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.


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