Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

heretic: a person holding a belief at odds with what is generally accepted. Used normally in reference to religion, where it indicates anyone holding a belief not consistent with what religious authorities agree on. But the strange thing is that heresy goes in all directions: go too far ahead, you're a heretic. Lag too far behind, you become a heretic. Not just in religion, but in science, in literary theory, in anything, one can without a change in any opinion become heretical. All it requires is opinion moving on without you, which it does all the time. Just at the moment I'm reading John Julius Norwich's Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, and as one might expect, heresy appears. But what is and is not heretical could change in a generation; what was permitted could become forbidden more quickly than one would imagine. So, too, in modern life, though with less burnings and beheadings and such. Where once a person thinking gays deserved rights would be heretical, now the person who thinks they don't is, and that in 30 years. Where once global warming was a heretical notion, now the doubting of it is heretical. But the powers that enforce orthodoxy are so much weaker these days, at least in the United States, that heresy seldom gets punished at all. Laughed at, perhaps, but we do not take it seriously. Which I feel is for the best. Let every person have their own opinion, so long as no one is harmed, and all is well.

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