YIMC Book Club, “The Great Heresies,” Introduction

This week’s reading is the introductory chapter of The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc. My first impression? This guy is smart. My next impression? There is heresy everywhere! Heck, it’s behind every tree, rock, and corner.

First Belloc defines heresy as the removal of one or more aspects from a belief system. Think of a sphere of cheese, and then start taking bites out of it.  What used to be perfectly round is now not, and as such it no longer will roll smoothly. It is no longer whole, but retains some of the structure of the original. Thus,

On this account it can appeal to believers and continues to affect their lives through deflecting them from their original characters. Wherefore, it is said of heresies that “they survive by the truths they retain.”

And as a result, the functioning of society is changed when heresy rears its head. Belloc uses several great examples of this from doctrines of Christianity such as the Christian who believes all the doctrines except that of the immortality of the soul. Not believing in this, Belloc argues, would change the way humans behave. And he uses the example of Christian marriage vs. the idea that marriage is only a contract dissolvable by divorce being a concept that undermines the original idea of marriage.

Which is why I said earlier that after reading a wee bit of Belloc, heresy is seemingly everywhere. Is that your impression too? It also seems like the words and thoughts of Belloc could have been written last week, by George Weigel or someone similar. Which is another great reason to read a book like this, because the big wheel keeps going around and there is nothing new under the sun. Modern anti-Christian spirit in society is nothing new and reading this book will help us open our eyes to that reality.

But why study heresy at all? Belloc argues as follows:

What we are concerned with is the highly interesting truth that heresy originates a new life of its own and vitally affects the society it attacks. The reason that men combat heresy is not only, or principally, conservatism, a devotion to routine, a dislike of disturbance in their habits of thought; it is much more a perception that the heresy, in so far as it gains ground, will produce a way of living and a social character at issue with, irritating, and perhaps mortal to, the way of living and the social character produced by the old orthodox scheme.

This is going to be interesting, to say the least.  What were your impressions? Throw them into the comm-box so we can all chew them over. Thanks for reading and thanks to Brian Vogt for volunteering to lead the discussion for Chapter 6, The Reformation.

Next week we read Chapter Two, on the scheme of the book.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Mary R: The Arian Heresy is yours. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    Okay, Frank. I'll bite in a limited way. I underlined the following on p. 8 of my pb copy: "Thus who think thus (denying revelation and affirming only empirically derived knowledge) may and commonly do retain much of Christian morals, but because they deny certitude from Authority, which doctrine is a part of Christian epistemology, they are heretical."What comes immediately to mind is the way that the MSM in general and, say, the NYT in particular arrogates to itself the rôle of arbiter of moral discourse. Sure, you'll find bits and pieces of Christian ethics in the editing pen of its articles and opinions; but nary a nod in the direction of the Christian faith in general and/or the Catholic magisterium in particular. Perish the thought!It is this hubris that Belloc, IMO, is pointing to with incredible accuracy 72 years ago! I guess what goes around comes around when we're talking heresy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Athos, thanks for your comment and duly noted. MSM is shorthand for Main Stream Media folks. The Chesterbelloc was all over this trend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    And "Chesterbelloc" was a nomenclature for the common viewpoint posited by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc on many topics relating to Catholicism and culture. :O)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    The late Ralph McInerney on the Chesterbelloc, a name coined by George Bernard Shaw.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01658116461483425280 Brandon Vogt

    Here are my thoughts from the Introduction:- I find it interesting that Belloc says, "The denial of a scheme wholesale is not heresy, and has not the creative power of a heresy. it is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks." By this he states, implicitly, the difference between heresy and complete schism. Heresy is more subtle, yet potentially more deadly. Heretics are brushed off because, well, "they believe most of the Faith" while schismatics remain obvious dangers. But it is the soft subtleties of heretics, those staccato faucet drips in the night, that cause us to awake in the morning and find a puddle of false teaching.- Belloc notes that doctrines make up the natures of men, and that formed natures make up society. Everyone has a doctrine. And everyone is part of society. The more heretical the doctrines, the more upside-down the society. History attests to this; beliefs matter.- I like how Belloc closes out the chapter by detailing the subtleness of both the Communism and Scientism heresies. Each of the them have similar means and ends to the Christian scheme. Communism says religion isn't necessary for a fully functional society, despite having honorable ends in mind. Scientism, in search of truth, says experimentation is the only way to attain reality. Both heresies change only a part of the whole system of beliefs, but this small shift has monumental ramifications.

  • http://sffnexus.com Jason

    Classic books have a timeless quality. Frank is right that this books seems as if it could have been written yesterday. Just look at Belloc's description of the "modern" heresy. "That only is true which can be appreciated by the senses and subjected to experiment."Doesn't seem so modern when you realize that Belloc wrote this book in 1938. BTW, I'll take the Albigensian heresy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Excellent points Brandon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Jason, Roger that!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Another key insight Belloc had when he wrote this was how, in England anyway, "Patriotism" had become the dominant religion of the people.