Gnostic Christians?
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28-04-2014, 10:11 PM
Gnostic Christians?
So I've been looking into a variety of sites discussing the whether the Hebrews were ever slaves of Egypt and the historical evidence of Jesus. I came across this interesting site: http://gnosticschristians.com/. Back when I was more into RCC apologetics, I read up on gnosticism - especially with the talk about the dead sea scrolls that were popular topics of conversation about 8 - 10 years ago (coinciding with the DaVinci Code movie and the Knight's Templars documentaries on the History Channel). Gnosticism is all about the inner struggle to achieve "enlightenment" from what I understand of it. They treat much of the bible as allegory. True hardcore gnosticism from 2000 years ago talks about the the OT God and Jesus as being two separate God's completely and unrelated to each other, i.e. the OT God is a lower level deity that created the world while Jesus was the son of Sophia and the real One supreme God. So we're a combination of the OT God's yucky matter while we contain a spiritual spark from the true God. We're supposed to nurture that inner spark and detest matter, yadda yadda yadda...

If you strip away the mythology and focus on the bible as being a book that can be used for spiritual enlightenment, then I could see that as being a potentially seductive thing. The acts of violence condoned by God in the OT are problematic to Christians. And I will admit that the God I've read about in the OT does not look like the same God in the NT. So, if you push the bible into pure allegory and frame it along the theme of working on yourself to improve yourself as a person, i.e. nurture that inner spark, then thinking about the slaughter of peoples in the OT can be reinterpreted as turning your back on ugly behavior to embrace the good. So...killing a village of Phillistines is an allegory for removing a bad vice that you have in life...I guess it could work.

Not much different than applying the Theravada Buddhism principles to your life, but I think using the positive aspects of the bible as teachings in allegorical form could be a Christianized form of Buddhist thought.

BTW, anyone ever meet a self avowed Christian Gnostic?
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28-04-2014, 10:50 PM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
That's a good description for western gnostic mysticism. Knowledge was the highest attainable good, matter was not necessarily "evil" as a lot of definitions list it, but was a hinderance. God was a word, a single word that described the entire universe, and the angels of God were short paragraphs, and on down the spiritual hierarchy. You become closer to God the more you learned. Other sects misinterpreted this as heresy, giving mere humans the potential of becoming god-like, but they misunderstood something not unlike Hinduism's "sparks" of divinity being trapped in the material world, released only by enlightenment to rejoin with the Brahman, or Godhead.

They also held women in particularly high regard, as creators themselves and therefore more divine. They were also the first to present the tree of knowledge metaphor.

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28-04-2014, 11:53 PM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(28-04-2014 10:11 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  Not much different than applying the Theravada Buddhism principles to your life, but I think using the positive aspects of the bible as teachings in allegorical form could be a Christianized form of Buddhist thought.

BTW, anyone ever meet a self avowed Christian Gnostic?

Xtian principles (and methods) can't hold a candle to those of Nikaya (Theravada minus the Brahmanic/Abhidhammic woo that was later introduced to it) Buddhism. I can show you why if you would like to pursue that in another thread. You seem to know at least a little about it already. Thumbsup

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29-04-2014, 06:59 AM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(28-04-2014 10:11 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  And I will admit that the God I've read about in the OT does not look like the same God in the NT.

This is because the OT god was a war god, and at the time of the "events" of the NT, the Jews were under Roman occupation. YHWH was doing an observably shitty job at kicking Roman ass. So, the NT god was suddenly one that could be worshiped while remaining subservient (turn the other cheek, don't use violence, pay your taxes to Cesar).

Hell, growing up in church, we were told numerous times in church that the Jews were looking for a warrior king to deliver them from the Romans, and were not expecting the peaceful Jesus that the NT claimed. This difference is understood by the church... although I've yet to hear them admit to saying that God changed because of situations caused by humans. It's either never brought up, or they claim some mumbo jumbo about "gradual revelation".


(28-04-2014 10:11 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  BTW, anyone ever meet a self avowed Christian Gnostic?

