Modern Gnosticism

Discussion in 'Alternative' started by lunamoth, Jul 24, 2006.

  1. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Hi Thomas, Thank you for your well-considered reply. I'll make a few responses but point by point would be tedious for us all, I think. :)

    This is a distinction between mysticism and gnosticism, I think. Mysticism maintains its relationship to the religion from which it arises, and acknowledges the doctrine or dogma of the Church (or whichever religion), while gnosticism changes, minimizes or simply eradicates the dogma.

    I got some of this from reading Pagels, actually. It seems that at least part of Ireaneus' objection to Gnosticism was that it created an elite within the community, a community within the Christian community that was seperated by their extra practices and beliefs. It is ironic, in a way. A criticism of orthodoxy is that it is for everyone, the 'unthinking' masses, and so it is limiting to those who are inclined to find their own truth. Yet, that is exactly what Ireaneus perceived as the strength, the grace, of what became orthodoxy. It is for everybody.

    But it seems that at least some modern gnostics do not claim that they embrace Christianity so much as they use the Christian metaphors and language in their personal gnosis. I would guess that if modern Gnostics do perform similar sacraments in their churches as Christians, these sacraments would have a very different meaning for them than they would for orthodox/traditional Christians.

    Are you sure about this Thomas? I know that gnostics tend to speak in terms of knowledge, rather than love, but I'm not certain that they mean a knowledge that is disconnected from the here and now.

    Yes, I agree with this, but I think AdD's use of the term gnosticism as an approach is fairly universal. I don't think in this sense that a Gnostic, even one who associates himself with Christianity in some way, would say "I believe in Christ." Perhaps he would say "I am Christ" or "Christ is the Way."

    I'm not familiar with the Myth of the Cave, but I could see how Plato and the Greek Philosophers ushered in the Age of Reason, leading to the equation of myth with superstition or outright ignorance. Yet somehow, in a way I don't quite understand, Gnosticism seems to be about using myth to overcome ignorance. My own reading in existentialism is very limited.

    And the only cure for the death of myth is God among us, the Real Incarnation. I think I get that.
    I agree. Would not many Gnostics also agree with this?

    Yikes, that was more point by point than I intended! Hope I did not really bore you all with my ramblings!

    luna
     
  2. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    Perhaps. Gnostics aren't known by what they call themselves. They are known by what they know.

    I think you've got it backwards, though. The "right" thinking side of the equation begins slandering and prosecuting free-thinkers, who want to continue to be free-thinkers (and teach others about the joys of free-thinking) and they defend themselves. It's often a losing battle, because the mere act of defending one's self against proponents of "creeds" is itself considered a heresy. I see no evidence of the "orthodoxy" until middle of the second century - well after the existence of Gnostic thought in Christianity.

    "Correct about what?" is the important question. Gnostics can be correct about the method and not genuinely care one lick about the literal truth of a cosmology expressed in a myth. I don't have any firm opinions about matters that are unknowable to me, that are beyond my comprehension, or that are not subject to being meaningfully expressed by our limited tools of language and logic. On matters that can be investigated and examined, that is a different issue altogether. "God is a Trinity" is a claim that cannot be investigated (and frankly doesn't mean anything to me), so it really doesn't concern me, nor do I care whether someone else agrees or disagrees with it. "The words of the Bible are an unaltered record of the teachings of Jesus as conveyed to the Twelve Apostles", however, is an empirical claim. It can be investigated if someone is genuinely interested. Will we ever know the answer with any solid certainty? Probably not. The best that can happen is that we can either be convinced or not convinced by the evidence we discover. And in such situations it's okay to disagree without slandering (or worse) those we disagree with.

    I think Orthodoxy/Catholic considered itself right-thinking from its inception. It has always oriented itself around prosecuting dissent - it is the method by which it defines itself. I recommend reading the writings of Tertullian and Ireneaus and paying careful attention to the types of arguments they made and think about why they approached things the way they did. As I said earlier, it is not a disagreement about theological ideas. It is a different method of knowing one's self, which gives birth to an entirely different sort of vision.

    It was kind of a joke actually. I used a Christian symbol to impart a meaning in the mind of many readers that was different than the meaning I subjectively intended. It was really intended for you since I figured you'd probably recognize both meanings.

