Heretics and Other Insiders

Heretics and Other Insiders February 28, 2015

Burn the Heretics
Burn the Heretics

If Mormonism is a heresy, it’s only a Christian heresy.  Which means that Mormonism’s very conflict with traditional Christianity demonstrates its Christian character.

In the official record of existence, I have denied that I—a comfortably self-identifying LDS-Mormon—am a Christian.  Many of my LDS-Mormon compatriots have voiced markedly, ironically, un-Christian objections to my denial, as though by way of invective they could force me to be Christian against my will.

As it is, entities such as describe Mormonism as a “heretical religion”, and I don’t mind conceding the point.  Since I find it impossible to believe that god cares one whit whether I’m formally, traditionally, historically, thematically, obnoxiously Christian, the labor that many of my Mormon compatriots invest in securing the title for themselves seems to me only to have a marketing purpose.  And I can’t believe that god cares one whit for marketing, either.

But Mormonism’s heretical notions must be Christian notions, or they can’t be heresies.  Mormonism isn’t a Jewish heresy, after all.  It can’t be an Islamic heresy, or a Hindu heresy.  In common use the term heretic indicates someone who is radically outside a conventional understanding of a religious tradition.  But the heretic—as opposed to, say, the unbeliever—is clearly not outside the tradition to which he or she seems opposed.  The heretic is only a heretic inside the context of a particular religious system.*

The thirteenth century Cathars, who rejected virgin birth, resurrection, and the pope’s authority, were not hunted down by Catholic inquisitors for being outsiders, but for being very, very upsetting insiders.  There’s no way to understand the Cathar movement except as a Catholic one.

Which seems to mean that Mormonism’s Christian heresy necessarily, ironically, shows that Mormonism is Christian, after all.  Where Mormonism’s concept of Jesus is heretical, it’s only heretical in the context of the phenomenon of Christianity.  Eliminate Christianity altogether, and whatever Mormonism thinks about Jesus cannot be heresy.

At least, it appears that folks will have to choose.  If Mormonism cannot be Christian, then it cannot be a heresy.  If Mormonism must be a heresy, it must be Christian.

Whichever you decide to choose makes little difference to me.  I’m perfectly happy affirming that I do Mormonism as a Christian heretic, as an unbeliever, as a polytheist, as a pagan, and as whatever other insult good Christian folks feel suits the purpose.

But, my Mormon compatriots, consider where the concept of heresy necessarily leads: if someone who has been excommunicated by the LDS church for apostasy is an apostate, it’s only as a Mormon apostate.  The LDS church can push a person out of its institutional walls, but it cannot push a person out of Mormonism.  At least, not on the grounds of apostasy.  As long as the term apostate sticks to a formerly-LDS person, the term itself affirms him or her as a Mormon, in deed and truth.

We might have to choose, also, like our gnashing Christian counterparts.  If a person must be a Mormon apostate, he or she must be Mormon.

Or he or she can’t be an apostate at all.


* The Romans had it figured out.  They were smart enough to call the first Christians atheists.

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