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1/25/12 11:50 AM
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inlikeflynn
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Both Ridgeback and The Rev have said on here that modern Protestantism has a lot in common with Gnosticism and I wondered if one or both of them (or anyone else that thinks that) could explain that in more detail. Thanks.
1/25/12 8:26 PM
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Juijitsuboxer
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This sounds like protestants to me:

Nature and structure of Gnosticism

[edit]The main features of Gnosticism


Gnostic systems (particularly the Syrian-Egyptian schools[which?]) are typically marked out by:
"And the Sophia of the Epinoia [...] brought forth. And [...] something came out of her which was imperfect and different from her appearance, because she had created it without her consort. And it was dissimilar to the likeness of its mother, for it has another form.

"And when she saw (the consequences of) her desire, it changed into a form of a lion-faced serpent. And its eyes were like lightning fires which flash. She cast it away from her, outside that place, that no one of the immortal ones might see it, for she had created it in ignorance."

From The Secret Book of John (long version), Nag Hammadi Library, Codex II, trans. Frederik Wisse.[16]

The notion of a remote, supreme monadic divinity, source — this figure is known under a variety of names, including "Pleroma" (fullness, totality) and "Bythos" (depth, profundity);

The introduction by emanation of further divine beings known as Aeons, which are nevertheless identifiable as aspects of the God from which they proceeded; the progressive emanations are often conceived metaphorically as a gradual and progressive distancing from the ultimate source, which brings about an instability in the fabric of the divine nature;

The introduction of a distinct creator God or demiurge, which is an illusion and a later emanation from the single monad or source. This second God is a lesser and inferior or false God. This creator god is commonly referred to as the demiourgós (a technical term literally denoting a public worker the Latinized form of Greek d?miourgos, ??????????, hence "ergon or energy", "public God or skilled worker" "false God" or "God of the masses"), used in the Platonist tradition.[17]

The gnostic demiurge bears resemblance to figures in Plato's Timaeus and Republic. In the former, the demiourgós is a central figure, a benevolent creator of the universe who works to make the universe as benevolent as the limitations of matter will allow; in the latter, the description of the leontomorphic "desire" in Socrates' model of the psyche bears a resemblance to descriptions of the demiurge as being in the shape of the lion; the relevant passage of The Republic was found within a major gnostic library discovered at Nag Hammadi,[18] wherein a text existed describing the demiurge as a "lion-faced serpent".[16]

Elsewhere, this figure is called "Ialdabaoth",[16] "Samael" (Aramaic: sæm?a-?el, "blind god") or "Saklas" (Syriac: sækla, "the foolish one"), who is sometimes ignorant of the superior God, and sometimes opposed to it; thus in the latter case he is correspondingly malevolent.

The demiurge typically creates a group of co-actors named "Archons", who preside over the material realm and, in some cases, present obstacles to the soul seeking ascent from it;[16]

The estimation of the world, owing to the above, as flawed or a production of "error" but possibly good as its constituent material might allow.[20] This world is typically an inferior simulacrum of a higher-level reality or consciousness. The inferiority may be compared to the technical inferiority of a painting, sculpture, or other handicraft to the thing(s) of which those crafts are supposed to be a representation. In certain other cases it takes on a more ascetic tendency to view material existence, negatively. Which then becomes more extreme when materiality, and the human body, is perceived as evil and constrictive, a deliberate prison for its inhabitants;

The explanation of this state through the use of a complex mythological-cosmological drama in which a divine element "falls" into the material realm and lodges itself within certain human beings; from here, it may be returned to the divine realm through a process of awakening (leading towards salvation). The salvation of the individual thus mirrors a concurrent restoration of the divine nature; a central Gnostic innovation was to elevate individual redemption to the level of a cosmically significant event.

The model limits itself to describing characteristics of the Syrian-Egyptian school of Gnosticism. This is for the reason that the greatest expressions of the Persian gnostic school — Manicheanism and Mandaeanism — are typically conceived of as religious traditions in their own right; indeed, the typical usage of "Gnosticism" is to refer to the Syrian-Egyptian schools alone, while "Manichean" describes the movements of the Persia school.

