Saturday, June 26, 2010

Embracing Heresy

her·e·tic [ hérrətik ] (plural her·e·tics)


1. somebody who holds unorthodox religious belief: a holder or adherent of an opinion or belief that contradicts established religious teaching
2. somebody with unconventional beliefs: somebody whose opinions, beliefs, or theories in any field are considered by others in that field to be extremely unconventional or unorthodox
[14th century. Via French< Greek hairetikos "able to choose" < haireisthai "choose"]

[comment]  I guess that I'm confused about the heretic label you've bestowed upon yourself, for after reading most every post here, I don't think that I see anything heretical -- a very heavy word. … You seem to be professing that you don't really know what to profess -- so long as it’s genuine.

Ah, the short answer is that I am heretical because I choose not to accept any of the doctrinal dogma of Christianity as it is generally understood in our culture.

The longer answer goes like this: My understanding of the nature of spiritual reality is in direct opposition to the teachings about God and humanity and the relationship between the two that I learned growing up.  When I left Evangelicalism (the only version of True Christianity that I knew), I threw absolutely every belief I’d ever been taught into the recycle bin: there was not a single thing that I considered sacrosanct.  I even tried very hard to be an atheist but found that my mystical and psychic experiences made that philosophical position pretty laughable. 

After some twenty years as a non-Christian seeker of Wisdom, I realized a few very basic Truths that have now become my personal Fundamentals.  These are the mantras I’ve been chanting to my daughters since they were old enough to hear:

Treat people the way they want to be treated.
Share the Resources.
It's not funny if someone isn't laughing.
Charity begins at home.
Follow the money.
What goes around, comes around.
People are stupid everywhere; everyone is stupid sometimes; don't be any more stupid than you have to be.
Don't do anything that can get you pregnant until you are ready to welcome a baby, you're not ready for a baby until you pick out a good daddy. (Okay, this one may not be strictly philosophical but darn good advice!)

Here are a few more favorites that pepper the spontaneous sermonizing I do while about my daily business:

God is the creative force.
Hell is other people.
We are Imago Dei (humanity is the face of the divine)
If it is Truth, it is True across Time and Culture.
There are no Either/Or’s—they are always Both/And.
The opposite of a truth is a lie; the opposite of a profound Truth is another profound Truth.
The personal is always political.
Good leaders serve of their people.
Seek and ye shall find (and the flip side: you always find what you go looking for)
God gave us brains; he must expect us to use them.
The measure of holiness, regardless of religious culture, is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

And the most profound truth of all:  Honor the divine, however you find it.  Nothing else matters.

As far as I can tell from my studies, none of my personal Fundamentals is contradicted by either Christian Scripture or the preponderance of nearly three millennia of theologians from any of the world’s Wisdom traditions.

As for the established Christian Fundamentals, I find very little evidence of truth to satisfy my rational mind. Mostly I found only parochial interpretations of tradition and scripture to support the dogma. So, I refuse to confess the creeds or to give intellectual assent to most, if any, of the central doctrines. When I first came back to Christianity, I even doubted the historical existence of Jesus himself.  Now I am willing to concede the likelihood of a historical Jesus of Nazareth, a radical iterant teacher who ran afoul of the Establishment and managed to get executed, but I still think a historical Jesus is irrelevant to the spiritual truth of Christianity.

I have not found convincing argument indicating the validity of anything like Biblical Inerrancy or even that the Gospel Truth is in any way historical truth.  Theological constructs such as the Virgin Birth, God in Three Persons or any other version of the Trinity, Deity of Christ (or in fact the deity of God), Original Sin, or even the historicity of the Resurrection or its physical necessity for spiritual redemption are, in my opinion, best understood from an allegorical point of view—as meditative tools or mythology that illustrates ineffable realities—rather than literal fact.

Being a true scientist, I am not arrogant enough to think that none of these doctrines could be absolute truth.  I am only saying that there is not, nor can there be, any way to prove one way or another what the literal truth of these doctrines might be.  And I choose to define the terms of spiritual reality differently, based on alternate interpretations of Scripture, current scientific thought in nearly every field of study, and my own experiences—all subject to change as I and all other scientists continue to ask questions, seek answers, and find more questions.

I have read extensively this last year on Christian theology, doctrine, church history, and my ever-favorite mystics.  I figured I was pretty well versed in the Evangelical dogma so I concentrated on specifically non-Evangelical sources—my favorites are listed in the Bibliography, Etc. page but that is only the tip of the reading iceberg.  I was more than a little dismayed to find how few writers I agreed with who were still identifying themselves as Christians and that none of those who did escaped rabid accusations of heresy. Then I realized that I was in the best company of all: Jesus himself was the first heretic in Christian history.  He was a Jewish heretic, to be sure, but heretical nonetheless.  If my claim to being Christian is that I follow the life and teaching of Jesus, heresy is a pretty good place to start!

