(For the counter-position on this particular heresy, go to Aric’s blog)
It has been said, many times, that Gnosticism is a heretical doctrine that should be expunged from the Christian Church. In this, I agree, but not for the reasons that you might expect.
It has also been said that Gnosticism is a lie, that it is wrong, that it misrepresents God. In this, I most vigorously disagree.
To the first charge, that of heresy, I openly agree and freely admit. The teachings of Gnosticism are most unapologetically heretical. The reason for this is that, in a house build of lies, truth his heresy.
As for the second claim – it has been said that “God’s grace is sufficient”, but I must ask – who’s God? Sufficient for whom? Certainly it is sufficient for the comfortable, the housed, the well-fed, the employed, the affluent. But is it sufficient for the hundreds of millions who go to sleep every night hungry? For the billions who have no access to fresh water? How is God’s grace sufficient for them? How is God gracious to them? How can you participate in God’s kingdom when you’re dying of dysintery, or AIDS?
It is easy to speak of grace from a position of privilige and comfort – but every cry of every starving child says “lie”. If God is good, then God cannot be powerful. If God is powerful, then God cannot be good. If we hold God to even the most lax moral standards we would apply to a human being, God is clearly seen as either weak or monstrous.
It might be said that God’s kingdom is not yet present. Well, how long will that be do you think? Is two thousand years enough? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? In the meantime, do we just tell people to wait patiently, suffer quietly?
The fact is, God’s kingdom is here. This world of poverty and suffering, of malignance and want, is God’s world. It is a material prison, and we are all its captives. God is in fact powerful, but God is not good. The Gnostic term for this prison-warden God is the Demiurge, who manifests the material world that we experience around us. This God is more honestly expressed in the Old Testament, where he is appropriately vengeful, violent, capricious and authoritarian – many of the negative things we associate with human nature because it is the nature of humanity’s prison and of the prison’s creator.
Unlike the orthodox Christ, whose liberation is always postponed, or metaphorical, the true Christ, the teacher, is the present and eternal liberator, and the path to this liberation that is offered is what we call Gnosis. Gnosis is, in short, a direct exprience of knowledge, or a revelation, passed down directly from Christ, from teacher to teacher, to the present day. This knowledge can only be passed through direct experience because it is knowledge of the One, the transcendent Spirit that we touch from time to time in our everyday lives through spiritual experience. Christ comes from the One, enters the material world, and delivers his sacred revelation of freedom and wholeness. And eternally the so-called church preaches slavery to the Demiurge and a freedom and wholeness that are always “not yet”, always put off, reserved for a heaven or a future time.
This liberating Christ’s light shines even through the pages of the New Testament, showing here and there through the cracks, but is more directly eviedent in the Gnostic gospels, which were of course rejected from the “canon” and were almost lost as a result.
There is only so much I can say, only so much that can be said. If God’s grace seems sufficient for the world, then by all means, buy into the lie. Enjoy it. Decorate the walls of your prison cell and make the best of it. Eat what you are fed. Believe what you are told. (This is easier if you are one of the lucky few who have a comfortable cell.)
If, however, God’s grace doesn’t seem like grace at all; if you’re tired of waiting for what Christ said to actually become true; if you long for the perfect, spiritual kingdom of the One, then I encourage you to seek Gnosis. If you seek direct knowledge of transcendence, direct experience of Spirit, a personal encounter with supra-personal truth, here are some starting points: a Gnostic podcast, a homepage for one of the Gnostic church organizations, Gnostic radio, and Gnosticweb: the site for modern Gnosis.