I believe in heresy, in the mad proliferation of truths personal and profound, in choice, which is what the Greek word haíresis, from which we get “heresy,” actually means.
Perhaps not so strangely, I acquired this belief while working on a degree in Catholic theology. My classmates were a varied bunch, crossing the spectrum of age and education. Sure, there were the young men and women so confidant in their faith, coming to these classes to arm themselves better to face that fallen world out there, but what I remember most are the many older women in my class, the ones riddled with doubts, wives and mothers trying to square the circle of their lives with Church teaching. There was the woman trapped in a loveless marriage with a man the Church told her to obey and never leave, the woman who felt forced to balance a desire for touch and sensuality with the worry of getting pregnant once again in the face of the Church’s continuing ban on contraception, the woman who was on staff at a parish and who would start crying whenever she recounted the latest insults thrown her way by the new priest. All these women, living in fear.
I believe that we damage ourselves when we accept the notion that truths revealed from on high trump our own true experience. I know, for instance, that the female half of this human race was not created inherently flawed or subservient or weak, no matter what Paul or Augustine or Aquinas might claim. My wife is too intelligent, my mother too strong, my friends too brave for me to fall prey to such an idea. But many of the women in my theology classes were there to learn precisely how to silence the inner truths they knew, the truths which said that some men simply aren’t worth obeying, that sex and love and babies need not always go hand in hand, that maybe, just maybe, the Church doesn’t have everything right. Instead, they abided in fear of failing to live up to a foreign image of themselves, an image composed by people who could never share their most fundamental experiences.
You know, early Church leaders thought women proved more prone to heresy than men, and why shouldn’t they be? What orthodoxy has every spoken to a woman’s soul? Or a man’s? Let’s face it men, we often drag ourselves through hell, too, trying to achieve someone else’s image of what it means to be a man: the dutiful patriarch and the pious leader—unfailing, always strong, never tender, constant as the Northern Star.
I believe we need to recapture the creative power of heresy because we need to rediscover our fundamental selves. I believe that heresy is humanity—without it, we are less than whole. Without it, we are someone else’s dream of what we should be.
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