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Monday, September 2, 2013

The Need to Police Belief

I don't know how many people are aware that there are people in various religious and spiritual belief systems who spend a great deal of time monitoring the behavior of others - especially that of clergy and other leaders - and then blogging about those who fail to conform to their notion of orthodoxy. The "offenses" of these "heretics" are most often benign, ranging from things like daring to join a mutual support group for clergy to stumbling over words during a worship service to being suspected of being "light in the loafers," a delightful [sic] phrase that hasn't been used in about forty years to describe gay men. It's an expression that is about as timely as the views of those who use it.

It seems that every tradition (including Buddhism) has these trolls lingering in dark corners and waiting to disparage the reputation of good people in the name of orthodoxy and other questions of "validity." The problem is that nothing they do every builds anything or anyone up, it only tears down and destroys. There is no faith is the universe evolving just as it should, and even less faith in the human mind to detect nonsense when it is presented. Worse, there is no productive outcome of heretic hunting. In fact, it is completely life-denying. This view holds that human beings are for the most part ignorant fools, unable to judge whether what they are hearing rings true or not. Could these bloggers simply be generalizing from their own audience to the spiritual community at large? It's certainly a possibility.

Every new teaching, regardless of the tradition in which it occurs, begins as a heresy - which might be defined as a teaching outside of or contrary to the accepted collection of teachings. Within Christianity, the idea that women could be ordained was at one time a heresy. In some dark corners of Christendom it still is a heresy. It took someone with courage who understood the error of a male only clergy to stand up and proclaim the "heresy" as truth for the wheels of change to begin their slow, gradual grind toward the inclusion of women. In this way, those who "teach heresy" actually provide a very valuable service in opening the windows to allow fresh air to blow through the stale climate of religious and spiritual traditionalism. (We dare not forget that burning witches at the stake was once orthodox!) Of course not every heresy brings about change, and that is as it should be. There are such things as bad ideas, and just because someone has a new idea doesn't mean they have a good idea. Recall the Yugo GV.

The need to be a heresy hunter is rooted in abusive religion itself. If your view of God is one of an unforgiving and abusive parent then you may well feel vindicated in acting in the same way, freely abusing others and accusing them of being inadequate in hopes of covering up your own feelings of inadequacy and hoping that God won't notice just how wretched you really are if you succeed in bringing forth enough heretical corpses. While we normally feel for the victims of such small minded nonsense, the perpetrators of it need our compassion as well because they live fear filled and ultimately unfulfilling lives. The fact that their dissatisfaction comes out sideways in witch hunts betrays their profound need for healing. It also speaks of the need for those of us creating new spiritual communities to pay close attention to the images and metaphors we choose.

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