More on Gnosticism

Last week we had a surprising number of letters to the editor (i.e. three) expressing an interest in learning a little more about Gnosticism. It’s pretty bizarre, but definitely worth three bullets this week.

Here are the basic tenets:

  • Matter vs spirit. The Gnostics thought that everything is made up of matter and spirit. Spirit is good. Matter (e.g. the body) is bad.
  • Myths. This is where the going gets weird. Grab a beverage.
    • Before there was Earth … or anything … there was a universal God that was comprised of pure spirit.  
    • There were also a bunch of divine entities emanating from this divine God. They were called Aeons (just go with it). The Aeons made up this thing called the Divine Realm.
    • Everything was great until one day, one of the Aeons (Wisdom) fell from the Universe. And it caused a cosmic disaster. Ultimately, this lesser divine being created the Earth (that was the bizarre part — the big God did not create Earth). And after that Wisdom broke up into a lot of individual spiritual pieces. And these ended up inside us humans.
    • The goal of the Gnostic religion is to release that divine spark that was left within us. And we can do that by acquiring the ‘secret knowledge.’
    • Secret knowledge? Yeah, all good mystical belief systems have secret knowledge. According to the Gnostics, the secret knowledge is a discovery of who you are, where you came from, how you got here, and how you can return (sounds a lot like Buddhism).
    • Who can get secret knowledge if it is secret? That’s where the connection to Christianity comes in. Jesus came from the Divine realm to set us free from the material trappings of our body. And according to some Gnostic accounts, Jesus gave this knowledge to certain disciples (and Paul) after his resurrection. Unfortunately, the Nag Hammadi library documents don’t have those specific instructions.
  • Fake News. The more traditional Church fathers thought the Gnostics conducted wild sex orgies in their Sunday worship service. Ultimately they decreed that the Gnostics were heretics (because that’s what you do) and banned the Gnostics from the Christian church. Hence, the buried scripts at Nag Hammadi. In reality, the Gnostics did not have sex orgies, and they used the New Testament sources (especially John) as a basis for their doctrine.  

Where did we get this information? The Chief Editor has no first-hand knowledge of Gnosticism. So the R&D department watched Bart Ehrman’s lecture on Gnosticism, and reviewed the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia.

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