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Heresy is proposing some unorthodox change to an established system of belief, especially a religion, that conflicts with the previously established opinion of scholars of that belief such as canon. It is sometimes confused with apostasy which is disaffiliation from orthodoxy and blasphemy which is defamation of orthodox opinion.

The study of heresy is heresiology. The founder or leader of a heretical movement is called a heresiarch. One who espouses heresy is called a heretic.

Etymology

The word "heresy" comes from the Greek , hairesis (from , haireomai, "choose"), which means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of believers, or a school of thought.

Used in this way, the term "heresy" has no purely objective meaning: the category exists only from the point of view of speakers within a group that has previously agreed about what counts as "orthodox". Any nonconformist view within any field may be perceived as "heretical" by others within that field who are convinced that their view is "orthodox"; in the sciences this extension is made tongue-in-cheek.

The term heresy is often perceived as a value judgment and the expression of a view from within an established belief system.

Religious heresy

Christianity

The use of the word "heresy" in the context of Christianity was given wide currency by Irenaeus in his tract Contra Haereses (Against Heresies) to describe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own position as orthodox (from ortho- "straight" + doxa "belief") and his position eventually evolved into the position of the early Christian Church.

Heretics usually do not define their own beliefs as heretical. For instance, Roman Catholics hold Protestantism as a heresy while some non-Catholics considered Catholicism the "Great Apostasy." For a heresy to exist there must be an authoritative system of dogma designated as orthodox, such as those proposed by Catholicism.

The term heresy is less common today, with some notable exceptions: see for example Rudolf Bultmann and the "character" of debates over ordination of women and gay priests.

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism considers views on the part of Jews which depart from the traditional Jewish principles of faith to be heretical. In addition, mainstream Orthodox Judaism holds that all Jews who reject the simple meaning of Maimonides's 13 principles of Jewish faith are heretics. As such, most of Orthodox Judaism considers Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism to be heretical movements, and regards most of Conservative Judaism as heretical. The liberal wing of Modern Orthodoxy is more tolerant of Conservative Judaism, particularly its right wing, as there is some theological and practical overlap between these groups.

Heresy in Islam

Many in the two main bodies of IslamSunnis and the Shi'as—have regarded the other as heretical. Groups like the Ismailis, the Hurufiya, the Alawis, the Bektashi and even the Sufis have also been regarded as heretical by some . Although Sufism is often accepted as valid by Shi'a and many Sunnis, the relatively recent movement of Wahhabism view it as heretical.

Contemporary heresy

Today, heresy can be without a religious context as the holding of ideas that are in fundamental disagreement with the status quo in any practice and branch of knowledge. Religion is not a necessary component of the term's definition. The revisionist paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, who published his findings as The Dinosaur Heresies, jokingly treated the mainstream view of dinosaurs as dogma.

The term heresy is also used as an ideological pigeonhole for contemporary writers because by definition heresy depends on contrasts with an established orthodoxy. For example, the tongue-in-cheek contemporary usage of heresy, such as to categorize a "Wall Streetmarker heresy" a "Democratic heresy" or a "Republican heresy", are metaphors which invariably retain a subtext that links orthodoxies in geology or biology or any other field to religion. These expanded metaphoric senses allude to both the difference between the person's views and the mainstream, and the boldness of such a person in propounding these views.

Variance from orthodox Marxism-Leninism is described as "right" or "left deviationism." The Church of Scientology uses the term "squirreling" to refer to unauthorized alterations of its teachings or methods.

Selected quotations

  • James G. March on the relation between madness, heresy, and genius: "... we sometimes find that such heresies have been the foundation for bold and necessary change, but heresy is usually just new ideas that are foolish or dangerous and appropriately rejected or ignored. So while it may be true that great geniuses are usually heretics, heretics are rarely great geniuses."


  • Isaac Asimov distinguished between two types of scientific heretic: "Endoheretics are appropriately credentialed scientists. If the person is outside the scientific community or at least outside of his specialty, he is an exoheretic. If a person is an endoheretic, he will be considered as eccentric and incompetent, whereas if the person is an exoheretic, he will be regarded as a crackpot, charlatan, or fraud."


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