Pontifications

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Orthodox: Right belief–wrong word?

posted by David Gibson

Has the term “orthodoxy” lost its meaning? It means “right belief,” or “correct doctrine.” But among Christians it has become a fighting word, and the media has misconstrued it–especially in the contested Catholic context–as a pejorative or, worse, a secular seal of fidelity to belief.
G.K. Chesterton might disagree, or just be appalled. But he’s not around. So Peter Steinfels explores the topic with sharp insights in his weekly NYTimes column, “The Audacity of Claiming the Last Word on This Word.” A good bit:

When it comes to nomenclature, writing about religion is of course a minefield. Terms like “conservative” and “liberal,” “traditionalist” and “progressive” are almost unavoidable shorthand, though they suffer from their origins in political categories and almost inevitably oversimplify and dichotomize religious realities that are multifaceted.
But “orthodox” is a special case, because it suggests a sharp boundary between those who properly belong and those who are properly excluded, the way that “patriotic” can suggest a boundary between loyal citizens and something verging on traitors. Religious leaders have a hard enough time wrestling with such matters. Journalists should not get in their way.

It will be hard, especially in the last weeks until Election Day. Orthodoxy is a sacred mantle to many politicians.



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aaron

posted September 14, 2008 at 7:13 am


Orthodoxy is a sacred mantle to many politicians.
It’s even in the name of those darn Eastern schismatics.



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DGF

posted September 14, 2008 at 10:49 am


David:
Thank you for the reminder that when we label ourselves and others, no matter how well intentioned the action may have been, we are seperating ourselves from Christ by standing in condemnation of our brothers and sisters, which is in truth, standing in condemnation of Christ himself.



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Seraphim

posted September 15, 2008 at 12:07 pm


Labels only have meaning to those people that apply it to themselves. I am Orthodox Christian, and some doctrines and beliefs I hold are clearly at odds with other “Christians.” However, I believe they are the true doctrines and beliefs. Roman Catholics believe they are orthodox, and they have the power to use such a label. But the label only means something to the group that uses it.
As convention, Eastern Orthodox Christians don’t call ourselves Catholic, so as not to confuse. Romans, as a convention, do not call themselves Orthodox, for the same reason. But undoubtedly both groups could and would label themselves both based on their own internal understanding of the labels.
That is the great problem with labels. Labels are appropriate, but since there is no authority to manage who can use what label, labels (especially popular ones or ones with a cache) in the end are of diminishing value.



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