Not that I know of.
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29-04-2014, 11:56 AM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(28-04-2014 10:11 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  Gnosticism is all about the inner struggle to achieve "enlightenment" from what I understand of it. They treat much of the bible as allegory. ... So, if you push the bible into pure allegory and frame it along the theme of working on yourself to improve yourself as a person, i.e. nurture that inner spark, then thinking about the slaughter of peoples in the OT can be reinterpreted as turning your back on ugly behavior to embrace the good. So...killing a village of Phillistines is an allegory for removing a bad vice that you have in life...I guess it could work.

Would that make the bible a compilation of divinely inspired allegories from the creator, or just a deity-less book of human stories that people try to find inspiration in? If it is just one of many books of human stories from which people try to find inspiration and enlightenment, are we still in the realm of "religion"?
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29-04-2014, 12:03 PM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
I don't think Gnostic theism or atheism is obtainable if people are truly being honest.

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29-04-2014, 04:22 PM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(29-04-2014 06:59 AM)RobbyPants Wrote:  This is because the OT god was a war god, and at the time of the "events" of the NT, the Jews were under Roman occupation. YHWH was doing an observably shitty job at kicking Roman ass. So, the NT god was suddenly one that could be worshiped while remaining subservient (turn the other cheek, don't use violence, pay your taxes to Cesar).

Hell, growing up in church, we were told numerous times in church that the Jews were looking for a warrior king to deliver them from the Romans, and were not expecting the peaceful Jesus that the NT claimed. This difference is understood by the church... although I've yet to hear them admit to saying that God changed because of situations caused by humans. It's either never brought up, or they claim some mumbo jumbo about "gradual revelation".

I've heard the same things in church and catholic school myself - along with reading up on catholic apoligetics. I've seen the actions by God in the OT explained away as inspired writers interpreting the events as they understood them at that time, and that the killing was probably not from God himself so much as the Israelites doing the killing on their own - or something of that sort. Basically, the Jews did not fully grasp what God was about and so thoroughly misunderstood Him that He comes across as an a God who was quick to rage and destruction.

I've seen some Evangelicals try to explain away the OT by using a bible interpretation system known as dispensationalism where God related to people differently in different eras - the gradual revelation method you mentioned.

I'd find it extremely difficult to be a Christian if you had to accept a highly literal interpretation of the bible. There is so much historical error and misunderstanding of science that it would drive me insane to have to defend it all. For a long time I believed much of the bible to be allegory. But even that is a crutch itself that allows you to rationalize away problem areas in order to keep it all going. That's my concern now as a struggling Christian.
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30-04-2014, 02:15 AM (This post was last modified: 30-04-2014 02:22 AM by Mark Fulton.)
RE: Gnostic Christians?
It took me a long time to get my head around exactly what Gnosticism was and I'm still not sure I completely understand it. There was a character called Valentinus in the mid-second century in Rome who was an important Gnostic figure. I'll share with you what I know of Gnosticism and Valentinus although it'll probably be a bit too esoteric for anyone to get terribly interested in....

Valentinus

Valentinus (100–160 CE) was the best known and, for a time, the most successful early Christian Gnostic theologian. He was born a Jew, and was educated in Alexandria, at the time an important Christian center. In about 136 CE, just after the second Jewish war, he went to Rome, where he founded his school. He was prominent in the Christian community of Rome between 136 and 160 CE (http://www.gnosis.org/valentinus.htm).

Valentinus had no interest in acquiring power or wealth, which I suspect is one reason why he didn’t fit in well with other prominent members of what became the Catholic Church. He may or may not have eventually split from them; there’s evidence he remained a member of the Catholic community until his death in about 160 CE. The Valentinian “school,” continued after him, and elaborated on his ideas. The Catholic Church condemned him as a heretic only many years after he died.

Valentinus professed to have derived some of his ideas from Theodas, a disciple of St. Paul, (and about whom nothing is known) who imparted to him the secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to his inner circle. It would have had to be a very old Theodas and a very young Valentinus if that were the case. What’s more, I find it hard to imagine Paul withholding any of his arguments from his letters.

Valentinus believed that people didn’t need the intermediary of the church to know God; that they could experience God firsthand if they knew the “secret tradition,” which was another reason why the Catholic hierarchy perceived him as a threat.

