Friday, February 23, 2007


The words 'heresy' and 'heretic' may conjure up a sinister image for many, harking back to medieval times when there was much ado about such things. People willing to inflict injury, torture, and death, other folks willing to endure the same, all for the sake of some theological details. We tend to look disparagingly, or at least condescendingly, upon the primitive narrow-mindedness that would not esteem diversity of thought as we do today. Enlightened and educated, we now regard differences of opinion on such matters as a healthy thing, certainly not a cause for extreme reactions.

With that in mind, i recently looked into the etymology of the word 'heresy', and found that it was originally a quite innocuous term, even mundane. It comes directly from the Greek word αιρεσις (airesis or hairesis), which just means 'choice' or to 'choose' or 'select'. It's what the Greeks did at their market, and what you do at the mall or supermarket or video store. You pick and choose. You don't like that brand of peanut butter; you prefer this brand. That movie looks boring, but here's one that might be interesting. Certainly nothing evil or threatening in that. Choice is a good thing.

Well, i suppose it might be allowed that in some areas, a completely open-ended choosing might become problematic. We generally recognize, for instance, that in the military there needs to be a chain of command; it wouldn't work to have each individual soldier freely choosing what action to take. Likewise, in business, individual employees must sacrifice some autonomy and work to advance the collective success of the company, else the business will likely fail. Generally speaking, any human enterprise involving teamwork will necessarily also involve some curtailing of individual choice. Unity in religious faith is a special example of this. The bond of cohesiveness between believers assumes substantial agreement as to what beliefs they hold in common, else there is no bond.

But unity of faith goes beyond the teamwork priciple. The very pursuit of eternal truth presupposes that the truth is, in fact, attainable, and that other beliefs are therefore false and misleading. If truth exists at all, it must exist universally, and it must be singular. Pluralistic truth is an oxymoron. To speak of my truth is to speak of something that cannot be applied to others; i may as well speak of nothing at all. By contrast, the truth is worth speaking about, perhaps even arguing over.

The notion of pluralistic or relative truth carries with it the idea of the sovereignty of each individual self to decide what is and isn't true. So, besides being oxymoronic and intellectually untenable, this approach is essentially self-centered and arrogant, in that it vaunts the individual person's opinions above other considerations. Such intellectual myopia and self-centeredness would not seem to indicate a healthy faith. The more humble and honest approach would be to forget about pursuing my truth, and simply receive the truth as revealed and taught. Two examples:

The typical Evangelical proclaims the Bible to be the authoritative teacher of religious truth. But if that believer begins to 'pick and choose' which Scripture texts he will swear by, while ignoring, discounting, or explaining away the passages he doesn't like, that believer has ceased to be a true disciple and student of the Word, and has assumed the role of its critic and master instead.

In the same way, by claiming to be a Catholic, the Catholic believer implicitly accepts the Church as the authoritative teacher on matters of faith and morals. But if he freely selects which doctrines he will or will not hold, he is no longer a real Catholic. That is, his privately maintained beliefs cannot credibly be called 'catholic' or 'universal'.

So, to exercise airesis, to pick and choose what to believe, is incompatible with genuine faith. This is what the word heresy means.

And when you really think about it, these issues may be pretty important after all. Ideas do have consequences. What you believe will inevitably impact how you live your life, and will ultimately make our world either better or worse, depending upon whether your core values were good to start with. Those dusty theological details end up having enormous consequences.

Consider this: The Holocaust didn't just happen spontaneously. Early last century, a certain Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), and others, began to develop ideas about a master human race, the elimination of 'human weeds' (inferior races), and the deliberate undermining of Church authority to bring this about. Many leaders in the Third Reich acknowledged the writings of Sanger as the philosophical platform upon which they built their programs. If a strong resistance to heresy had been in place at that time, these racist and genocidal ideas would likely have remained the private thoughts of a few miserable souls, and would never have been admitted into matters of German policy.

