Many of you have heard me make
occasional references to something called Heretics Anonymous. You might
have wondered what I was talking about (a familiar feeling!). Hence this
As you might expect, the name is a
joke. There is no attempt, as in 12-step groups who suffix their monikers
with "Anonymous," to free anyone from their addiction to heresy. We are
quite committed to heresy, because the word "heresy," the Greek
hairesis, simply means "choice." It became a theological cuss word
when orthodoxy decided with Luciferian hubris that it could prescribe
right belief for everyone. That one should choose one's own belief rather
than meekly swallow the catechism of the bishops was deemed the greatest
effrontery. By contrast, heresy is the essence of Protestantism,
especially of Modernist (or Post-modernist) Protestantism such as we tend
to practice around here.
The name originated in the halls of
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a bastion of stale and arrogant
orthodoxy, when a few of the guys (including one who used to do a great
Billy Graham imitation--I once took a picture of him shaking hands with
Dr. Graham) mused with a gleam in their collective eye that there ought to
be a retreat for free-thinkers, sort of a "Heretics Anonymous"! I became
one of that number, and when I graduated and went on to campus ministry at
Montclair State, I soon discovered a similar need
among the ranks of those disaffected from the more straightlaced Christian
groups on campus. I worked for the Protestant Foundation, which had little
real student constituency, and I scheduled a meeting
room for Heretics Anonymous, soon two, as there were too many for one
weekly meeting to accommodate.
Ah, those were the days! We would
put up posters emblazoned with slogans like "Read this quick before some
bigot tears it down!" My favorite was the one that depicted four cartoon
characters in the familiar postures of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak
no evil"--with a fourth praying with closed eyes and folded hands!
These groups continued to meet for
no-holds-barred discussion, sometimes with prepared student presentations,
regularly for six years until I moved to North Carolina. Some Heretics
Anonymous members became members of our church and are still here! And not
long after Carol and I returned from North Carolina, we began to feel that
reviving Heretics as a church function might not be a bad idea. It would
provide a forum for free discussion and feed back that simply would never
be possible on Sunday mornings.
The meetings have thrived in the
years we've offered them. Now there are two per month, the first and third
Fridays. Everyone, usually about 15 people, sits around our living room.
Wine, soda, munchies, and cheese circulate freely--as do ideas. We make it
a point to discuss often those three taboos religion, politics, and sex.
Usually the melee will begin with someone reading an
essay or book review from some
source or other. Then the discussion may ricochet
anywhere. Often the fun lasts till the wee hours, occasionally all night.
Some few of the more-or-less
regular attenders are members of our church (you know who you are). Many
others are people I have met through the philosophy department at
Montclair State, through Adult School classes I have taught, through our
Film Series, others who were invited by friends who enjoyed the group.
One man, an advertising writer
who's done commercials you've heard, I met when we were both standing with
our daughters in the Pony Ride line at the Teddy Bear Fair. I happened to
be holding a copy of a Derrida's Dissemination, and he inquired
about it. He soon confided that he was "a Jew who prays to Jesus and
believes in reincarnation." I knew Heretics was the place for him and
Another regular is an English major
at MSC with a minor in philosophy. Like me, he is a
devotee of H.P. Lovecraft, and he is a member of a thrash-metal rock group
with its own CDs. Another is a judge in New York State. Another is a
dance instructor, another a singer and actress, another a writer, another
a cabbie who has tales to tell of his chats with Derrida and David Lehmann.
There are two psychotherapists, one specializing in helping homosexuals
accept their orientation. One man recently returned from a semester
in Argentina where he was robbed by terroristas twice. Then there's
one of the original MSC Heretics, now one of the most gifted and
celebrated kindergarten teachers in the Montclair School system.
There are a couple of writers, and
the group provides the opportunity to share contacts
and possible markets. There are two or three literary criticism buffs.
Politically you can find ultra-liberals as well as conservatives of the
most politically incorrect opinions. The most
politically liberal also happens to be the most theologically
conservative, an articulate evangelical--who also shares the Lovecraft
addiction (and so does the judge!). What a crew! With a group like this,
there is pretty much no way the discussion is not going to be
Carol and I view Heretics as
something of a satellite congregation. Recently I
performed a wedding for one Heretics couple, and I think another may be in
the offing. I have more than once counseled with
individual members, while others have given me helpful professional advice
I have noted that there is some
overlap between our Sunday morning congregation and
Heretics. I dearly wish there were more. I can think of few of you who
gather Sunday mornings who would not find your life as a church member
deepened by the Heretics experience. For you
Heretics reading this, you must know I would love to have you visit or
even join our congregation. If you like what goes on in the one, I cannot
help thinking you would enjoy the other. But I rejoice in my relationships
with you either way.
Robert M. Price