The Da Vinci (read: Gnostic) Code

In light of the upcoming movie, it's time now to comment on The Da Vinci Code. The book is a massive bestseller, and the film will likely be one of the top three box office hits of the year. The book is really a lot of fun. As a summer pop fiction read, I highly recommend it. Amy just finished it for her first time, and I read it last year. Sure, chapter 58 is controversial. Yeah, Dan Brown's history is about as good as my advanced calculus. Consequently, both popular positions—the book as work of the devil or answer to the mysteries of the world—are bunk and need to be strenuously avoided.

That said, I would like to comment on what I think people find so fascinating in it. A number of Christians who like to put a positive spin on pop culture (which is a more laudable position than fundies who view the world as satan's abode) see in The Da Vinci Code a kind of latent spirituality, an impulse to think about "spiritual matters," whatever that means. I grant that this is the case, but it is not by any means the positive thing these Christians think it is, unless Christianity means something very different from what tradition holds. It is a marvelous accident of history (or is it an accident?) that the "Gospel of Judas" has surfaced in the same year that The Da Vinci Code will hit the theaters. Both represent, in my opinion, the ever-increasing American fascination with the Gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient Hellenistic belief that the world is evil (created by demigods) and the Divine Spirit has given a secret knowledge (gnosis) to an elite few, a knowledge which will free the elect from this prison of bodily matter and release them into a wholly other spiritual world. Many have already made the important point that there are striking similarities between this and modern American, premillennial evangelicalism. Gnosticism has, of course, held sway in the United States in various forms since its origin, but now more than ever, it seems to have found its audience. Our current society is caught up with the sense that the world is more evil than ever—structural evil now, rather than merely physical evil. The root of this new Gnostic sensibility is disillusionment: disillusionment with a government that appears to be evil—in its wars, policies, shadowy deals, shady connections—and disillusionment with a church that proves itself to be more sinful with each passing day—in child molestation cases mostly. Is it any wonder that movies in the past 50 years have consistently focused on government conspiracies and political plots? Is it any wonder that X-Files was the most popular television show of its time (and maybe of all time)? Is it any wonder that The Matrix was the cultural phenomenon that it was and still is? Disenchantment in our modern era has resulted in a level of skepticism unparalleled throughout history. People suspect the worst from our government, and many suspect the worst from the church as well. The world itself is suspect.

Such skepticism breeds a corresponding desire to find out the "secret knowledge" that holds together our increasingly chaotic society. This gnosis seeks to the answer the questions: what is really going on behind those closed doors? what is the real reason for how the world is today? To assuage these fears, pop culture produces works of speculation, labelled "metaphysical" at the Borders bookstore I worked at for a year—which is a gross misunderstanding of the world metaphysical, which has its proper place in philosophy. This section, which includes astrology and magic and speculative materials, was the most popular in the entire store (fiction alone excepted). My point is not to dissect the hidden meanings behind what people purchase (that becomes a Gnostic enterprise in itself) but simply to point out some intriguing trends. One of the more disturbing trends is actually, in retrospect, the most understandable. Often the same people reaching for speculative, "metaphysical" writings were the ones buying what I like to call "Christian self-help," represented by the likes of Rick Warren & co. Why? Probably because people want to exploit all their options. If astrology cannot solve the riddles and frustrations of life, then perhaps Bruce Wilkinson can (and the "prayer of Jabez" was enticing for just that reason).

The Da Vinci Code is not the evil book that fundamentalists make it out to be. It's a lot of fun, and I am very excited about the upcoming film adaptation. But the book's popularity is suspect, simply because the novel itself is not "good enough" to warrant such iconic status. I sense that the underlying rationale is that people are desperate for someone to poke holes in our established institutions, whether that is the government or the church or something else. People love the idea of government cover-ups being exposed, and the perennial reruns of Area 51 specials on the Discovery Channel is evidence of this. With the "Gospel of Judas," people are in a veritable frenzy. Not only does this feed people's suspicions of the church, but it gives people a reason to attack the Bible, too, and this is probably therapeutic for those who grew up with parents who forced them to read the Bible and go to church. For those burned by the government, shows like X-Files are a way to tease this inner, Gnostic bug that wants to unravel the secrets of the cosmos through whatever means—no matter how ridiculous.

