Thursday 2 March 2023

The Gnostic World View

 Gnosticism has a bad reputation among ordinary Christians but I believe there are elements of it that can complement conventional religious understanding. I would reject the idea of a Demiurge on a lower level of spiritual reality to the transcendent God who is responsible for the creation of the world with its inbuilt flaws. A basic truth is that God saw Creation and said that it was good. Matter is not evil but it is matter and therefore a more constricted state of being than spirit. The absolute duality of good and evil, spirit and matter, that exists in some versions of Gnosticism, most notably the Manichaean, is also based on a misconception. The world has fallen into darkness but darkness or evil has no separate reality independent of God.

Where I think some Gnostic ideas are useful is regarding the nature of the soul. For the conventional Christian souls are made (as far as I understand the matter) at conception but I think this is nonsense. Souls exist on the spiritual level, in realms of light, and come down to earth to experience life in a body and a sphere of being in which they become separated from God. This is so that they may grow, become independent and, ultimately, if all goes well, return as fully functioning members of the Kingdom of Heaven. John 3:13 says "No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven." Now, I know the verse goes on to say "even the Son of man which is in heaven" and I imagine this is normally understood as a reference to Jesus, but what if it can also refer to men as spiritual beings who incarnate in this world to further their evolution? The seed falls from the tree into the ground from whence it grows up and returns to the sunlight.

The Gnostic idea of man being a divine spark trapped in matter from which it must extricate itself has merit. Where I would differ from Gnosticism is in saying that this is intended. There is purpose behind it. It is not simply that the soul has fallen into darkness and ignorance but that it has come to this state in order to learn and to grow. On its own level it is perfect but passive. Bathed in bliss perhaps, but with no chance to deepen its understanding or develop its creative powers. In order to do this it must come to a world where it is thrown back on itself. This is the world of separation which is the material world.

But things are not quite that simple because this world is not only material, that is to say, outside pure spirit, it has also fallen and so is worse than it might have been. This is where the Gnostic misunderstanding comes in. Yes, the world has been damaged. No, it is not on that account evil. Evil is nothing in itself. It can only inflict harm on good. Good is the reality and evil is just the shadow of reality in a dualistic world of light and darkness. Darkness is not a thing. It is just the absence of light.

So, the soul comes down to earth in order to return to the heavenly realm but as a conscious choice rather than automatically. This act of choosing qualifies the soul to go to a higher level than that from which it emanated but it also means there is an element of risk involved. This is required because the soul needs to form itself by consciously allying itself with God and Creation. God makes the raw material but the soul then has to build itself up from that raw material if it is to be, which is the intention, a real individual hence a potential god itself. 

Gnosticism means knowledge. The soul is required to have spiritual knowledge. That much should be obvious. But which is more important, knowledge or faith? On a spiritual level they are the same thing. It is only in worldly terms that they become separated and sometimes even in conflict. But that just means that they are both very imperfect in this world. The aim is to unite them and realise they are two sides of the same coin.


julius rectus said...

Usually people who rail against Gnosticism are either (1) radical extremist sedevanticist lunatic Catholics who hate everyone else anyway for not bowing to a pope that they don't even really believe exists: "worship my hypothetical pope or I kill you!"-type lunatics, or (2) Evangelical pastors who learned a few wikipedia pages in overpriced seminary but never bothered to actually read primary sources like the "church fathers" so have everything about church history wrong. And the rest (3) are laymen who listen to idiots of one of those 2 categories and know nothing about church history.

William Wildblood said...

I do believe that the time has arrived when anyone who doesn't look beyond conventional forms of religion, any of them, risks being stuck in a thought form rather than entering a living spiritual reality.

Chris said...

Julius Rectus,

Respectfully, it really depends upon which " Gnosticism" one is talking about . Some forms of gnosticism are totally deserving of being railed against and the people who do are probably neither lunatics or idiots .