Modernization and heresy

October 22, 2012

In his 1979 book The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation, Peter Berger states the premise that all human beings, regardless of their culture or intellectual disposition, live in a cultural and religious context that differs dramatically from the one in which their foundational faith tradition developed.

Yet, in significant ways that foundational faith is still a necessary part of their life today, and all people are required to decide how they will affirm that tradition in this new world. In so doing, everyone has no choice but in some way to become a heretic. “Modernity is the universalization of heresy.”

As a life-long member and long-time historian within the classic Protestant version of Christianity, I have been aware of this tension most of my life, and I am also at ease with many of the devices that churches in this tradition have used to interpret our basic text, which is the 66-book canonical Bible.

Recently, I have started reading about two other faith traditions, Islam and the Latter Day Saints, which also hold the Bible in a position of respect. Each of these traditions, however, has been shaped by one or more books that were composed at later dates and which augment or supersede the Bible and shape the distinctive elements of their religious movement.

In a series of posts, I have reported on these studies, and now have gathered them together into one document. My purpose has not been to discuss the contents of these later sacred writings, although that is something that needs to be explored. Rather, I am interested in the interpretive methods which are used to build bridges that are anchored in both old texts and contemporary life in a western, secularized context.

My goal is twofold: to see how people whose significant books are greatly different from my own develop their respective bridges; and to look for elements in their work that can help me make my own connections between ancient texts and modern times.

The title of this paper is “Living by Old Texts,” and you can read it by clicking on the title.