Archive for gnosticism

Logos, Noosphere, Midrash, Gnosis

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2011 by theclockworm

This analysis was prepared in response to an exchange with Aharon Varady, wherein various connections were pondered. This is all very informal, and very much a work in progress; feedback and criticism is encouraged.

 

Fiat Logos

Heraclitus’ use of logos seems to unite concept and representation, a form not uncommon in classical Greek thought. This concept can also be found in Pythagoreanism, which literalizes abstract mathematical concepts, forming them into concrete and real structures; or, from a Pythagorean perspective, simply reveals the role of these concepts in reality. Philo’s “logos endiathetos,” or the word remaining within, paralleled in many ways the Stoic “logos spermatikos,” the generative principle of the universe or the ubiquitous, active reason which animates the universe. The Stoics considered this principle to be literal and observable. Again, the connection presents itself: word/dialogue/linguistic principle as literal/representative of the Monad principle, or the Gnostic notion of Pleroma or First Thought.

Use of the term to refer specifically to the word of god begins during Hellenistic Judaism, in the Septuagint. Philo adopted the term, further complicating matters by assigning it a meaning closer to the principle of the demiurge, but, in the more matter-positive manner of much Judaic thought, also assigned positive importance to this notion, noting that an intermediary would be necessary to traverse between the divine and lower realm. Here we find the genesis of the term’s conscription into Christian theology, as Philo calls the Logos force “the first-born of God.” This context would eventually combine with the generative principle used in the Gospel of John to form the metaphysical conception of Christ as Logos seen at the end of John. This also reflects an effort by early church leaders, such as Justin, to make Christianity palatable to the non-Jewish Hellenistic population by conscripting a terminology they would comprehend.

Plotinus’ use of Logos as the highest form in his trinity uses some Gnostic emanation concepts. For Plotinus, there was a dialectic procedure involved in the three realms; the higher principle fed Logos into the lower, and the lower fed Eros back into the higher. One can see the influence of this notion in Philip K. Dick’s idea of the divine principle being both a sending entity at the beginning of time and a receiving (and course-correcting) entity at the end of time.

One can also see in Dick’s reworking of the Logos idea much of Jung’s own syncretic definitions, which incorporated the complimentary dualism of Eastern thought with the literalized principles of Neoplatonism.

 

Noosphere: Transcendence Without Intent

Teilhard’s concept of the noosphere is decidedly non-representative, in that the literal action of human thought contributes to literal action in the noosphere. It is a parity-based balancing principle, and in this sense is closer to the later Jungian conception of Logos. Again, the Dickian idea of what I think of as “Pitcher/Catcher” Urgrund finds some commonality here. But connections to earlier uses of the Logos concept depart at this point. The causal root of reactions in the noosphere is via human action. In some ways, the noosphere cosmogony is almost an inverted form of Gnostic emanation. It is instead a system whereby increasing complexity refines, compresses, and filters its way into a final form which resembles the Pleroma or Monad. It is time-inverse, and therefore ontologically inverse.

Once more, we can find some commonality in Dick. In Cosmogony and Cosmology, Dick writes of the universe very much in terms of transcendent final action, postulating that the collective actions of humankind contribute to the growth of god. In this estimation, we are both the womb of god and the birth of god, in addition to our eventual role as god after absorption.  This concept differs from the noosphere concept in two major ways; first, the Dickian approach utilizes religious language, though the actual semantic value of his use of “god” is debatably only formally religious. Second, Dick’s vision still involves initial intent and creation by an entity or force, describable as “pre-God,” and presents our actions as contributions to that greater process. Teilhard incorporates no such sense of externally enforced purpose in his noosphere; the “goal” is only the such because it is the inevitable outcome, and we are positioned ahead of it in time. The Omega Point is both the equivalent and opposite of the Monad in that it will be “everything,” but does not exist at present.

The noosphere idea revolves around the idea that “Living systems are dissipative structures that create internal order by expending energy in exchange for a local reduction in entropy.” (via Wikipedia). This strikes me as quite similar to Plotinus’ understanding of the Logos within his exchange-system; here we find, by a circuitous route, Logos and Order filling the same role once more.

 

Midrash: Malleable Mysticism

As an exegetical process, Midrash is distinct from either the Logos or Noosphere concepts. However, in its conception of the literal power of “the word,” as well as how it perceives the interactive potential of idea and reality through “the word,” it does find common ground with both the Logos concept and the noosphere idea.