(Some self-described "postmodern" thinkers would identity at this point the growing anti-rationalism movement that corresponds with this American Gnosticism. The individualistic pursuit of a secret gnosis is purchased at the expense of reason and critical investigation. Thus, people will believe in aliens building the pyramids and the living bloodline of Jesus regardless of how historically and scientifically bogus such claims actually are. And all because our society's ennui and skepticism encourage such speculations.)

Finally, on a more philosophical note, I would like to point out that there is an interesting anti-Kantian epistemology at work here. Whereas Kant asserted that the phenomenal (the empirical world) is all that humans have access to and the noumenal (the "spiritual" world) is inaccessible and therefore not of rational concern to humanity, present-day Gnosticism asserts just the opposite: the metaphysical, noumenal is our concern and the physical, phenomenal is suspect and deceitful. This is what I like to call Matrix Epistemology: the "real world" is what is beyond our sensory data, outside of and behind the "false world" in which we blindly live. Speculation materials, novels like The Da Vinci Code, and many so-called "Christian" books soothe people's consciences by promising something more, the secret truth, the answer to the Riddle of Life.

To the extent that Christians portray the gospel to others in these terms, we undermine the message of Christ and unknowingly deceive people about what Christianity is actually about. Not a flight from this world, but rather a God who freely and graciously entered it for our sakes. Nothing could be further from Gnosticism than a God who enters flesh to give us life.

Comments

Sophia Sadek said…
Thanks for the posting.

I have two minor nits. One of them is in the characterization of gnosticism as hellenistic. An example of gnostic literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, predated Hellas by a number of centuries. Also, there is nothing in gnosticism that limits it to hellenic culture or experience.

The other nit is your closing comment about divine incarnation. The primary difference between gnostic incarnation and Christian incarnation is that gnostics seek to incarnate the divine Logos. It's a gnostic practice. This makes Christ a gnostic practitioner.

Christians ignore the Logos and focus on the flesh. It's that ole "carnal mindedness." Worship the one who incarnated the Logos, rather than the Logos itself. That's why Christianity has traditionally been antithetical to divinity.
D.W. Congdon said…
I'll concede that Gnosticism is not primarily Hellenistic, though I am speaking primarily of Gnosticism in relation to Christianity, in which case it is heavily Hellenistic.

However, your interpretation of the difference between Christianity and Gnosticism lacks theological refinement. First, when speaking of Christian Gnosticism, we need to mention Docetism. Docetism is the early Gnostic belief that Jesus only appeared to have a human body. This protected God from actually touching the material realm. Consequently, Gnostic Christianity did not and never could believe in an actual incarnation (in-carnis, in the flesh), because flesh itself is evil. Ignatius rightly condemned this heretical belief.

A later Christological belief was Apollinarianism, which asserted that the divine Logos only became incarnate by replacing the human mind with the divine mind. This also is related to Gnosticism, though it is closer to Christianity by at least allowing the human body to be truly material -- even if the Logos has nothing to do with the body.

What Christian orthodoxy actually asserts is the 'scandal of particularity' -- that God actually became a human person. A particular, physical, material human person is the divine Logos, the second person of the Trinity. Christianity does not and never has ignored the Logos. If anything, Christian history proves just the opposite. Most Christians over the centuries have wanted to ignore the flesh. And the Christological creeds prove a wariness about how closely doctrine should identify God with humanity in Jesus Christ.

To say that Christianity has been antithetical to divinity is simply bogus. Christianity has been so insistent upon divinity that it has threatened to obscure the true humanity of God in Jesus. But the reality of its confession of Jesus as the Christ was always the boundary that kept early and medieval Christians from going too far. Gnosticism has been a persistent influence in Christianity up to the present day. But the belief in the incarnation of God has kept Christian doctrine from losing its basis in Jesus. Gnosticism, on the other hand, does not have any doctrine of the incarnation.
Sophia Sadek said…
Thanks for the observation that my comment lacked the sophistry of orthodox theology. I take that as a compliment.

The concept of defining a human being as the divine Logos comes directly out of apostolic error. It is a distraction away from the divine in favor of idolizing the individual who incarnated the Logos.

