T H O U G H T  P R O V O C A T E U R S


heretic/'heretik/ n. 1 The holder of an unorthodox opinion. 2 hist. a person believing or practicing religious heresy. heretical adj. heretically adv. [ORIGIN] Middle English via Old French heretique and ecclesiastical Latin haereticus from Greek hairetikos "able to choose" (as heresy)











Are You a Thought Criminal?

[This is the future page of Mindvendor's support for those who are interested in hosting a Heretics Anonymous salon.]

My husband Bob and I have hosted monthly Heretics Anonymous gatherings for nearly 20 years now. This cherished pastime beats golf any day. (A heretical notion to many we know and love.)

For now, as a place-holder, I have printed a truncated version of "Heretic's Anonymous," a chapter from Bob's book The Reason Driven Life.



For many years my wife Carol and I have conducted discussion groups called Heretics Anonymous. As you might expect, the name is a joke. There is no attempt, as in 12-step groups who suffix their monikers with "Anonymous," to free anyone from their addiction to heresy. We are quite committed to heresy, because the word "heresy," the Greek hairesis, simply means "choice." It became a theological cuss word when orthodoxy decided with Luciferian hubris that it could prescribe right belief for everyone. That one should choose one's own belief rather than meekly swallow the catechism of the bishops was deemed the greatest effrontery.

The name originated in the halls of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a bastion of stale and arrogant orthodoxy, when a few of the guys (including one who used to do a great Billy Graham imitation--I once took a picture of him shaking hands with Dr. Graham) mused with a gleam in their collective eye that there ought to be a retreat for free-thinkers, sort of a "Heretics Anonymous"! I became one of that number, and when I graduated and went on to campus ministry at Montclair State College, I soon discovered a similar need among the ranks of those disaffected from the more straightlaced Christian groups on campus. I worked for the Protestant Foundation, which had little real student constituency, and I scheduled a meeting room for Heretics Anonymous, soon two, as there were too many for one weekly meeting to accommodate.

Ah, those were the days! We would put up posters emblazoned with slogans like "Read this quick before some bigot tears it down!" My favorite was the one that depicted four cartoon characters in the familiar postures of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"--with a fourth praying with closed eyes and folded hands!

These groups continued to meet for no-holds-barred discussion, sometimes with prepared student presentations, regularly for six years until I moved to North Carolina. And not long after Carol and I returned to New Jersey where I was to serve as pastor of a very free-thinking congregation, we began to feel that reviving Heretics as a church function might not be a bad idea. It would provide a forum for free discussion and feedback that simply would never be possible on Sunday mornings. As it turned out, we were disappointed to find that there was seldom much overlap between those who came to Heretics Anonymous on Friday evenings and those who showed up to church on Sunday mornings.

Many of the Heretics are people I met through the philosophy department at Montclair State, former students or colleagues, folks I met through Adult School classes I have taught or through Film Series I have hosted, and others still were invited by friends who enjoyed the group.

One man, an advertising writer who's done commercials you've heard, I met when we were both standing with our daughters in the Pony Ride line at the local Teddy Bear Fair. I happened to be holding a copy of a Derrida's Dissemination, and he inquired about it. He soon confided that he was "a Jew who prays to Jesus and believes in reincarnation." I knew Heretics was the place for him and invited him.

Another regular is an English major with a minor in philosophy. Like me, he is a devotee of H.P. Lovecraft, and he is a member of a thrash-metal rock group with its own CDs. Another is a family court judge in New York City. Another is a dance instructor, another a singer and actress, another a writer, another a cabby who has tales to tell of his chats with Derrida and David Lehmann as he drove them to lectures. There are two psychotherapists, one specializing in helping homosexuals accept their orientation. One man recently returned from a semester in Argentina where he was robbed by terroristas twice. Then there's one of the original Montclair State College Heretics, now one of the most gifted and celebrated kindergarten teachers in the Montclair School system.

There are a couple of writers, and the group provides the opportunity to share contacts and possible markets. There are two or three literary criticism buffs. Politically you can find ultra-liberals as well as conservatives of the most politically incorrect opinions. The most politically liberal also happens to be the most theologically conservative, an articulate evangelical--who also shares the Lovecraft addiction (and so does the judge!). What a crew! With a group like this, there is pretty much no way the discussion is not going to be interesting.

The meetings have thrived in the years we've offered them, some years, twice per month, the first and third Fridays. Everyone, usually about 15 people, sits around our living room. Wine, soda, munchies, cheese and crackers circulate freely--as do ideas. Usually the melee will begin with someone reading an essay or book review from some source or other. Then the discussion may ricochet anywhere. Often the fun lasts till the wee hours, occasionally all night.

Gradually we found we had to circulate a list of ground rules facilitating polite interaction, but no one minded, and it did some good. One major caveat, though: you may feel differently, but we have always thought it best to avoid politics. It is divisive, mundane, and worst of all, there are plenty of other opportunities throughout the week to air your opinions on these matters. So why waste rare evenings when more advanced ethical, spiritual, and existential topics can come up for review?

Over the years, I have often been gratified to hear people exclaim how much they enjoy the meetings, and how unique they are. But this has equally surprised me! What we do, surely anyone can do! As long as you have acquaintances who you think would enjoy it, just make a list of some topics, clip some columns, choose some book excerpts, set out some wine, soda, and munchies, and you're on your way!


Robert M. Price



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