Do you find it hard to believe everything your church says you should believe and nothing that you shouldn’t? Do you struggle with the lines of right and wrong, in and out, that are drawn in most religious communities? Do find yourself embracing ideas, questions, and beliefs that don’t fit into the tight doctrinal boxes of your religion? Have you ever thought to yourself, “If they knew what I really think, they would label me a heretic”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then maybe it’s time to embrace your heretical self, and recognise that a heretic is really just someone who chooses for themselves.
Not everyone who follows their religion’s doctrines has a good faith. And not everyone who chooses for themselves what to believe has a bad faith. Authentic, life-giving spirituality is not defined so much by what we believe as by how we believe.
In this week’s podcast, we explore why everyone in the world is a heretic, how to get comfortable with your own heretical ways, and how to live as a heretic while ensuring that your spirituality is good and not bad.
So, if we’re already heretics anyway, why not celebrate our unique form of heresy, and choose what we want to believe for ourselves rather than just accept what we’re told to believe? Why not give ourselves the freedom to explore our options and decide for ourselves what fits us, what works for us, and what supports our evolution into our most connected, compassionate, and contributing selves? And, while we’re at it, why not give others the freedom to do the same?
Hello again, Evolutionaries! I’m John from EvoFaith. I used to be a pastor in a large Christian denomination. But over the years my relationship with the Church became so complicated that I knew it was time for us to break up. Now I am the founder and host of EvoFaith—a new evolution of spiritual community that is open, and inclusive, affirming, and welcoming.
If your relationship with the Church is complicated or if you’ve broken up with Church, then EvoFaith will help you to create your own customised, evolving, and evolutionary spirituality so that you can show up fully, authentically, and courageously in your life and relationships. Ans this is the EvoFaith Podcast. Welcome!
As a child, I remember sometimes closing my bedroom door and putting a sign on the outside saying “Keep Out”. I don’t know if you ever did that. Sometimes that was needed as a protection from siblings and friends who were ignoring my privacy and boundaries. And sometimes it was just cruel. It was keeping other siblings out or keeping friends out who just want to play with me. Sometimes, of course, there was keeping out the girls. And maybe for some of you who were girls, you were keeping out the boys.
But when I think back on those times, sometimes I think that religious communities—and others groups or organisations—kind of do the same thing, that feels a bit like those “Keep Out” signs. And often that sense of keeping some people out is justified by the need for religious, sexual, or doctrinal purity. I can’t help but wonder, why is this purity so important? Why are we so afraid of those who think and act differently? Why do we feel the need to label them ‘heretics’? Why has the word ‘heresy’ become such a negative thing?
The word ‘heresy’ simply refers to a choice. A heretic is just someone who chooses what to believe—as opposed to accepting what they are told to believe. The words ‘heresy’ and ‘heretic’ basically refer to someone who doesn’t adhere completely to the official doctrines of their religion or Church. Now think about it—that basically makes everyone a heretic. Every Christian is technically a heretic to some other part of Christianity. And anyone who isn’t a Christian is a heretic to all of Christianity, even if they are part of a different religion. And there isn’t a single person on the entire planet who isn’t a heretic from someone else’s point of view! And of course, if you go back, from the perspective of the religious leaders of his day, even Jesus was a heretic!
And that makes me wonder: why are we so determined to draw lines, build fences, and keep records of who is in and who is out? Especially when it comes to how we think about and relate to God—about whom we basically know nothing actually, if we’re honest.
Why do we try so hard not to be heretics, not to be those who choose? Why not embrace our freedom to choose and to live as heretics. Now as a quick aside, a wonderful resource, and it’s influenced some of my thinking here, is a great book by Spencer Burke called ‘A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity’. It’s really worth tracking it down and reading it.
So, if we’re already heretics anyway, why not celebrate our unique form of heresy, and choose what we want to believe for ourselves rather than just accept what we’re told to believe? Why not give ourselves the freedom to explore our options and decide for ourselves what fits us, what works for us, what and supports our evolution into our most connected, compassionate, and contributing selves? And, while we’re at it, why not give others the freedom to do the same?
Well, here are some thoughts on how we can do this. And again, you can choose to work with my thoughts or you can choose to go a different way. And I’m totally comfortable with you choosing however you want to do this. But I’ll share my thoughts in the hopes that there’s some value here.