He drew many disciples, and his doctrine was the most widely diffused of all the forms of Gnosticism. He produced a variety of writings, but only fragments survive, not enough to reconstruct his system except in broad outline. We know his beliefs mainly from the developed and modified form given them by his disciples.

The Gnostic writings survived only in quotes recorded by their orthodox detractors until 1945, when the cache of writings at Nag Hammadi revealed original Gnostic texts that contain some of Valentinian’s ideas.

Valentinus and Gnosticism

The term “Gnostic” is a convenient one for historians, as it packages some very diverse groups into a neatly labeled whole, yet things weren’t that simplistic. The term means “one who knows,” rather than designating a distinct doctrine.

It’s a common misconception that Gnosticism began during the Christian era, yet people who are now considered to be Gnostics existed thousands of years beforehand. Gnostics were, in fact, very eclectic, as they tried to interpret many religious ideologies and philosophies. The Greek philosopher Pythagorus was a “Gnostic,” as was the Jewish philosopher Philo. Mandaeanism was a form of Gnosticism dating from the 4th century BCE that tried to bridge Judaism with Zoroastrianism, and it was very influential on Christianity.

During the Christian era, “Gnosticism” became more of a monolithic movement associated with Christianity, although the term itself was never used until the modern era.

Edward Gibbon wrote that the Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite, learned, and the wealthiest of the early Christians, and that their principal founders were natives of Syria or Egypt. They blended their faith in Christ with many “sublime but obscure tenets,” which they derived from oriental philosophy and even from the religion of Zoroaster, (628–551 BCE) an ancient Iranian prophet, philosopher and poet, and others. There were many groups of them, all of which can be considered as proto-Christians. Instead of the four Gospels eventually adopted by the church, the Gnostics produced a multitude of histories in which the actions and discourses of Christ and his apostles were discussed.

Valentinus was a deep thinker. Like Marcion, he believed that Yahweh was a “mistake,” and even thought of him as evil. He believed that the supreme God, who had sent Christ, was someone different, and androgynous.

One of the most important differences between Gnosticism and Catholicism was the removal of the intercessor between God and man. Catholics (even today) are told that they need a priest to perform absolution from sin and other functions like baptism, communion, blessings, and burials. Gnostics didn’t. As a result, the priesthood felt threatened because the Gnostics did them out of an income and diminished their importance.

The Valentinians participated in the public life of the Catholic Church, yet also held their meetings separately from them. These meetings were open to all interested parties and served to attract potential converts to the movement. Women held positions of authority within his community. Anybody who came to a meeting was seen as potentially spiritual and was made welcome. Tertullian reported:
"They all have access equally, they all listen equally, they all pray equally—even pagans if they happen to come…They also share the kiss of peace with all who come." (Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 41.)

Stephan A. Hoeller, a recognized modern authority on Gnosticism, relates the following insights (adapted by myself without changing their meaning) on Valentinus’ Gnosticism.

Valentinus’ ideas on how things are might be summarized as follows: people from all walks of life recognized that there was something wrong with their lives. Catholic Christians, as well as Jews, recognized that there was a “wrongness” in human existence too, but they accounted for it chiefly in terms of the effects of human sin; that whatever was wrong with the world was the result of human disobedience to the creator. This meant that all evil, discomfort, and terror in their lives and in history were somehow man’s fault. So a theme of “Mea Culpa” ran through this worldview, which permanently affixed an element of guilt to the human psyche. Valentinus, in opposition to this, shifted the blame for wrongness in the world from humanity to divinity. That God the creator could be at fault in anything was tantamount to blasphemy in Catholic eyes. Yet Valentinus didn’t view the creator with the worshipful eyes of the Judeo-Christian believer, but rather saw the creator, along with other divinities, as man’s mythical creations. Consider this quote from the Gospel of Philip (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html, part of the Nag Hammadi library):
“God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make gods and they worship their creations. It would be fitting for the gods to worship men” (Logion 85: 1–4.)

He believed humans had the potential to resolve the wrongness of their existence by using “Gnosis,” or self-knowledge. He thought that because human minds had lost their self-knowledge, we lived in a world that was lacking in integrity. Knowledge of self was the real resurrection - resurrection from the death of ignorance.

Valentinus would say there was no need for guilt, or for repentance from sin. Nor was there a need for belief in salvation by way of the death of Jesus. We didn't need to be saved; we needed to be transformed, by Gnosis, the activation of self-knowledge.