    We are already there.

    His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"

    "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."

     
  3. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    This came to me on the road, and I am well aware it reads like a 'trick question', but I think it is valid nonetheless.

    If the Gnostic believes in the 'free thinking' expression of spiritual realities in terms of a mythic cosmology ...

    ... why then does he insist that another's doctrine must equally be a mythic cosmology? Why cannot it be a literal reality, that encompasses the mythic and the metaphorical?

    Thomas
     
  4. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    The Gnostic doesn't insist anything about another's cosmology. A person can have "faith" in whatever cosmology they want. It's of no matter. And the reason it's of no matter is because Gnosticism isn't about cosmology in the first instance.

    The literalist and their creeds, on the other hand, do insist on imosing their cosmology on others. I daresay the point of a "creed" is to standardize dogma. It then becomes a political, social and psychological device to deny the reasonableness of dissent and stifle creativity.

    That being said, if you want to make assertions about "reality" that are subject to investigation by scientific methodology, be prepared to be challenged to prove those assertions by something other than subjective faith or emotion. Absent compelling proof, you shouldn't be the least bit surprised when someone doesn't share your "faith." After all, it's a gift from God so that no man may boast, right?
     
  5. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    Are you Muslim, Thomas?

    If not, why not?
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    The Gnostic doesn't ... right?

    That doesn't address the question.

    Are you Muslim, Thomas? If not, why not?

    Nor does that, unless I'm missing something?

    Thomas
     
  7. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    Certainly it does. In technical terms it's an "objection to the question because it assumes facts not in evidence." Your question relies on a false premise, in other words.

    Perhaps you are missing something. Perhaps not. My questions assumes no facts about you, so it should be quite easy to answer.

    Care to try?
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Your question relies on a false premise, in other words.

    My question, revised:
    If the Gnostic believes in the 'free thinking' ...
    ... why then does he insist that Scripture cannot it be a literally true?'

    Thomas
     
  9. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Hopefully modern gnosticism is about knowing, learning and being open. And not about obtuse questioning, putting one into a corner or trick bags.

    I suppose an open mind would consider as a possibility that some spiritual texts are literal. However if in reading one finds contradictions abound and the only way to explain is again through some convoluted method of what 'is' means then that leads one to think otherwise.

    Flip side is that hopefully one who knows wouldn't have trouble with another that believes in the litteral...as long as ones beliefs are allowed to end when anothers begin..
     
  10. flowperson

    flowperson Oannes

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    Ummmm...going back a bit Thomas, I believe that "how" one believes has everything to do with "what" one believes. Without a significant level of emotional investment, all belief becomes transitory. And, there are both negative and positive emotions as we all know from life's experiences.

    I believe that there is justification for the truth in this approach for both Gnosticism and Orthodox-conservative Christianity. It's the way of humanity.

    My intuition says that we are looking at a much deeper level of division here rather than just historical and philosophical approaches. The world is shattering itself in many ways, and I believe that over time people will increasingly gravitate towards belief systems that offer them more flexibility to apply moral standards in their lives, and, as you pointed out, Gnosticism appears to offer such flexibilty due to the wide diversity of its sources.

    By the way it was The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trisgismestrus I believe. I've done considerable research into the origins of alchemy, and this work, attributed to the Egyptian god Thoth, was a foundational document in the practice. Thoth was said to have brought the knowledge of the art of metalworking to the ancient Egyptians, BTW. Most of the rest of the really ancient knowledge in alchemy came from India and China.

    flow....;)
     
  11. taijasi

    taijasi Gnōthi seauton

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    Not meaning to go off on a tangent, Flow, but this last part reminds me of the importance of the myth behind alchemy itself. We know, for example, of the symbolism ... the alchemical transformation that takes place in our lives, demonstrated in the transmutation of base metals into gold, and in the search for the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Life. S/he who would reify these myths, concretize this symbolism, and search vainly for various material riches and personal benefits - has missed the point entirely, and will never succeed!

