Wednesday, November 11, 2009


All religions are essentially gnostic, which means they center their ideology around knowledge. Christians take this to the extreme, with many believing that accepting the knowledge of Jesus as their savior is sufficient pre-requisite for declaring oneself Christian. Other faiths place more emphasis on ritual, and less on knowledge, but it is still important in every faith to remember certain things.

Every religion boils down to a system for transferring knowledge, like an artificial form of genetics. Religion was most important before written language, when stories and songs would need to be transmitted between generations in order to preserve knowledge. Eventually, religion was written down, and as a result, long forgotten faiths sometimes find their way back into our memory.

Christian Gnosticism was a strong movement in the early days after Jesus. While the whole of the religion is lost to us, we get bits and pieces of it through lost papyri and codices. To make matters worse, it was certainly not a monolithic movement with a standardized belief structure. However, when taken together, the Gnostic world view is strikingly interesting.

In the beginning were the Archons, beings with limitless power, floating in an endless void. The youngest was Sophia, whose name means wisdom.

Sophia decided to create a companion for herself. Being the youngest and not wanting her older siblings to take Her creation away, she went off alone where she could not be seen. She created Yaldabaoth, the demiurge. She lavished it with attention and gave it everything He desired.

Because the apple never falls far from the tree, Yaldabaoth felt compelled one day to create. He didn’t want His mother to see it, so behind His back He created the world, our physical world (the world of mass, as opposed to the spirit world or just the Earth). He populated it with all kinds of animals and even one being that resembled Him and His Mother.

Seeing that His creation was alone, and having not given His creation the power to create, He made his creation a mate. He set up the events of Genesis as a game to amuse Himself. Some Gnostics found traditionally villainous characters like Cain to be heroic, though the circumstances of the Gnostic interpretation are lost to us.

Basically, the Gnostics were maltheists. They saw the Old Testament God, YHWH, as being this evil Demiurge, Yaldabaoth. The “Creator” was only a partial creator, for He made our world, but was Himself naïve to the whole of the existence. His imperfection accounts for the imperfection of our world.

At some point, we don’t know when Gnostics think this was, Sophia found out what Yaldabaoth had done. She saw our world and wept. No, this wasn’t the flood. What do we know is that Gnostics believe she sent Jesus to try to save us.

Gnostics believe Jesus was sent by Sophia with a knowledge that would allow human spirits to escape the prison created for us by Her Son. There is even evidence that Gnostics believed in the transmigration of souls, which is the Western terminology for reincarnation. This all likely comes about from a melding of Jewish and Platonic teachings, as Plato devised a system of reincarnation in which we are prisoners (see Plato’s Cave).

Judas, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene are some of the leading “Gospel” sources on Gnosticism. Their Gospels are classified as Gnostic because of their pronounced dualism and emphasis on knowledge. The Gospel of Judas is remarkable for its claim that Judas was asked by Jesus to initiate the events that led to the crucifixion, also portraying Judas as the most trusted apostle.

It is interesting to note that the Canonical Gospels all portray Judas and Thomas with great negativity; Judas is always called “the betrayer,” while the story of “doubting Thomas” is none too flattering. And calling Mary a prostitute is a play out of every schoolyard bully’s playbook. Smear campaigns have always worked on the ignorant masses.

Now you know more.


  1. In the Evangelical Christianity I was brought up in I was really unaware of how much they "preached against other cultural views" until I left the fold.

    It was in college that my mythologies professor challenged the class by reading the Apocrypha of the Bible. At the time I was with Campus Crusade for Christ, and we had a "youth alert meeting" where we discussed the various ideologies getting spread by our secular professors and were told not to believe everything, to pray about it, and to rely on Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

    Needless to say, reading extra-canonical Biblical stories is what peaked my interest in classical Christianity. It is partially what drove me to begin my 5 years of research into the historical Jesus of Nazareth, hoping to learn what the first Christians knew.

    Quaintly enough, it was this heuristic journey which led me to new-found epiphanies and revelations, all of which grated against my devotional convictions. Eventually, as I pieced the clues together, the full picture came into view and I was left with an entirely different perspective and understanding of my faith. I had come to the conclusion that it was not reliable, not genuine, and its very tenets of faith have been at the whim of lesser minds for centuries. By lesser I mean disillusioned, delusional, or lacking in good reasoning skills.

    With this revelation, it was time for me to put my beliefs back onto the bookshelf with all the other antiquated myths. And it was mind freeing!

    Anyway, sorry to prattle on like this, but your post gave me flashes of nostalgia.

  2. Tristan, thanks for commenting.

    It's always been interesting to me how most Christians have such a simplistic understanding of the history of Christianity. I wonder if a comprehensive study of religion in public schools might actually breed atheism/agnosticism.

    Would Christians believe so strongly if they knew how much of what they believe has been altered? Would they find Christianity superior if they were presented with every other possible faith?

    I tend to think Christianity is successful for the same reason as McDonald's: advertising sells, regardless of product quality.

  3. That and the evangelical practice proselytizing (marketing campaigns) where they send their missionaries into enemy territory, such as Burger King, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, etc. only to stand up on a stool and shout at the top of their lungs, "Did somebody say McDonalds?!"

    And then what follows is, McDonald's french fries are soooo good, everybody knows this, it's a fact. And well, they ignore that the rest of it is all crap, but heck... if you eat their particular brand of fries you'll get into heaven for free and live forever! What's not to like... right?

    Sign me up! But, as the adage goes, if it's too good to be true... well, then it probably is.

    Now all we have is a bunch of fat Christians, like little kids raised on McDonalds food, are so full up on their own gluttony and fear of anything different that they just dismiss everything else without ever trying it.

    And so they preemptively claim their food is the best-est in the whole wide world, because they don't know any better, and have not tried anybody else's food. But if you try to get them to even taste another culture's cuisine, they'll throw a hissy fit and demand that you're being unfair. That you're McDonald's intolerant.

    That's how I see it, because, that's basically what's going on. As for your comment about the Fourth R, as Dan Dennett has termed it, I agree. An introductory "Religious/Mythologies" class, or "Religious/Philosophies" course starting in junior high school and continuing on through high school would be very rewarding. It would allow children to make up their own minds (by equipping them with the knowledge and tools) instead of simply following in their parents footsteps.

    I know one such curriculumn was set up in Montreal, Quebec, but trying to convince conservative Americans it's necessary is a whole different matter entirely.

    The fact remains, knowledge makes us more reasonable, because the more we know the more we have to be prepared for the consequences of holding such knowledge, the more we are responsible for. Wisdom is gained by it. And in my opinion, multiculturalism is far better than supernatural spawned superstitions, insular phobias, tribal mentalities, and religious bred intolerance, bigotry, and prejudice.

    Why not enlighten ourselves about other cultures? Because it would lead them away from Christ... it would force them to actually think for once. *Gasp! Oh the horror! Such fragile faiths... are in my opinion... barely worth having at all if they're so delicate and will crumble simply because of their inherently built in weaknesses.

    And I totally agree that most Christians are completely ignorant about their own history and the formulation of their faith. They only believe it because that's what they were taught to believe. So it makes sense, if you taught them other beliefs... they would then be force to reconcile their cultural beliefs with a broader worldview. Without such an option, however, I fear they will remain a blinkered bunch.


If your comment is too long, break it into multiple comments and post them all.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...