Midrash connects to esoteric Christianity, Gnosticism, and Pythagoreanism in its understanding of truth as both embedded in reality and difficult to find. In Midrash, the truth is not simply hidden; rather, as Heraclitus says, “The nature of things is in the habit of concealing itself.” Pythagorean cosmology seeks to mine for truth in mathematics and contemplation, Gnostic traditions through the gift of gnosis and the interpretation of it; Midrash sets aside a certain freedom not always available in other areas of Jewish theology, in order that a deeper kind of contemplation can occur – one which does not demand that each step be correct, so long as the process leads to insight. Once more, we see echoes of this approach in Dick’s ever-shifting set of theories.

Aggadic interpretations are particularly linked with the spirit of early Gnostic writing. There is a complex and nuanced approach to literal and figurative realities, which both discourages overt literalism and also potentially equates the literal and the metaphoric. The freedom inherent in this process is reminiscent of the Gnostic tradition of reinterpretation, an element I consider central and essential to Gnostic thought.

In connection to the noosphere concept, Midrash shares a central conceit: that thought, or Logos perhaps, is able to continue producing new information through a sort of feedback system which interacts with human intellect. In Teilhard’s concept, the intellect in the noosphere IS originally and partially reflective of human thought, and yet, through permutation with other facets of human thought, may be able to generate new knowledge, perhaps even in an exponential manner. Midrash posits that further interaction with the word reveals interconnection and multiple levels of meaning; essentially, the act of testing the linguistic and theoretical elasticity of the word, one may extract a fuller concept of the word itself. By delineating the space around an object, the object can be mapped.

 

The Foreigner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by theclockworm

After spending some time recently with ‘Trimorphic Protennoia,’ I’ve moved on to ‘The Foreigner (Allogenes).’ I searched all over the internet, but the Layton translation is nowhere available, so I transcribed a bit from my copy of The Gnostic Scriptures. I really prefer his translation to the Turner/Wintermute translation, as much as I respect Turner; and truthfully, I don’t know what accounts for the differences. Even in academic translation, sometimes things change because discoveries or insights are made that are somewhat provable; other times, it comes down to the translator’s own ideas, based on his or her knowledge and perhaps even taste, about what shade of meaning is most important.

Widely associated with Seth, though not necessarily legitimately Sethian, ‘The Foreigner’ is unique amongst the Nag Hammadi codices in a number of respects. First, along with the Sethian ‘Apocalypse of Adam,’ it is distinctly exo-Christian, though not known to be pre-Christian as AoA is thought to be. It is also distinctly personal, psychological, and unresolved in many respects. You can see echoes of Jung in this – reverse echoes I suppose, riding in from the future-past on tachyons. I’d like to know if Jung was familiar with this particular writing, and if he wrote anything about it.

You can find the Turner translation here; it just doesn’t do it for me. I think, having read multiple translations of many of these works, that Layton has real skill in conveying the impact, the emotional resonance, with a kind of clarity that’s missing in other efforts. Again, I’m no historian – maybe that comes at the cost of accuracy, though I’d be surprised to learn that.

I really like Layton’s introduction, so I’m including some pieces of that here, along with an excerpt from his excerpt. Emphasis is mine. You can’t get sued for excerpting, right?

*

“The concluding half of The Foreigner (“Allogenes”), which is translated here, describes the interior mystical journey of a soul to acquaintance or gnosis with the ineffable first principle…

“The mystical ascent described in Fr is almost entirely abstract, without metaphorical “baptisms” or interpreting angels. Furthermore, the ascent is explicitly said to be “inward” to the interior self, so that the apocalyptic convention of an “upward” voyage through “heavens” is entirely suppressed. No reference is made to a return voyage downward. The voyager is not explicitly identified with any known religious hero or put in a historical setting, but simply called “the Foreigner” (Greek allogenes, “an other type,” “an alien type”; the Greek word is retained in the ancient Coptic version of the text)…

“The Foreigner’s experience comes not after a career of religious service as in Zs, but as the summation of a hundred years of “deliberation,” i.e. study and contemplation…

“Thus, in Fr, a mythic structure whose original context was cosmology (in Bjn) has been abstractly transformed into a psychology of the individual gnostic- macrocosm into microcosm, myth into philosophical mysticism…

“The abstract and theoretical character if the excerpt does not allow for reference to the history of Israel or the foundation of Christianity, nor indeed to dramatic actions of any part of the gnostic myth.”