You say that gnosticism doesn't have any "doctrine" of incarnation. Gnostics teach a form of spiritual fertility that allows the student to receive (and thereby incarnate) the divine Logos. I'll grant that it is a practice, rather than a doctrine.

From the persepective of idolaters, that's a blasphemous practice. It implies that someone other than Jesus can serve as a savior.

Orthodoxy demands spiritual infertility. It cultivates a rocky consciousness that excludes the Logos. History is full of students of orthodoxy who saw the light and followed the higher path of heresy. They simply were not hard-headed enough to stay in the prison of orthodox ignorance.
D.W. Congdon said…
How interesting it is that the same church witness you dismiss as idolatry expected your response:

"... but we preach Christ [Messiah, God, Logos] crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."

What you call idolatry is precisely the bedrock upon which Christianity is based, and if calling a human being God is idolatry, then I am an idolater. But the fact of the matter is, your Gnosticism is simply too weak, too infantile, to make the kind of radical claims that Christianity can make. People like to think that Gnosticism has a radical answer for them that Christianity, in its stuffy orthodoxy, simply cannot provide.

But how wrong they are! Gnosticism cannot go far enough. Gnosticism is the stuffy one, because it is stuck in an antiquated and rigid "orthodoxy" of its own that believes god and the world are two polar opposites, even going so far as to say that the world was created by demigods who mediate between the absolutely transcendent god and the evil material cosmos.

Christianity is a faith of radical paradoxes: that the transcendent God not only lovingly made the universe but can and did enter into the creation as a human person, that salvation is both spiritual and bodily, that creation is both looking forward to redemption and yet is "very good" as it is, etc. Christianity's ultimate claim is that God was crucified on a cross. Gnosticism retracts in horror at such a statement, but that's because Gnostics are too weak in the stomach and too timid in their theology to realize the profound depths of this claim.

Is Christianity particular? Yes, absolutely. And that is precisely why Christianity is a scandal. Gnosticism cannot stand for particularity: it has to remain fixed in a world of abstractions and generalities. The divine logos or spirit is "out there" and "otherworldly," and those who are "saved" are given this anti-material gnosis. But there is no scandal here. This is no gospel, no good news. What Gnosticism does is exchange a radical theology of the incarnation for a bland pseudo-theology of a universal spirit of knowledge.

If Christianity is Guinness Extra Stout (hard to swallow but incredibly rich and full), Gnosticism is Miller Lite (weak and insipid). Gnosticism is simply a mass-produced religion that allows everyone to have an equal share of the divine if only they turn away from the world and think "spiritual" things. Christianity is just as universal -- because Christ is the substitute for all people, regardless of who believe -- but it requires no disregard for the world and our bodies. Gnosticism can only give one the hope of some rational, spiritual salvation. Christianity promises a new earth, the redemption of this entire cosmos. Gnosticism only reaches the mind or soul. Christianity reaches the whole person.

In other words, Gnosticism is just a sad excuse for the real thing: Christian faith in a crucified God.
D.W. Congdon said…
As Stanley Hauerwas and others have said, Christianity simply has the best damn story. No other religion even comes close. Gnosticism doesn't even have a story.
Sophia Sadek said…
Gee, your observations on gnosticism are somewhat contrary to other observations I've read. Others say it is not for the masses, but only for the elite. Others say that it is pure story with no reality.

In the gnostic story of the crucifixion, the emphasis is not that divinity was crucified, but that the "authorities" were deceived into thinking that they could defeat their opposition by killing a prophet. One man does not a god make.

The Church thought that it could defeat its opposition by burning prophets at the stake. As with the crucifixion, the burning of prophets only pointed to the illegitmacy of the slayer.

It's not that we don't have a story, it's just that our story is different.
D.W. Congdon said…
Once again, you need to get your facts straight. The Church had absolutely no worldly power to burn opponents at the stake for at least several hundred years. The rise of Christianity cannot be attributed to any kind of political power to get rid of outsiders. Christianity was a religion of marginalized, often persecuted, people. But what held them together was the knowledge that the God they worshipped loved them so much that God decided to die on their behalf on a cross.

