Monday, October 26, 2009

Are you a gnostic?

On Saturday, the Foundation for Contemporary Theology in Houston asked me to relate what I know about ancient gnosticism to the scene of spirituality today. Yikes! This is a hermeneutical task I usually avoid. But this was a great group of people and so we talked about ancient gnosticism and then we tried to understand what it might be like as a system not dependent on ancient cosmology - or at least as a system that, like Judaism or Christianity, had remained a religious system even when its cosmology had shifted and changed over the centuries or had been absorbed into new cultures. We discussed the nature of gnosis - that it is mystical, subversive, esoteric, and constructed knowledge that involved catechism and initiation ceremonies. Gnostic traditions began in relation to other religious traditions, and that the move toward defining themselves as a new religious movement separate from Judaism and Christianity was gradual and filled with tension.

After this discussion, I gave a quiz that I thought would be fun to share with you.

Quiz

Am-I-a-modern-day-gnostic?

what is your theology? (choose all that apply to you and add up the points)

1=I view ‘God’ in transtheistic terms, as something ‘beyond’ or ‘other than’ the traditional God or gods

1=I view ‘God’ as neither OR both male and female

1=I think the divine is within me and/or it is my true/real/authentic self

1=I think ‘God’ is something to be experienced directly and immediately

1=I think that I am (partially) responsible for my redemption/enlightenment via my engagement in religious teachings and practices

0=traditional theology is fine for me OR none of these represents my theology


what is your self-identity? (chose one and add the points to your subtotal)

1=I am a gnostic Jew/gnostic Christian/gnostic Muslim/etc.

2=I am a Jewish Gnostic/Christian Gnostic/Muslim Gnostic/etc.

3=I am a Gnostic

0=I am a Jew/Christian/Muslim/etc. OR none of these apply to me


Consider your relationship to the traditional religions (chose one and add the points to your subtotal)

1=my traditional religion needs additional ‘spiritual’ OR esoteric teachings and practices

2=my traditional religion needs to be protested/reformed into a community that is more ‘spiritual’/esoteric

3=my traditional religion is beyond repair; we need to start over and form a more ‘spiritual’/esoteric community as the authentic expression of my traditional religion

4=I (want to) attend a Gnostic community that understands itself to be distinct from the traditional religions

0=my traditional religion is fine for me OR none of these describe my relationship to traditional religions


what do you think about traditional scriptures? (chose one and add the points to your subtotal)

1=scriptures need reinterpretation that involves (some) transgressive/subversive rereading

2=in addition to transgressive rereading, old scriptures need to be supplemented with new scriptures

3=we need to discard the old scriptures and replace them with new scriptures

0=traditional scriptures and traditional interpretation are fine for me OR none of these


Check out the comments for the answer key!

32 comments:

April DeConick said...

Answer key: What kind of gnostic are you?
0-4=not a gnostic
5-7=lodge gnostic
8-10=reform gnostic
11-13=separatist gnostic
14-15=new religion gnostic

Loren Rosson III said...

Looks like I'm a lodge gnostic.

Guerrier said...

Hmm. I'm a solid 15: new religion gnostic.

Does that make me a devoté of the Matrix, The Truman Show and Battlestar Galactica? :-)

BrothaB said...

I scored a 15! Not surprising since I am a member of the True Gnostic Restoration. We have our own book of scripture called the Song Of God, written by Azrael Ondi-Ahman. For more information please visit: http://songofgod.com

David said...

14, not quite pure.

David

Elena said...

I'm a borderline separatist/new religion it seems.

sparkwidget said...

How come this quiz didn't include the question, "Do you spend as many as seven hours a day reading Coptic for grad school?"

Pastor Bob said...

It probably won't surprise anyone that I'm a 2 - not a gnostic.

But I want to make a special pleading:

In recent traditional theology there seems to be a rather settled conclusion that God is neither male no female; and

In Protestant theology God can be experienced immediately and directly.

So I suggest that my score is actually 0 ;)

Hook said...

It seems I am not a Gnostic, which is interesting because I am. Then again, this test is not so much possessing in precision.

rameumptom said...

Scored a 10 - reform gnostic. Then again, as a Mormon, I do not fit into the regular traditional Christianity.

April DeConick said...

Is Mormonism a modern gnostic movement?

rameumptom said...

That is a very good question, April. In some ways, I'd have to say yes. While we do have many beliefs in common with traditional Christianity, some of the core beliefs include continuing scripture and revelation, secret/sacred teachings and rites (in the temples), and besides just a very few key doctrines we are open to new ideas.

We believe that Christ and his apostles did have secret teachings and rites that were restored by our modern prophets. To me, that is VERY gnostic in concept.

Stephen said...