    I may be rather a novice when it comes to Kabbalah and Gnosticism, but I am well aware of certain layers of the symbolism of Alchemy - the Inner Alchemy, if you will. And yes, as you point out, wil, certain interpretations will be literal, necessarily so. The Sacred Fire (Kundalini), for example, being the catalyst of the alchemical transmutation, is not simply someone's poetic metaphor. Also the requirement for PURITY of mind, body and speech, is not just a good idea ...


    I can't provide too much insight into Gnosticism from the standpoint of a practitioner or adherent, nor do I wish to derail the discussion, but I do think it is worth emphasizing and underscoring the etymological root of the word. We probably all recognize it: gnosis, to know, or knowledge ... and Webster has this to say by way of a definition:
    esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation​
    This is not about beliefs, or believing. Nor thought, as such. "I think that there exists an inner Knowing, or I believe it is possible to know." Rather, we begin with the assertion that spiritual truth CAN be grasped and understood, on various levels, to varying extents, ultimately by everyone (since the path is an open path, NOT a special teaching available only to the privileged few).

    What is required, to become a gnostic, not so much in the formalized sense of the word, or in terms of a Gnostic Church and so forth, but just as a knower, is that one first admit of a-gnosticism (Socrates is the example of this, par excellence). One need not abandon one's Faith, or faith in ... a specific set of teachings, doctrines, etc. One need not cease reciting whatever Creed(s) one has come to value. But one MUST admit of one's own ignorance (factually speaking, not pejoratively), and be willing to ask the most basic of questions - even again, and again, and again, if one has already done so.

    What I find is that quite often folks are not willing even to admit simply that they do not know. Or, if pressed, they will admit as to being uncertain, yet insist that somehow their faith is unassailable, while the only thing they can provide to defend this assertion is external argument. Gnosticism, whether with a capital `G' or a lowercase `g,' is not about externals. It is about direct understanding at the level of KNOWELDGE - but again, here we must be careful not to reify and concretize the KNOWING (process), by allowing the word `knowledge' to come to signify some one or another body of teachings!

    To quote from H. P. Blavatsky, a Knower and a great Messenger of 19th Century Occultism, "The mind is the great slayer of the Real." And beyond the mind ... there is Knowing. Beyond even that - a Peace which passeth Understanding. :)

    May we all come to this same Peace, and this Universal Understanding (gnosis), as soon as humanly possible - and in time to get on with the show, folks. ;)

    Love, Light, and Peace,

    taijasi
     
  12. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    Same objection. The Gnostic doesn't insist on anything other than what he knows. We can conduct an investigation using the methods of science and reason (to the extent possible) into the matter of whether Scripture is literally true. One may or may not be convinced by the evidence discovered. Regardless, it can not be "known" either by the orthodox or the gnostic . . . for starters, because neither was present to witness it in the first place.

    The Gnostic doesn't insist that anyone agree about whether Scripture is literally true.

    So, sorry, Thomas. Same objection.

    Now, regarding my questions for you, have you had a chance to formulate an answer?
     
  13. Abogado del Diablo

    Abogado del Diablo Ferally Decent

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    Great post, Taijasi! I particularly liked the above paragraph .
     
  14. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Perhaps we both have it wrong. Everyone considers themself a free-thinker, and each naturally considers themself right. Orthodox Christianity is not devoid of gnosis. I don't see why those who ultimately came to be viewed as the orthodoxy could be considered the only ones defining heresy and picking battles. If I remember correctly Elaine Pagels also points out that the gnostics could be quite vehement in their own polemics against the proto-orthodox. So, creeds and heresy do go together, but you could aslo say that creed is unifying while heresy is divisive. And it's not like the creeds outline something that could be considered offensive. If you don't accept it, you don't accept it. As far as I can tell, the creeds do not refute gnosis as an approach, but only some of the pervasive gnostic ideas of the day.

    OK, then why would they have any problem at all with the content of the creed? It essentially lays out the cosmology of orthodox Christiantiy.

    But isn't that exactly what the creeds and doctrine address? It's about a way to approach the unknowable, to give us a common way to think about something that can't be contained in language.

