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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Leaving the Cult

“Gnosticism is a form of spiritual perversion. Its main teaching is focus on self salvation through knowledge only. Gnosticism comes from the mixing of the ancient teachings of the kabbalah with the teachings of Christianity. The end result of this mixture is a systematic distortion of the teachings of Jesus.” ~ quoted on [1]Leave the Cult Website.

The above passage from a Christian website which purports to reveal the 'truth' about Gnosticism is typical of the disinformation which I have come across on such sites. Its text scrolled on down in the same grand style for a length of time way beyond my own reasonable attention span, and left me wondering why almost two thousand years of vilification is apparently still not enough for orthodoxy to have done with Gnosticism.

So in the interests of delivering a better class of information, let's take each statement in the above short paragraph individually:

"Gnosticism is a form of spiritual perversion."
I would suggest that it is a form of spiritual perversion actually to kill someone for no other reason than that you happen to disagree with their beliefs. I’m still searching my history books for an occasion when Gnostics have done this, but can find [2]examples aplenty when the Church has done so – often enough against Gnostics, whose scriptural texts were destroyed and whose right to practice their beliefs was denied by the Church in a succession of 2nd-3rd-century persecutions. This to me is true spiritual perversion.

And to me (and I trust also to you who are reading this), sexual discrimination against women on religious grounds is a particularly insidious form of spiritual perversion. And yet even right here in the 21st-century, the Church still [3]practices wholesale discrimination against women on the question of holding positions of authority within the Church hierarchy. Contrastingly, Gnosticism, both Christian and pre-Christian, recognised gender equality in which women also could - and did - become spiritual leaders and teachers within their communities.

"Its main teaching is focus on self salvation through knowledge only."
Gnosticism certainly focused on self salvation. That was the whole point. Salvation – recognition – of one’s true Self, which was and is the Self which is the divine essence which lies beyond the selfish and illusory ‘self’ of the ego. In this personal quest, Gnosticism sidestepped the top-down religious chain of command set up by the Church, which insisted – and still insists – that the [4]Pope, quite literally, is closer to God than humble you and I, and bishops were to be obeyed without question.

'Gnosis’ is a Greek word usually translated simplistically as ‘knowledge’. But gnosis is more than finding out about things. It involves a profound sense of seeing into the heart of the world, which allows us to glimpse the oneness behind the many forms of our everyday experience. In this quest Gnosticism was profoundly spiritual in its intent, as such a quest was expected to lead to an experience of the divine, and the experience of true gnosis was therefore an epiphany which had perhaps more in common with the eastern spiritual experience of enlightenment.

"Gnosticism comes from the mixing of the ancient teachings of the kabbalah with the teachings of Christianity."
Pre-Christian Gnosticism included both the teachings of the wisdom of the Greek Pythagorean and Egyptian Hermetic mystery schools, which in turn influenced the Hebrew Mosaic elements which still can be found in the Old Testament – remembering that Moses was himself an initiate of the Egyptian temple mysteries. As to the ‘teachings of Christianity’: there was no ‘Christianity’ – and also no Bible – for at least the first hundred years following the events of the crucifixion. The popular misconception is that there were such people as ‘Christians’, but the historical reality is that there were many different versions of these beliefs, with no one version being more ‘right’ than another. But which version is today the ‘right’ one? Currently there are some 23,000 to 38,000 [5]different Christian denominations worldwide, many and perhaps most of whom would not worship in the church of a different denomination.

Despite the zeal of the early Church Fathers in their willful attempts to eradicate Gnostic beliefs from scripture, much Gnosticism remains [6]‘hidden in plain sight’ in canonical texts. So if you have no wish to be influenced by Gnostic beliefs, then I would strongly suggest that you stop reading your Bible. Seriously.

"The end result of this mixture is a systematic distortion of the teachings of Jesus."
Current [7]scholastic opinion now considers it likely that the original form of Christianity was Gnostic, or stemmed from Gnostic principles. Oh, the irony.