There simply isn't any love in Gnosticism. Why? Because God cannot show it. God is locked in a world of impassibility, transcendence, lifelessness, and gnosis.

Gnosticism at one time was for the elite only. Now, however, it's the hip "religion" of the masses. A casual stroll through Barnes & Noble or Borders will make this readily apparent. Hence my blog post. If Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, and Dan Brown are not the masses, I don't who is!

By the way, the second largest hole in Gnosticism after its metaphysical concept of god is its utter lack of an atonement. The crucifixion of a prophet is obviously not salvific, because (1) God is not part of this process, and (2) the prophet is just another "enlightened" human. In Christianity, an atonement actually occurs because God is there in the flesh, not as a prophet but as the God incarnate. As I said before, this only makes Gnosticism turn away in disgust.

Christianity not only has a stronger stomach, it also has a stronger heart. Gnosticism has no heart, no strength, just an enlightened brain.
Sophia Sadek said…
In the physical domain, the heart is a well protected, internal organ. Likewise, in the metaphysical domain. To say that we lack heart is to say that you have not observed the manifestation of it.

The nose leads the head. The head illuminates the heart. The heart nourishes the body.

One of the things for which Christians were criticized in the fourth century was the lack of love for men and gods. It's only natural that those who were criticized for their lack of love should criticize others for the same.

No, Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, and Dan Brown are not the masses. On the other hand, they do have a popular following.

Gnosticism has always appealed to people because people want to be free. Gnosticism leads the way out of slavery.

The Christian god is a slave god. It's love is the love of slavery, not the love of humanity. It is the love of bondage, not the love of life.
D.W. Congdon said…
Your definition of "freedom" is what reveals the utter banality of Gnosticism. Freedom is not the individual autonomy that religion has always claimed to provide -- that self-realized freedom of Gnostic-Enlightenment rationalism. That is not freedom but rather the essence of bondage. Karl Barth once famously remarked that the old image of the Greek warrior (Hercules, I think) choosing between two equal paths in a fork in the road is not the essence of freedom. Freedom is rather what comes when one can choose nothing but the Good; freedom is obedience, not the individualistic pursuit of choice.

So here we part ways. Your understanding of Christianity is as empty as your alternative. Gnosticism. You have absolutely no way of backing up your claim that Christianity is a religion of slavery. In fact, any research whatsoever into that claim will prove its emptiness. Christianity has been the force behind all the things you claim to be part of humanity: the arts, science (Christianity's doctrine of creation almost single-handedly gave rise to modern science), social justice, humanitarian work (this extends back through the monasteries into the very origins of Christianity as a religion of healing and caring for the poor in society), and so on and so forth.

Finally, you simply have not read Paul. Even a cursory glance at the Pauline literature would show you that no religion is more adamantly against slavery than Christianity -- and I mean that both in a spiritual and physical sense, even if Christians did not always realize the implications of their message. Spiritually, though, in direct contrast to Gnosticism, Christianity proclaims that freedom is not the individualistic pursuit of the divine gnosis, but the liberating knowledge that salvation is not dependent anything that we know or do but entirely rests on the Logos who became flesh and died on our behalf. The Christian gospel is a gospel of freedom par excellence, because all the anxiety of reaching God or realizing oneself is removed from us and taken upon Godself by God. Gnosticism is still, in the end, a religion of bondage, because while it promises each person a spirit or gnosis of the divine, it condemns each person to be responsible for realizing him- or herself. That is a responsibility that a loving God -- the God of Christianity -- realizes is impossible to fulfill. What God does is take that struggle upon Godself and fulfills it. If there is anything more freeing than that, you'll have a hard time convincing me.

In conclusion, Gnosticism is confined to empty claims and empty beliefs. "The nose leads the head"?? What nonsense! Why not the eyes, or the mouth, or the ears? What an absurd claim.

More importantly, Gnosticism is missing a number of essential factors that could actually rescue it: (1) a triune God that is not opposed to the world but loves is and is able and willing to enter it on behalf of creation; (2) a doctrine of substitutionary atonement in which our pursuit of personhood is taken from us, and new personhood given to us freely; (3) a doctrine of creation that respects this world rather than escapes it (which, by the way, means that Gnosticism is the most anti-humane, anti-social, anti-world religion ever conceived, and to say that Christianity has no love of life and humanity is simply the most ridiculous claim ever made - and by a Gnostic!); (4) doctrines of redemption, resurrection, and consummation that look to God to restore this cosmos rather than to annihilate it.