    Using this as an example, saying that God is Trinity is meaningless, unless there is a shared understanding of this by a community. Doctrine and creeds are not about keeping people out (or at least they should not be), they are about building shared experience, understanding, and relationship. I can't see any reason to accept the doctrine of the Trinity except for choosing to trust the community that shares that belief. Has anyone who has never before heard of Jesus or Christianity popped into view and said, I just had a vision/experience of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

    Speaking just about metaphysics, if one wishes they can choose to believe anything they can imagine, but if they are the only one who believes such then what good does it do? These things are by definition outside the realm of objective testability. Who cares if you believe there is an invisible dragon in your garage, unless someone else decides to believe it too. Then you've got community.

    I agree that sometimes these debates get too personal. Funny, while I am interested in the kinds of questions that can be empirically addressed, whether or not an answer can be known, it still does not significantly change how or what I believe. Other things certainly can and have.

    I can see I need to do some homework here. What do you think of this site as a resource: early Christian Writings? Naturally orthodoxy considered itself right-thinking. And Gnostics considered themselves right-thinking. Now, the claim that the method of orthodoxy has always been to prosecute dissent is something I need to examine. This interests me because I would like to compare it to what is happening in the Baha'i Faith, and how I process my experience in and rejection of that religion. To my way of understanding, you can kick people out of your religion for not accepting the dogma, but you can't at the same time claim that your religion is the Kingdom of God.

    I did get your meanings. Thus the value of shared metaphor.

    [/quote]I like this a lot.

    I hope some of this makes sense. Please forgive me for the awkward way I have of expressing these things. I learn a lot from reading and replying to your posts.
     
  15. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Welcome to CR, Gnosteric. :)
     
  16. Gnosteric

    Gnosteric New Member

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    Yes, he was. He also had a religious experience that many consider to be an obvious example of gnosis. His writings (and not the forged letters) are believed to maintain much Gnostic wisdom for those that are initiated into the myths.

    I will only answer the following questions with some mild protest. ;) I do not think that definition/description does service to any of your queries. We need myth to better answer these types of questions…..and that’s exactly what the best Gnostic scriptures do.

    I might just slide further into darkness with this attempt, but here goes. Again, I am only speaking for this Gnost(er)ic.


    An ineffable source of All that can only be (and should only be) “pointed to.” Wholeness. Syzygy of all opposites.

    Sure! Everyone of us has a Divine Spark and that is how we can “personally” relate to the Source. It is also how we can “personally” relate to the Divine in each other…….and it is how we can accept the Unity that we all share in. We are as connected as anything that has emanated. But don’t take the personal too far because the Ineffable/Silence can really only be expressed (outside of myth) in negative terms.


    It is an awakening to who we are, where we have come from, and were we are going. It is also an awakening to the illusion. So……all the above and more.


    As much as Christians agree on things. :eek:


    Sometimes I think Gnosticism is a form of Zen......and vice versa.
     
  17. Gnosteric

    Gnosteric New Member

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    Thanks for the welcome. :) Now can I post my links? :p
     
  18. earl

    earl ?

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    Hey Gnosteric & welcome. I consider myself a "neo-gnostic," zen kind of dude:p I tend to think, however, that what we are called to is not so much a "knowing" but a quality of "not knowing" which enables a fuller flowering of being. Tariki-one of my favorite "ecumenists" had quoted part of the wonderful quote of TS Eliot in another thread here. I'd like to quote him myself to illustrate this:

    "You say I am repeating
    Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
    Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get where you are not,
    you must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way that is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    you must go through the way you are not
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not."

    Perhaps it is only by not stopping, resting in an artifical certainty of beliefs do we move into a true openness of being that can manifest all that Is. Perhaps Love is a better approximation of that-the heart-not the "head." Gnosis as being not an intellectual construct or modality. Take care, earl
     
  19. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Hi earl, lovely post. :) peace, luna
     
  20. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Thank you for the replies Gnosteric. I did not mean to cause you any kind of consternation by asking these questions. I certainly hope you did not slide any further into darkness by the attempt! For me, asking and trying to answer questions helps me clarify my thinking, even if sometimes it gets cloudier before the light appears.

    From the replies here I agree with you that Gnosticism is a kind of Zen, although it relates to unknowing, rather than knowing. Maybe in the end both are the same?
     

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