19 July 2023

Proud heretics.

Some months ago a coworker asked me what “heretic” meant. Apparently there’s a brand of wine called Heretic, and a northern California microbrewery called Heretic Brewery, and she wanted to know whether it’s a liquor term.

I was kinda curious about that myself later, so I looked it up. It’s not. But my internet search led me to a company called Heretic Spirits, who had this on their website:

HER·E·TIC /'herəˌtik/ a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.

Heretics are driven by new ideas and experiences. They possess a soul that yearns for the nourishment of new and exciting sensory experiences. We call this the Ravenous Soul and it represents the core of all that we do.

Okay, you will find their definition in a typical dictionary. But it’ll be the second definition; the one developed much later than the original definition, which is “a person or belief which differs from established religious orthodoxy.”

The word descends from the Latin hæreticus and the Greek αἱρετικός/eretikós, “able to choose.” Over time, Christians used it to describe those who’d chosen poorly. Wrongly. Incorrectly. Dangerously so, ’cause if you believed some of the junk Christian heretics taught, you could profoundly undermine your relationship with God, if not destroy it.

But to be succinct, I usually refer to heretics as people who are wrong. And that’s what I told my coworker “heretic” means: Wrong.

“Wrong?” she said. “Why would you name your wine ‘wrong’?”

Because heretics don’t think they are wrong.

Types of heretics.

Most of the heretics I’ve known over the years fall into various categories. More than I’m gonna list here, but these are the typical six I keep bumping into.

PAGANS. These are the folks who were never Christian, or grew up Christianity-adjacent instead. Over time they developed their own eclectic ideas about religion. Some of them are obviously wrong… but they don’t believe anyone has any right to correct them. Especially when these are dearly held beliefs.
FOOLS. If calling ’em fools sounds cruel… well you try talking to them. Basically they’re pagans or Christians who believe stuff—strongly, and will fight you if you dare tell them otherwise—but because they don’t understand what they believe, and don’t even believe they need to, they easily, constantly, go very wrong. Do as Mr. T regularly advises, and pity them: They really need to start listening to the Holy Spirit!
TRADITIONAL HERETICS. These’d be members of heretic churches, like the United Pentecostal Church and other non-trinitarians, the Latter-day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, and so forth. According to what their churches teach, they’re not heretic whatsoever, and how dare I say so; they teach the same gospel as Jesus and the apostles! But they can’t say the creeds and mean the same thing the ancient Christians taught, so yep, they’d be heretic.
FUNDAMENTALIST HERETICS. By which I do not mean Fundamentalists in general. Most Fundies aren’t heretic at all. But most Fundies are anti-Catholic, and think the creeds are “Catholic” even though they predate Roman Catholicism by centuries. Fundies instead insist they, not the ancient Christians, get to define orthodoxy. Thus they constantly run the risk of heresy. (Like when the complementarians started teaching that God the Son isn’t equal in authority to God the Father—a basic, and creedal, belief about the trinity—because they wanted to say women should submit to men just like Jesus submits to his Father, and were willing to redefine God to push their point. Yep, so intent on perpetuating sexism, they embraced heresy. Many still do.)
SEMINARIANS GONE WILD. ‘Cause I met a bunch in seminary: Fellow theology students who decided they were gonna blaze their own trails instead of sticking to Christian orthodoxy. Like Fundamentalists, they think they, not the creeds, get to define orthodoxy. Like pagans, they believe all sorts of things; unlike your average pagan, they seriously study what they do believe. (I also include Unitarians and Baha’i in this category; I’ve found they’re likewise pretty good at studying their heretic beliefs.)
DECONSTRUCTIONISTS RUN AMOK. Every Christian’s gonna have a faith crisis at some point, and at that time we’re gonna have to deconstruct our beliefs to see what we might’ve got wrong. And every so often, some of these Christians don’t survive deconstruction. They quit church, quit orthodoxy and turn into one of those “seminarians gone wild,” or quit Jesus; or worst case, even turn antichrist.

Like I said, it’s not a comprehensive list. You can likely think of other types.

Heresy as a badge of honor.

This isn’t true of the traditional and Fundamentalist heretics, but you’ll find pretty much all the rest will gleefully embrace the title “heretic.” Because to them, it means someone who’s following their own drumbeat. Who’s paving their own roads, pursuing their own passions, and being wild and independent instead of conformist and boring. Who’s stepping off the trail and wandering the woods on their own: Yeah it’s risky, but what’s wrong with it?

But to orthodox Christians, we know they’re really embracing and elevating wrongness.

What’s wrong with exploring the woods? Well these woods are full of predators. Heck, full of landmines. Y’all are gonna blow your legs off—if you’re lucky.

The heretics think all they’re really doing is being heterodox. Not wrong; just not mainstream! Whereas the orthodox know it’s fine to be heterodox sometimes; Jesus certainly was. But heresy isn’t mere heterodoxy. It’s the difference between having Dr. Pepper instead of Coca-Cola… and having Draino instead of Coke. Draino isn’t simply poison; it’s designed to unclog pipes by melting organic tissue. But instead of reading the many, many warning labels, heretics downplay the dangers as needless overworry. Or something insidious: “Hey, you’re just trying to control us. What’re you so afraid of, anyway? What’re you hiding?” It can’t be that we’re trying to keep them alive; it’s gotta be something evil.

In any event, whenever you’re dealing with a heretic, be cautious. Don’t drink their Drano. Question everything. Which they say they’re all for, but you can easily see how much it grates on them when you question them.