This brings us back to the original questions. Is a concern over truth vs. heresy a dangerous attitude? Or merely rigid and antiquated? Or is heresy itself more dangerous and potentially fatal? Might those medieval folks actually have something to teach us today? Is 'agreeing to disagree' an enlightened attitude? Or a deadly one? Or, perhaps, merely a lazy and apathetic one?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Ash Wednesday - the beginning of our Lenten journey through the desert, a season of repentance. Not a big mystery, really. If a half century of life has revealed anything to me, it is my own great capacity to ignore my sinfulness and make excuses for myself. And as i look around me, i realize i'm not the only one. Probably you who read this share this talent for self deception.

So, we need to periodically stop, take stock, and agree with God that our sins are evil. Then we can turn for forgiveness and healing.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Strike Three!

The opprobrious travesty, the howling illogic, and the tragic injustice of Roe v. Wade was perpetrated 34 years ago, arguably the greatest crime ever committed by a supposed tribunal of law. Unless they repent, there surely is an especially deep pit in Hell awaiting the black-robed thugs who, in doing this, bear the blood of the innocent on their foolish and darkened souls.

Along with many others, my initial and sincere belief was that this abortion of justice could be corrected through reasoned and democratic means, which is what we sought. Year after year we followed the usual within-the-system approach of writing letters, urging legislative action, public protests, etc. Meanwhile, the legalization of abortion was becoming ever more entrenched and accepted as the norm, leading both to greater complacency and to the expansion of the culture of death to include euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, trafficking in embryonic body parts, and the sanctioning and propagating of it all in conventional medicine, UN programs, and policies of foreign aid and government entitlements. These last elements were especially galling because they meant i was being forced to subsidize the holocaust with my tax dollars.

Eventually, in the early 1990's, i started to admit that the mild approach was simply not working, and never would. I began to share this conviction with fellow pro-lifers, and soon wrote to Judie Brown of the American Life League, urging her to join with other pro-life leaders in calling for and organizing something more radical, like an all-out strike. My idea was soundly rebuffed. Some years later, i tried again, this time writing to Dr. James Dobson, who wrote back and, in a kind manner, also demurred. So i began to seek ways to keep my own counsel, which is basically why for the past 8 years i have been living in the north woods, paying only local taxes, and more or less trying not to partake of the orgy of economic and political activity that comes with such a bloody price tag. I am, in effect, on strike. I know, i know - conventional wisdom dictates that we not seek 'an idyllic retreat' but bravely stay in the fray and resist the evil while still maintaining our lives in the world. Sounds fine. Is that approach effective? Honestly now, is it??

Through the teaching of John-Paul II, i also came to realize that consumerism, along with materialism and hedonism, has been fueling the culture of death and its growth all along. So a secondary motivation for me has been to reject the dogma of consumerism, and to try to live in a way that is as sustainable and non-consumeristic as possible. It really isn't all that difficult, once you start ignoring the cultural expectations that militate against such non-conformity. I may expand upon this theme in a later post some time. Meanwhile, alas, time passes, Jerry DePyper ages, and i grow weary of the various vexations of living this way alone. So, Lord willing, i am slowly preparing to enter a new chapter of life soon, as described also in an earlier post. But i digress. I said all the above so i could say this:

Recently, in the July-August newsletter of Life Decisions International, (search: 'Jerry DePyper'), i have made a third public appeal for an all-out pro-life strike. I suppose you could consider this little blog post an extension of that appeal. Here is the full appeal:

