I’m a heretic, so what?
So I finally got around to reading Dan Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol. My point here isn’t to comment about the book – it was entertaining, I wasn’t expecting more. What I found intriguing through are the ways he managed to weave in comments directed at the people who freaked out about The Da Vinci Code. At various points in the book, he had Robert Langdon comment about the sorts of people who aren’t capable of seeing the world from another’s perspective and who cause trouble for those who think differently from them. It was cute, and not a very subtle response, but given the way he has been demonized, it had to be addressed.
I had read The Da Vinci Code before it got really popular (I was on a “intellectual thriller” reading kick at the time). A year or so later I heard the pastor at the church I worked at talking about an upcoming Sunday School series he was leading about how evil the book was. He was shocked to hear that I had actually read the book, since he had not and had no plans to read it (even as he taught a class about it). I soon learned that his was the typical response of many evangelical Americans. When confronted with an idea that is outside the way they had been taught to see the world, they engaged fight or flight – denounce the work as evil or protect themselves from being exposed to its ideas.
Hence Dan Brown’s asides in The Lost Symbol.
I don’t agree with all of Brown’s ideas in The Da Vinci Code or The Lost Symbol (that’s not my point here), but I appreciate how he started a conversation around topics that might otherwise remain hidden. There is truth in the fact that the church is driven by ideology. The Bible we have today was shaped by opinions of factions in the church. Systems of patriarchy marred the name of Mary Magdalene by suggesting then upholding as doctrine that she was a prostitute. With the way Bible history is taught (or isn’t) in churches and schools today, this side of the story gets forgotten as embarrassing history to the point that basic biblical scholarship is labeled shocking heresy by the average Christian. Whether or not one agrees with Brown’s ideas, he at least helped some people ask if perhaps their way of viewing the world isn’t the only way.
It’s when we are willing to think about our beliefs in those ways that we truly learn. Granted we might end up believing as we always have, or we might tweak our beliefs a little, or change them entirely. And while I understand the people that instinctually engage with fight or flight when presented with anything other, what I don’t understand are the people who go through the charade of pretending to engage with other ideas only to reassert their original belief because they feel like they have to. I read a book recently that did just that. It claimed to be a fresh new perspective for evangelicals on a controversial topic, and while it did a great job deconstructing why a new perspective is needed, in the end it simply reiterated the same old traditional answer. In that evangelical tradition only one answer on the topic is acceptable, and so instead of actually allowing the intellectual wrestling to actually inform his perspective, the author ignored everything he had written about and parroted back the one acceptable answer. It made no sense. It wasn’t intellectually honest. But it kept the author (and publisher) safe within the box of their tradition. It wasn’t about truth, it was about allegiance.
So that’s why I am beginning to care less and less about being labeled a heretic. The term has nothing to do with truth (as much as they accuse us postmodern of abandoning truth). It has everything to do with toeing the line of a particular tradition. Call it what you will – “orthodoxy” “historic Christianity” “biblical Christianity” – all it is is the box that you feel comfortable in and pledge allegiance to. People who look, think, and act like you are in and everyone else is out. And while I fully acknowledge the need for community and tradition and admit I have allegiances, when that box becomes a shield to defend against ever learning anything new or entering a conversation in order to grow, then I have no use for the box. So while I love and appreciate (to varying degrees) The Apostles’ Creed, Augustine, Martin Luther, Calvin, Barth, and McLaren, I’m not going to exchange my faith in the living transforming God in order to cement myself in their camps. I may be a heretical Barthian or C.S. Lewisian, but since that really isn’t the point of my faith, I no longer really care.