Heresy Therapy

Heresy Therapy April 26, 2019

Richard Beck wrote:

People don’t just wake up one day to suddenly and brazenly espouse a heresy. In my experience, you end up a heretic because there’s a gnawing theological issue that’s keeping you up at night. The burden and size of this issue often grows and grows until a lack of progress in its resolution becomes intellectually and emotionally intolerable. The biggest culprit here is theodicy. But it can also be a particular view of God or the “texts of terror” in the Old Testament. And often all the problems are linked.

For whatever reason, as the crisis mounts, the orthodox answers just aren’t working. And they often make the situation worse. Orthodox responses to these theological crises tend to, to borrow from Bonhoeffer’s criticism of Barth in his letters from prison, take on a lump it or leave it attitude. You just have to take your theological medicine and swallow the creedal castor oil, no matter how bad it tastes.

A lot of people just can’t do that. And many people at this point do something very heroic and commendable. They become heretics.

It’s heroic and commendable because faith isn’t being jettisoned. A herculean effort is made to keep and secure faith. Sure, the price is believing in some rather contested, controversial stuff, but the win is keeping you in the orbit of God, the Bible, and the church.

All that to say, heresy might be wrong, but it can be awfully therapeutic. The mind settles and the heart calms and you can get on with the real business of following Jesus in your day to day life. Some people just need to believe in weird, quirky stuff to make the puzzle fit together.

Visit his blog to read the entire post. I think the same appreciative point can be made without embracing so much of the framing of “orthodoxy.” After all, I cannot think of a single instance in which something came to be defined as a group’s “orthodoxy” that didn’t start out as someone else’s “heresy.” Scientific progress often occurs by much the same process as the one Beck describes, although rarely with the same level of existential impact or investment. Around the edges of current explanation, anomalous data nips at its heels and nibbles its toes, until eventually it has to move.

Heresy is simply innovation, creativity, that moves in a direction those in authority frown upon. That doesn’t make it right or its claims correct, and that is the pitfall of heresy, whether in theology, science, history, or some other domain. Heresy, like all human phenomena, there is a plus side and a minus side. The heretic rejects the dominant view for something they think is better. Without those who have the courage to be labeled heretics, there would never be progress. But not all heresies represent improvements.

It is in the tension between old consensus and creative innovation that the path of positive progress lies. Embracing either pole without appreciating the importance of the other represents the real danger.

What are your thoughts about heresy? If it is theologically therapeutic for the heretic, the social stress that comes with the label may offset any benefits along those lines! But I think that heresy is simply a biased label for the blunt basic truth that ideas, ideologies, worldviews, communities, and comprehensions all evolve and change over time, and human beings are the ones driving those processes.

"I laughed when Spong suggested Mary Magdalen was Jesus' wife and meant it seriously. Speculation ..."

Veritas by Ariel Sabar
"Here's a question: One conundrum I have over the issue of whether Jesus was married ..."

ReligionProf Podcast with Tony Burke
"I have long wanted someone either to develop, or get a group to work on ..."

Coaching and Curation in the Post-Pandemic ..."
"I realize I'm coming to this conversation late, but the part that most interested me ..."

Prayer in Schools

Browse Our Archives