Monday, March 10, 2008

New Rules for the Untransformed Masses

This morning, Reuters released a story about the Vatican considering the need for the Church to provide guidance in the area of "bioethics," in the wake of modern-day theories about Global Warming. Top on their list is the potential for penance to be given to someone who has blighted the Earth and its environment in one way or another.

While the Church has generally focused its attention in this area on genetic manipulation and stem cell research, they are now focusing on protecting the environment, considering it a modern sin to commit ecological offenses.

As a Gnostic, I see this as another example of how orthodox and mainstream religions have gotten it wrong. A church doesn't fulfill its purpose by outlining and updating sins as the times change. Rules and commandments are imposed to try to modify outward behavior. The purpose of any spiritual pursuit shouldn't be to modify behavior; it should be to transform the spirit of the practitioner.

It is against the very nature of a transformed and enlightened spirit to commit murder, to envy your neighbor, to steal from another person, or to destroy its own environment. Gnostics are often called antinomian (anti = against, nomos= law) for this very reason. They see that it is not the rules of behavior that transform a person, but it is the essence of the spirit that guides a person's actions.

The perfect Biblical examples of this truth are the Pharisees. These were men who were very concerned with following every letter of Mosaic law, and they were deeply offended by the actions of the Christos, who spoke against them and performed miracles on the Sabbath (God forbid!). These men were pure according to the ruling authorities, and yet they held malice and contempt in their heart for people who weren't like them. Following the rules did not transform their hearts.

In the Gospel of Thomas, when his disciples asked him to prescribe a system of fasting and prayer, Jesus said, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits." (14) In other words, if you do these things in the wrong spirit, you're doing more damage than good. In the empty practice of religious rites, pride rears its ugly head, and mechanical observance of custom takes the place of transformative processes.

Metaphorically, it's putting the cart before the horse to think that new laws and commandments will improve our condition. Jesus says, "Anyone here with two ears had better listen! There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark." (24)

This arrogance is not exclusive to the practitioners of mainstream religion. How self-important are the rigid and dogmatic environmentalists? I have quite often seen environmentalists without a hint of compassion for their fellow human beings. The more rabid of that group even feel that the world would be better off without humans at all. In Phillip K. Dick style, I would counter, "What good is a prison without prisoners?"

Again, the point is missed when new rules for "reducing the carbon footprint" are put in place. It is not the rules that save us. It is the transformed spirit that begins making the right choices in life. As much as Gnostics are seen as "world hating," we're intelligent and self-aware enough to know that we should do what we can to keep the world from sucking more than it already does. Running out of fossil fuel would suck. Starving because the environment can no longer produce food would suck. Not being able to breathe clean air would suck.

As my favorite Gnostic, Dr. Stephan Hoeller, is wont to say, "No sane beast befouls its own nest," maybe what we need isn't more rules and laws. Maybe what we need is more sanity. I'd like to think that comes through gnosis, but then again, that's my opinion.

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