First of all, give yourself the freedom to choose your own spiritual path. Now. it can take some work to get to the point where we really believe that it’s ok to decide for ourselves. It can be surprising how hard that work is and how hard it is to get to that point. But it’s well worth doing that work. The freedom, joy, and richness of finding a path that fits and that enables us to be more intentional and conscious in our personal evolution is beyond words. I remember years ago working with someone from a religious sect in which all the members of that sect had their beliefs were laid out in a book. And this colleague I was working with told me that no one was allowed to differ or question anything in that book. If they did, they would be branded a heretic and they would be excommunicated. I always felt a bit sorry for that colleague, but I have to acknowledge that I’ve experienced churches that are pretty much exactly like that—you have to believe exactly what they tell you. And for them it’s their (or, probably more correctly, their pastor’s) particular interpretation of the Bible that can’t be questioned. Really, I see no reason why we all have to believe exactly the same things in order to be ‘good’ or ‘right’ or to be in community with each other. How boring is the idea of a community where everybody thinks the same way? And that’s why the EvoFaith Tribe welcomes questions and expressions of different ways of thinking, believing, and practicing our lives and our spirituality.
And then I also want to suggest that there’s one exception to my “believe what you like” perspective. And it’s this: it’s not ok to believe things that do harm even if your church tells you you must. As Brian McLaren explains in his book Finding Faith there is good faith and there is bad faith. Good faith is creative, compassionate, kind, self-giving and it’s rooted in love. Bad faith is destructive, narcissistic, unkind, condemnatory, self-serving, and it’s rooted in hatred, division, and dominance over others. No one religion is all good faith. And no one religion is all bad faith. There are people in every spiritual path that express their spirituality in good and creative ways, and there are those in every spiritual path who express their spirituality in bad and destructive ways. The key thing here is to reject bad faith and to embrace good faith.
Now of course, we probably all have elements of base faith in our spirituality and we probably all have elements of good faith. And that’s why we need spirituality and the spiritual practices that empower us to grow and learn and evolve consciously into our best, most connected, compassionate, and contributing selves. Throughout our lives, as we learn and become more aware of others and the needs of our world, so we are able to transform our worst and embody more of our best. It’s a lifelong journey and it’s a mark, I believe, of good faith that we embark on this constant journey of evolving into our best selves.
And I also need to say that I really believe that some beliefs need to be rejected and we need to be open and honest about that. The belief in eternal torment in hell for those who don’t accept a certain specific set of doctrines or adhere to a specific religion is one example of a belief that I think should be thrown out. Redemptive violence is another. And of course those topics are conversations for another time. But I do think that there are some things that need to be opposed and thrown out.
Finally, if we’re embrace and celebrate our heretic selves, we need to accept that it’s ok to change our minds about things. And it’s ok to change our minds often.
We grow. We get new information. To refuse to change is not wisdom. It’s stupid. To change your mind in the light of new data is wise and it leads us to life. And this has to include our beliefs about God, the Bible, and religion. And when our minds change then what we do, say, and think should also change based on our changing understandings.
A few years ago I was deeply struck and challenged by this quote from Bishop John Shelby Spong—who sadly died a few months ago. This is what he said:
The Christian story did not drop from heaven fully written. It grew and developed year by year over a period of forty-two to seventy years. That is not what most Christians have been taught to think, but it is factual. Christianity has always been an evolving story. It was never, even in the New Testament, a finished story.
It was Spong who first helped me to understand that all human knowledge grows, develops, changes and evolves. And so if all ways, all things that we know about, all ways of knowing are constantly changing, so should our spiritual and religious knowledge—our ideas about God, the universe, other creatures and humans, and even about ourselves. And so if that’s true, we should consider it normal—it should be seen as a necessity—for us to change our minds a lot along the way through our lives.
And so, in spite of what religions through the ages have told us, I want to say that being a heretic is actually a good thing. The doctrine police are not there to keep you from going to hell—although that’s what they’ll tell you. They are actually there to keep you from challenging the status quo. The longer I have walked on my own spiritual path, the more convinced I have become that doctrine is simply a matter of control.
And choosing for ourselves what to believe and how to practice our spirituality is to remove that yoke of control and set ourselves free. Free to think. Free to question. Free to explore. Free to experiment. Free to discover. And free to believe whatever makes sense for us and whatever leads us to become more connected, compassionate, healthy, whole, contributing human beings.
And so that’s it for today’s episode. I really hope that it will help you set yourself free to choose a little more. And I hope that you’ll learn more and more how to live as a heretic the way we’ve spoken about today. And may that empower you to show up more fully, authentically, and courageously in your life and relationships.
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Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. I’ll catch you next time!
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