Friday, February 1, 2008

Why Christians Still Hate Gnostics

A while back, I set up a Google alert that sends me an e-mail when someone posts something online about "gnosticism," "gnostics," or "gnosis." These can be anything from blog posts to forum entries. I've read through each of the items that comes into my Inbox. The reason I set this up was primarily to see the discourse regarding Gnosticism unfold online, both from the Gnostics point of view and from the modern-day Christian heresiologists. It's really a fascinating conversation to see.

On the one hand, you have the Gnostics (amateur students, practitioners, and ordained ministers) discussing the path to gnosis amongst themselves on sites like Palm Tree Garden and some of the gnostic blogs. In general, I've not seen any anti-Christian rhetoric, calls for the destruction of the Church, or anything like that. In fact, I think I'm more confrontational in my posts than anyone on the Gnostic side of the spectrum.

Then, on the other hand, you have anti-Gnostic posts from fundamentalist Christians and Catholics alike; heresiological apologists so to speak. Obviously, questions are being asked within the flock. People are looking at the Nag Hammadi texts or reading about the Gnostics in modern literature or watching shows on the History Channel, and they're asking how this fits in with their faith. These inconvenient little forays into non-canonical territory are a little like Toto pulling at the curtain and showing the man behind the Wizard.

The Wizard: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

The Christian response to the resurgence of interest in Gnosticism is the same as it was roughly 1800 years ago, when the frail body of the Church was just beginning to form and questions were raised that threatened (in their eyes) to destroy the Church before it was even built. Old, effectively intimidating words like "blasphemy" and "heresy" are employed, and the great disdain that Ireneaus felt for the Gnostics of his age is reborn in the rhetoric of the modern apologist blogger.

So, where does this disdain come from? What is it about the Gnostics that the Christians hate so much? I've compiled a list of things that I (neophyte that I am) feel have been consistently disputed across the millennia:

  • First and foremost, in my opinion, is that the Gnostics call into question the validity of the Holy Bible. The additional scriptures the Gnostics wrote (including the ones in the Nag Hammadi Library, Pistis Sophia, and others) coupled with the Gnostic tendency to discount the importance of the Old Testament (except for the Wisdom books) is really too much to bear for most fundamentalists. Their basic belief is in the inerrancy of the Scripture in the Bible. According to the Basic Beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trusthworthy (sic)."
  • Secondly, the Gnostics believe that the Jehovah God of the Old Testament is a fallible, imperfect Demiurge, known by many names, including Yaldabaoth, Saklas, and Samael, none of which are favorable names to have. Christians believe that the Creator of the world and the Father of Christ are one in the same. Gnostics see the imperfection of this world, the harsh realities of life, and the sheer madness and cruelty of the Old Testament Jehovah and they can't rationalize how that relates to the Loving Father that Jesus the Christos spoke of.
  • Thirdly, the Gnostics dispute the purpose and form of Jesus. Christians believe that Christ's blood sacrifice and our willingness to believe in Him is what grants us salvation. Gnostics again, can't cope with the idea that salvation has to come from a blood-thirsty god who demands an animal or human sacrifice, much less the slaughter of his own son. This is not a god that we care to worship or praise. The Logos (the Word) came to us in order to awaken us to our true selves and lead us into a direct experiential knowledge (gnosis) of the True God, who is Father to us all. Whether or not the Christos appeared to be human or actually took human form is something that is still debated in Gnostic circles. That fact also distresses the Christians.
I'll end on three bullet points in order that I can be a little symbolic. But suffice it to that the Gnostics basically counter the very basic principles of mainstream Christianity. They ask questions where the Church authorities demand unwavering belief. They have the audacity to question the actions of "God" in the Old Testament. But seriously, can you blame us? How barbaric does this sound?

If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy. [Deuteronomy 32:42 (King James Version)]
This is "God" speaking to his faithful servant Moses, right before he tells him, "Oh, by the way, for all your hard work in keeping my children together, you'll get to see Israel, but you won't set foot there. Yay Me."

The point is that Christians have hated Gnostics since the beginning of the Christian Era, and they're not likely to start liking them any time soon. The differences between the two are fundamental and unresolvable. Unfortunately for them, however, Toto has already pulled aside the curtain. What is seen cannot be unseen. What is said cannot be unsaid. Nearly 1800 years have passed since the Christians tried to purge society of Gnosticism, but these thousands of years passed with the Gnostic thread of thought always under the surface, occasionally resurfacing in movements like Manichaeism, Catharism, Alchemy, Theosophy, etc. and finally culminating in Mohammed Ali Samman's discovery at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.

As for the Gnostics, there is no hatred for Christians -- just the occasional (or not-so-occasional) chuckle when they contradict themselves. We focus on what we can focus on, which is our own practice and our own striving for gnosis. When you know the truth, you don't need to justify yourself.


Yan Winny said...

Probably, Jesus was kind of gnostic in my opinion , i appreciated your text and mainly this part, you wrote ,"When you know the truth, you don't need to justify yourself".

neveryumind said...

I believe that when scientists dig deep enough into the well of Quantum Physics, they will find God, the creative force that imbues our entire material universe. I guess that is a form of gnosticism, because it does not involve old patriarchic Jewish men or burning bushes.