Heretic Middle English: from Old French heretique, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek hairetikos ‘able to choose’ (in ecclesiastical Greek, ‘heretical’), from haireomai ‘choose’.

In the Encyclopaedia Britannica one can read:
“The word heresy is derived from the Greek hairesis which originally meant an act of choosing, and so came to signify a set of philosophical opinions or the school professing them.

As so used the term was neutral, but once appropriated by Christianity it began to convey a note of disapproval. This was because the church from the start regarded itself as the custodian of a divinely imparted revelation, which it alone was authorized to expound …

Thus any interpretation which differed from the official one was necessarily “heretical” in the new, pejorative sense.”

Heresy is being right when the right thing to do is to be wrong. It is insisting that two and two make four when the proper, professional or patriotic thing is to say they make five. It is believing that the earth moves around the sun, when Luther, Calvin and Saint Roberto Bellarmino all tell us that the sun moves around the earth.

Of course, it would be a mistake to think that the heretic is always right. NO ONE IS. Moreover often heresy has nothing to do with being right or wrong in the literal mathematical or scientific senses of these terms. Instead, it has to do with not believing what everyone else believes or what one ought to believe; with proclaiming disbelief when the right thing to do is to profess belief or at least remain silent.

One thus knows that he is a heretic when his friends and colleagues confront him with an incredulous and indignant: “You mean you don’t believe that … ?” What one does not believe might be that the Jews are the Chosen People; or that Jesus is the Son of God; or that Freud was a scientist; or that Mohammed ever was enlightened by a angel called Gabriel or at least ever was enlightened at all. Each of these disbeliefs is a heresy for those who believe in them, but not for those who do not.

The point is that what is heretical for one person may be heroic for another and irrelevant for a third. Most heresies are about religion. That is, they pertain to matters where language is used in two ways, literally and methaporically; where the true believer speaks metaphorically but claims that he asserts literal truths; and where heresy may consist of no more than insisting that a metaphoric truth may be a literal falsehood.

This is what poets and politicians, psychotics and psychiatrists, therapists and theologians all have in common: they all deal with metaphors that sustain the dignity and lives of some and destroy those of others; and they all deal deceivingly with metaphors, insisting that metaphorical meaning is literal and that literal meaning is metaphorical.

The result of all this is the mystification, the nonsense, and the outright dishonesty that make up a large part of the linguistic air people in all cultures have always exhaled and then, mistaking it for the pure air of the mountains or oceans, have enthusiastically rebreathed. …

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