The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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On Orthodoxies and Heresies

Most Christians today believe that their faith is the faith of the apostles, the first followers of Jesus. They were taught in Sunday schools and catechism classes that what they believe is the orthodox belief. Implicit with this belief is that all dissenting views of the past were made by people who were aware of the orthodox position, but either did not understand or could not accept it.

Hence the development of heretical Christian sects and teachings were seen and are being seen today as attempts to subvert the apostolic and orthodox position. In this view, it is assumed that the orthodox teachings existed in its purest form, uncontaminated by heresy, during the time of the apostles. The apostolic period became, in this idea, the initial reference point from which all future disputes must appeal to. a misrepresentation of the orthodox position. [1]

The assumption in this definition is obvious: orthodoxy must have existed earlier than heresy. Only then could heresy "misrepresent" it. This idea, that truth is older than error [a], is a traditional Christian one. As one of the early church fathers, Tertullian (c160-225) said:

the real thing always exists before the representation of it; the copy comes later. [2]

This idea had permeated the Christian psyche and forms the fundamental viewpoint with which it views its own history. Orthodoxy, according to Christians, was always present, and survived repeated diabolical attacks on it throughout history. The Christian historian Eusebius (c260-340), asserted that it was the heretics who introduced new and innovative [b] teachings which the orthodox successfully resisted. To him heretics are people who:

through a passion for innovation have wandered as far as possible from the truth. [3]

Eusebius, in his book on Christian history, The History of the Church (324 CE), presented the first three centuries of the church as that of a successful defence of the orthodox and apostolic faith.

It is granted, then, that the idea of a non-evolving apostolic faith withstanding all sorts of theological assaults is a deeply imbedded one. But how far is this view supported by what we know today of the historical development of Christianity? The answer can be seen in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity which is one of the central dogmas of Christianity. This dogma is accepted by almost all Christian churches, with the exception of some fringe churches such as Unitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses. The central tenet of Trinitarianism is that there are three distinct "persons" in the divine Godhead; namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; these three are of the same substance, co equal and coeternal; yet these three only make up one God.

Many Christians today believe that this dogma is found in the Bible to the exclusion of all other "false" dogmas; and that somehow, it was a doctrine taught by Jesus and the apostles themselves.

The fact of the matter, however, is very different, as we shall see in this chapter. There was no clear cut formulation of these doctrines in the apostolic writings (i.e. The New Testament) and in those of the early Christian fathers. As we shall also see, the sayings and passages from the scriptures used by all parties to support their beliefs are so vague that they can be used to support both the orthodox and the heretical position.

Furthermore, the term heretic and orthodox is one so loaded with implicit assumptions that it would be hard for the modern reader to see that these labels are essentially retroactive ones. In other words, "heretic" was the label every party in the dispute hurled at the opposing party and orthodox is a term reserved only for one's own theological position. The scriptures are vague enough for every party to use it to booster its own claim of orthodoxy and to denounce everyone else as heretics. Thus, ultimately, it was the losers of the theological battle who got the term heretics attached to them and heresies attached to their teachings. As Elaine Pagels, a scholar specializing in early Christianity wrote:

It is the winners who write history-their way. No wonder, then, that the viewpoint of the successful majority has dominated all accounts of the origin of Christianity. Ecclesiastical Christians first defined the terms (naming themselves "orthodox" and their opponents "heretics"); they proceed to demonstrate-at least to their own satisfaction-that their triumph was historically inevitable, or, in religious terms, "guided by the Holy Spirit." [4]

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a.With the development of modern science and its associated methodology, this idea sounds downright archaic to most of us. In science, just because an idea is "old" does not guarantee its authority. An old idea that has never been put to the test is the same as a new untested idea. The test of an hypotheses lies in the success or failure of the experiments it suggests. In this scientific view, new developments normally encompass older incomplete theories. Hence newer tested and verified ideas are normally a closer approximation to the "truth" than old ideas. It is high time that the dictum "truth is older than error" be confined to the intellectual scrap heap of mankind.
b.Here is another word that had had its very essence changed by science. Innovation today is a positive sounding word. We talk of technological innovations or innovations in the filed of physics etc. Being innovative is today considered a positive attribute. In the traditional Christian intellectual world view, innovation is a downright obscene word. For by being innovative one is deviating from the revealed and older truth. It is important to read the excerpt from Eusebius with this idea of the word.


1.Hordern, A Layman's Guide to Protestant Theology: p10
2.quoted inWilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings: p48
3.quoted in Wilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings: p64
4.Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels: p147

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