Monday, June 06, 2005


All my life I have suffered from bouts of negation. Laughing about these things with Dr. Flavour, it has been pointed out that I have psychotic episodes of Gnostic breakdown. I start to feel that the world is a trap created by a hostile impostor--a Demiurge bent on deceiving us as to our true nature--and that I must escape. I become ascetic and withdrawn, questioning everything and taking comfort in nothing. In my twenties, I wanted to slough off this mortal coil, and ended up in the mental ward for a while. It's all good material. I was guided and taken care of at each step of the journey, often despite myself. In fact, there is a deceptive Demiurge, and he lives in my own mind. But I'm learning not to listen--even when the world echoes back his judgments.

But I still love the Gnostics. One Sunday at Church, I was surprised to hear these ancient Christian, Jewish and Pagan mystics lumped together under the term "heretical". Granted, the church I attend looks like it was constructed sometime in the twelfth century, but do reasonably enlightened, twenty-first century souls still think in terms of these archaic categories? I stopped going for a couple weeks after hearing the "H" word applied to my Gnostic homies. I suppose, wherever you have doctrines and dogmas you will find the idea that others are in error--but is this not part of what turns so many people away from organized religion these days?

Until very recently, the Gnostics of the first two centuries of the Common Era were know only through second-hand sources. Their subtle and complex mythology was represented solely in the works of several hyper-orthodox theologians of the early Christian church. In the battle of creeds that flares up every so often, and was raging fiercely amongst the Christian communities of the second and third centuries C.E., the winners wrote the history, reducing the Gnostics to a group of laughable extremists.

Some of the errors and excesses that the Gnostics were charged with by the Christians were strikingly similar to the indictments raised against the Christians themselves a century earlier by the then dominant Pagan philosophers and faiths. The Gnostics were said to be dualistic extremists: either highly ascetic, removing themselves completely from the world, or grossly licentious, participating in orgies and physical indulgences. While some Gnostics did exhibit these behaviours, we now know that they by no means represented the entirety of the movement. There were also Gnostics of a moderate temperament, many of whom were Christians themselves, attending established churches in a spirit of love and charity. What bothered the orthodox authorities, it seems, was that some of these Gnostic Christians would meet together outside of Church to discuss issues of faith and experience that were not reflected in the general services.

For eighteen hundred years, the writings of the original Gnostics were known only through fragments and distortions found in the catalogues of "heresies" compiled by unsympathetic hands. About fifty years ago, in two astonishing middle eastern finds, scrolls containing original sermons and treatises of the early Gnostics were unearthed. Scholars have been busy translating and sifting through these works, and they are now, largely, available for public scrutiny. While some of these documents support the view of Gnosticism expounded by the early Christian critics, others reveal far more complex, subtle and sublime aspects of the movement. Amongst many people who still care about matters theological, though, the prejudice against this aspect of early Christianity persists.

The Gnostics comprise part of the unrecognized Shadow of Christianity, and the wariness with which people of faith regard the movement is partially justified. There are always attendant dangers in going beyond established wisdom in search of lost or unrecognized truths. Faith can be a delicate flower, and the danger of it being twisted out of shape by haphazard exposure to questionable teachings is a legitimate concern. But as the recognized Gospels testify, the truth will out, and there is wisdom to be found in these diverse and maverick traditions that is pertinent, and sorely needed.

As I have tried to show in my postings about the Star Wars story, the integration of the Shadow--as difficult, dangerous and sometimes tragic as it can often be--is an unavoidable part of spiritual renewal and growth. I believe that the original Gnostic documents have surfaced at this juncture of history, in an age where they would be relatively safe from destruction due to irrational prejudice, because the spiritual growth of western society depends upon their successful integration.

Like the Jedi Order in the Star Wars prequels, many Christian Churches seem to be in a state of stagnation and decline. What Dostoevsky saw as the simple, native truth of scripture is still felt by people, but the success of books like The daVinci Code point towards a dissatisfaction with the way the great spiritual metaphors of the west are being handled by traditional authorities. Suspicions abound of a secret history, to be read between the lines of Gospel truth, and the resurfacing of Gnostic wisdom is part of this largely undiscovered territory.

I meant to write about the personal eclipse I have been experiencing for the past few days, (months and years?), but got sidetracked. Becoming attuned to the darkness, the eye gains new faculties of sight.


Michael said...

What a great post. I am excited over having an opportunity to jump into a discussion of theology, yet I am tired. The last two years of my life I have been on a spiritual journey of examining my faith and the ideas, which I held as absolute truth. I have discovered that no truth is absolute. (What most people hold has absolute truth is just Relativism in a way) I have also discovered that God does not fit neatly into my little box, despite my efforts of trying to jam Him in there. I also realized that a lot of what I believed to be true, was actually what I call “pulpit theology”. Which was just a bunch of crap and spins, spewed out my various pastors on the congregations.

Anyhow, this journey has been great for me. It has done two things for me. It has beaten the crap out of me, yet at the same time it seems to have renewed my faith and made me stronger.

If you are interested in reading some great books may I suggest a few? CS Lewis- Mere Christianity, Brian Mclaren- Generous Orthodoxy and The Last Word and The Word After That.

Mclaren’s book, The Last Word and the Word After That examines the idea and theology of Hell. It questions the existence of Hell.

Let me know if you check any of those books out. I would like to hear what think of them.

flatlander said...

I'm glad you liked the post. I'm always a little worried that I might be irritating readers when talking about issues of faith.

The last book on religion I read was Elaine Pagels', "The Origin of Satan". As well as being a social history of the early Christian Church, and an investigation of scapegoating, I found her depiction of the moderate Gnostics, such as Valentinus, very interesting.

Mclearen's book on Hell sounds good. I'll let you know if I manage to track down a copy. Cheers!