Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Heresy" is a good thing - the word, I mean.

There are certain words, I hope we can agree, that we should never use. Two of them are the "f" word and the "n" word.They are vulgar and inappropriate. Lately, it seems, that hardly a day goes by without someone saying that we cannot use this word or that. If we use a certain word, we are told, then others will be offended or hurt or, worse, will be evidence of racism, sexism or some sort of chauvinistic attitude.

But one must always beware when someone says that we cannot use certain words. They usually have an agenda. Understand this - whoever can control the language can control the debate. For example, we used to say "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion" when discussing abortion. These expressions are clear and specific. The problem was that "pro-abortion" just did not sound very good so that side of the debate insisted on being called "pro-choice". Everyone went along with this. But since pro-choice sounds better than "anti-abortion", the other side then insisted on being called "pro-life". All this is clever rhetoric, but it's a bit too clever.

Those who are pro-choice must defend the expression no matter what it implies. It implies, and we are told this explicitly, over and over, that the decision to have an abortion lies with a (pregnant) woman and her doctor. The word "pro-abortion" does not have to mean that. A person could say that they favor abortions for those in the first trimester and not in the second or third trimester. (Many other countries have just such restrictions.) Or a person could be pro-abortion and insist on parental notification for minors as is done with any other medical condition. But if you are pro-choice, you must support third trimester abortion on a young teenage girl without her parents' consent because your argument is based on the argument represented by the term "pro-choice". The words used changes the argument.

Recently, I have heard of two words that some wish to ban from our vocabularies. The first is the word 'slut' and the second is 'heretic'. First, the term 'slut' is used, generally as a pejorative, indicating a woman who is promiscuous. First, I will say that it is certainly not something to be used as a verbal weapon or a slander. But should it never be used? Or, as others have argued, is there no such thing as a slut? Should promiscuous women be viewed positively? However wrongly a word may be used does not mean that it does not have a proper usage.

Imagine this scene: a mother is talking to her teenage daughter about sex and she tells her daughter that she should not act like a slut. Would that not be a good use of the term? Strong, negative language can have a deterrent effect on bad behavior. I am glad there are terms that might make us feel bad or uncomfortable because it is sometimes necessary to use them to get through certain truths to people who need to hear them.

What about the word 'heretic'? Should we use it? One blogger has suggested that we should never use the term because it is dehumanizing. To me such a statement is a little ridiculous. The word 'heretic' today barely has the power to dehumanize. At one time, to be called a 'heretic' was a dangerous thing. Many heretics and so-called heretics have been killed or exiled because of it.

My question is this: is it inaccurate? Just like the word 'slut' the word 'heretic' is often accurate even if it is often used wrongly. A person is a heretic if he departs from Christian orthodoxy. Those who wish to ban the word are not really concerned about "dehumanization". They want to control the argument. They want to do away with the concept of heresy and, therefore, of orthodoxy. They want to be able to believe whatever they want and do whatever suits them and still be called "Christian". I am not buying this. There is heresy and there is orthodoxy. You don't get to change the terms of the debate. If you don't want to be called a heretic, stop being one.

People today have the hubris to say that they have the right to redefine Christianity. It was defined a long time ago and it was done very carefully and very well. That does not mean that everything that was passed down to us was perfect. It was not. But the basic tenets of Christianity have remained the same throughout church history. When corrections were made (think about the Reformation), it was done by going back to the founding documents (the New Testament) and carefully considering the biblical evidence. They did not say that some parts of the Bible were true and other parts were not true or not for us today. They did not take current notions and impose them on the church. But especially, they did not redefine morality or Jesus or the resurrection or anything else that was essential.

If your views are not orthodox, then do not seek to change the church. Go start your own religion and leave Christianity alone.

[Full Disclosure: I have been called (inaccurately, I might add) a heretic and did not like it. I found it annoying rather than dehumanizing.]


  1. Yay! You're blogging!!!

    I think John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are heretics -- rank, damnable heretics -- and I don't mind a bit admitting it publicly. I'm all for the word! I think you're right in this post: I don't think use of the word "heretic" is demeaning or dehumanizing, since one's worth as image bearers is not dependent upon one's beliefs, necessarily.

    Moreover, when someone acts as a "slut," what demeans and dehumanizes the person is not being labeled as such, but one's own actions -- such a person dehumanizes his- or herself by their behavior. Naming the actions is merely objective, I think.

    You wrote: "They did not say that some parts of the Bible were true and other parts were not true or not for us today." Certain parts are *not* true for us today, such as ceremonial cleansings, animal sacrifices and laws against eating certain types of food, and I am assuming you are referring to another context entirely.

    1. "Certain parts are *not* true for us today, such as ceremonial cleansings, animal sacrifices and laws against eating certain types of food, and I am assuming you are referring to another context entirely"
      Exactly. You said it with more precision that I did.

      You have inspired me to resume regular blogging. I will keep it up, Lord willing.