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Modern, Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox People
September 16, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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Everyone has heard the terms "modern," "orthodox," and "ultra-orthodox," but I am now using them as important categories for analysis. To emphasize that I will use initial capitals: Modern, Orthodox, and Ultra-orthodox.

Dividing the earth's current 7 billion or so people into these categories necessarily involves quite a few gray areas. First I'll give my general impressions of the central characteristics of each of these groups of people.

Ultra-orthodox refers to people who are part of a group, often religious but sometimes not, that is both highly resistant to change, unfriendly to those who do not share the group's beliefs or practices, and based on some relatively ancient belief system. In the United States perhaps the most obvious example is Ultra-orthodox Jews. The now nearly global phenomena of Ultra-orthodox Islam would be another point of reference. In fact most religions have some practitioners who are Ultra-orthodox. Ethnic groups, however, could also be Ultra-orthodox. New cults often have many of the characteristics of the Ultra-orthodox.

Orthodox refers to people who maintain traditional cultures, but are not necessarily unfriendly to outsiders. Orthodox people are typically selective about adopting new technology or ideas. The terms Orthodox and conservative may approximate each other. An orthodox person can describe their views rather simply by referring to their type of orthodoxy: "I am Roman Catholic" or "I am evangelical Christian" or "I am Sunni." Occupying the center of this scheme of categories, on one end Orthodox people may approach being Ultra-orthodox, and at the other end may approach being Modern.

Modern people have been strongly influenced by the intellectual and social trends of the 20th century. Whether non-religious or aligning with some religious group, they generally tolerate other religious groups. They accept the idea of science, if not necessarily all of its particulars. They generally accept the basic equality of males and females, individual freedom, and the idea of equal justice under the law. Modern people are otherwise quite diverse, choosing from the smorgasbord of modern and traditional cultures.

In general the trend over time has been towards more people shifting to the Modern group, but this is not always the case in any particular location, or over shorter time spans. The "southern" (former slave states) region of the U.S. is an example of an area where Orthodox people have become prominent after a period of modernization in the 1960s and 70s. In more conservative areas of the world the balance lately has been more between Orthodox and Ultra-orthodox than between Orthodox and Modern.

Does it matter? Certainly when the Ultra-orthodox turn to violence in order to try to impose their world view on those who are not orthodox. Equally so when Moderns try to modernize the Orthodox or Ultra-orthodox by force, as was attempted in some Communist nations and capitalist-imperialist nations in a variety of contexts.

In the U.S., the Democratic Party can serve as an example of how complex these general classifications can be. Many if not most people registered with the Democratic Party would best be classified as Modern. Yet they are Orthodox in the sense that they have stabilized in a party that is almost 200 years old and has many non-modern aspects. In contrast the Republican Party is clearly Orthodox in its willingness to deny scientific facts like Evolution and Global Warming, while it is Modern in that most of its members don't want to fight with their neighbors over religion or ethnic affiliation, despite their general intolerance of Islam.

Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, was Modern and tried to modernize his country. That did not save his regime from the wrath of either the Democratic or Republican Parties of the United States. His regime was replaced by one that is Orthodox leaning to Ultra-orthodox. American foreign policy strategists have not yet fully adopted to the new world order where the orthodoxy spectrum is often more important that the capitalist to communist spectrum, or even the pro-America to anti-America spectrum.

This is an introductory essay. I'll be writing more specifically about how these categories affect the world.


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