-Bentley Layton, “The Gnostic Scriptures,” first edition (1987)

*

“O foreigner, behold how your blessedness resides in silence – (a blessedness) through which you understand yourself as you really are. And in seeking to understand yourself, withdraw into vitality, which you will see moving. And if you are unable to stand at rest, do not be afraid, Rather, if you want to stand at rest, withdraw into reality, and you will find it standing at rest and still, after the resemblance of what is really still and restrains all these (spiritual beings) in quietness and lack of activity.

“And if you receive a manifestation thereof through a first manifestation of the unrecognizable – of which you must be uncomprehending, if you should happen to understand it – and if you are afraid there, draw back because of the activities. And if in that place you become perfect, be still; and understand also that its manner of existing in [all these] (spiritual beings) is after the pattern that resides in you.

“And do not desire to be further dispersed, [so that] you might be able to stand at rest. And do not desire to [be active], lest you utterly perish [because of] the inactive element within [you] that belongs to the unrecognizable. Do not (attempt to) comprehend it: for this is impossible. Rather if, through a luminous thought, you should happen to understand it, be uncomprehending of it.”

Blank Sky Philosophy, Part Two

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by theclockworm

The rich philosophical questions posed by Gnosticism seemingly lie untouched since Phil Dick’s death. The language he invented, or rather updated – a hodgepodge of Christian theology, metaphysics, philosophy (both contemporary and classical), linguistics, etc. – explodes with a kind of possibility that I have seldom seen. It has the potential to transcend the academic, the religious, the literary, and address some major ideas in a new way. At his best – in my opinion, of course – Dick managed to shake away the trappings of religion which often permeated his thinking and focus on the pure information encoded in his experiences. His process – the constantly changing interpretations; letting go of religiousness for a moment, then clinging to it even harder – is beautiful. His uncertainty is beautiful. I wish more of us possessed that capacity. I’ve seen others with a bent toward the Gnostic, who have had or claim to have had some sort of revelatory experience, convince themselves that their work is done, that Gnosis is Knowing, plain and simple. But knowing something of the truth is only a start. Understanding it, contextualizing it, knowing the details, figuring out what to do with it – these all lie ahead of that initial moment. Being Gnostic means being Agnostic – about everything. This uncertainty gives no comfort. And so it is often disposed of entirely.

I think the lack of obvious answer to that question is what makes the slide into religion so easy. If you have a savior, you have salvation. Gnosticism without this can tend to appear horrific – hopeless at best, suicidal at worst. Is the answer the total destruction of everything we know? Is there no answer at all? Is there a way out?

There’s also something frighteningly dull at the core of Gnosis. What if Cold-Pak or the Matrix aren’t literalizations of larger truths? What if they’re more or less accurate? What if our entire universe is just an old SF plot?

One must confront these issues, as unpleasant as they may be, and not simply search for an appealing answer. I don’t know how to deal with these things, but that doesn’t change the standing of those things in reality. If Dick was mad, it was a madness brought on by the veracity of his investigations. He did not back away from the void. And, if in the end the void proved itself to be what was real, he did not disavow it.

In the end, separating Gnostic thought from religious thought is about giving it the freedom to flourish because it is valid, rather than because it is appealing – the way science does, in an ideal world. We don’t wring our hands when physics tells us something odd or uncertain about the universe – or maybe we do. But that doesn’t make anyone stop doing physics.

I’m not talking shit on religion, believe it or not. I don’t even think there’s anything inherently wrong with it – or rather, there is, but there is also much that is inherently good within it as well. And if these things have led anyone to an understanding that is religious, I’m not judging that. I simply feel it is part of my own process to be stringent about these things, to really attempt to understand them outside that context. Perhaps we really are talking about the same thing; perhaps I’m splitting hairs in my differentiations. But to me, that’s responsible philosophy. It’s rigorous skepticism balanced by rigorous openness.

It’s starting to look like the basic conceits of Gnostic cosmology might not be so far-fetched. Science certainly hasn’t proven that a Gnostic view of reality is correct, but perhaps it will one day. This Oxford philosopher thinks the odds of our reality being computer-simulated are pretty high.  There’s some science that reveals, ahem, the crack in space; there’s also some that points out that our resolution could be better.

