Gnostic Talkin' Gerd

So I noticed a link by Jim to Antonio’s blog, which led me to an essay on Gnosticism by Gerd Lüdemann. I read it. Here are my thoughts, with snippets.

Let me say at the outset that catholic or proto-orthodox Christianity arose around 80 CE. The time before that date belongs to the prehistory of Christianity, when doctrines and definitions of faith were fluid, and nobody was excluded from the church for incorrect belief. It was a time of enthusiasm and ardent expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus, and believers did not pay much attention to matters of doctrinal purity. Even issues like the full humanity of Jesus or his fleshly coming to this world and his physical resurrection – which created disputes between Gnostic and catholic Christians in the second century – had no place in Christianity before 80 CE. Take Paul as an example: He denied that flesh and blood will inherit the kingdom of God and in describing Jesus’ nature said that he had taken on the form of a human being. Furthermore, he spoke of Satan as being the God of this world and thus left room for the Gnostic distinction between a creator God and a saving God.

This strikes me as essentially wrong. Granted, most of the issues that we see in the NT are around more practical matters, but that is definitely not true always. Take Galatians, for example. There were very pragmatic issues going on there, but their problem was ultimately theological, and that is how Paul responded.

Afterwards Lüdemann says that the driving force of orthodox resistance of Gnosticism was to present a unified and stable front to the government, to show that they were good citizens and were not a bunch of crazies. Once again, I have never read anything that made me think that this was a driving force of doctrinal purity in earliest Christianity. No decent proof for this was given, possibly because of the venue. Regardless, I hold this idea only with the highest skepticism.

Next Lüdemann focuses on the two main differences between orthodox and gnostic Christianity, that the gnostics distinguished between the god of the OT and the god of the NT, and that the former was evil, and second that Jesus did not die and be raised in the way that orthodox believers taught. This seemed straightforward enough and correct as far as I could tell. I mean, not that the gnostics were correct, but that his characterization is.

Next he spends a lot of time on the importance of the gnostic belief in the resurrection, which in their terms seems to me more like an ascension, or spiritual resurrection. Lüdemann then lists a number of Gnostic texts that talk about this, which was very nice. I’m a big believer of reading the actual primary sources, even if I don’t agree with the content.

He ended the piece with an essay that got the non-impartial-academic side of me completely annoyed. I quote in full:

These original Gnostic texts that we have surveyed derive from people who focused their thought on the powers inherent in spiritually awakened human beings. These Gnostics avoid a dualism of God and human beings and use mythic and mystic language to express processes of the inner self. Since self-knowledge is the way to healing and to salvation, traditional Christian statements about Jesus’ death as atonement for our sins, the judgment at the end of time, and the church as the ordained institution of salvation are rejected. These Gnostic texts prepare the way for the insight that in the religion of the future – if indeed religion has a future – the focus must be on human beings and the spiritual powers that devolve to them as Children of the Light.

Self-actualization mumbo-jumbo. If God doesn’t exist, do whatever it takes to make yourself happy and fulfilled. If he does, you are no longer center stage and in the big scheme of things you are no longer important in and of yourself. In other words, if you believe in God, get over yourself and hope and pray that God smiles upon you.

So I guess you could say I didn’t care for the essay.