Heresy as Therapy

The orthodox can be hard are heretics. Obviously. I get that, but as someone who has espoused and flirted with heresy my entire theological career let me say this in defense of the heretics.

As I've talked about in my last two posts, people are drawn toward theological positions because they are worried about something. 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.

Sure, that annoys the orthodox and drives them crazy, tempting them to become the Nurse Ratched of the faith. But I'd suggest the theological thought-control police take a good long look in the mirror. Nurse Ratched isn't all that healthy either. A little bit of empathy, understanding and compassion around these issues would do everyone a great deal of good.

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