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Sex and Religion! (Now that I have your attention…)

19th Century conception of a Roman orgy

Title and image aside, I have no intention whatsoever of prurience in this post.  Rather, I want to discuss an issue that has been bouncing around my mind in thinking about certain common themes in Gnosticism, early Christianity, and modern “new religions”.  It occurred to me that a certain framework of viewing these themes might be particularly useful.  I’ll get to that framework in just a bit.  As to the themes themselves, the main one is indeed sex, or rather accusations of sex.  What do I mean by that?  Read on!

Very early in Christian history–perhaps during the lifetime of the Apostles, but certainly within less than a century–divisions arose in the early Church.  These divisions principally centered around the interpretation of the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, the things he taught, and authority in the Church.  One group claimed to hold to authority passed down in an unbroken chain from the Apostles themselves through their successors, the bishops.  This group later codified its beliefs in the Nicene Creed.  The vast majority of modern Christian Churches–Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, most Protestants, and some others–descend from this group.  In speaking of the early Church, scholars sometimes refer to this group as the “proto-orthodox”.  The proto-orthodox group of Christians stood in opposition to various other groups of “sectarians”, “partisans”, or to use the Greek term, “heretics“.

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Heresy: Systems of Control

We’ve looked at various ways of defining heresy here, here, and here; and we looked at orthodoxy and heresy in terms of conformity and non-conformity over here.  In this post, I want to look at the issue in a more sociological context.

The tendency in writing about heresy–definitely in traditional histories of Christianity, where orthodoxy is the Good Guy trying to fight off the heretical Bad Guys that keep popping up, but also in a lot of revisionist narratives, too–is to make it about the intellect, on the one hand, or Good vs. Evil, on the other.

The first mode is sort of theology as mathematics.  That is, the emphasis is on minute analysis of data (in this case, Scripture, Tradition, statements by Councils, and so on), discussion, and debate, all geared towards discovering what the real teaching of the Church actually is.  In other words, it’s a lot like trying to prove whether or not Fermat’s Last Theorem is correct or not–it might take a lot of work, but it can be done with enough intellectual elbow grease.  This point of view is especially appealing to the Scholastic and Thomist temperament; but unfortunately, it’s a really bad model of what’s going on.

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