In other words, what is missing from Gnosticism is Christianity.
D.W. Congdon said…
By the way, what other religion can actually assert as one of its dogmas: "God is love"? Answer: none but Christianity. And for a very good reason.
Sophia Sadek said…
We view the history of Christianity from very different frames of reference.

You see support for the arts. I see taboos against "profane" art forms. You see support for science. I see book burnings. You see social justice. I see oppression. You see caring for the poor. I see creation of poverty with excessive oppulence and taxation.

You cite Paul as being opposed to slavery, while slave owners quoted Paul in support of their position.

Let's examine your criticisms of gnosticism from another angle: 1) Gnosticism lacks the absurdity of the Trinity. 2 & 4) Gnosticism lacks the sophistry of substitutionary atonement, redemption, resurrection, and consummation. 3) Gnosticism lacks a doctrine of creation that promotes materialism.

As far as your comment that Christianity is the only religion with the dogma that "God is love," I know of no religion that does not view love as divine. The world would be a better place if Christians would stop idolizing love and start practicing it.
D.W. Congdon said…
Well, I'm tired of this conversation. But a few more points are in order. First, your "frame of reference" is no reference at all: you have simply precluded any possibility that Christianity has actually provided you with all of these cultural foundations which you simply take for granted and blame Christianity for the problems. Pretty much any historian worth his or her salt is going to laugh at your knowledge of history. It's like this: you think Gnosticism is the savior of humanity, and hence anything associated with Christianity is a step backward -- if not much worse.

I, on the other hand, have no such beef with Gnosticism. The fact of the matter is that if you place the doctrines of Christianity next to the doctrines of Gnosticism, there simply is no comparison. You have done nothing to refute the far more holistic and humane system of theology which Christianity provides. What you can never deny is that Gnosticism is the coldest, most inhumane, and anti-human religion ever. Even Islamic terrorists are more human-centered than Gnosticism, since they at least recognize that there is something worth killing for on this planet. Gnosticism, on the other hand, is not only non-materialistic, it is anti-material.

You simply cannot blame Christianity as a theological system for abuses throughout history. There are no shortage of theologians who are committed to Christianity because they see that it and it alone has the potential to fight against structures of domination, slavery, globalization, etc. Christians may have used Paul to support slavery, but at least as many Christians have used Paul to deny it. The first African-American post-graduate in the United States did so at Princeton Seminary, over 90 years before any other African-Americans could do so at the famous universities, e.g., Harvard, Yale, Cornell, etc. The same goes for women in positions of leadership. Christianity first provided that opportunity and forum. If some who claim to be Christians argue against this, they are only arguing against their own tradition. And I think you have to appreciate that all theological systems provide opportunities for abuse and misunderstanding. If you cannot, then you obvious only view Gnosticism and other religions from the most superficial perspective.

You may see Christianity from a particular "frame of reference," but the problem is that I do not deny that those problems exist in the history of Christianity. I see those and I am saddened. But Christianity is not reducible to those errors. Such a reductionist position, as you are espousing, is wholly inappropriate from an objective historical perspective. You deny the validity of Christianity's contribution to society only to the peril of your own reliability.

Interesting that you accuse Christianity of "sophistry" as if that's a bad thing, when Gnosticism is nothing but sophistry: demigods, spiritual gnosis, dualistic salvation, etc.?? What are those but mythic sophistries that are so abstract and meaningless since there is no historical framework within which these can make any sense.

Finally, Christianity does not believe love is divine, but that God is love. The difference is enormous. But I don't expect you to pick on those theological nuances.
Sophia Sadek said…
Your misunderstanding of the word sophistry is natural. The best equivalent for it that I have seen in the blogosphere is "legalism."

Sophistry is a form of witchcraft that is used to beguile people into thinking that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right. It's right to burn someone at the stake for teaching heresy. It's wrong to portray Mother Church in a negative light.

Teaching the existence of demigods is not sophistry. Christians have turned Christ into a demigod. That's fact, not sophistry.

