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Christianity / Orientations /
Greek: hairesis
Arabic: kufr
Hebrew: kefira

Christian heresies

Theological mechanism to label a doctrine or system of an opponent false.
Heresy is defined in all doctrinal religions, it is only when an established system is established that deviations can be identified.
The word comes from Greek hairesis, which originally was a neutral term signifying the holding of a particular set of philosophical opinions. Within a Christian context the term heresy was soon employed with negative connotations.
In Christianity there are two central terms representing the opposite of heresy: orthodox, "right thinking"; and catholic, "universal".
A term close to heresy, is apostasy. By definition, heresy is the rejection of one or more doctrine, apostasy is a full rejection of faith. However, in many conflicts, opponents are labelled apostates to underline the severity of their heresy. Another term relevant to heresy, is schism; in conflicts over doctrine, two parties accusing each other of heresy may lead to a permanent division, a schism.
In Christianity, those declared heretical are done so by an ecclesiastical authority, which claims to have its authority from being under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and belonging to a line of transmission of faith from the very first Christians. Heretic groups and individuals have on many occasions remained inside the dominating orientation. If excommunicated, it will often be wrong to use the term schism. Adherents of the doctrine or system labelled "heretical", usually oppose the criticism, and do not consider themselves heretical.
In Modern Judaism, it is mainly within Orthodox groups that the identification of heresies are of importance. Heretics, they claim, are those deviating from traditional principles. Largely, it could be said that Judaism is not a doctrinal religion, despite covering one of most extensive bodies of texts of any world religion. Judaism has a doctrinal flexibility which makes heresy processes superfluous.
Islam deals little with the identification of heresies, at least within the geographical confines of this encyclopaedia. Actually, Islam defines Christianity and Judaism as deviations from the correct theology to the extent that "heresy" would be a possible term. Still, these two religions are ranked higher than any other religion, through the concept of Ahl al-Kitab.
Apostasy is, however, a popular label to place on opponents in Islam, the term is ridda. It is often used even in modern times; atheism is equated with apostasy. Sharia, Muslim Law, decrees death penalty for apostasy.
Sunnis, Shi'is and Ibadis will in theory consider each other heretics, but the only country where heresy is openly defined is Saudi Arabia, where the country's large Shi'i population is condemned.
Within the Muslim world, historical mechanisms have forced non-Islamic religions to accept being labelled part of Islam. Mainstream Islam may criticize these groups, but accept their rituals and customs as long as these are performed in private. Such religions are here called Taqiyya religions, counting at least 22 million people in the Middle East.
In the working of Contents, no heresy mechanisms were identified for other Middle Eastern religions.

By Tore Kjeilen