Regular visitors to the Barn are aware of my interest in radical thought, especially of the religious variety. It’s not just Quaker, either, or related Anabaptists like the Mennonites, Brethren (including my Dunker ancestry), or Amish. No, it ranges across Biblical times, First Americans, and Asian traditions, too. Just think of the yoga, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism, for perspective.
Well, a footnote in Douglas Gwyn’s Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience has made me stare in wonder. It’s a great title, to be frank: The Baptists: Fount of All Heresy, a 1984 essay by J.F. McGregor.
Look, anyone familiar with Christian history knows that accusations of heresy go way back to the earliest days of the church, and for that matter, the concept can be found in Judaism and Islam, the other faiths arising from the Book. Those in other traditions can weigh as they wish.
My point, of course, is that heresy way outdates the 1640s of McGregor’s focus. The Inquisition itself would need to be considered, along with all of its victims.
Still, his provocative title has merit, apart from any argument he develops.
A reading of John M. Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, examining the life and influence of the founder of the first Baptist church in America – events in the 1630s – could place Williams as the fount of heresy in New England. Of course, there are others who could be added to the list. The name of Hansard Knollys has popped up again, a minister who came to Dover in the 1630s after troubles in Massachusetts and then returned to England as a prominent figure in the emerging Particular Baptists there, not that I’d call him the fount, but hey, he may have plowed the ground here for Quakers a few decades later.
This really can get arcane, can’t it.
More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.