What is right belief? Back in the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine entered the Christian fray by declaring that he (a non-Christian, by the way) knew who was right and so backed those chosen bishops of “right thinking.” The world has never looked back. In the past sixteen hundred years, if you disagreed with the Church (for a long time the Roman church) you were burned at the stake. If your views appeared contrary to what official doctrine stated, then they were considered heresy. While we no longer burn human beings at the stake, we do enjoy a good witch hunt.
Recently, at a church picnic, seated at the kitchen table of a good church member, the girlfriend of a church member accosted me about my writings for this website. With venom in her voice, she attacked me because of what I have written and questioned here in these blogs. “How could I be a pastor?” she stridently queried. I couldn’t even begin to answer this question and found myself defending some of my beliefs.
What makes people so angry and so afraid of different opinions? Why are some people so threatened when a differing viewpoint is offered? Is there no room for divergent thoughts? And why do people who aren’t affected by my thoughts become so violent in their reactions to them?
Right fighting is not the way to the peaceable kingdom. If we keep insisting on being right we neglect to empathize with the opposing point of view.
Do we remember the story of Miriam, Aaron and Moses? Miriam and Aaron complain to the Lord about Moses and his marriage to a Cushite woman. After the cloud lifts and God has spoken, Aaron is let go but Miriam has been afflicted with a leprous condition. Only when Aaron and Moses plead with God to reduce the punishment does God relent and agree that after seven days Miriam can return to the camp. For speaking up, even though Aaron behaves in the exact same way, Miriam is punished.
We are on a journey of faith in this life. We each must find our own way although there are guideposts and markers that help direct us forward. People are important in this journey as we connect with one another. In the end, though, we are called to find our authentic self – that inner Christ that gives us an eye toward the great mystery of the universe. That name is one that in the Jewish faith is so mysterious and so awesome that it can’t be written or spoken. Finding language, then, that can help us understand this great creative force, is the process by which we acquire faith. For some of us the call is more insistent than for others. We can be assured, though, that in our time on this earth we are the center of the universe while at the same time we are one small atom in the whole. This tension is sometimes unbearable and we want desperately to be re-assured and comforted. If only those who are so insistent on being right and holding the truth could, for one moment, let go. In that letting go they would find they are safe.
Yes, Virginia, heresy and heretics are still called out by the pharisees and punished. However, they will never be silenced. And they will continue in their faith journey, with scars perhaps, but sure in the knowledge that pursuit of the elusive truth is always worthwhile.