A couple of years ago, I was talking in our living room about my affinity for heretics.
(Incidentally, that sentence originally was, “A couple of years ago, I was talking about my affinity for heretics in our living room.” While we most certainly have had a pleasant abundance of heretics in our living room, it wasn’t my immediate point.)
Daughter Else, apparently, had been in earshot and overheard me speaking.
Some time later, out of the blue, Elsegirl said this: “Mama, I like bad guys.”
Great pause, great gulp, great anticipatory anxiety for impending teenage years.
“Why, baby?” I breathed out.
“For the same reason that you said you like heretics,” she said. “They’re interesting.”
The word “heresy” comes from the Greek hairesis, meaning “a taking or choosing, a choice.”
Even that’s interesting, let alone the heretics making the takings.
The notion of a heretic being one who, then, chooses a belief contrary to the orthodox (ortho-, straight, true; doxa-, opinion, praise) teaching, showed up in the late 4th century.
I tend to be skeptical of “orthodox” teaching, for the same reason that I’m innately skeptical of established rules, mores, and tradition.
People in power tend to be the ones who get to make the choice about what is to be the “true opinion.”
If nothing else, heretics challenge the system’s choices.
They might not be right.
Neither may the system, though, for that matter.
Sometimes it takes a heretic to point that out.
The other night, Else and Karl asked me to sing a morning song from our hymnal. So I found (in the good old Green Book, for you Lutherans) “God of our Life, All Glorious Lord.”
The second verse goes like this: “Make clear our path that we may see/where we must walk to be with Thee/And ever listen for Thy voice/ That we may make Thy way our choice.”
The operative word, it seems to me, is “Thy.”
“Thy way our choice.”
“Thy” is not “my,” you see, or tradition’s, or the powers-that-be’s.
That’s the challenge of a heretic.
What motivates our theological choices, our takings? Do we make them according to what we’ve always been taught is right and true? Or could it be that there are other choices that might coincide even more with God’s way, as opposed to the established tradition’s way? To orthodoxy’s way?
I’m feeling me some heretical thinking….
Let me take another run at it:
I stumbled on this article in Christianity Today, called “You have heard it said.” It’s a review of John Caputo’s book What Would Jesus Deconstruct?
The article has a number of juicy tidbits. The most heretical one might be this one, though:
“Deconstruction questions assumed interpretations and the presumption of institutions to be the rightful arbiters of meaning.”
(As an aside, I like that the first instance of any variation on the word “arbiter” is the feminine form “arbitress,” namely “a woman who settles disputes.” Deconstruct that.)
The point being, heretics might be ambassadors of new vision, modern day announcers that “You have heard it said, but now I say unto you.”
Jesus’ tendency to say just that didn’t earn him many points with the establishment.
To hearken back to Egirl, Jesus was perceived by some as a bad guy.
By some as interesting.
But one could argue that he was, in point of fact, a first-class heretic.