I feel like I’m some kind of heretic now. Moving outside of the confines of evangelical faith and practice after so many years brings that with it. But instead of feeling like a little kid, lost in the asphalt jungle of a big and menacing polluted city, I rather feel free, standing at the edge of maybe an inviting yet dense forest, or even better, a mountain range to climb. The ascent might be steep and tiring at times, and hopefully no accidents will occur, but it will be an exciting journey. Arriving one day at the top (if there is such a thing in this case) will be worth it, as is the view all along the way.
The word heretic sounds a bit drastic or scary, but if you look at it, it actually isn’t that bad. It just got bad press. If it’s an insult, it’s one I gladly take right now.
A heretic? A heretic, or rather, a heresy is any belief that differs (or strongly differs) with established beliefs and customs, with the so-called “norm” of established religious organizations such as churches. In this way it is different from apostasy (explicit renunciation) or blasphemy (voluntarily insulting God, beliefs or sacred object through words or actions).
So I am definitely somewhere in there: a heretic. Moving away from the norm, different from the norm, I beg your pardon! Simply through my very existence, my very being, I am by nature heretic: being lesbian (and not ashamed of it anymore) doesn’t sit well with many good believing folks, of many stripes and religions – and I have slowly come to a point (or have been pushed to?) where I no longer care. What matters is what the Divine thinks of me. The Divine: call him God, call her Goddess – if G-d is Spirit, that means that G-d is beyond gender and thus, with our limited language, in the end, we should be able to use any language that we feel comfortable with whilst being conscient that it can only reflect a fragment of whom G-d is.
Being a heretic used to be a dangerous business – heretics were punished not only by excommunication but also routinely with the death penalty. The first Christian heretic to be condemned and executed, from what I know, was Priscillan (an ascetic) and two of his followers in 386. He was a bit of a radical, I admit, and admitted women, but since his accusers couldn’t find much against him, they forced him to admit all sorts of bogus stuff and got him for sorcery. They, in turn, were excommunicated by Ambrose. Hardly 50 years later, merely possessing the writings of the wrong type of Christian got you sentenced to death.
The last heretic that was executed by the catholic church was a Spanish schoolmaster in 1826 – for teaching deist principles.
Like I said, serious business! Today, luckily, the worst-case scenario is excommunication.
In Judaism, things are a bit more simple: Orthodox Judaism considers more or less generally all non-orthodox movements as heretical (since they have in one way or the other moved away from halakha as they perceive it and deviate thus from the customs of community).
But if you look at the word ‘heresy’, it comes from the Greek word αἵρεσις and simply designated a choice, or that which was chosen and came to mean a process through which someone would examine different philosophies to determine how to live.
So, in the strict sense of the word, I truly am a heretic, and am in no way ashamed of it. Or, as a dear friend of mine always says, “Don’t be a sheep, think for yourself”. It is so easy: you join a faith community and upon entering the building, you check in your capacity to think critically and for yourself, to question stuff.
That’s not faith -at least to me. Following blindly, like many good folks do, and swallowing anything that is presented to you, or letting your mind being lulled to sleep by comfortable words -or to the contrary, have it silenced by fiery sermons isn’t faith either.
For me, Faith inquires, trusts in things that are not seen, not proved, not set into stone by dogma; faith thrusts itself forward with courage and trepidation, one step after the other -taking leaps when needed. Faith is full of love and gentle, yet also says ‘fuck it’ and ‘fuck that’, and kicks you in the rear to keep you moving forward into uncharted territory, always holding onto the rope and fine thread of grace that is being offered to you at all times, that silent whisperthat rings in your ear.
No fear… let’s be heretics!
Addendum: I want to add or clarify a few things: no, being lesbian does not make one a heretic per se; I was merely playing on one of the acceptions of the word, being that a heretic is one that is not in the mainstream. Concerning dogma: there are different ways of perceiving this notion, one of which is positive, and the other negative. At university, I studied what was called systematic or dogmatic theology, and I enhoyed it very much; in this case, it refers to a system of principles or tenets of core beliefs and is concerned with truth, finding truth, and the speech about it. On the other hand, and especially in the parts of the evangelical world that I have spent over 25 years in, ‘dogma’ refers to, or has a taste of enforced strong beliefs which are not open to discussion in any way, and will often feel more like a rigid wall enclosing you; instead of a protection against error they become a prison that is defended with passion since they are seen as
incontrovertibly true, and faith meant simply sticking to them and following blindly. I am very well aware that there are opn-minded and close-minded people everywhere, be it amongst evangelicals, other denominations, christians and other religions, atheists… we are all human beings and are influenced in so much by our upbringing, our experiences, the tols we have at our disposition – and those we are willing to use. I have my flaws, just as everybody else. We are all in this together, all as beloved children of G-d.