I’m not saying any of these things are certain. I’m just saying. There are crazier ideas to have.

Blank Sky Philosophy, Part One

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by theclockworm

The words the ancient Gnostics used were, generally speaking, philosophical words, ontological words, and mythological words. They belie the vertex of Judaic academia and Hellenistic philosophy. This tradition of linguistic and philosophical inventiveness, this arsenal of descriptors, is the only real mainstay, the only thing that has survived all the iterations and permutations of Gnostic thought in the world.

The “Aeons” of the ancients were concepts, qualities, periods of time, and, to some degree, entities. But they were not deities. Above all, this multiplicity of forms was a way of demonstrating that the concepts they spoke of transcended the limitations of current ideas.  At the core of these things was not god, not an entity with will and a creative drive. Rather, it was a high concept, beyond limitation, the Apeiron, the Pleroma. It didn’t care about us; it was simply a meta-formation of the ultimate reality which interacted with itself to produce predictable reactions. It was, essentially, a substance, or force, despite the metaphysical trappings, which underwent chemical reactions – like any star or nebula.  The emanationist system of description was largely about breaking down those hard lines between things; it was a manner of conveying ontological complexity.

The thing that seems to be missing from most scholarship on the ancient Gnostics is how remarkably modern they were. This isn’t because of academic laziness – it’s because historians make assumptions about intent, about the level of complexity available to a particular people at a particular time. They assume the Gnostics meant it literally, even when a reading of pertinent materials without such tethers reveals as obvious a set of approaches and principles that put any such limited interpretation to bed.

The Gnostics also understood myth. It’s passé now, in the age of Joseph Campbell, to point out that mythology and religion serve purposes in culture; that their language, their ritual behavior, their communities, all fill roles in our world. It’s equally tired to paraphrase Jacob Grimm and point out that folklore and stories have similar roles to fill. But the ancient Gnostics didn’t live in our world. They lived in a time where these ideas were not widely known – indeed, according to historians, they weren’t known at all. But, while they may not have been expressed in a way we would recognize today as academic, it’s right there to see in the texts themselves.

The process of constant re-appraisal – rewriting the old myths, “remixing” prominent religious writings of the day– this was not an invention of Philip K. Dick. He was following the patterns laid down by the ancient Gnostics when he approached his Exegesis as a constantly morphing work which was about the search for truth more than any definable answer. Intrinsic to this process is irreverence – there were no “sacred” scriptures. That Gnostic culture not only allowed, but invited, its members to rework the texts which lay at the core of their beliefs is a testament to just how little they held those texts as perfect or permanent. The ideas in them were open to debate, to reinterpretation, to reinvention. This is what allowed this strikingly modern philosophy to thrive for as long as it did. It’s also what led to its downfall. That openness and freedom from doctrine and dogma meant an internal weakness that could be used to gradually lead away from those core ideas and into simple religion.

Over time, to make a very long story very short, the inevitable draw of religiosity pulled this utterly modern philosophical movement into merely another cult of Christ, who had been initially recognized as a great Gnostic teacher, but who was certainly not worshiped as divine – such a notion would have been explicitly un-Gnostic. Now, one seldom hears about Gnosticism in any form unless it is routed through Jesus.

One can strip out everything divine, everything “supernatural,” certainly everything Christian, and be left with a startling cosmology. I am aware that there is debate about the meaning of the word “religion;” I understand that, in some respects, a system of thought that includes a cosmology can be considered a religion. I am referring to systems which involve belief in or worship of one or more deities, specific moral codes, and public/group expression. We are so indoctrinated by religion that the notion of a system of belief or thought that is purely cosmological is simply a null concept, at least in the west. At best, the religious language is a semantic cushion, to lead into the difficult philosophical implications that Gnosticism imparts.

Exegesis, Part Two

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 23, 2011 by theclockworm

The root of my journey toward these ideas began with PKD and proceeded directly to one of his own primary sources of inspiration – the Gnostic texts, particularly those found at Nag Hammadi. My ideas and understandings have proceeded from my own readings of these texts, as well as a  of scholarly and critical works which help to illuminate them. A large part of my story has been a process of trying to rectify my insights with the seemingly extraneous aspects of thought found in much of Gnosticism, sometimes overtaking what to me are the central principles to such a degree as to render them meaningless. Exploring the similarities and differences is important to me for various reasons. What follows is an outline of conclusions I’ve come to regarding the relationship between my own ideas and various common expressions of Gnostic thought.

