this kind of thinking, however, essentially causes us to “believe” in anything that makes us feel good and at peace while rejecting any system that does not align with our (positive) emotions on any given day. As an example, if I call myself an orthodox Christian, but suddenly become uncomfortable with the Christian sexual ethic associated with orthodoxy, my immediate tendency is to find a way around the ethic itself or to desire to reject the system of belief outright. What does this say, however, about where we find and place authority? Ultimately, if I’m allowed to simply reject a system of thought, have I actually allowed that system of thought to have authority over me? The answer, of course, is no.

This is likely a result of what Charles Taylor refers to as “the immanent frame” — the conception we have of reality that simply doesn’t include transcendence. The immanent frame is stifling for two reasons: 1) humans within a immanent frame (even those who adhere to a belief system that does include transcendence) can no longer automatically affirm a transcendent authority as valid, which leads to 2) the placement of ultimate existential meaning on individual “authenticity.” In other words, the only way to maintain personal meaning and significance within an immanent frame is to stay true to one’s emotions and desires (fickle though they may be).

This further leads to the lack of a stable “selfhood.” We cannot help but define ourselves by the systems of which we are a part. But if we define ourselves by systems, and our trust in those systems as ultimately authoritative wanes the moment our subjective desires and emotions change, we can’t ultimately trust that we have any kind of purpose or that our lives carry significance in a meaningful way. Orthodox Christianity (and other religious systems like it) demand our allegiance, despite the rejection of transcendence within culture. In exchange, it offers both a stable self and significance.

Leave a Reply