This conception of Gnosticism has in recent times come to be challenged (see below). Despite this, the understanding presented above remains the most common and is useful in aiding meaningful discussion of the phenomena that compose Gnosticism. Above all, the central idea of gn?sis, a knowledge superior to and independent of faith made it welcome to many who were half-converted from paganism to Christianity. The Valentinians, for example, considered pistis (Greek: "faith") as consisting of accepting a body of teaching as true, being principally intellectual or emotional in character.[21] The age of the Gnostics was highly diverse, they seem to have originated in Alexandria and coexisted with the early Christians until the 4th century AD and due to there being no fixed church authority, syncretism with pre-existing belief systems as well as new religions were often embraced. According to Clement of Alexandria, "... In the times of the Emperor Hadrian appeared those who devised heresies, and they continued until the age of the elder Antoninus."[22]

The relationship between Gnosticism and Orthodox Christianity during the late 1st and the whole of the 2nd century is vital in helping us to further understand the main doctrines of Gnosticism; due in part to the fact that, prior to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, much of what we know today about gnosticism has only been preserved in the summaries and assessments of early church fathers. Irenaeus declares in his treatise "Against Heresies"[23] that Gnostic movements subjected all morality to the caprice of the individual, and made any fixed rule of faith impossible. The whim of the individual being a subject that is of concern when discussing heresy and orthodoxy in relation to spiritual mysticism, such as the mysticism of Henry Corbin,[24] Thelema, and even in fiction such as The Theologians by Jorge Luis Borges in Labyrinths.[25]

According to Irenaeus, a certain sect known as the "Cainites" professed to impart a knowledge "greater and more sublime" than the ordinary doctrine of Christians, and believed that Cain derived his power from the superior Godhead.[26] Although a Christian who valued gnosis, Clement of Alexandria, a 2nd century church father and the first notable member of the Church of Alexandria, raised a criticism against the followers of Basilides and Valentinus in his Stromata: in his view it annulled the efficacy of baptism, in that it held no value faith, the gift conferred in that sacrament.[27]
1/25/12 10:47 PM
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Ali
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Well... hopefully rev and Ridge will chime in, since those are the guys you're asking about.

Ridge referred me to Harold Bloom's "American Religion" when I asked a similar question. Look it up on the internet -- I haven't read the book, but I've read blogs and reviews dealing with it; and my impression is that the word "gnostic" is being used at least somewhat loosely. That is, NOT dealing with the demiurge, or archons, per jujitsuboxer's post (which is all about what, to me, is Capital G Gnosticism) but about "knowing" in terms of direct experience, not articulable, about individual communion and/or union with the Godhead. So (again, to me) lower-case g "gnosticism".

That is, a metaphor for some things that are not necessarily doctrinally isomorphic with the historical Gnostics. Or certainly not on some of the key points (again, to do with the demiurge and Archons, and the "false" god that seems to think it is THE God. I'll stop typing now, because everything I say requires book-length exposition if you want me to avoid nit-picking).

From a particular Southern Baptist perspective (and all that implies), here's a blog article/review of Bloom's book which I found illuminating (in spite of a couple of particular bad typos): http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/2004/05/review_of_the_a.html
1/25/12 11:05 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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I'd like to hear Ridgeback's views as well. I would interpret the Protestant parallels to Gnosticism, specifically Manicheaism (St. Augustine's former creed), as involving a certain residual distaste for the material things of the world and the senses, which are accorded a greater respect and status within Catholic/Orthodox liturgy and teachings. This can be seen in numerous matters great and small, such as the Catholic crucifix typically depicting the sculpted Corpus of Jesus on the cross, compared to the austere, unadorned cross preferred by most Protestants, and the quite different design and ornamentation standards of Catholic and Protestant places of worship. The Protestant dislike of sacramentals such as holy water, incense, the use of bells in the mass to signify important moments, the use of the "whole body" in prayer during the Mass (standing, kneeing, genuflecting), and larger issues such as the fundamental issue of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the use of wine and bread in communion, and the Catholic/Orthodox view that that physical substances can confer Grace (John 6:26-59), are larger issues that divide us.

It is a fundamental (no pun intended) theological divide that gives both sides very different views of baptism, marriage, death, grace, Mary, the Holy Spirit, and much else. It's probably a largely overlooked issue in ecumnical efforts.
1/26/12 5:47 PM
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seg
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I'm not near as learned as you guys, but I always viewed gnosticism as having as a central tenet that a believer's relationship with God was a much more individual and personal thing than under Catholicism.

In other words, gnostics didn't feel the need to have an elaborate church hierarcy, be told how to worship by bishops, etc.  It was more of a personal relationship with God.  Some of these concepts seem present in Protestantism vs. Catholicism.
1/26/12 9:31 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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seg - I'm not near as learned as you guys, but I always viewed gnosticism as having as a central tenet that a believer's relationship with God was a much more individual and personal thing than under Catholicism.

In other words, gnostics didn't feel the need to have an elaborate church hierarcy, be told how to worship by bishops, etc.  It was more of a personal relationship with God.  Some of these concepts seem present in Protestantism vs. Catholicism.


