I have been asked by some why I named my blog "The Forbidden Gospels." So I thought that it would be fun to reflect on that today since I have just had a nice chat about mysticism and social activism with Andrea Jain, a graduate student here at Rice who studies Hinduism. Most of us at Rice in Religious Studies have some interest in mysticism. For many of us it is the core of our study.
The name of my blog is tied to mysticism, even though it may not appear that way at first glance. Of course it is a "fun" reference to para-biblical gospels. But more than that it is a serious reference to the "apple" in the Garden that Eve ate. But it is not the disobedient act that I reference. Rather it is a reference to Eve's yearning for knowledge against the ruler, the god, who dominated her, and her choice to achieve it against his wish. It is a gnostic and a mystic reading of Eden.
I call this type of hermeneutic "subversive". We could also call it "transgressive". It is the type of hermeneutic that mystics live by, because it represents the calling into question of received knowledge, of religious traditions and social conventions that govern us. The mystic has transcended the conventional; he or she has literally come face to face with God beyond the walls of the synagogue or the church. Transformed in body and mind, the mystic has transcended the rulers of this world and joined the gods.
So scripture, as it is conventionally interpreted, cannot be appropriated by the mystic from the traditional perspective, which is meant to maintain the status quo and the power structures of male authorities. Rather it is turned inside out, like the mystic has been him- or herself. It has a message, hidden within, that transcends convention and structures of power, a message that subverts and challenges these. The call of this subversive hermeneutic is usually a call to individual conscience, to listen to the "god within", and to step forth in the community as a voice whose only authority is its own.
The literature produced by these kinds of people is not well-liked by the conventional or "orthodox." It becomes suppressed literature, not only in the sense that the ancient people burned the books, but they forbid them too, and created a demonic aura about them to keep the flock away from their "deviant" views.
But to return to the Eden story and its subversive meaning. The subversive story is about the human being "coming of age." Discontent with parental rules that stifle his or her own emerging self, the human sets out on the journey to become an authentic individual of conscience and choice, truly becoming "like God." It is about thinking for yourself and acting on it. How different would our world be if this wasn't a subversive interpretation of Eden?
So the name of my blog is a reference to this subversive story, and the challenge of religious studies which seeks to examine religious traditions beyond the conventional and the apologetic interpretations.