Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What is plurodoxy?

I am creating a new category. At least I think it is new. If it's not, let me know so I can attribute it appropriately. In my frustrations to describe what first and second and third century Christianity was really like, I have succumbed to dropping as much of our old language as possible. It has become a hindrance.

Orthodoxy did not exist as a totalitarian entity, although each type of Christianity may have thought of itself as orthodox while everyone else were heretics. So the discussion of heresiology is important to maintain, as long as one understands that the heretic is so only from the point of view of one party. An orthodox Christianity doesn't emerge until the fourth century. Even then, it struggles through council after council, swinging from Arian to anti-Arian for over fifty years. Not until the fifth century are the major lines put into place that will determine the shape of "orthodox" Christianity for the centuries to come.

Heterodoxy is not any better because it describes religions that deviate from the orthodox. Since we don't have orthodoxy yet, we can't have heterodoxy either.

Sectarian and cult language don't work either, because sectarian requires that there is some parental tradition that is being deviated from. Cult also suggests deviance along with innovation.

So what do we have? Multiple forms of Christianity, although this isn't quite right either, because many of these forms are competing with each other and some forms of Christianity are stronger and more dominant in certain geographical locales. So what we have is plurodoxy. That is multiple forms of Christianity that are competing for the orthodox position and/or that consider themselves to be the orthodox position. From this vantage point I think we can better narrative Christian origins and the standardization of Christianity that eventually comes to dominate as orthodoxy in the fourth and fifth centuries.


Ian said...

One objection:

The term "plurodoxy" mixes Latin (plus) and Greek (doxia) roots.

J. K. Gayle said...

At first glance, I protest. Ortho, hetero, doksa are Greek. Plural is Latin. It should be polydoxy

But then, on second thought, it's perfect. The clash of the many different in the glorious singular opinion. The Romans, trying to push Latin on all the Greek speakers and writers in the Empire, as they pit Christians against lions, failed to get the new category you've come up with. (Of course, Paul the Roman / Hebrew tried to insist it was the Jew first, then the Greek, never mind the Latin speakers).

lightseeker said...

What does it matter if language roots are mixed in a new word? Most languages today are not "pure" due to globalization. This is how languages grow and evolve along with the culture and times. Greco-Roman is already a "mixed" term, so why not mix roots?

Plurodoxy! Lingual integration! :-)

bishop said...

Without putting too fine a point on it, I'd like that thank you for so boldly jumping out with such a direction in thought as this. I have struggled with trying to understand emerging religious thought (or new religious movements, if one prefers such a term) in the sense of what happens when there is a battle—explicit or implicit—of power or prestige or some other social currency among leading interpretive or sectarian currents, i.e., each head of the hydra believes it is holding to the original founder's intent or is the most viable of applicable social manifestations of that intent. The term I've been searching for is precisely this one that you've designated: plurodoxy. It is this idea that there is no single orthodoxy as of yet—for any number of reasons—therefore there can be no true heresy or even true heterodoxy either. This is a brilliant thought pattern and I just wanted to thank you for resolving this turmoil in my head. I hope I'm not being too forward to suggest that I will be using this word often (while crediting you with its creation, of course).

As an aside, I picked up a book today entitled A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion by Gerd Theissen. I haven't really cracked it open yet but I was drawn to the title out of a similar line of thought (or wording, I guess is more accurate) from Richard Tarnas. I was wondering if you were familiar with this particular book and how you might characterize its thesis—keeping in mind, of course, that I haven't actually read it yet so I am completely out of my league for discussion purposes.