I have just read on another [8]website similar to Leave the Cult the startling statement:
"To conflate the bogus [9]pseudographia (sic) of the Nag Hammadi library with genuine scriptures is immensely dishonest." …which is itself an ‘immensely dishonest’ statement. Why? Because it slips in a [10]non sequitur by presuming that the Gnostic scriptures contained in the Nag Hammadi library are ‘bogus’. Of course they are not. And that 'genuine scriptures' phrase warrants critical scrutiny. Genuine to whom? To impartial scholarship? To those who are prejudiced in one direction or another by their faith?

As I have said before on this blog: at this time frame, no scriptural writings (and there were many of them) were more or less authentic than others. There was no Bible. There were no ‘authenticated’ scriptures. And what ultimately became canonical doctrine was hammered out under the fist of Emperor Constantine, measured and found wanting (or not) in the personal opinion of Augustine, and in the enforced wills of such individuals as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Tertullian, Eusebius and others. And it is always worth remembering that not one single original Biblical text is known to exist. In any case, the description ‘bogus pseudographia’ is not merely tautological; it is disrespectful to the sincerely-held beliefs of others.

My use of the word ‘enforced’ is intentional. Anyone who seriously (and fearlessly) looks into the history will encounter a chronicle of systematic persecution of Gnostics, destruction of Gnostic texts, and annexation of places of Gnostic worship orchestrated by the handful of individuals who decided that their version of Christian doctrine was the only ‘correct’ one. This is the stone cold reason why orthodox doctrine now prevails. Since such doctrinal issues are to be read nowhere in canonical scripture (no, not even what the concept of the Trinity specifically is) the scope for personal interpretation was and is as wide as a Texas horizon.

(Note added February 21, 2015:
The 'Leave the Cult' website has now been deleted.)

[2] Apart from the persecution of the Gnostics themselves, other obvious examples from history include the Thirty Years' War, which saw Catholics and Protestants increasing each other's death toll with grim abandon, the infamous practices and sentences of the Inquisition, which, as a Church-founded and run organization, had the power of life and death over those who came before it as 'heretics', and the notorious Papal-instigated Christian-against-Christian Albigensian Crusade (please see my post A Dark Crusade for an overview of this desperately tragic and very dark episode in history).

[3] Please see my post "Behold This Woman".

[4] Please see my post Martin Luther's Final Solution if Protestantism is for you an acceptable alternative, and read about how the decidedly anti-Semitic Martin Luther urged an act of genocide, which then actually took place. Yes, it is historically documented.

[5] This total is given in the World Christian Encyclopedia. This is inevitably dependent upon how a denomination is defined, and the total could well be much higher.

[6] Please see note [12] in my post Vesica Piscis: The Tale of a Fish.

[7] Pagels, Meyer, Scopello, Robinson, et al.


[9] Alas, there is no such word as 'pseudographia', I'm assuming that this writer meant pseudepigrapha ('spuriously attributed writings'), a term which also covers those texts ascribed to a specific person, but unauthenticated to be by that person. Since this includes most texts in canonical scripture, the Bible as well comes under the classification of pseudepigraphic writings. If you think that you're on safe ground by ascribing the authorship of the four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I invite you to read my post The Gospel According to Somebody.

[10] Non sequitur: a conclusion doomed to be false because the starting point is itself a false or erroneous assumption. In this case, the non sequitur is to describe the Nag Hammadi scriptures as 'bogus', without providing any rationalization of this assumption. Actually reading the Nag Hammadi texts offers a profound experience, containing as they do both great wisdom, deep spiritual reflection and intense poetic phrasing. And they are notably free of the genocidal body count, the rough and ready justice, and the guilt-inducing reward-and-punishment views of sin found in canonical writings. For those interested (and open-minded enough), the complete English translations of these texts are available in a single volume as The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, edited by Marvin Meyer, and published by Harper One for Harper Collins.

The images are taken from the painting Pythagoreans’ Hymn to the Rising Sun, by Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov.

For a further moving description of an aspect of Gnostic beliefs, you are invited to read the post on Emma's blog: Dazzling Darkness.

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