Who is a heretic?
West Coast Editor,
January 2006

Strange as it may seem, vast numbers of people still support the myth of creationism over the science of evolution.

This intellectual anachronism has a lot to do with language. Contemporary concepts such as “reporting” or “knowledge” didn’t exist in the late Classical World when the Christian religion was formulated. What a person said or did was treated as factually equivalent to a highly embellished secondhand interpretation.

The written word was considered sacred because those who could read and write knew grammar, from the Greek graphein, meaning to draw or write. But this grammar was anything but dusty rote learning.

Putting down symbols in a coherent, orderly manner was thought to be tantamount to taking dictation from God. Therefore, even though textual analysis has shown that the Bible comprises borrowed mythologies and highly interpretative narratives, the idea that the scriptures (writings) about the life of Jesus are the “Gospel truth” persists.

To challenge or even debate the truth of scripture was tantamount to challenging God, and those heretics who dared do so put their lives at stake. The word heretic comes directly from the Greek hairetikos (able to choose), and was not originally limited to religion. That occurred in the Dark Ages when heresy came to mean exclusively religious belief opposed to the orthodox doctrines of the Church.

In fact, heresy merely means dissent—from the Latin dissentire (to differ in sentiments). See for instance Johnson’s definition: “an opinion of private men different from that of the catholick and orthodox church.” The Latin word hæresis signifies “school of thought, philosophical sect,” and was used by Christian writers to refer to “unorthodox sect or doctrine” and the Greek hairesis (from haireisthai, meaning “take, seize”) signifies “a taking or choosing.”

The Greek word was used in the New Testament in reference to the Sadducees, Pharisees, and even the Christians, as sects of Judaism, but in English bibles it is usually translated as sect, meaning “religious belief opposed to the orthodox doctrines of the Church.”