r m p

THE EPISTLE

 

 

Heretics Anonymous

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 report. 

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 invited him.  

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 interesting. 

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 about counseling. 

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

 

Copyrightę2004 by Robert M Price
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