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Heresy, heretical

Related: anabaptism - counterculture - Cathars - martyr - religion


In theology heresy is the holding of a belief that is in fundamental disagreement with the established teachings or doctrines of an organized religion. In order for heresy to exist there must be an authoritative set of dogmas designated as orthodox, such as those proposed by Catholicism. The term is also used in Eastern Orthodoxy, some Protestant churches, in Islam, some Jewish denominations, but to a much lesser extent in other religions. Variance from orthodox Marxism-Leninism, which has some elements of religion, is called right or left "deviationism". The Church of Scientology uses the term "squirreling" to refer to unauthorized alterations of its teachings or methods.

What constitutes heresy is a value judgment, the expression of the point-of-view of an established Church. An outsider, reading an outline of Christian history, might conclude, long after the fact, "heretics are losers." This is not the teaching within any tradition that endorses the concept of "heresy." Few have privately considered their own denomination to be heretical, though it has been a useful rhetorical stance. Those who are held to be heretics have often held the converse view of their accusers: Roman Catholics have held the view that Protestantism is a heresy, whilst some non-Catholics have considered Catholicism the "Great Apostasy."

The use of the term is far less common today, though proceedings of heresy, even against widely-read theologians, in the last couple of decades can be instanced in most of the authoritarian denominations: see for example the entry Rudolf Bultmann and the character of debates over ordaining women and gay priests. Popular imagination relegates "heresy" to the Middle Ages, when the Church's power was at its height, but the case of the scholar and humanist Giordano Bruno was not the last execution for heresy. Heresy remained an officially punishable offense in Roman Catholic nations until the late 18th century. In Spain, heretics were prosecuted and punished even after the Napoleonic Era.

The word "heresy" comes from the Greek αιρεσις, hairesis (from αιρεομαι, haireomai, "choose"), which means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of dissident believers. It was given wide currency by Irenaeus in his tract Contra haeresis to descibe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own position as orthodox (from ortho- "straight" + doxa "thinking") and his position eventually evolved into the position of the early Christian Church. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy [Sept 2004]

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