The proposition that the human mind lives in a largely self-created world, from whence only Gnosis can rescue it, is common to Buddhism. According to Buddha, the world of apparent reality consists of ignorance and the lack of authentic selfhood.

Valentinus didn’t negate or diminish the importance of Jesus in his teachings, and he claimed to possess a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, but his Jesus never was the character in today’s gospels. Unlike the master/sheep relationship of Christianity, for the Valentinians, Christ was like a brother, a wise teacher who helped them work things out. The great devotion and reverence shown for Jesus is manifest in the Gospel of Truth from Nag Hammadi, (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/got.html) which in its original form was authored by Valentinus himself. Jesus is indeed a savoir, but the term needs to be understood in the meaning of the original Greek word “soter,” meaning healer, or bestower of health. “Soteria” meant healthiness, deliverance from imperfection, and becoming whole.

The Valentinians believed that all wrongness in the world has one common root: ignorance. We’re ignorant of the authentic values of life, and substitute inauthentic ones for them. These inauthentic values are either physical or of the mind. We believe that we need things (such as money, symbols of power, prestige or physical pleasures) in order to be happy or whole. Similarly, we fall in love with the ideas and abstractions of our minds. The rigidities and the hardness of our lives is due to our attachment to things and concepts. The Gnostics called the sickness of materialism “hyleticism,” (worship of matter) while the sickness of abstract intellectualism and moralizing was known as “psychism,” (worship of the mind/emotional soul.)

Jesus, the soter, the healer-savior, the spiritual maker of wholeness, could exorcise the sicknesses of hyleticism and psychism by bringing knowledge of the “pneuma” (spirit.) They could not say what “pneuma” was, but could indicate what it did. It brought a flexibility and courage to life, so that the soul ceased to be fascinated and confined by material things and ideas and could address itself to life. The obsessive state of material and mental attachments was replaced by spiritual freedom; the inauthentic values of the former were made to give way to more authentic ones.

I thank Stephan A. Hoeller for providing the above insights into Gnosticism.

Wow! The above takes some effort to understand and appreciate, but the ideas expressed are real and powerful. It’s refreshing to realize that nearly 2000 years ago there were people whose thinking was this deep. There are clever minds at work here. These ideas have a very non-Jewish flavor to them. I find it difficult to imagine a Jewish peasant from Galilee such as Jesus entertaining them.

Some decades after Valentinus’ death, Irenaeus began his massive work “Adversus Haereses,” with a highly colored and negative view of Valentinus and his teachings that occupies most of the book.

The Gnostic philosophy was popular, but they were labeled and suppressed as heretics by a Catholic Church more interested in the pursuit of power than in personal profundities. It’s a pity that Valentinus’ Jesus was forced out of circulation. Imagine Christian society today if a Gnostic Jesus story had won the propaganda battle. The focus would be on self-discovery and the acceptance of alternative views! There are good websites and numerous books on Gnosticism for anyone interested (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlintro.html).
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30-04-2014, 02:30 AM
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(29-04-2014 04:22 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  
(29-04-2014 06:59 AM)RobbyPants Wrote:  This is because the OT god was a war god, and at the time of the "events" of the NT, the Jews were under Roman occupation. YHWH was doing an observably shitty job at kicking Roman ass. So, the NT god was suddenly one that could be worshiped while remaining subservient (turn the other cheek, don't use violence, pay your taxes to Cesar).

Hell, growing up in church, we were told numerous times in church that the Jews were looking for a warrior king to deliver them from the Romans, and were not expecting the peaceful Jesus that the NT claimed. This difference is understood by the church... although I've yet to hear them admit to saying that God changed because of situations caused by humans. It's either never brought up, or they claim some mumbo jumbo about "gradual revelation".

I've heard the same things in church and catholic school myself - along with reading up on catholic apoligetics. I've seen the actions by God in the OT explained away as inspired writers interpreting the events as they understood them at that time, and that the killing was probably not from God himself so much as the Israelites doing the killing on their own - or something of that sort. Basically, the Jews did not fully grasp what God was about and so thoroughly misunderstood Him that He comes across as an a God who was quick to rage and destruction.

