Announcement: Join the FF Saturnalia Party 2017.

Categorized | Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society

Heresy is the Best Policy: Why Society Should Support Heretics (Part 2 of 2)

The world needs heretics. If every philosopher, every writer or every artist agrees with what’s generally accepted, society will never progress. If no one dares to be a heretic, there will be no improvement for humanity. The most obvious example is in science: If every scientist simply accepts the established paradigms, no research will take place. So why call yourself a scientist if you do not seek to improve, augment or even challenge the accepted paradigms? Similar questions could be asked for other vocations: Why call yourself a philosopher if all you do is simply swallow and restate the prevailing philosophies? Why call yourself a writer if your main goal is just to appease the powers that be or to elicit positive reviews? And why call yourself an artist if you are afraid of offending the sensibilities of the public?

A true PhD is always a PhD in heresy.

If there is no one around bold enough to disturb people’s minds and sensibilities, people will start to become comfortable with their beliefs and tastes. When there is no one around to challenge the prevailing beliefs and tastes, dogma starts to take hold of the minds of the many. But since truth is mainly in the search itself and since to accept dogma is to abandon the search altogether, to embrace dogma is therefore to forgo truth.

It is the duty of the heretic – of every true scientist, philosopher, writer or artist – to force people to clean their intellectual and aesthetic consciences and to constantly oblige them to ask themselves the following questions: “What should I believe in and why should I believe it? Whom should I believe and why should I believe him? What should I value and why should I value it?” In other words, heretics are there to offend the orthodoxy, rattle the established order and consequently force everyone to think. In short, his role is to make everyone a heretic like himself. Heresy is a virus; this is why the establishment has always had a thing for heretic-burning.

It is one of the greatest legacies of the Enlightenment to recognize that there is great value in heresy. After all, what are universities, libraries, art museums and theaters if not the breeding ground of heretics? Universities are useless if all of its professors and students simply appease public opinion and art museums are pointless if all its artists simply regurgitate old motifs to please the masses and are scared of offending the public’s sensibilities. It is the responsibility of the professors at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, for example, and of the artists whose works are exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines to disturb us, to disconcert us and even to offend us. Society funds institutions such as PUP and the CCP because it needs its regular dose of shock and agitation, because it needs its heretics. Institutions hosting heretical professors and offensive artists are supported by public money because these people serve as the gnats of society, they are there to remind the people in a society to be ever-vigilant and thoughtful. Without its heretics, a society would be in slumber.

I therefore believe that we deserve a tax refund due to the fact that Poleteismo was pulled down from CCP. Our tax money is wasted on the CCP if the CCP is not able to exhibit and host “blasphemous” and offensive works of art. The fact that the conservative Catholics won’t understand this argument stems from the fact that they still want to live in the Middle Ages when theocracies were not yet considered evil and when the Enlightenment has not yet introduced the value of heresy. It seems that the conservatives will always fail to comprehend the fact that the freedom of religion and speech is the freedom to become a heretic and to offend.

The conservatives who want society to remain sleeping and silenced naturally hate the heretics who stimulate the people to engage in constant conversation. The sound of dissenting opinion cuts them to the quick. A society in conversation and discussion is their worst nightmare. Perhaps this agoraphobia is proof that they cannot defend their so-called “truths” in the agora of ideas. What more, the powers that be are scared shitless of the heretics because heretics challenge the source of their undeserved power. They will use any means possible – force, the threat of excommunication and eternal damnation, political machinery or obscene stock market wealth – to silence those who disagree. 

But the heretics – the scientists, philosophers, writers and artists – will not be silenced. This they will say in the face of fierce intolerance: “I think, therefore I am a heretic. I refuse to give up my sacred right to think and I will not surrender my obligation to offend.”

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.