Interestingly, while I was a heathen and espousing these ideas, no one much cared.  Non-Christians I knew took most of my conclusions for granted and Christians apparently considered me so far beyond the pale that I wasn’t worth arguing with.  But now that I have started to call myself a Christian again and I still hold to the same ideas, suddenly I get Hebrews (here and here) preached at me.  It didn’t seem to matter to anyone but me that I risked my immortal soul by not accepting the deity of Christ when I was a heathen but a heretic who questions the same is apparently destined to special damnation. As a heathen, I was generally well-respected; as a heretic, I am threatened with hellfire scare tactics by Christians and regarded akin to a first-grader who refuses to learn her ABC’s by non-Christians.

With all due respect to the commenter who wondered why I identify myself as a heretic, I call myself a heretic because I am heretical.  I put it right in the title so that no one reading my posts can be too surprised when I out some of my more outré ideas—truth in advertising, so to speak.  I don’t want anyone to have reason to feel betrayed when they discover that I don’t toe the party line.

The over-arching theme in this blog is that all of Christianity can be, and was by Jesus himself, reduced to a very simple premise: love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy. Nothing else matters.  Everything else is an add-on and a potential distraction from the Truth.  I don’t want my own heresy to be a similar point of distraction from that Truth.  In my own journey, owning my heresy has been crucial to understanding the radical simplicity of Jesus’ teaching, perhaps someone following my blog will find it equally liberating. 


  1. Are you serious? People are sending you scriptures like that? I am so sorry.

    Jesus said the greatest command was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself. He also said I say unto you love your enemies and do good to them plus a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.

    Wow! That is an overwhelming amount of commands to love. As soon as I have those down, I'll get back to you about the rest.

    But don't hold your breath, it could be awhile. n_n

    Don't let the haters get you down.

  2. In defense of the individual who quoted Hebrews to me, I highly doubt there was any malice involved--conscious or otherwise. I see it (now but didn't at the time) completely as an act of fear. Not a fear for me and my eternal destiny as implied but a fear of the individual's own uncertainties of faith. Much less scary to threaten me--however biblically and lovingly it was couched--than to admit to one's own doubts.

    But I wrote it into the post to highlight yet another example of how the church as it is today so mistakes the whole premise of Jesus--love one another. period--for legalism and fear of the future.

    Oh, and, as further defense, the lead-up to that point in the conversation was even more heretical sounding descriptions of God than what I wrote in this post. So I imagine from the other person's point of view, it was really just too extreme even to be contemplated. Not that that excuses the lack of grace but did help me to (eventually) be able to extend grace back to the person because--God knows!--I understand reacting from a place of fear.

    But thanks for so obviously getting my point that it's really only the "loving one another" that has any relevance to anything. You're like my personal cheerleader!

  3. Sandra,

    Great blog! I'm excited to read more, because I can relate strongly to your thoughts.

    I'm a recovering fundamentalist with some very strong heretical tendencies.

    Many of the people in my life don't realize the extent to which I have changed my thinking. My biggest obstacle in life now is navigating those relationships with grace while staying true to myself and also to those people that I still love deeply.

    God is Love and Love really covers it all. Freedom is sweet. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog. Reading your thoughts this morning was a great encouragement! Thank you! : )

  4. Hi, Sylvia, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad that you found encouragement.

  5. Yes, I think you are in good company with your approach to Christianity. It is heretical only to the right ringers, but who wants to ring their bells? Only recently have I realized how radical Jesus was; too often we don't look at him in the Jewish context of the first century c.e.

    Don't get discouraged with your journey. You are probably making a whole lot more progress than you realize. Hang in there.

    Terry Gray

  6. Terry,

    You are probably correct that I am most heretical to the Evangelicals--although mainline (non-Evangelical) Christianity is not so open-minded as it likes to think, as evidenced by the ferocity with which it reacts to the challenging of such sacred cows as homosexuality, women in leadership, and certain theological assumptions, among other things.

    Since Evangelicalism is the statistically most well-known face of Christianity in America and certainly its loudest voice, then accepting myself as a heretic must come part and parcel with integrating all the aspects of my heritage as an American Protestant.

  7. Sandra,

    Thank you for this post. Semantics can be such a drag and connotation a quagmire. (Though that can be compelling and fascinating, too.)

    I love your heart and spirit. In my younger, more authoritarian days (which may have been last week in some sense!), I may have thrown some easy answer Scripture at you myself, all with good intentions. I can be such an idiot, but I am learning.

    Keep breathing in the divine, and definitely keep writing here!

  8. There needs to be an emoticon for the humble bow of reverent thanks that Buddhists and yogis do. I actually love that gesture for what it expresses to the recipient and what it creates in me when I do it. So much more that the simple "thank you".

    So, *hands together at the heart center, bowing head, and nodding to Cindy* namaste.

  9. wouldn't ya know? google can find anything.

    namaste /^\ or /||\

  10. love this.. "It is heretical only to the right ringers, but who wants to ring their bells?" are those the same bells that were once worn on the robes to show off their piety? ;)

    Sandra. I like seeing people use that... namaste