Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. In their greed they will exploit you with fabrications…these people, like irrational animals… revile things that they do not understand…thinking daytime revelry a delight, they are stains and defilements as they revel in their deceits while carousing with you. Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin. They seduce unstable people, and their hearts are trained in greed. Accursed children!… These people are waterless springs…for them the gloom of darkness has been reserved…. What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, “The dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter)
Indeed, while the New Testament sings sweetly of the joys of following Christ, it also echoes with the most severe imprecations against both legalistic and licentious false teachers. The apostles may not condone physical violence against the heretics, but they certainly have no time for compromise, weasel words, ignoring immorality and sentimental half truths that paper over lies and pretend divisions do not exist.
Without becoming Westboro Baptists, our lily livered age could use the odd theological pugilist. Few of us will take the risk of punching a heretic, but what are the options? First is clarity. There is such a thing as false teaching because there is such a thing as true teaching. The Catholic faith is true. Therefore it is dogmatic. It has boundaries. Not everything goes. It is possible to be outside the church deliberately, and we come to know the boundaries through solid and substantial catechesis.
If we are clear that there are boundaries, then we are also clear that false teachers are those who blur the boundaries, water down the faith, and obfuscate the truth. They do so in matters of both doctrine and morals. If we are clear that heresy exists, then we are also clear that we hate it. We hate false teaching because the fate of souls is at stake. False teaching leads to bad beliefs and bad behaviors, and bad beliefs and behaviors propel souls on that broad way that leads to destruction.
Clarity is first. Charity is second. In the second chapter of the Book of Revelation St John recounts Christ’s words to the believers in Ephesus. He says, “You have this in your favor. You hate the works of the Nicolatians which I also hate.” The Nicolatians were a sect notorious for their sexual profligacy and false teaching. Notice however, that gentle St John says he hates the works of the Nicolatians. So then, hate the heresy, love the heretic.
Clarity, then charity, and I would add a spice of hilarity. Chesterton was an effective warrior for the faith because he was a happy warrior. Heretics are rarely happy. Good humor therefore is often the best antidote to the sour faced and self righteous seriousness of heresy.
Unfortunately, the heretics are often as odious as the heresy. As it is not easy to disentangle sin from the sinner, so it is not easy to sift out the heresy from the heretic. The temptation to slap remains and therefore our prayer also remains, “Lead us not into temptation” and teach us to administer love in better ways.