Friday, August 14, 2009

Heresy, Heterodox, Schismatic, Apostasy - Where did all the old designations go?

The previous post and a recent comment caused me to think about the way the Christian church once viewed itself and those outside of it. Reflecting on the "close communion" debate also made me contemplate how far we have come from the time when we really cared about what the church taught. A line in a Wikipedia article on "heresy" gives a sense of the times: "The use of the term 'heresy' in the context of Christianity is less common today..." I suspect the same could be said as well for other old terms such as "heterodox" and "schismatic" that attempted to describe when a person or group strayed from the accepted biblical and historic boundaries that defined the Church as Christian. I found it interesting that in a Google search of "heterodox" the word "economics" was associated with the word most frequently in the first group of hits. This used to be just a church word. How far we have come.

WordNet's definition of heterodoxy, which is used in the Wikipedia article by the same title, defines the word as: "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". Isn't it interesting how "opinion" and "doctrine" can be placed side-by-side with equal authority? That, in itself, shows the heart of our problem today. Since many can not and will not accept a common definition of what "orthodox" is, let alone the truthfulness of the Scriptures, we are left to a pool of competing 'opinions,' each held to be as legitimate as the next. Because we cannot possibly reconcile so many competing views in any cohesive whole, we then must adopt the position that each opinion is sacrosanct in itself. Questioning the truthfulness of it is then viewed as rude, insensitive, and arogant.

Now outside of faith and religion the concepts of heresy and heterodoxy are alive and well, especially in the arena of scientific discussion of the origin of the universe and life. Yesterday I picked up the book Uncommon Dissent - Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, edited by William A. Dembrski. In his introduction Dembrski notes that "many of Darwin's contemporary disciples have turned stifling dissent into an art form...doubts [about Darwinsim] must be disqualified and repressed." Anyone who has tangled with those who enthusiastically embrace evolutionary theories quickly discover that such theories are held to be orthodox and unquestionable truth, even on the level of the other 'hard sciences' such as physics. Intelligent Design is easily dismissed as outside the realm of true science and merely a convenient cover for Creationism, and thus one more inroad of religion into the realm of science. Well, I digress a bit. My point was supposed to be primarily in the realm of faith....

As the old fenses of the past continue to be disassembled and laid quietly to the side to allow all herds and flocks to intermingle indiscriminately on holy ground, a discussion such as this will be seen as so much shouting in the wind. At least in some areas....

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