(Photo of medieval Heretic's Fork courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Read more about how the Heretic's Fork was used on Wikipedia.)
He drew a circle that shut me out-- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
--"Outwitted," by Edwin Markham
One of my favorite writers on the Patheos site is Elizabeth Scalia, who writes in the column, "The Anchoress." Now, even though I'm an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, and she's definitely a Roman Catholic, I find a lot of overlap in what she has to say. Her recent column on heresy struck a chord with me. I invite you to read it before going further in my blog post.
She brings up something that is very common today that I see in both political discussions and discussions on religion--the backhanded compliment that is actually a very strident accusation of heresy. Consider the quote she read that a prominent person in the "pro-life" arena posted about the death of Betty Ford:
“While I empathize with the loss Betty Ford’s family and friends must be feeling at her death, I do not lament the passing of any unrepentant leader of the pro-abortion movement, bluntly speaking. The world is a safer place for children with one less person facilitating their murders.”
Statements reeking with false empathy, which at the same time bolsters one's own position while accusing another person of heresy, are pretty standard fare in web page article comments these days.
When I was a kid, the only heretics I knew about were the ones in the Middle Ages, and really, they were more about being accused of heresy rather than actually being heretics. Thanks to the Internet, it appears heretics are everywhere, and some folks are quite strident about pointing fingers and naming names, and others are quite strident in engaging the strident ones.
I am reminded of another quote, one by William Shakespeare, from A Winters Tale:
"It is a heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in it."
I've made an executive decision.
Whenever I hear or read a statement that leads to an accusation of heresy, I'm going to think about what lies under that statement, rather than the statement itself. Simply back up and think and reflect on the big picture of that statement.
You see, I am thinking that perhaps Christianity is the biggest heresy of all. I'm starting to come around to the notion that following Jesus is a form of heresy in and of itself, when you look at our world, and Jesus was the grand poobah of heretics.
I mean, look at the guy. He healed on the Sabbath. He was constantly invoking the ire of the Kohenim. He told people to hate their parents in order to follow him. He said things like "sell all you have and give it to the poor." People were taking rocks up to stone him. People were running him out of town for doing things like being around when herds of hogs committed mass suicide by running off cliffs and drowning in the water below. People in his own home town thought he'd risen "above his raisin's."
So why should we be surprised that notions like ordaining women, or electing gay bishops are met at times with cries of "Heresy?" Why should we be surprised that a Jesus-based tack for "why we need universal health care" or revising the tax code should be met with cries of "Heresy?"
But perhaps the most convincing reason why we should not shrink from what seems heretical or even sacrilegious at first glance is explained in Lowell Grisham's story in the Speaking to the Soul blog. It's the story of a church organist who discovered, while practicing, that a woman had come in off the streets and was diapering her baby on the altar.
Imagine the collective shudder that would happen in a typical parish witnessing such a thing! Changing a baby's wet or poopy diaper on the fair linen--something ready made to throw any grand poobah of the Altar Guild into apoplexy.
The organist quickly shooed her off...but then, as he got to thinking about it...what did it say to shame her out the door of the church for placing her baby on Ground Zero of a religion whose key character was born in a humble, rude stable and whose first bed was a feed bunker?
We might be surprised to discover what we'll find, walking over that line called "Heresy."