Saturday, April 15, 2006

ABC Gnosticism

i read the Da Vinci Code months back and thought it an amusing potboiler. A few scenes made me think, "this will cheese off the Catholics." But the rest just read like fiction, Harry Turtledove kinds of stories where the premise is "what if so and so didn't happen."

But Da Vinci Code gets a lot of traction. There's talk of the "sacred feminine" that some people take seriously and apply it to Mary Magdalene, but never to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (I've said before that there's a reason why there's so much goddess kitsch in the PBS Wireless catalogue.) I think this is because of something I call ABC religion: Anything But Christianity.

There's a lot of people who want to put forth a different ethic than that personnified by the God that Is. And adopting a different ethic, one that's more politically correct about homosexual acts, for instance, is something contemporary culture wants very much, but contemporary culture doesn't have the guts to openly pull out a golden calf. So, there's a lot of effort that goes into redefining Christianity and its ethic to fit their social agenda.

This worked a century ago when the Social Gospel had its expression in theological Liberalism had a primarily economic thrust and we didn't know that socialist economics was the Road To Serfdom. The commies at least had the guts to throw off those ancient myths. But Liberal Christianity has been unable to get traction of late.

So we're seeing different attempts at ABC replacements or redefinitions of Christianity along different lines. Since Christianity has an inherently Historical component, redefinition of Christianity has looked to the historical losers who fought to define Christianity in the first place.

Enter the Gnostics. That was a long time ago and their gospels are coming out of obscure historical places to serve in a contemporary attempt at redefining Christianity. Indeed, it is easy to look at Gnostic texts out of context and put together things that serve the contemporary redefinition/reinterpretation of Christ and his religion.

There's just one problem, when you interpret the Gnostic texts, it is easy to forget why they wee rejected in the early centuries of Christianity. Whereas orthodox/traditional Christianity makes a big deal of the dual human & divine nature of Christ, the Gnostics got his human nature wrong. The 1st century Gnostics would say Christ's humanity was a facade or illusion. Because matter to the Greek mind was inherently evil, Christ being good and God required Christ to be non-material.

In today's context, the heresy of Liberalism said Christ was a nice teacher, a human on spiritual steroids, but not wholly divine. Unless you mean by divine this panentheistic notion where there's a Newage sense in which everything is god. Contemporary society has rejected metaphysical notions that are the linchpins of Gnosticism.

The result is a sort of cafeteria theology where bits that advance the cause of the day are incorporated whilst conveniently ignoring the bits that don't fit. Nor is there any attempt to adhere to any systemmatic thinking to explain the connection beetween the bits you embrace. Sounds like a Cargo Cult, but that's another story.

Moreover, if you are to use the Gnostics to advance some feminist agenda, you've got a little problem with the antifeminist assertions of the Gnostic gospels themselves.

This shows a real risk of dealing with old texts. You can't read an old text with contemporary eyes. You have to understand the old text's philosophical-historical context and read it with that in mind. The ancient greeks had odd notions of substances and essences. Those notions drive a lot of the arguments of the early church fathers. But we're modern scientific rationalist readers, and we should take pains to interpret old texts in their ancient context before trying to translate their message into our contemporary context.

This applies to the traditionalist Christian as well as the new gnostic heretic. I leave it to the reader to supply examples.

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