I'm not ignorant of the difference between seeing the divine nature of love and holding it up as an idol. In the former case, we can all be at one with the divine. In the latter case, we can remain alienated from divinity. You have chosen the latter path. I respect your decision.
D.W. Congdon said…
Listen, if you want to criticize Christianity, as you clearly do, and if you want to be respected for your criticisms, you have to meet your opponent on their own terms. In other words, you cannot criticize Christianity for turning Christ into a demigod, since Christianity does not believe in demigods. In fact, even on a semantic level, the word demigod simply does not describe how Christians view Jesus Christ. It is absurd for you to make such a claim, and doubly so when coming from a Gnostic perspective.

I will show you the gross fallacy of your logic, which is self-incriminating. Assuming you accept the doctrine of demigods as espoused by Gnosticism, to accuse Christianity of turning Christ into a demigod makes no sense on two levels: first, Christianity as I have already pointed out, simply has no room for such vocabulary and is working in an entirely different religious universe; and second, to accuse Christianity of holding to belief in a demigod means that, from your perspective, Christianity is more right, not wrong! The way to counter my assertion that Gnosticism is full of its own sophistries is not to argue that Christianity has the same sophistries as Gnosticism (unless you want to bridge the two religions!), but to show how Christianity's actual belief, that Jesus is God incarnate is suspect on its own grounds.

To do the latter, however, requires what you have consistently shown is not within your grasp: a solid knowledge of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, an expansive and encompassing view of church history, and the ability to enter into the semantic, textual, cultural, and spiritual framework of your intellectual opponent. Failing on any of these counts -- and according to my judgment, you have failed on all of them -- renders your criticisms inert and unworthy of attention. Your abstract, overgeneralized claims have the same hollowness that makes the books in the "metaphysical" or "speculation" section in bookstores similarly unworthy of attention by historians.

So when you say, "That's fact, not sophistry," you only make yourself look like a bigger fool. First, it's not a fact. There might be other problems that you (or, rather, someone more astute than you) might point out, but it's not that Christ is a demigod. And second, you had earlier made the claim that Christianity is a religion of sophistries (deceptions), so why would you now say that this doctrine is not a sophistry, unless (once again) you are trying to bridge the gap between Christianity and Gnosticism? You seem incapable of making a coherent argument. Where do you get your facts? What is a sophistry? Etc.

Let me help you with some definitions. A sophistry is a fallacious argument. So let's hold back from tossing around this term against either Christianity or Gnosticism, since both of these religious systems cannot be criticized for "fallacious arguments." They are belief systems that demand assent to certain ideas or concepts as right or wrong. However, if I see in your views of Christianity something fallacious, then I am fully capable of calling your comments sophistries. I hope this makes sense. So, returning to my earlier point, your view that Christ is a demigod is, in direct contradiction to your statement, not a fact but a sophistry. In order to counter this argument, you will have to prove that Christianity not only believes in demigods but that Christ actually is a demigod according to the standard definition of a demigod and in line with the use of this doctrine in belief systems like Gnosticism and Manichaeism.

Let me give you a quick history lesson. Christianity does not believe that it is right to burn someone at the stake for heresy. And even when that was a practice, the church was not the group that carried out the burnings. All such burnings were done by the state because the ones convicted were viewed as social deviants who would disrupt the social order. Now this explanation is not a defense of this practice, merely a correction of your history. The Catholic Church is doctrinally pacifist. So, contrary to your assumption, the church did not burn people for heresy; they allowed the state to burn people for social disruption.

Beyond this, however, there is everything in Christian scripture to argue against the burning of people for any reason whatsoever. In fact, there is every reason to argue against capital punishment of any form based on the Christian message. What your criticisms consistently fail to do is to distinguish between Christianity as a faith based on certain scriptures and the Church as a social entity that attempts to embody this faith in an institutional form. I, like virtually every other Christian I know, criticize the church on an almost daily basis. And Christianity itself warrants and even demands such self-criticism. So all your superficially damning statements about book burnings and heretic burnings sound like a child giving a temper tantrum. If you want to sound respectable, you need to make a point that Christians themselves couldn't themselves make. Every Christian I know thinks the historical church was entirely wrong for encouraging the burning of heretics, but we do so from the internal perspective of Christianity. In the same way, Christian feminists (in whose group I count myself), Christian post-colonialists, etc., all argue self-critically from within the faith.