Even more effective than boycotts, strikes have historically been well employed to achieve political, social, and economic ends when less extreme measures have failed. Well, i say that the pro-life movement's tactics have to date been altogether too mild and timid, and it's high time for something much more serious (and, i admit, risky).
In fact, i have called for this very thing since the early 1990's, pleading for it from such pro-life leaders as Judie Brown and James Dobson, but have had no takers. I have since followed my own counsel, and have been 'on strike' since the late 1990's, living a virtually tax-free and income-free life of subsistence on a 10-acre homestead.
The existence of such enterprises as mine would be a critical part of any strike. Indeed, i could see pro-life Christians developing an entirely independent economy of our own, doing business with each other, while refusing to pay any taxes or to take part in the economy of the mainstream culture until very specific demands are met:
1. Legal protection restored to all human beings, from the moment of conception until natural death. This need not be a Constitutional amendment, but might be a simple federal law or Supreme Court decision recognizing all humans as 'persons', thus effectively reversing Roe v. Wade.,
2. Repeal all entitlement and funding programs using tax dollars for abortion, fetal tissue research, etc.
3. Stop public funding of Planned Parenthood, and other 'non-profits' advocating or performing abortion, euthanasia, etc.
I could also add
4. A non-revocable nation-wide declaration recognizing that marriage is by its nature monogamous and heterosexual, and only such can ever be accorded the rights and duties proper to marriage.
even though this is not a strictly pro-life issue.
I could also tolerate a scaled-back version of the above, consisting not of a full-blown general strike, but a mere taxpayer revolt whereby pro-lifers would continue to work and conduct business, but all taxes would be withheld until the above demands are met. In my opinion, though, we've already been pulling our punches way too much. An all-out strike, and leave the results to God!
Any takers?

I applaud and admire the diligent efforts of Judie Brown, Dr. Dobson, and others, but i truly can't see how anything will improve unless we are willing to accompany these efforts with a more radical action that will demand much of us, and will thereby break through the cultural and political stupor and force the issues to be definitively addressed.

I suppose the desired solution could come about despite the inadequacy of our actions, namely, through direct divine intervention. Indeed, our faith assures us that someday all wrongs will be made right by the One Righteous Judge, before whom those others will shrivel in shame. But that hope does not excuse complacency, does it? Nor does it undo the spiritual and physical carnage being wrought while we morally slumber. Moreover, God's solutions often turn out to be quite painful in their purgative effects. Is it prudent to passively await God's righteous anger, which could well mean a calamitous implosion of our culture? I still believe it would be better to gird our collective loins and take the bull by the horns and perhaps deflect the greater part of God's judgment. Anybody?

Thursday, February 1, 2007


A person's a person, no matter how small
  - Horton
As in the previous post where i briefly discussed the definition of marriage, i turn now to the definition of persons. Not just the nominal definition where we decide to use the utterance "person" to mean a certain thing, but beyond that to a real or explanatory definition, to discovering what is the essence of the underlying reality.

In his book Healing the Culture, Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. moves through the 4 levels of definition, from the nominal, subjective definition to the objective explanation: what the subject is, what it does, and what is its final end or purpose. So, what is a person? What distinctive characteristics does a person possess? I cannot do justice to Dr. Spitzer's thorough analysis in one little blog post (i really recommend reading the book), but a brief summary would involve recognizing the inherent capacity for the transcendental: that persons alone have the drive and the ability to appreciate things like eternity, truth, love, goodness, beauty, etc. The religious perspective would call this the spiritual dimension of our nature.

Well, what of someone who doesn't appear to possess this dimensionality? Should such a one no longer be considered a person? Is a severely mentally handicapped individual not a person? What about someone in a persistent coma? For that matter, what of someone who is drunk? Or asleep? Turns out that the discovery of inherent powers also involves the recognition that these powers may not always be manifest, due to external or internal conditions, but that the underlying potential must still be acknowledged. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Else we would end up with the silly notion that someone's inherent personhood could be turned off and on like a faucet, or was dependent upon accidental conditions.

OK, so when does a person become a person? Glad you asked. This may be one of the least ambiguous questions, since we have the biological evidence to support what our theology has taught us all along: that the new person begins to exist at the moment of conception, when all of the potential powers first come into existence. Yep, that little muffin in the oven is not just a blob of tissue, but a real person.

The quite simple yet undeniably reasonable conclusion to all this is this: that every being of human origin should be considered a person.

Even were we to entertain questions about this conclusion, we would do well to err on the side of caution, and assume personhood rather than deny it. History demonstrates the bleak alternative: Hitler doubted the inherent potential of non-Aryans. The Dred Scott decision questioned the full personhood of black slaves. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, repeatedly expressed doubt over the worthiness of the "inferior races". And on and on.

The ramifications are clear. Since the pre-born baby and the comatose patient are persons, let's see them as Whos and not merely whats.