I'm not a learned guy, I just cut and paste stuff from Wikipedia and then change just enough words to make it hard for anyone to Google my original source.

seg, I'm not so sure about the idea that Gnostics held to the idea of a personal relationship with God, or didn't believe in a church hierarchy. There are numerous movements identified as "Gnostic," but most believed that there is a need to gain access to secret knowledge which is essential to salvation, and only available to those who have been initiated into higher and higher levels of the movement - which hardly seems non-hierarchical to me, and certainly not part of the Christian faith, which taught the revolutionary ideal that God's grace was open to anyone. Scientology seems like a better example of a modern Gnostic movement than either Protestantism or Catholicism, neither of which hold to the idea of any secret beliefs.

The Albigensian (or Cathar) Gnostics did have their own hierarchy, including bishoprics, systems of doctrine, liturgy, etc. The Manichaen Gnostics had a hierarchical system as well (a prime leader, bishops, priests, elect, hearers). "Gnostic" includes a lot of movements claiming hidden knowledge, so some probably did have individualistic approaches to worship, but probably not to the degree of reliance on personal interpretation of doctrine (within the parameters of Christian precepts) that some Protestant denominations do.

For what it's worth, Catholics also believe in a personal relationship with Jesus, although it is expressed in different ways.
1/26/12 11:15 PM
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Ali
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TheStewedOwl - ...
For what it's worth, Catholics also believe in a personal relationship with Jesus, although it is expressed in different ways.


In fact, uncomfortably personal in some instances (viz. the sexual union imagery of St. Theresa of Avila).

The more we make Gnostic "loose" the less it's helpful to differentiate it from anything else. I do think Bloom for one is a little tighter than "personal relationship" or "no hierarchy", but still doesn't rise to the specifics of Demiurgic intelligence or Archons. So... lower-case-g "gnostic" to my mind.
1/27/12 11:17 AM
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inlikeflynn
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Some good stuff here, guys. Thanks. Would still like to hear from Ridge and Rev.
1/28/12 12:03 PM
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Ridgeback
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I wouldn't say all Protestantism is gnostic-like.  I would say the more extreme branches that are further away from Catholicism in history are.  And as Stewed-Owl pointed out, the view that what is spiritual is, by nature, anti-material would be one of the first similarities.  I was raised in fundamentalist churches and they were all anti-sacramental and most of them talked as if the world was a throwaway and we would all be going to a spiritual heaven and escape this world.  A common gnostic belief was that this world was made by an evil god and that humans souls were trapped in matter.  They were decidedly anti-body.  Catholics and Orthodox are very pro-body and think that a whole person is a psychosomatic unity, not a soul freed up.

And I know I am simplifying for the sake of brevity, but that is essentially what I have meant.
1/30/12 2:49 PM
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reverend john
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ditto

the idea that what "really matters" is what is in your heart. Or what is heavenly. And it does touch a bit on the idea that there is a "secret" knowledge that you need to have in order to understand the truth. This can be weird and spooky mystical, or it can be... you agree to the proper doctrines in your mind and spirit, and you are saved.

I believe that Christ called us to follow him, not just learn doctrine. That Christ came in flesh and was raised in flesh, and was carried into heaven in flesh (though rooster disagrees). Therefore ours is a very physical religion. And that our relationship with our bodies, and how we treat others and this planet are intertwined to such a degree as they are not able to be separated.

rev
1/30/12 4:09 PM
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Juijitsuboxer
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Thanks for the explanation guys. I see where you are coming from.
1/30/12 7:28 PM
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Ridgeback
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 I like a lot of the old gospel hymns, but if you listen to the lyrics you get a lot of individualistic emphasis and a lot of "escape this world" theology.  So the song "I'll Fly Away" implies that this life will be escaped like a spirit escaping from matter.  Meanwhile, a traditional Christian perspective has been that this very cosmos we are living in will be remade and that our very own bodies we have right now will likewise be remade and an intrinsic part of who we are for eternity.  This means we should treat our bodies and the cosmos not as throw-away creations of an evil demi-god, but as the vessels of the new creation.  NT Wright described it as the way we treat the chalice because it holds the body and blood of Jesus.  You might say that this cosmos is the chalice and the life of God will one day completely fill it.
1/31/12 3:30 PM
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inlikeflynn
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Very interesting. Thanks for the replies.
1/31/12 4:29 PM
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reverend john
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And the idea that the Gnostics were more about an individual relationship with God is not really true either. As Gnosticism is about the hidden knowledge of the spiritual world their ascended leaders were often as powerful and controlling as you will find just not through positional power but "knowledge"

The early church was actually quite anarchic and non hierarchical even with the presence of bishops and elders on both the traditional and gnostic wings

Rev Phone Post
1/31/12 8:41 PM
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Ridgeback
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 For the record, the idea that American Christian sects in particular are gnostic is not a new idea.  Harold Bloom advanced this thesis in his The American Religion.  
1/31/12 11:24 PM
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reverend john
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there is also a book called "against the protestant gnostics"

rev

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