I've seen some Evangelicals try to explain away the OT by using a bible interpretation system known as dispensationalism where God related to people differently in different eras - the gradual revelation method you mentioned.

I'd find it extremely difficult to be a Christian if you had to accept a highly literal interpretation of the bible. There is so much historical error and misunderstanding of science that it would drive me insane to have to defend it all. For a long time I believed much of the bible to be allegory. But even that is a crutch itself that allows you to rationalize away problem areas in order to keep it all going. That's my concern now as a struggling Christian.

"That's my concern now as a struggling Christian."
I have a beautifully simple solution for you. Give up being a Christian.
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30-04-2014, 03:59 AM (This post was last modified: 30-04-2014 04:04 AM by Tartarus Sauce.)
RE: Gnostic Christians?
(29-04-2014 04:22 PM)Plan 9 from OS Wrote:  I've heard the same things in church and catholic school myself - along with reading up on catholic apoligetics. I've seen the actions by God in the OT explained away as inspired writers interpreting the events as they understood them at that time, and that the killing was probably not from God himself so much as the Israelites doing the killing on their own - or something of that sort. Basically, the Jews did not fully grasp what God was about and so thoroughly misunderstood Him that He comes across as an a God who was quick to rage and destruction.

I've seen some Evangelicals try to explain away the OT by using a bible interpretation system known as dispensationalism where God related to people differently in different eras - the gradual revelation method you mentioned.

I'd find it extremely difficult to be a Christian if you had to accept a highly literal interpretation of the bible. There is so much historical error and misunderstanding of science that it would drive me insane to have to defend it all. For a long time I believed much of the bible to be allegory. But even that is a crutch itself that allows you to rationalize away problem areas in order to keep it all going. That's my concern now as a struggling Christian.

Just imagine how much tougher it would be to consider yourself a struggling Christian AND having taken the Bible literally up until that point. You basically would have felt guilty for "not having enough faith" and allowing the ever so corrosively evil specter of doubt taint your mind. Gotta be rough going from all on, balls-to-the-wall praise tha lawd to "holy shit none of what I hold such firm convictions of and have trusted to be true all my life makes sense."

Never trust a religion or sects within a religion which flat-out condemn doubt, that should cue your alarm bells to ring like mad. If all religions and sects embraced doubt as a fundamental component of the human psyche, I don't think I would have as much problems with them in general (of course they wouldn't have as many followers if they did, so I can at least understand why so many of them aren't too keen on the whole doubt thing). Of course, as somebody who thinks religion is silly, I would undeniably think doubt is a good thing (more atheists, yay)! Big Grin

Dispensationalism seems highly suspect. Are all his different revelatory characteristics selectively presented to different people for some specific reason? Or is that just evidence of people being really shit at understanding a divine being when he tries to communicate with them? If there was at least some consistency in his revelation I could get on board with it being somewhat plausible, but when you commit rampant genocide in one era and then claim to be as soft and warm-hearted as a fluffy kitten a couple hundred years later, people are just going to diagnose you with a cosmic level bipolar disorder.

Also, how is one supposed to know that, it is not in fact the Jews who got Yahweh wrong but the Christians themselves? If you were to look at this universe and decide whether an all-loving god or a deity with serious anger management problems created it, I wouldn't blame you for thinking it was designed by a malevolent cosmic douchebag with a burning hatred for his creations. Maybe the Christians are the ones who are off with their god that likes prancing through fields and impregnating pretty young women with his child?

Anyway, I know there's this one interpretative school called Red Letter that basically states that the only thing relevant in the bible is Jesus, who was a pretty cool guy, and the rest of it is is kookier than a woodpecker on crack cocaine.

A lot of the people here used to be Christians themselves and could probably give you some helpful advice (I was never a Christian so I am not one of these people), although quite frankly, I think that might just mostly boil down to them telling you to forget it and toss it away. Quite frankly, being an atheist, that sounds like a pretty damn good option to me, but I know that's not exactly the most.....helpful advice for right now. Basically, it's gonna be a journey for you whether you end up sticking being a Christian, convert religions, go the deist route, or end up atheist, so I guess the best suggestions I could give is strap yourself in and prepare for a ride.

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