Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Orthodox or Liberal Faith

The difference between orthodoxy and liberalism in religion concerns the appreciation of freedom and choosing between your relation with your God, on the one hand, or with other people and everyday life on the other hand. Liberal religion however, does not necessarily correspond with more freedom. Freedom is also an issue for orthodoxy. Orthodox religion emphasizes good knowledge of religious traditions and also obedience to them. Those believers who sincerely want a relationship with their God, will do what He asks them to do, in the ways as prescribed in the religious revelations. It would be arrogant not to do so, and arrogance comes from lack of love. The next question is whether the orthodox believer takes the freedom to display his or her love for God to the rest of the world. If only his own wishes matter, it would just be an issue of honesty and self-discipline to fulfill the required rituals and wear or use the prescribed items. Honesty and self-discipline as signs of humility and sincere love for God. An orthodox believer will see hiding religious worship as an act of hypocrisy and self-deceit, but also as an act of disobedience to the foremost important authority we have: God. After all, none of us have seen God, and we cannot proof the non-validity of traditions and rules, we are small in the universe and don't know much. God, however, is omnipotent and knows best what is good for us. In the orthodox view following traditions and rules is therefore in our best interest. However, the possibility to display orthodox religion is limited by other people and their beliefs. In a pluralistic society, this is an issue still non-settled. Which religious practices can be allowed and where? So orthodox believers find themselves restricted in certain freedoms, and they have to find emergency clauses in their religious systems that allow them to skip these acts of worship, at certain times and places.

Different is the situation where orthodox religion is mainstream and part of the political and legal system. In this situation it is natural and easy for the faithful to practice worship -- sometimes it is even compulsory by law. Orthodox believers, however, do not necessarily disapprove of this compulsory character. They see their political leaders also as leaders in religion. They should enforce practice of religious rules on society, in order for it not to disintegrate and protect society and individual people from misbehavior. God, after all, commands the faithful to make sure His will is carried out as prescribed, and let justice thus prevail. The society should be a reflection of God's plan. Religion has to offer the issue of how to deal with minority thinkers. To what extend can they express themselves, occupy high positions, acquire land, and even choose another religion. The attitude to minorities is an important bottle neck for the success of the orthodox religious state, because it is the community's first display towards the bigger world.

Liberal faith prefers to emphasize the individual and his or her personal, self-developed faith. Traditions and rules still play a role as a historic reference worth to study, and as a collective asset necessary to bind the members of the community closer. They are considered teachings that form the identity of both the individual and the community. But liberal faith does not prescribe strict obedience to rules and tradition. Liberal faith tends to emphasize our not knowing the value of religious sayings: We don't know how much of them really is of divine provenance, and we do know that many communities don't follow our traditions and rules. In order not to offend those with other ideas, religious worship should not be enforced on people and not be practiced outside the own community. Secularism is therefore more often found among liberal minded  societies -- however, not exclusively, nowadays.

At first sight liberal faith seems more tolerant and open than orthodoxy, but this may be deceptive. Whether people are open and tolerant, is a result of not fearing other ideas and people. Fear may smother broad mindedness in the core. Another factor necessary to keep an open mind, is willingness to gain knowledge. Study of any book or profession, or travel to other places may develop the mind, and this attitude can be found among liberal as well as orthodox people. The opposite of fear is acceptance of others without fearing loss of own identity. Allowing public expression of other people's ideas and ceremonials, is a sign of open mindedness. It is best to admit that not every liberal or secular society possesses this tolerance.