Dogma is heresy

February 17, 2010

There, that sounds good and Orwellian, doesn’t it? But seriously:  It is widely known that the word “heresy” etymologically means “choice;”  and I have seen references on Christian websites to the fact that in the immediately pre-Christian period it was used of philosophical systems without any disparagement or suggestion of falsehood. Thus Josephus, in his efforts to make Judaism comprehensible to his Greek-educated Roman patrons, used the word haireseis (usually translated “philosophies”)  to refer to the Pharisees, Saducees etc. – to make them sound like something familiar to his readers.

However, though the word didn’t contrast with “truth,” it did contrast with something more like free thought. That is, what the Hellenistic “heretic” chose was one of the philosophical schools on the market: Platonism, Stoicism etc. These were not merely the ways various people happened to think about things; they had headquarters, hierarchies of teachers, canonical texts and commentaries, codes of conduct, founders who were revered and whose birthdays were celebrated.  In short, they were a lot like churches. Individuals who formed their beliefs on the basis of their own personal investigation or whim, without prior commitment or felt need to fit their thinking into a doctrinal framework, were not called heretics.

So: dogma is heresy!


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