  1. That the emanationist system of description is a metaphorical way of identifying procedural processes in the universe. It is a valuable one, and one I retain.
  2. That Belial, the Aeons, the Pleroma et al. were intended to serve as metaphors and/or as metaphysical and scientific descriptions, and that the employment of various ontological states (being, time period, quality) is an indication of this.
  3. That the explicitly religious aspects of modern or historical Gnosticism, while not necessarily without value, are not essential to the core philosophical and cosmological ideas.
  4. That, at best, Jesus was a teacher whose philosophy often included aspects of Gnostic thought, but who was not a deity or savior in any way, shape, or form.
  5. That the very notion of worship is contrary to the most fundamental aspects of Gnostic thought.
  6. That the overt reinterpretation of texts and ideas throughout early Gnostic thought is indicative of a non-literal approach to the religious or mythological ideas contained in various texts.
  7. That Gnosis is not a particular state which can be imparted or replicated by any community or body of ritual or works, but is rather a revelatory moment in which basic, explicable truths about the nature of reality become clear.

The reasoning for this segment may not make sense to some, but it will probably come up in my life, so I’m putting it out there. These points represent the feelings I have about issues of importance within the Gnostic “community.” When I look past the differences and ask myself where I would fall, these are the places.

  1. There is no direct lineage or succession linking ancient Gnostic orders to modern ones.
  2. There is no “transmission” of Gnosis via tradition, ritual, or leadership. Community serves, at best and in theory, to clarify the details of the truths imparted by Gnosis, and to provide the comforts and supports of a group of peers grappling with the same issues.
  3. Anyone claiming to know what the “specific thing” the “ancients” were talking about when they spoke of Gnosis should not be given the time of day.
  4. Gnostic traditions and thought absolutely predate Christianity. They are also capable of surviving outside of it, and indeed outside of religion or theism of any kind.
  5. The ancient Gnostics understood the degree to which their texts were metaphorical, philosophical, and referential much more fully than modern scholars, and most modern Gnostics, do.
  6. Reverence for specific texts or for “the ancients” in general, in a way that conveys a greater likelihood of being correct, or any sort of holiness whatsoever upon them, is contradictory to the very nature of Gnosticism, as well as the spirit of said texts and said ancients.
  7. Gnosticism was not a heretical response to Christian Orthodoxy; quite the opposite. This is, again, a notion that simply has no place.

Exegesis, Part One

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2011 by theclockworm

Since I’ve made the decision to continue dealing with these issues in this venue, I’ve had it pointed out to me that I should be a bit more specific about what Gnosticism is to me. I know my ideas and approaches differ greatly from pretty much any I’ve encountered; I’m aware of this. It need not be pointed out. If you’d like to tell me that, because I’m not Christian, I can’t be Gnostic, you’re better off simply finding something else to do, as your comments will be deleted. This is my space, and I’m under no obligation to suffer your judgments.

This is an attempt to articulate and disseminate the things I’ve come to understand or believe or feel are likely. To be clear: I value my ideas enough to think others might find them valuable too. That doesn’t mean I have any interest in starting a group, let alone a religion or anything of the sort. I’m not trying to make money, or gain adherents – I have other venues for that, venues that allow me to sleep at night.

I am inclined to believe in these fundamental ideas:

  1. That the Universe as it is experienced by people is somehow occluded, limited, or disconnected from the larger reality. This may be due to events which occurred at the beginning of our universe; we may be inside an ancestor simulation or something similar. Or it could be something else entirely.
  2. That these things are true within a larger reality which is rational and not supernatural, and can be understood, from some standpoint or other, rationally.
  3. That this understanding may or may not be able to affect change, but that there is no promise of any kind of salvation or redemption in this knowledge alone.
  4. That this realization of the limited nature of things does not translate into dualism; this sphere is part of reality, it is simply connected to the whole in a limited fashion. It may well be that the core of Gnosis is a sense of the fullness of things, and that the path toward that reality may simply be the path of exploration.
  5. That the universe is essentially cybernetic, and that various forms of interaction are possible without the existence of deities or the like.
  6. That certain forces may be accessed in ways which appear sentient without having real nature as an entity; this is a function of a cybernetic universe. Sophia is real, but only when she speaks to you. And she only speaks when spoken to.
  7. That these forces are not deities. Realization of this facet of reality and contact with it is an essential part of Gnosis, but the presupposition that it must be confined to the limited definitions of religious thinking is counter-productive.
  8. That many forms are fluid, and that the ‘invasion’ of “Gnosis” or revelatory information into one’s life is a function of the ability of certain forms to express intent.
  9. That events of sufficient complexity carry the burden of analysis. I did not come to these ideas because I found them interesting; I came to them by way of experiences I had which were best rectified with reality within the framework provided by Gnostic cosmology.
  10. That not all unusual events are simply coincidences; neither are they miracles, divine intervention, demonic temptation, or any sort of supernatural event. They may be directed insights into the complex interconnectedness of things – a realization essential to Gnosis.
  11. That the nature of the force which intrudes into our reality to provide such information is as yet unknown; however, it demonstrates intent as well as the ability to focus on one person. I am inclined to believe that it is a collective consciousness, perhaps composed of aspects of human beings living and/or dead, which seeks to free the physically-living from the conditions of our occlusion. It may also simply be the background force of consciousness in the physical universe. This force very well may be primarily characterized as a different point in time (aeon in its chronological application); it may emanate from outside our universe or our reality; it may be where we go when we die; it may be nothing, though I find that unlikely.
  12. That these events adhere to a conservation of energy principle; that is, perhaps in a simpler and less crowded world, only a burning shrub would sufficiently convey that the message might upset one’s current understanding of reality. However, in a world such as we now inhabit, much smaller events can convey these things just as well if not better. Finding a particular book, for instance, on a particular day, may be a stronger indication of something being wrong with your understanding of the universe than anything at all being on fire.
  13. That skepticism and rigorous intellectual openness are the only sacred practices. If, after rigorous self-questioning and critical thinking, an event seems to indicate something of importance, it very well may.
  14. That the validity of these things, or of anything, is not altered by how comforting they are. Again: I did not come to this because it made me feel good about life, or because it makes me feel better about death. I came to it because it came to me. Truth is worth pursuing, even if the end is not know.
  15. That, though secondary to the internal discussion, the importance of accurate, unambiguous language and terminology are important to a meaningful discussion of these things. The language of religion is often detrimental to the full and uninhibited exploration of these ideas as philosophical concepts.
  16. That there are no heretics. This notion is not a sword nor a shield, but rather a bigotry that should exist only within the closed world of orthodoxy and not within the sphere of philosophical speculation.
  17. That there is no seniority in these things. Having come first confers no special status on anyone. The ancients provide illumination; they are not the only source of light.
  18. That my understanding is imperfect.
  19. That your understanding is imperfect.

True Names

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by theclockworm

Look: Gnosticism is not whatever very particular thing you think it is. No matter what you think it is. It includes, as primary facets, cosmology, cosmogony, and something basic I think I will call “Adversarial Orientation;” that is, a notion about the absoluteness of roles, an orientation about whether our enemies are evil or simply other, whether we are holy or simply closer to truth, whether the world is malign or benign or something less myopic. It could also be called “Philosophical Maturity,” and I don’t see most “Gnostics” demonstrating the kind of nuanced meta-thinking I see so clearly in many of the Nag Hammadi documents, as well as in the writings of Philip K. Dick, whose life-changing exegetical explorations have, especially of late, been pointing some people toward a sort of religious stance that is both a little frightening and a little silly. At least one part of this stance is anchored to the idea of Dick as a Christian.

The problem is ontological and semantic possessiveness. People become attached to a particular aspect of meaning, and then seek to disjoin all shades or aspects which do not satisfy the primacy of their pet meaning. It’s a struggle, in some places more than others, to talk about non-Christian Gnosticism, let alone non-religious Gnosticism. Some people are so absolutely certain about the gestalt implications of “their” beliefs that they become pig-headed and idiotic.

To me, calling PKD “Christian” with a straight face is just silly. It comes through so strongly to me that this was a sort of platform he returned to in order to feel a kind of inner security of belief that his wildly speculative nature usually didn’t allow him. He spouts ‘heresies’ left and right – a heretic amongst heretics – and bounces back to Jesus, but this seems to be edited out in favor of some notion of a Christian whole. I think it’s self-serving to choose one freeze-frame in a wild dance of ideas and say, “This is the dance.” But I also realize that I’m doing the same thing I find so distasteful: I’m trying to minimize something which was obviously very important, for whatever reasons, something central to his ideas, however varied they were. In the end, it’s simply fruitless to get into a debate about the religious affiliation of anyone, especially someone who is dead.  I’m just taken aback when I see such certainty expressed (in this and other things) by the same people who claim to value his commitment to the full range of possibilities.

