“A person believing in or practicing religious heresy.
synonyms: dissident, dissenter, nonconformist, unorthodox thinker, heterodox thinker, apostate, freethinker, iconoclast, schismatic, renegade; More
a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.”
now let’s think about the last part of the definition: “a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.” And if we look at where the word comes from in Greek, we see: “hairetikós,” which means, “to be able to choose,” or “that which may be taken.”
So what do heretics really do?
Let me establish some ground rules first. By ‘heretic’, I am not referring to “evil or immoral” people. My starting point is that we as creatures of God are all ‘created in the image of God.‘ Therefore I don’t believe the likable heretic each morning while brushing their teeth stares into the mirror and thinks how can he/she screw up the day and the make life miserable for others. That is not to say that doesn’t happen by the end of the day. Now that leads us to the second part, the ‘likeness of God.‘ We are all created in the image of God, but not all of us are exemplary models of the likeness of God. Indeed, those who are living evil lives (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, you get the picture) are not the ‘likeness of God.’ So where do the heretics fall? On a scale of one to ten, society, organized religion, social classes, tend to put heretics between four and six.
If we look at the early Church where we have more ‘formalized‘ heresies, such as Quartodecimanisn, Gnosticism, Montanism, Monarchianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, and the people associated with them, we see individuals with the title of ‘heretic.’ Onward to scientists such as Galileo, and those of the pre-reformation and post-reformation who were burned at stake for being a heretic. Today we tend to ‘whisper’ the word heretic and associate it with individuals such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and others especially theologians, and some on the ‘right‘ assign the title to Pope Francis and some on the ‘left’ assign the claim to Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell (Sr./Jr.)
All in all, when you study the lives of heretics, you soon discover they as human beings are likable blokes. After all, they are all created in the image of God, it is the likeness that many struggles with which gets them the heretic mantel.
So what do these heretics do while brushing their teeth in the morning that gets them the honor of being called a heretic?
For starters, they were and are, ‘thinking out loud.’ The ‘heretic’ is thinking, analyzing, discerning in their mind, based on their experiences in life, a belief or theory that is sharply at odds with established beliefs or customs, in society or the Church or religious organizations.
‘Heretics’ challenges the status quo, they get the rest of us to re-think, think deeper, and eventually solidify a belief system. ‘Heretics’ are providing a valuable service when you ‘think’ about what it is they are doing and the responses from others. The problem arises when society or organized religion forgo thinking and analysis, dig in their heels, and label the ‘heretic’ a ‘traitor’ to the cause.
‘Heretics,’ bring ‘truth’ which is taken for granted, to light. Let’s not confuse ‘truth’ with ‘facts’ for this conversation. The early Christological heresies I mentioned earlier, along with the Reformation, the modernist controversy all prove this point.
The Epistles of the New Testament was written in response to heresy, laws are created in Congress in response to ‘social’ dissent which is often labeled as ‘heresy’. When we as a society or organized religion recognize errors in our thinking or the heretics thinking or both, we are then in a position to proceed to articulate the truth as a remedy to the mistake in reasoning. Truth shines most radiant against the dark backdrop of misunderstandings and misguided processes.
But when we understand that thinking is reasonable and reasoning is the sovereign ability of humans, and thought has demonstrated that all things work together for our good, for the greater good, think Aristotle and Eudaimonia. Then the light shines upon us.
If we come to realize Eudaimonia is not a state of mind, nor is it merely the experience of joys and pleasures but the objective standard of ‘happiness,’ based on what it means to live a human life well. It is then that we come to realize the role of the heretic in bringing about the greater good.
Maybe we should have a companion volume to the “Lives of the Saints“, and call it the “Lives of Heretics“, I am sure there will be duplication.