Heresy and Creativity
Orthodoxy, translated literally, is “right praise.” In time, it came to mean “sound doctrine” and regularly conveys, more simply, “conforming to the norm.” When something is orthodox it is approved, conventional, standard practice, acceptable.
The opposite of orthodox is, not surprisingly, unorthodox or, more technically speaking, heterodox. Heterodoxy literally means “different praise” or, more typically, “unsound or controversial doctrine” and “contrary to popular practice.” If “heterodoxy” is a mouthful or sounds a little unfamiliar, you might be better acquainted with its most extreme form, “heresy,” which represents those heterodox or unorthodox teachings that have moved so far beyond the norm as to call for some kind of authorized response.
By and large, I’m a pretty orthodox guy. I like to play by the rules and, middle-child that I am, typically try to keep everyone happy. But…
every once in a while…
I think a little heresy…
goes a long way…
to making the world a more interesting and, more importantly,…
Because, you see, if you don’t ever bend the rules, venture into the territory of the unorthodox, even flirt with heresy, how can you really know what’s possible.
When I was a first year seminarian taking my first ever church history course, we learned a lot about heresy. In fact, much of the early history of the church is defined by the various heresies and orthodoxies the church debated, crafted, and more or less wended its way through. Early on in the course, my excellent teacher Phil Krey set us loose to learn church history and theology through experimentation by telling us the following: “To be a heretic you need two things – you need to advocate wrong doctrine and you need to be in a position to do damage to the church.” Then, after a healthy pause, he continued, “None of you are in a position to do damage to the church, so have at it!”
I think that kind of permission sets us free to recognize that it is only by risking the unorthodox that we can be truly creative. Only by pushing the boundaries can you discern which boundaries are essential and which are conventions that not only invite, but also need, pushing. In art, theater, dance, literature, and almost any other creative endeavor I can think of, it is only by risking a little heterodoxy that one advances the form. And often those who are called “heretics” in their day are later sainted as “pioneers.”
By way of example, I recently stumbled across this delightful video by “The Piano Guys.” Almost everything they do is, strictly speaking, seriously unorthodox. Are they playing a piano? Is this even piano music? These are the questions of orthodoxy. But by leaving those concerns behind, we discover a whole new way of not just playing the piano but also thinking about and experiencing it.
Unorthodox? Definitely. Heretical? Maybe. Oh, but listen to – and look at – the creative results that more than 4 million of us have enjoyed in the single week since it was posted.
If you like this video, you can find more from The Piano Guys on their YouTube channel.
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