A smart person would have no problem identifying the non-religious aspects of Gnosticism, admitting they were inherent to Gnosticism, and discussing them without the religious aspects. Shall I abandon all connections, valid though they may be, because “all” I feel compelled to believe about Gnosticism is related to those traits which are arguably most distinct to its nature? Dick explored the cosmological aspects of Gnosticism with and without religious ideas, or Christian ideas, or alien ideas. In some ways, it almost feels like religion was just another SF trope to Dick; the caveat is that, somewhere in his heart of hearts, he took all those ideas seriously: every alien invasion or telepathic villain seemed to ring with the same resonance as the rest of humankind’s epic history. When they landed, Wagner would play, and it would be just as terrifying and mythic as the rapture.

I’ve gone through quite a few stages of personal understanding about this stuff. I used to make big bones about the importance of disambiguating language – that it’s not philosophically responsible to say “Oh, I’m sure we’re talking about the same thing” when it’s obvious you’re not. I still do feel this way to some degree. I feel that, even if you think you know better, the words you use will influence the way you think about the subject. If I start saying “god,” using religious language, when what I’m talking about, though certainly transcendent, is distinct from the common-denominator ideation of deity, I will end up doing it a disservice (“It is not right to think of it as a God or as like God. It is more than just God. Nothing is above it. Nothing rules it. Since everything exists within it, it does not exist within anything.” – Secret John).  This reflects a slightly-modernized adaptation of the most basic tenet of magical thought: that words have real, physical effects. That true names contain power. This isn’t magic; it’s semantic reality. Or maybe the correct statement is: this isn’t semantics, it’s magic.

At the same time, in a world where very few are willing to have a conversation unless the vocabulary is the same (and even then), one runs the risk of doing the subject the greatest disservice: neglecting it completely in favor of bickering about the subtleties of meaning.

I don’t have any interest in being part of any Gnostic community, group, church, or forum I’ve yet encountered. To me, the Christianization of Gnostic concepts seems like a deviation from the more central ideas, and even the religiousness seems to overwhelm the core. There seems very little room for new ideas, despite protestations to the contrary. Not only that, though: I don’t have any particular desire to be part of a Gnostic community in theory.  So I don’t even really know who I’m writing this for, other than myself.  I guess it’s just that simple.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll be keeping my ideas to myself; it doesn’t mean I won’t be applying them in my writing (perhaps the most venerable Gnostic tradition of all); and it doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself be bullied out of using a term that (let’s be honest), everybody knows doesn’t belong to anyone and never has.

What’s the problem with Christian Gnosticism? It’s the worshipfulness. It’s the lack of differentiation between itself and orthodoxy. It’s the fact that, unfortunately, it’s not as unrelated as it should be. It’s the slip from veneration of one man’s teachings to deification of him as some two-dimensional hero figure, again selling short the philosophical maturity of Gnosticism for the overblown simplicity of Christianity proper. It’s the way that slip translated into a cobbled-together syncretism, a grafted-on collection of original ideas and concessions to the spirit of the age (“Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil.” – The Gospel of Thomas). It’s the defensiveness, the unwillingness to accept pre-Christian roots because it offends the sensibilities, despite the truth of the matter. It’s the fact that there is simply too huge a semantic incongruity between ‘teacher’ and ‘savior.’

If anything, I’d like to see an attempt made at uniting some Gnostic concepts with Judaism. People who aren’t busy kissing their own asses are probably aware of the roots of Gnostic thought in Judaism via exposure to Hellenistic philosophy. People who don’t accept this, aside from a poor understanding of how historicity is determined in scholarship, it seems to me must not be very familiar with Judaism; it’s really a very obvious fit.

But that’s simply a fanciful aside. My closing point: I don’t care that much if you call it god and I think that’s wrong-headed.  But I do wish there was more discussion focused on the cosmological facets of Gnosticism. Even if you can ignore all the issues with rectifying early Gnostic thought with the salvific Jesus, there’s simply so much more of interest  in the trove of ideas and codices available to us.