Sunday, February 16, 2014

Non-Christian Heresies

I sometimes get the impression that the very idea of a non-Christian heresy is, if not unthinkable, then mostly unthought. Everyone knows how to be a Christian heretic. Vaguely, we can conceive of a Jewish heresy (I suppose you could call that Christianity, from the modern Jew's perspective.) But I've never encountered a Buddhist heresy, or a pagan heresy, or a hindu heresy in fiction. Doubly odd since as far as I know, Buddhism is a Hindu heresy to begin with.

Has any Buddhist ever declared that attachment is, as a matter of fact, better than Buddha let on and that striving for detachment is ultimately a mistake of priority?


vexingquestions said...

Perhaps there can be Darwinian or Naturalistic heretics, like Thomas Nagel.

Craig said...

At the risk of being obvious, you can't have heresy without orthodoxy. And most religions have at best a vague concept of that -- there doesn't seem to be a single core of Hindu belief, for instance, just a bunch of associated ideas.

Christianity, of course, does, especially but not exclusively the parts with a strong ecclesiastic body to define it. There are also Jewish and Islamic heretics.

Buddhism does have the Four Noble Truths, which I suppose you'd be called a heretic to deny. I don't actually know if that's happened or not. Some slightly less central teachings certainly have been denied by branches of Buddhism; e.g. denigrating monasticism or pacifism.

Crude said...


I'm sure there can be Darwinian and Naturalist heretics. Nagel's the best example there. Or Jerry Fodor.


No, you're making a good point. Buddhist's four noble truths and the like are exactly what I have in mind, actually. Or at least someone straight up denying that cessation of attachment is a good or desirable thing.

Acatus Bensley said...

Desiring to have a life without desire is still desire. Wouldn't that make most Buddhist heretics? Do any of them ever really learn to not desire? All of it seems paradoxical.

Crude said...


I know the east is big on apparent paradoxes, though I'm an amateur at deeper buddhist philosophy. I'd assume they'd realize the problem with that straightaway and probably reason along the lines of 'that's the last desire to drop away' or something. Then again, I stress I'm assuming here.

Water into Whine said...

Hinduism can be a slightly vague religion in itself because of its connections to the social order, as well as multiple, different traditions in different areas, etc. So, for example, the role of individual deities has shifted between a more polytheistic and monotheistic conception, with the former generally being aided by popularisation and mythology. Alongside this you have, for example, Zoroastrianism, which was an assertion of monotheism which drew quite heavily on the ideas of the Rigvedas, etc., and hence Ahura Mazda is probably a reference to the 'asuras,' which was a name given to the gods before it gained primarily negative associations.

In a sense, Buddhism was just as much an affirmation of monotheism against the popular tradition as it was a denial of gods, and many ideas associated with it (reincarnation, unity, the nature of the material world, etc.), are at basis religious or imply some sort of spiritual existence which is more than modern atheism will generally allow consistently. Dharma and cosmic moral order, for example, were preceded by the Hindu concept of rta, which was ruled over by Mitra-Varuna, who was also associated with the forgiveness of sin, punishment, the omnis, and etc. Hence, for example, you have the end-goal of moksha, nirvana, etc., which is freedom from the cycle of existence, rather than simply mental health and so on which is generally what happens when Buddhism is reduced to a non-religious system - if you like, conceptions of higher rebirth (as opposed to physical birth) which aren't reducible to materialism, and so the rejection of the gods (or a creator god) is more an ethical cause towards the same end than a doctrinal one.

Given the general foundations of such religions, there isn't quite as much of a space for heresies (which would have to challenge the social or ethical system as a whole, or in terms of ends), although there is still a degree of divergence which wasn't pronounced in Christianity until Protestantism, or rather which isn't pronounced in Christianity. There wasn't as much social fragmentation as early Christianity generally had to put up with, and the presence of polytheistic themes made things more accessible on a popular level (Buddhism developed towards giving the Buddha a similar role), so that it wasn't quite as necessary to assert certain streams as heretical - the monotheistic current was generally reserved to mystics and more serious religious, whereas in Christianity it determined the whole and thus defining doctrine became crucial for the future of popular ethics and the interaction of Christianity with a society which was foreign to it in a sense. This was, of course, also preceded by the rejection of idolatry, which hence made this a more unified faith or made the two aspects of popular and doctrinal unified. In addition, with Christianity there was also a greater stress on the public proofs of God, and so on, which weren't quite as pronounced in Indian religion due to the stress on experiential or existential proof in meditation and such, which also to a degree can be seen in the contrast of the Illiad and Ramayana, where they are both roughly similar, but the former is political in nature while the latter follows an individual who is also deity and undergoes a similar quest. If one says that a polytheistic water or fire god doesn't exist, what exactly does this mean to a polytheist, unless the water and fire don't exist, or one is a monotheist? (Or, it's a somewhat inconsequential proposition. Polytheism isn't religious, etc. - but it kind of is, or its presence can lead to a stable religion integrating the popular divergences. You suspect that as soon as you eliminate this element, heresy comes into play, so that even Zoroastrianism, which wasn't that intolerant of polytheistic spin-offs, had heresies such as Zurvanism.)

