Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.

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The Inner Light Rising is a production of The MarkFoster.NETwork and hosted on The Bahá'í Studies Web Server™. The focus of this postmodern mystical publication is on a deconstruction of certain conventional and dominative religious perspectives and the construction of new ones. Given its attention to the subject of the Inner Light, it may be of special interest to members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and to students of mysticism and meditation.

Religions, the sacralized constructions of beliefs and praxes which narrate a moral community, are open-sourced. That is to say, once the charisma has been routinized, or institutionalized, in a community, its doctrines and rules are narrated or constructed through a continual dialogue between adherents and their traditions. This work is one contribution to such a process.

Unity in Diversity

To begin, let us briefly inquire as to whether orthopraxy, right behavior, is the basis of a sound spiritual life and whether an over-emphasis on orthodoxy, right beliefs, reflects misunderstandings of the Light presented in various religious scriptures.

Indeed hairesis (heresy) is a malignant pointer to heteropraxy (deviant behavior), not a benign reference to heterodoxy (alternative beliefs). Heresy manifests a denial of the Inner Light through a promotion of division and sectarianism. Heterodoxy is associated with doctrinal differences among believers.

According to W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, hairesis:

denotes (a) "a choosing, choice" (from haireomai, "to choose"); then, "that which is chosen," and hence, "an opinion," especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects, Gal. 5:20 (marg., "parties"); such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage; see 2 Pet. 2:1, where "destructive" (RV) signifies leading to ruin; some assign even this to (b); in the papyri the prevalent meaning is "choice" (Moulton and Milligan, Vocab.); (b) "a sect;" this secondary meaning, resulting from (a), is the dominating significance in the NT, Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22; "heresies" in 1 Cor. 11:19 ....

Separations based solely on dogma are nowhere to be found in the New Testament, and assumptions of faithlessness often underlying accusations of heterodoxy have not been born out in studies and meditations on certain past and present testimonies of the Inner Light. Strict doctrinal conformity is, for the most part, less important than an avoidance of heteropraxy or heresy.

The overriding consideration must be whether, in the spirit of the antichrist (divisiveness), an individual was attempting, as by challenging the appearance of the Logos (Word) in the flesh (2 John 1:7), to sever the body of Christ or whether, in the spirit of unity in diversity, only an alternative understanding was suggested.

It may even be said that common views of heresy as heterodoxy, serving as they do to divide believers on the basis of doctrinal differences, are themselves isomorphic with New Testament usages of hairesis. Rather, a latitudinarian position, one which tolerates doctrinal freedom while promoting an adoption of established moral standards, is desirable.

Therefore, if believers in a meeting or church responded to certain upholders of mere doctrinal differences by attacking, separating, disowning, reading out of meeting, shunning, disfellowshipping, or excommunicating them, treating them as agitators or schismatics, then "the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6) rested upon that congregation, not upon those with the variations of opinion.

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