No, I disagree with ram. In the traditional sense of Gnosticism, Mormonism very definitely is not gnostic. On the contrary, we argue that Gnostic teachings and philosophy invaded the primitive Church, ultimately leading to its total apostasy -- hence the necessity of a Restoration.

Fwiw, In (a Latter-day Saint and a friend of ram's) scored 3 -- not a gnostic.

Ed Jones said...

Ed Jones said...
I am not a gnostic. Also, I am not a traditional Christian in the sense that my theology is not based on the teachings or the writings of the NT - the letters of Paul, the Gospels as well as the later writings of the NT with the one exception the Letter of James - "It lies close to a tradition that is at the heart of (the Jesus Movement) as witnessed by the Sermon on the Mount"." (A Spirituality of Perfection by Patrick Hartin). I take the Sermon on the Mount to be the closest apostolic witness to the historical Jesus.
However poorly I follow is teachings, it is for me the primary source of Jesus' Special Revelation. In the words of Schubert Ogden: "There may be other true religions,but if there are, they will reveal the God of universal love that is the origin of all that is or ever will be". What truths may be found in the writings of the NT and non-canonical
texts (gnostic etal) must be judged by Jesus' Special Reveation.

For a quaint aside, click on "New Biblioblogs: Hoffmann and Qohelet" - scroll to: 2 Responses to "New Biblioblogs: Hoffman and Qohelet".

Loren Rosson III said...

The question of the gnostic character of Mormonism isn't settled so easily. Harold Bloom thinks a lot of American Christianity is more gnostic than we realize, and that Mormonism is the best example of it. Some of his arguments are a bit superficial but he makes telling points too.

g said...

Thanks for the link, BrothaB. The pages on similarities and differences between ancient "Christian Gnostics" and current "True Gnostics" were interesting and, I think, relate directly to this post and the question of the relevance of gnosticism today. Though I don't think the portrayal of ancient "Christian Gnostics" there is totally accurate.

rameumptom and Stephen: As a friendly suggestion, you might consider speaking individually and avoiding phrases like "we believe..." It is quite possible that not all of your co-religionists think the same way you do.

rameumptom said...

g, your point is well taken. That is why I responded by stating that in "some ways" we are. That does not make us gnostic, however.

Are Mormons gnostic? No. Of course not. We do not follow Sethian nor other Gnostic movements of the past. Mormonism is a Restorationist movement. We believe ancient things were lost, and later restored through modern prophets.

My point was, and April's test (which covered general ideas, not specificities of gnosticism), there are elements of agreement between Gnosticism and Mormonism.

Mormons believe in continuing revelation. Mormons believe in secret/sacred rite. Mormons believe that there is more scripture than is just found in the Bible. Many Mormons believe that some of those ancient things restored are hinted at in ancient Jewish and Christian writings.

Joseph Smith brought forth books and new teachings from Moses, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Joseph. In one revelation, Joseph Smith sees the apostle John hide a document detailing what it meant, when the Lord said he would "tarry".

The Apocalypse of Paul in the Nag Hammadi has teachings reminiscent of Mormon temple teachings: multiple levels of heaven, a heavenly guide for the initiate, a sentinel that tests the initiate. http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html

Some Mormons believe that The Gospel of Phillip is talking about eternal marriage in the temple (Holy of Holies/bridal chamber). http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html

So, while we are not Gnostic, I think Stephen would agree with me that some Mormons see their beliefs reflected in ancient teachings.

Stephen said...

g, you are right, of course. What I should have said is that we (Latter-day Saints) believe the ancient Church was lost through apostasy. Stephen's personal take on that, not necessarily shared by other Mormons, is that it was the invasion of Neoplatonic and other Hellenistic philosophies that corrupted the doctrine, and with no apostles or others with authority to correct it, the Church fell.

Rameumptom, yes, I agree, many Latter-day Saints see parallels between some gnostic teachings and Mormon doctrines. I suspect some of them take the term "gnostic" at face value, without realizing the nature of the gnostic groups and most of the gnostic teachings.

One difficulty is pointed up in April's test, though only implicitly: What is gnostic? As used today, the term essentially means anything taught in parts of early Christianity (1st-4th Centuries) that doesn't agree with "traditional" (i.e. creedal) Christian doctrine. So, for example, when examining an early Christian text that implies a corporeal deity, it is immediately termed "gnostic". Such use of the term makes it a de facto synonym for "uncreedal", which may be why some Mormons find identity between their doctrines and so-called "gnosticism".

Of course, I am not bringing up anything new, or anything that has not been discussed in depth through many years by people far more qualified than I am to offer an opinion. My point is that the particular (mis)use of the term "gnosticism" might explain why some Latter-day Saints find identity there.

monkey king said...

