Sliding into Heresy: the dotted-line of damnation

Christian Sliding into HeresyI crafted this image to illustrate the ‘amusement’ I get out of hearing Christians chastising other Christians for sliding into heresy.  These Christians watchdogs must envision their sliding colleagues as leaving behind angelic clouds and descending self-deceptively and happily into hell.

But where do the guardians of orthodoxy put the blue-dotted line of damnation? (see the line on the sliding board)  Where on that sliding board do they see their colleague as no longer being a Christian?  The orthodoxy watchdogs have no trouble knowing people like me are apostates, because we tell them we are.  We tell them we aren’t Christian.  But what about the many Christians sliding down the board while all along joyfully still considering themselves to be Christians.

“A relationship with Jesus” is a test by some Christians of someone being a “true” Christian.  This test is common, for instance, among Evangelical Christians.  But do Christians really have a relationship with Jesus?  When I talk at any length with most of my reasonable Evangelical (or other) Christian acquaintances, they admit that they don’t hear Jesus, touch Jesus, see Jesus, bowl with Jesus or watch TV with him.  It doesn’t take long to agree that they don’t have a “personal relationship” with Jesus in any normal sense of the phrase “personal relationship”.  But I understand how these Christians have an awe and reverence for God and how they see Jesus as God incarnate and how such imagery helps them to personalize God in their life.  I get that.  But that is a Jesus made of select gospel stories, Christmas holidays, church dinners and warm fuzzy feelings.  So when I point out that they don’t have a “personal relationship” with Jesus they are uncomfortable admitting their defect in the touchstone doctrine in their version of Christianity.  They are not comfortable with the explanation I gave — that is not enough for them, though it may be for some progressive Christians, who they consider sliding into heresy.

Relatively few Christians really understand their sacred texts – Evangelical or progressives.  Most Christians could easily be exposed for holding some heretical views even when judged only by the doctrine of their own sect.  But they rightfully don’t care, for most Christian do not hold together the Jesus-in-their-head with theological propositions.  So those orthodoxy Christians, the doctrine watchdogs who worry about heresy, are sort of unique.

These heresy watchdogs know that their Christian sect is a believist sect — a sect which maintains that correct belief is what wins a person a ticket to heaven.   But when accused of being a “believist”, they will try to deny it.   Nonetheless, their believist mentality is blatantly obvious when they are patrolling for heretics.  The contradictions to me are humorous, if not sad.

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36 responses to “Sliding into Heresy: the dotted-line of damnation

  1. Steve Wiggins

    Heresy is a power-ploy. This became obvious to me when teaching seminarians: anybody who disagrees with you is a heretic. In short, all Christians are some other Christian’s heretics. The word has lost its meaning. Perhaps those who use it should be honest and start using “enemy” instead!

  2. 1minionsopinion

    I wound up quoting a piece of this for my own blog about the Inquisition today. My freethinker group is planning a meet up about its relevance later this month, but sadly I’ll miss the meeting. I’m sure it’ll be interesting, though.

  3. Shawn Wamsley


    Steve makes a valid point – the word heresy has fallen into a semantic void. It used to refer solely to those teachings that contradicted early ecumenical councils and creeds, but even some of those earlier heretics (Nestorius comes to mind) may have just been trying to add philosophical or logical finesse to a discussion and ended up getting burned for it, literally.

    I am interested, though, to hear examples of what you have heard called heresy that you find to be “rather silly.”


  4. just look how much fun the heretic is having! such a big smile on his face as he slides into the flames. I always ask myself: Why is there so much resentment among the just and the righteous? There is so much judgment, condemnation, and prejudice among the saints! There is so much frozen anger among the people who are concerned about avoiding sin.

    i ask that because i too fall into that line of thinking.

    i agree with Steve’s wisdom here and Shawn’s echo. thanks for your post and your support.

  5. @ Steve
    I agree. Well put: “all Christians are some other Christian’s heretics“. Yes it is largely a political hate word. But I wager there was never an idyllic days-of-old when the word “heretic” was pure and good.

    Perhaps you can share with Shawn how you have been labeled a heretic.

    @ Luke
    You got the image !
    Steve said a couple things — I agree with one of them and perhaps disagree with the other. Of which do you speak?

    BTW, The dialogue back at your site continues to be rich. Good MCing.

    @ 1 minion:
    Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for stopping in.

  6. @ Shawn

    I have thought of writing this post several times, but today’s motivation was due to comments at a post at Luke’s site. The issue was various versions of atonement theology. But I have seen this strongly on Christiology issues (which you may take sides on), Bible Innerency, and much more.

