Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's hear it for heresy!

I recently read an article by Kate Blanchard, in which she attempts to reclaim the word "heretic." Her argument is that it's (at least in her case) a much more useful word than, say, atheist. She doesn't like the word "atheist," because of what it has come to mean:

The new atheism, of the sort that has celebrities, conventions, media outlets, or protest marches, is not simply about doubting the existence of traditional deities. It is more often about intellectual elitism, and sometimes even outright racism toward people whom Christopher Hitchens referred to as “semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions.” Orthodox secularism, it seems, is about feeling superior to those poor, deluded souls who still cling to religion—that weird little psycho-social appendix left over from some earlier stage in human evolution.
I don't agree with her, personally, about not using the word "atheist" for these reasons - an atheist is someone who believes (although, they say "knows") that there isn't a god. The fact that some atheists are obnoxious about it doesn't invalidate/change the word itself. But, I tend to be pretty logical and unemotional about these sorts of things, so I get that others will have an impulse driven more by the emotion/connotation of the word. It's a small quibble; we certainly agree on the larger issue of these angry atheists!

But, it gets more interesting (to me) when she talks about heresy:
The kind of heresy I’m talking about here is what Thomas Aquinas defined as “restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine [as determined by the Roman Catholic hierarchy] selected and fashioned at pleasure.” (I would question only the implication that heretics are unique in “selecting and fashioning” their beliefs “at pleasure.”)
Look, I belong to the most non-doctrinal arm of a non-doctrinal religion, so I come from a very different place than she does. But, it seems to me that there are two extremes in religion - either complete rejection, or complete acceptance. Atheism or Fundamentalism. Right? The rest of us live in the middle which is, by definition, less consistent than those extremes, but does seem more honest (and, dare I say, more true). "Heresy" isn't a big category in Judaism, but if that's what this is, then it feels pretty good to me!

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