Lodge gnostic. Just you know, a member of my Gnostic group is a "former' Mormon. She doesn't see any Gnosticism in the Latter Day Saints Church either.

Matthew Alexander White said...

Wow, Looks like i am a "lodge" Gnostic too. Thats a shock, I just thought I looked at things differently but that I still 'counted' as 'orthodox-conservative ', if not quite confessional(to digress, I think 'confessional' is a more than far term and if people are going to object to then ... oh well). I hope my seminary proffs don't find out.

1 quick question though, can we please operational define "Lodge" in the scale? I have a rough estimate from the scle and the other types of gnostic but what is its idiomatic context?

Matthew Alexander White said...

Not that I am denying the LDS (or any one person) the right of self-definition, but in atleast one (self-proclaimed) conservative Pentecostal-Charismatic-evangelical university and Seminary the LDS-Church is understood/misunderstood to be an inherently Gnostic religion.

Ironically, according to the quiz, the average person in that university would be atleast a lodge Gnostic (mea culpa)and probably a reform gnostic. Pentecostal-Charismatic beleifs holds the following parts of the quiz to be true:

1=I view ‘God’ in transtheistic terms, as something ‘beyond’....
1=I view ‘God’ as neither OR both male and female ....
1=I think the divine is within me and/or it is my true/real/....
1=I think ‘God’ is something to be experienced directly & immediately
1=I think that I am (partially) responsible for my redemption...

1=my traditional religion needs additional ‘spiritual’...
2=my traditional religion needs to be protested/reformed...
3=my traditional religion is beyond repair; ...

1=scriptures need reinterpretation that involves (some)....
2=in addition to transgressive rereading, old scriptures need to..

Then again, pointing out such similarities would probably be highly offensive and dangerous to ones health, which is why it is often best to not publicly point out connections between present day religious movements and ancient gnosticism.

lightseeker said...

I'm a reform gnostic, and that works for me! :)

ccord077-forward2 said...

The questions might be leading the answers a bit too much. By my reckoning, Plato would score at least a 5 (which would be absurdly anachronistic), Parmenides an 11, and St. Augustine would score at least a 7...

Hegel, on the other hand, would score an 11, which would actually be too low. Even Simone Weil would score a mere 8 or so, though she's arguably amongst the most influential gnostic thinkers of the twentieth century.

Green Monk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Great quiz! -- even though I was unable to answer the question about my relationship to "my traditional religion," since I identify as Unitarian Universalist, which I believe is now best classified as a post-Christian religious tradition, and therefore by definition non-traditional.

The really interesting question for me was the question on whether the quiz taker identifies as "gnostic" or not. It seems to me that some new religious movements (NRMs) could be identified from the outside as being gnostic, or close to gnostic -- yet those folks would not identify themselves as gnostic. This poses an interesting question for me: to what extent can we apply the term "gnostic" to NRMs that don't identify themselves as being gnostic? To what extent do we accept self-definitions provided by NRMs, and to what extent do we classify NRMs from the outside?

NRMs aren't exactly a central focus of this blog, I know, but hey -- this quiz moves right into the heart into NRM territory...

rameumptom said...

How many Sethians or Marcionites considered themselves Gnostics anciently?

Sometimes a term is imposed upon a group from the outside, whether they like it or not. "Heretic" is a common term, rarely used by those within a religious community, but often used by others looking in.

I do find it refreshing to look at my own beliefs and the beliefs of my religion in a different context such as this quiz offers.

Would Gnostics (at least some) consider themselves post-Christian today? It isn't easy breaking away from old traditions. I can see within the Bible the struggles of the early Christian Church, as it struggled internally as it moved from being a Jewish sect to an outright separate religious movement under the Gentile members.

Organizational Development and Behavior (something I studied in college for a business degree I don't often use) shows that when an organization makes major changes, usually a small percentage of people jump on board quickly. Later, others are coaxed on board, but some will inevitably reject the changes and must seek another organization more to their liking.

We see this happening with the American Episcopalians, as they split into conservative and liberal churches, who can no longer agree on what are considered by many to be key issues.

An organization changes its behavior and foundational principles slowly. It can take years for a small organization to adapt, while bigger ones may take decades. While the official program may be announced and driven down to the lowest levels, the shadow leadership must also be engaged and brought on board, if there is to be sufficient acceptance by the members to succeed with the changes.

It definitely is interesting to see how such struggles in the early Christian Church can still be reflected today in the struggles that go on.

Hexalpa said...

I scored a 10 , reform Gnostic, (almost separatist), which sounds just about right...I am comfortable with my Episcopal touchstone, but I am not a literalist Christian, I consider myself sort of Valentinian in my willingness to be "within the church, but not defined by it"

Green Monk said...

Right there with ya Hex.

Maria Ash said...

A sincere thanks to everyone for your comments.