    But you seem to allude to a good-ole-days of righteous heresy. You seem to say that some times you just need to call it like ya see ’em.

    Because of our different perspectives, we can not probably agree on this. And I think my little post above would applied to you also for whenever you are feeling justified in your heresy reflex.

    Each faith has its heresy hounds and religions keep splintering, dying and popping up. And in all these splinters, as in the non-religious you will find those who feel the most important true religion is loving your neighbor but many more for whom orthodoxy is much more important.
    I would agree with using “heretic” to those who feel it is good to do unto others that which you don’t want done unto you (–The Buddha).

  7. societyvs

    I have been condemned to hell 14 times and counting…as long as there are orthodox Christians I will have to live with that judgment coming up.

    But I think you hit the nail on the head – it’s a rush to judgment based on being a “believist” community…people that don’t believe ‘correctly’ are on that slide as far as they are concerned. It contains a lot of hypocrisy – but they don’t want many to know that.

    I really hate it when I see Christians doing this to one another – this type of thing…I don’t like exclusivity in faith systems so that may explain some of this. I always defend the people I see this happening to – namely if it is without a single good reason (and on blogs in general I would say this is the case almost all the time).

    It seems mean. It’s an appeal to their ‘superiority’ when in upon closer investigation they have ‘inferiority complexes’. They use fear to trap people – which does not exude confidence – but weakness.

  8. atimetorend

    Just crazy how the personal relationship with Jesus can morph into a system which allows believers to vociferously accuse others of heresy. Nothing new, its recorded in the New Testament, right?

    I am still surprised, know I shouldn’t be, when the claims are made by educated and intelligent people. For example, Tim Challies reviewing a Brian McLaren book declares “He hates God. Period.” What, he can be so certain of his own orthodoxy that he can claim something like that about others with a different set of Christian beliefs???

  9. @ Society (Jason)

    Well, in your case I would allow labelling you a “heretic” ! Smile, just kidding.
    You are right — “exclusivity” in belief systems is the cause of such thinking. Many Christians get rightfully uncomfortable when you reveal their “believism”. Many because they never had it spelled out for them and some because they agree but they don’t want to be seen as so simple.

    @ ATTR

    You are right, it has been going on since the early Church, so no surprise. I think this is what Shawn is alluding to.
    You have read McLaren’s book, haven’t you. Are we going to get a book review? I think you are right on, his sort of condemnation is what I a perfect example of what I speak of.

  10. I have read half of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian and will put up some thoughts on it soon when I finish it, or at least pick it up again for a bit.

    Yes, Shawn’s comment, “…ended up getting burned for it, literally,” helps me put the Challies quote into context.

    And where does magic come from? I think magic’s in the learning,
    Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning…

    Dar Williams, “The Christians and the Pagans”

  11. Greetings fellow idea-person… One thing I have noticed about all (yes almost all) of the atheists I know is that they always frame their arguments vs. Christianity. You are the exception. Sometimes. The idea of an angry white man with a Jewish carpenter son and all the nonsense in the Old Testament is silly. Lots of the New Testament is silly too. But isolated from the Christian religions of today in America, Jesus (or whomever wrote the books) had some amazingly deep philosophically complex things to say. Not silly at all. And some of the Buddhist texts are very thought provoking. And underneath the rather thick veneer of Hinduism is a most intricate
    explanation of how all this came to be.
    Finally getting to my point… it seems as if too much energy is wasted on the morons that think one is going to hell for not accepting Jesus as their personal savior and not enough on delving deep into the energy behind the images.
    You, of course, are mostly the exception to my rant.
    I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for sharing the inside of your head.

  12. @ Ed,
    Thanks for visiting. Though I understand your emotion behind calling exclusivists “morons”, but I must protest that they aren’t that easily classified. Many are incredibly intelligent. Maybe that is part of their danger. And besides, not only is it important to cultivate right ideas, is also important to cultivate right emotions, don’t you agree?
    Glad you like the posts. But I must confess, I am a bit schizoid — occasionally narrow and occasionally broad.

  13. FYI readers:

    ATTR assumes far too much Christian culture literacy for some of us — me include:🙂

    1. Challies’ critical review of McLaren
    2. Wiki article on Tim Challies
    3. McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian
    4. Wiki article on Brian McLaren
    5. McLaren’s site

  14. Thanks Sabio! And I would be curious as to what people think of the Challies article, if it is not too far off topic. It struck me as especially extremist. I suspect McLaren is striking too close to home for Challies and his fellows.