Crude said...


Well, that's informative. The most I knew was that originally buddhism started out as a hindu heresy, which is itself pretty neat by my measure.

I agree about the polytheism, but you have me outgunned on knowledge here, so I'm just going with scraps I picked up.

Vand83 said...

Sorry to bug you Crude, but there was a recent article on I though might interest you.It's called Myth Buster. I'm engaged in a back and forth with another Catholic. I appreciate and trust your thoughts on most issues. I'd be curious to see what you thought on the article. I don't like the article overall, but I can see the point Karl Keating was trying to make.

Crude said...


No problem. I'll have a look at it and comment here.

Crude said...


Alright, that was a short article. Here's my take.

I think Keating is trying to make a variety of points here, in a short space, some of them are stronger than others, all of them pretty difficult to properly communicate.

First, he's talking about adolescents versus prepubescents. I get his point, but the way it comes across makes him sound like he's hair-splitting or making a distinction without a difference. I think another way to put his point is - if a high school coach has sex with 14 year old girl, most people would probably concede we're not talking about child molestation. We're talking about statutory rape. It's a crime, but it's a different crime.

Here is a document showing the ages of abuse victims at their first reported incident of abuse, along with their genders. 80.9% male - not exactly shocking. Here's what I find interesting:

6.5% are age 17.
8.6% are age 16.
11.6% are age 15.
13.2% are age 14.
12.8% are age 13.

Now, that's only counting teenagers. That means over half of the abuse victims were teenagers, far and away most of them were boys, and of course every perpetrator is male. And it sounds like Keating may have more recent stats that skew this further, or he's using a standard for post-pubescent I don't get.

Either way, the fact is that's significant, and I consider it one of the greatest media hat tricks to play off the church scandal as NOT a scandal that touches the LGBT movement in any way. A lot of push has been put into the idea that a pedophile is apparently some kind of weird other-sexuality, but really, a guy having sex with teenage boys at the very least is bi, if not full blown gay.

I agree that the church teachings had nothing to do with this - really, it doesn't even make sense when you think about it.

So overall I think Keating is making a proper point, but it's one that people will attack him on because he kept things so loose. SO now, as you see in the comments, they're accusing him of hairsplitting and making it sound as if he's treating 10 year olds as post-pubescent or something.

Vand83 said...

Thanks, just making sure I wasn't crazy. Like I said, I don't like the article for the same reasons you listed. I go nuts when these people come out of the woodwork to crucify the guy, and completely miss the point he was trying to make. Keating is a good, good guy who's done a lot for the faith.

They end up making it sound like being attracted to a 15 year old Kate Upton is the same as being attracted to a 4 month old baby girl.

Sorry to hijack the thread.

Crude said...

No problem, Vand. I get where you're coming from with Keating - it's not like he said anything terrible, but what he's talking about just requires so much finesse to be an asset rather than a liability, even if the truth is on his side.

Steven Jake said...

Seeing as how you believe there is such a thing as a Christian heresy,I assume you therefore believe there is such a thing as Christian orthodoxy. I wonder how one determines what constitutes orthodoxy? What are your thoughts?

Crude said...


For my purposes, I'm accepting orthodoxy as simply being defined as the dominant, 'official' and institutional views of such and such a religion in terms of fundamental understandings, with heresy being a denial of one or more of those understandings while still maintaining some or most of them. I'm sure that's a definition people can engage in rules-lawyer game with, but that's not a big concern for me.

So, the idea that God is some physical being who has eternally co-existed with the universe (a la mormonism) I'd say is obviously heretical as far as Christianity is concerned, both in a modern and historical sense.