So the question I put to you is this: Do you actually have something to tell me that I don't already know and am able to counter from within the faith better than you can from some other perspective? If the answer is no, then thanks for this conversation. If the answer is yes, then by all means, enlighten me.

You call yourself a "professor of metaphysics," and yet I highly doubt you have any idea what metaphysics actually is. (Hint: it's not what the book stores might lead you to believe.)

I appreciate that you "respect" my decision for viewing divinity as something unique and special. It's too bad you do not do the same. If all are capable of being "at one" with the divine, then the divine signifies nothing more than a group of enlightened humans. What is interesting to me is that this is the same logic -- we are special, semi-divine (or fully divine?) men (not women) -- which formed the basis for European anti-Semitism, Nietzsche's Superman, and Hitler's political pride. It also is the same logic that was adopted by most of the Enlightenment thinkers from Locke to Jefferson. In other words, to use such Gnostic thinking as a kind of "radical" counter to the stuffy institutions of the past like Christianity is simply a massive historical faux pas. The only way to secure society from the kind of sexist, racist superiority complexes that have plagued the world is to distinguish as sharply as possible between divinity and humanity. God and humanitiy cannot be collapsed into an abstract divine essence that is distributable to all without also opening the door to the atrocites of human history.

Finally, your overly simplistic and (quite frankly) wrong comments show themselves again here at the end of your comment. Christianity does not, in any way, believe that humanity is alienated from God (or the divine). In fact, if I have said anything, I have said just the opposite. Let me make it as clear as day for you: Christianity believes in the coming of God to the world for humanity, in the presence of God among humans, in the nearness of God rather than the distance of God. This is precisely what makes Christianity so radically different from Gnosticism. Gnosticism, as you have to admit, is the one religion that actually does alienate humans from God -- though it allows humans some sort of spiritual access to God through gnosis, which is a rather weak substitute for what Christianity offers: God incarnate. What Christianity asserts, over against all systems like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, is that God and humanity are no longer alienated from each other but are made as close as possible to each other in the incarnation. God refuses to be distant from the world which God created by entering into it, by experiencing all that humans experience, including suffering and death. So to say that Christianity alienates humanity and divinity is, in every sense of the word, bullshit.

In fact, for a large part of the Christian family, Eastern Orthodoxy, one of the central beliefs is in the divinization of humans due to the salvation offered by God in Christ. Once again, Christianiy provides a better answer to what you are looking for than the weak, insipid Gnosticism which you falsely believe to provide answers.

I do not write this in the naive belief that you will suddenly "see the light" or anything. But I want you know that you cannot argue against Christianity from outside its perspective, and without seriously doing your homework. So before you write again, think about what you say so that you do not end up sounding laughably foolish. If you want to give Gnosticism any kind of credibility, you would do well to do your research. Spouting hollow generalities only emphasizes my point: Gnosticism is a hollow version of what Christianity has been, is, and will be.
Douglas_Coombs said…
David,

I enjoyed reading your responses. The most fascinating part of that conversation of sorts is that the gal actually seems to be a gnostic. It was so surreal to read opinions from somebody who actually comes at the world from a gnostic perspective. The ignorance of the history of Christianity was interesting to see, too. I guess it is easier to attack something one is unfamiliar with. I applaud your patience in keeping up the resonses as long as you did.

Doug
Sophia Sadek said…
I've heard the one about the Church not being responsible for the people it had the "state" burn at the stake. It struck me as odd at the time.

I've also seen similar smear campaingns against gnosticism by attempting to associate it with antisemitism and German National Socialism. The Nietzsche reference may be misleading to those who have never read any of his works. After all, people associate the uebermensch with the Nazi bastardization thereof.

You've misunderstood my remark about Christ being turned into a demigod. It is the way in which Christians relate to Christ. It is not anything inherent in Christ.

Thanks for the comments on the simplicity of my arguments. As one who has never been trained in the ornate complexities of scholiastic argumentation, I guess I cannot help but use a simple form.