  15. CRL

    The irony is that these Christians do not realize that, in the next church down the block, they themselves are being accused of heresy.

  16. “Steve said a couple things — I agree with one of them and perhaps disagree with the other. Of which do you speak?”

    Heresy is a power ploy. That one type of Christian is heresy to another. That the word has largely lost any meaning.

    don’t all great truths start out as blasphemies? just say’n.

    thanks for the MC comment, i am waiting for the site to explode, but maybe i don’t have any conservative readers… or ones that have the courage to speak up maybe…?

  17. Just wanted to say thanks, S. The pic is great and the links to Challies and MacLaren did help immensely (although I have to admit after going through the ‘book review’ and about 10 comments my eyes started to glaze over).

    Lines (blue, dotted, otherwise) are certainly great for making clear what is the ingroup and outgroup.

    Gretta Vosper, a minister/community leader around Toronto, has gone so far as to not use the word God (and only rarely use Jesus) in her services, and yet she is still working under a Christian denomination. Apparently the higher powers overseeing her still consider her above the the line.


  18. Is it fuzzy feelings or fuzzy logic that is the danger here?

    An organization which requires of its members fidelity to certain principles is not unusual, in fact, it would qualify as typical and good for many people. A football team, e.g., whose participants agree on the roles and objectives would generally be considered more successful than one which embraces the notion that all strategies are equally good. To find absurdity among a religion which requires no less is hardly persuasive.

    Neither is it convincing to find members of a sect who lack a full understanding of their organization’s rules. My infant cannot yet read or write, should we infer from his current ability everything we require in order to judge humanity in the manner that you have about a religion based on your selective sampling?

    I’m new to the term ‘believist’, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to claim an understanding of what most ‘believers’ adhere to doctrinally, I am familiar enough with traditional Christian faiths to claim that merely believing has not, until modern times, been claimed as being sufficient for anything. “Faith without works is dead” comes to mind.

    How do you post on heresy without a consideration of ‘formal’ and ‘material’?

    P.S. Sorry to the assembled choir for offering a heretical observation.

  19. @ Andrew
    Thanx for visiting.
    FYI readers: Greta Vosper is a UCC minister (Luke’s denomination). See info on her and her church here! Her book looks interesting, and it probably addresses Mark’s objection.
    Here is another good link on Greta.
    Andrew, do you attend her church? Are you a college student? (your site does not say)

    @ Mark
    Believers in other religions are doing works. Hell, even damned atheists are doing works. So all you have to uniquely separate you from them is your “faith” — your beliefism.

  20. @S,
    My father is a retired UCC minister. I’ve read Vosper’s book and sometime in the (near) future I plan on visiting Westhill (about two hours from me) and then maybe doing a proper review of the book.
    Caveat: Vosper does not reflect the entire UCC, but I’m impressed all the same with the UCC for allowing her to explore her responsibilities as a community leader.

    I’m not an active member by any means. I prefer the label ‘adamant agnostic’. I’m very serious about being wishy-washy.

    You could say I’m a student, forever and always. But I got my institutional pieces of paper a decade ago, so not in that sense…

  21. Earnest

    @ Sabio: great post! I’m surprised my face was not pasted to the shoulders of the child sliding blissfully into the flames! I am doubly damned because I continue to go to church and pose as a devout Christian despite my belief failures.

    @Mark: I think Sabio’s point is that historically religion in general and Christianity in particular have had schisms. Each schism creates at least one “splinter group” who believes that their way is so much more correct than that of the original whole that the pain of splintering off is outweighed by the benefit of unification of belief among those remaining in the splinter. I think that at some level you can agree that those who inhabit a given splinter group feel that they themselves are more correct in their thinking than those who are not of their own group.

    Now let’s return to the football analogy. Of course living in coal country USA there can only be one kind of football for me! Never mind that those that believe in “futbol” wildly outnumber my in-group if one counts the population of the globe.

    So now we have a team of football players that agree on rules and play. But now make the players try to get the ball to an end zone none of them has ever seen. Indeed, all players are pretty sure that no one they know has ever been to the end zone, at least until they were dead. The players have heard from sources that they trust and respect that at some point in their lives they may or may not have the end zone appear to them. They need to be constantly vigilant for the appearance of the end zone.

