On the Need for a Society for Heresy Studies:
David Dickinson

David Dickinson
Methodist Minister, Author

Why is someone with a title like mine (Revd. Dr.) sharing in the founding of an International Society for Heresy Studies? The simple answer is that the reverent academic appraisal of heresy, unbelief and atheism fuels my understanding of my work as a ‘professional Christian.’ The church I belong to and the local congregation I lead must learn how to be a faithful part of the society, culture and context in which they are set; they must have integrity and stand to reason. But there is more to it than that.

In reaction to the observation that too much study of heterodoxy in the past has been to show how the classical heresies ‘got it wrong’, to show how we should avoid their ‘mistakes’ now and to affirm orthodoxy as the ‘right path’, I take heresy seriously and find facets of truth therein. In response to an over-confident theology that makes assertions about God, I search for truth in the unknowing, as well as in the absent Presence or Absence that is present. In this quest, I suspect that vibrant theology occurs in what I have called the hinterland of heresy, in the borders and on the edges. That’s where human understanding of the spiritual luxuriates and expands. Because belief cannot be held in isolation, which is to say that no religious believer can be entirely isolationist, any theology which pays no heed to alternatives of heresy, unbelief and atheism is in danger of becoming moribund. Indeed, I find that many expressions of Christian orthodoxy are, at best, stale. Human understanding of God is enriched by consideration of alternative understandings, including atheisms.

Unlike confessional theology which tends towards rationalisation and systematisation, literature (including the Christian Bible!) is much more hospitable to alternative concepts held in paradox, flux and tension. Literature has, therefore, often informed creative and innovative theology forged on the anvil of experience. Whether intentionally or not, writers – those with religious belief, those without belief, those who are heretical, those who are blasphemous and those, like many of us, who simply don’t know – assist the theological quest, which some prefer to call an atheological quest. The (a)theological and literary quests go on hand in hand. This collaborative search, where nothing is sacred but all is respected, is what I hope this Society will reverently assist.

Permanent link to this article: http://heresystudies.org/2013/06/14/on-the-need-for-a-society-for-heresy-studiesdavid-dickinson/

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