That I even discovered Heterodox Academy. [HxA] this week was serendipitous. How HxA grasped my attention was synchronistic. I’ll start you off with HxA exactly where I began, with this video: “What is Viewpoint Diversity?”
I am not sure why this group chose the term ‘heterodox’ as their anchoring word. From looking into the group a little bit this week I can/will speculate. First, how have we conventionally thought about the word ‘heterodox?’ I note that heterodoxy seems to be synonymous with some rather interesting terms.
So, heterodox is a relational term, it takes on its meaning in relation to another term, ‘orthodox.’ The relationship of these two, and their energy, has animated the debate in the United Methodist Church [UMC] for some time. We’ll come back to that.
“Orthodoxy (n) …When everyone’s beliefs line up and dissenters are punished”
The ‘me’ in orthodoxy
Research into the phenomenon didn’t begin until the 1960s, doubtful that Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) had any notion of ‘the confirmation bias’ [CB]. However, from, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 (1871), we find Spurgeon saying:
Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is anybody else’s doxy who does not agree with me.
“Reason,” has a crippling flaw…
The lynch pin of Orange [ER] is rationality. So, I’ve talked before in the blog about confirmation bias [CB], although I have not used that particular designation previously. Three weeks ago in “Know thyself” I wrote:
Further, as we learn from Green [FS] values system thinking, rationality is subjective and often vectors data.
“Confirmation bias (n) …The tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs.”
With an intrinsic lack of self-awareness regarding this ‘crippling flaw,’ CB is a shadow to Orange [ER] and all that springs from Enlightenment values.
Blue [DQ] religious contexts, like churches/denominations, include divine injunction in the formulation of their orthodoxy. This adds a very powerful layer of justification to the confirmation bias impacting the reasoning of most religious communities. If Orange is less than thrilled about Green calling reason and CB into the light, then Blue is even less so. Centuries of forming religious orthodoxy have proceeded with CB in the shadows.
Why ‘heterodoxy‘ as the handle for this group? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit provocative in a sense of rebelliousness, a plea to effectively challenge the (unsustainable) status quo? HxA provides its own definition:
In religious contexts, heterodox is similar to unorthodox, but adds a tone of dissidence to the unbelief. The relationship of orthodox and unorthodox forms a pure binary. Some church folks like the most colorful, pointed descriptors from the dictionary list of synonyms: ‘heretical,’ ‘blasphemous,’ ‘apostate,’ and, UMC favorites, ‘revisionist,’ and ‘schismatic.’ The notion of heterodoxy—might this be HxA‘s motive in using the term?—adds significant nuance to the relationships available with orthodoxy. ‘Constructive disagreement,’ is one example. One member said it this way in an HxA video:
“If you don’t agree with what someone is saying, you don’t just shout them down. You make an argument for what you think.”
HxA seems to challenge social justice activists and offer an opportunity for an alternative to the ‘just-shout-them-down,’ hard deconstructionist postures. The master’s reasoning exploited CB to build the master’s house. However, we don’t abandon rationality because it is flawed, we make reason faithful to the command in Isaiah 1.18. So, the wisdom to overcome the weakness intrinsic to rationality has been around for a good while. Reasoning together, in diverse community. We’re back to the title of the video and its reconciliation of the CB problem:
“Viewpoint diversity (n) …The only reliable way to get around the confirmation bias.”
The days of homogeneous groups dominating policy determinations for everyone have run their course. HxA makes it a binary in terms of “victory vs truth.” I think this helps HxA focus on what my cursory examination identifies as its prime target: any form of tyranny disrupting the healthy creation and exchange of knowledge.
I quickly realized the video seems to represent shadow material and pose a threat to folks on both ends of the political spectrum—CB works on all sides. The same ‘orthodoxy dynamic’ (e.g., exclusion) is seen clearly at work in both the “traditional” UMC and the “liberal” university system in the US. The UMC uses orthodoxy to exclude LGBT+ persons from the fullness of the church. Some universities and, conversely, some students, use orthodoxy to exclude ideas that deviate from the respective cannon of each, be that academic discipline, pedagogy, or social justice.
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?