    It’s all very well and good to demand unity of approach and consistency of the playbook, but with this degree of goal uncertainty there is simply an evolution of a variety of viewpoints and opinions. If a single concept of method wins out time and again in an organization such as this I smell an odor of an ongoing power struggle between humans who wish to dominate the conversation about strategy.

  22. Earnest

    Sorry I posted this addendum so I would be notified of comments, I forgot to check the box the first time.

  23. @ sabio: You wrote, “These heresy watchdogs know that their Christian sect is a believist sect — a sect which maintains that correct belief is what wins a person a ticket to heaven. But when accused of being a “believist”, they will try to deny it. Nonetheless, their believist mentality is blatantly obvious when they are patrolling for heretics.”

    Islamists’ works might include ritual murder, a ticket to heaven, the Buddhists’ works include not eating anything with a face, and the Evangelicals works are specifically nothing, viz., they are saved by faith alone. Clearly none of these people fit your stereotype.

    Consider a person who believes that you could go to hell for what you believe or for what you do, or for what you don’t believe or what you don’t do, or in spite of what you believe and/or in spite of what you do. Most people hold to one or more sets of beliefs along these lines, rather than the one you have described.

    @earnest: I appreciate your development of the analogy except for a fundamental problem, viz., the disagreement on the goal. The prominent monotheistic religions share substantially the same goal (eternal life), albeit with vast differences in theology. This might explain why ‘players’ choose different ‘teams’. One team may ‘schism’, and even believe that the goal line is in the opposite direction. You might also say that the atheists have their own team and demand no less in doctrinal purity than the theists they oppose. Does not the tagline on this very blog imply as much?

    Sabio’s initial point, as I understand it, is that doctrinal purity is absurd and/or humorous, and that declarations of heresy are in some way a demonstration of the unbelievability/improbability of the veracity of the theist’s claims. I need only point to the many schisms among atheists-and the lack of tolerance by atheists of divergent opinions-to demonstrate the fallacy of this assertion. That many atheists hold opposing points neither proves or disproves atheism, just as the fact that some scientists accept global warming while others reject it is not an indicator of truth.

    I have observed to Sabio before that I believe he (and most atheists) are guilty of the very same presumptions and logical fallacies which they so pretentiously accuse theists of. It is all the more damning (sorry for the pun) for the atheist though because his argument supposedly shuns anything but reason and logic.

  24. @ Andrew
    Thanx for sharing. Laughing at “adamant agnostic!”

    @ Mark
    There is no equating differences of opinions between Atheists with those of Theists. Atheists don’t consider each other going to hell for differences. And atheists don’t claim to be privy to wisdom for an all powerful all wise all good god. Big differences.
    Your other points weren’t clear to me.

    @ Earnest
    That IS you face.

  25. dreadpiratescetis

    Me questioning Luke is not intended to be “policing for the faith” but a challenge for him to hang in there when a parishioner comes to him with the Christus Victor understanding. How will he talk to them? Can he understand their need for such imagery?

    Thar be where me concerns be docked. Not to label him a heretic.

  26. That makes it more clear and more generous.
    But if “a parishioner come to [Luke] with the:”
    a) Mystic (Monkey god) understanding
    b) Atheist understanding
    or some other understanding, would you be OK with Luke “understand[ing] their need for such imagery?”

    Or would you say, “Well, that be heresy, arghhh!” and then move them toward the gang plank if they be not listening?

  27. “all Christians are some other Christian’s heretics.” I’ve said this many times. So true!

    Great post, Sabio.

  28. All of us ex-Christians were heretics in our days, eh Mike? But which is worse, being a heretic or an apostate? Not sure for whom the sulfur burns hotter.

  29. I think my theist friends would prefer I be a heretic, at least then they have something to work with.😉

  30. dreadpiratescetis


    I believe I must remake my statements on me blog as it has taken a different shift than I believe I had intended. I be not all that concerned with Doctrine for the most part, but the understanding of the wide stream of Christian religion. I be an ecumenical pirate. Yar!

  31. @ Pirate
    Yep, you are confusing us

  32. dreadpiratescetis

    Thar, I be fixing me about page.

  33. @dreadpiratescetis on national talk like a pirate day, do you talk like a land lubber?

  34. @ Mike — that gave me a good chuckle !

  35. dreadpiratescetis

    @Mike: that turn-about gave me a hearty chuckle it did.

  36. oddy

    The evil come from the words that I am right and you are wrong. That is the root cause of conflict among people. Heresy is from the mouth of evil. They even do not know that peace is the way human being to go. Look at the war among nations, which nation is correct? No one.

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