I'm in dental school, not religious studies, so I may be out of my element here, but I find this stuff really interesting--which is how I found my way here. I will first say that the term "gnostic" seems confusing to me because it seems it can mean so many different things to so many different people.

I am LDS (mormon), and have as Rameumptom said found many of my beliefs reflected in these ancient teachings as I've started to explore them. However, I've of course also found many things that I totally disagree with.

Simply put, I believe that the Christianity in general (if I can speak so broadly for sake of briefness) gradually went wayward on many doctrinal issues following the death of the Apostles, and heck, even was doing so during Apostolic times as evidenced in the NT--Gal 1 for example. With the apostles gone, I believe a large amount of diversity arose among Christians. The attempt at a Universal Church with uniform doctrines was a noble goal, but was bound to miss the mark on many doctrinal issues--and in my opinion, did. I think those labeled heretics by the Catholic church in some cases had truth that was rejected by the Catholic church. However, I think those same people were just as prone, if not more so--since they lacked central leadership, to missing the mark doctrinally, or distorting it over time--and clearly also did in many cases. Anyway, for me, I just see a ton of diversity in early Christianity, and among it an attempt at a Universal doctrine that missed the mark in many ways in defining much of what is now called "traditional Christianity." But I find it hugely interesting to see that many aspects of my faith that have been so strongly labeled heresy or cult-ish, or whatever, were very much in existence in early Christianity before being stamped out by the Catholic church.

It seems evident to me that in the interest of order and unity, the Universal Church couldn't find the right balance, and sort of ended up stamping out the hugely important part of Jesus' message that highly encouraged seeking higher knowledge directly from our Maker through the power of the Holy Spirit. I feel that the LDS church sort of struck that balance eventually by keeping church services focused on basic canonized doctrines that are the core of the church and gospel, while encouraging members to seek their own higher knowledge through their own personal searchings and seeking in the scriptures and in the Spirit. This means that you could encounter LDS people with differing views about some of the more peripheral theology/doctrine--but in theory, we should agree on what really matters most--the simple gospel of Christ.

I certainly have far more in common with Gnostics than most of my "traditional" Christian friends seem to--but I would also reject completely many aspects.

Prime-Epitome said...

I realize this is an older thread, but I believe it's never too late to speak (in some contexts.) I have "officially" turned to MY Gnoticism, and no one else's, about a month ago. I will respectfully decline taking the test, for reasons I cannot explain adequately. I understand I am bound to fall somewhere on the scale, but don't want limit myself with a value not set by me. (I am my own Spiritual Mediator.)

On God/Godhead: I believe is every bit as male, female, flesh, spirit, something, and nothing, every bit as it is not any of these...I guess that means it, in its pure state, transcends all law or ideals we can fathom. To even try, is to fail. Yet, we have been given the capacities to create a proximity, to have a "tangeable" goal to strive for. Other gods may or may not have been made after by any source, and striving torwards anything other than the Godhead Itself sets one into a fickle realm of systematic faiths, that is confining to the Beings we are meant to be. That does not mean you are beyond "Salvation" for choosing one or the other, in the sense of the word...it simply means you may be in over your head.

Salvation: Is through our own faith, expectations, standards, and perceptions. It is up to us to set the polarities and ailignment of our Beings to reach the desired afterlife, which is all the same in The Grand Scheme. Terms such as "Christ," "Buddha," and the like are purely names we call this state of mind; they are blueprints, principles, and guidelines for most of us to get on our feet. They are beautiful, they have power, and they have merit within their own prospects. I myself owe my Awakening to the Spirit called "Christ," who lives in all those who reach Enlightenment (oftentimes under different names..."Christ" is simply a name as well.)

Religions of the World: We are not to change anything, beyond the natural state of progression. The spirit evolves, and in some circles slower than others...and to force change could be detrimental to those who are not ready. There is validity in all faiths, every bit as much as there is falsehoods. If we were to re-write faith, someone would (more than likely) find fault in what has been written, and attempt to re-write it later. We would be no better than the Constantines in the world, should we re-write Faith ourselves. Conversion through force (however that forcing manifests) leads to Lies, Conflict, and Falsehood, in most cases. It is an ongoing, Healthy cycle of progression; it should not be forced change. There is some Truth in all Myths, just as there is Myth in many Truths.

Cerimony and Practice: I do not believe there is "power" in methodical prayer, relics, or traditions on their own. Yet, there is Faith behind them...and it is Faith that truly holds the power. Some people simply require external aid to tap into what they already have. Any of these without Faith are just pretty trinkets, and empty motions. There is nothing "wrong" with them, but they are not the complete answer. Similar to putting a Face/Standard to the Godhead: believing soley in Cerimony and Icons has potential to limit growth.

People are perfect, and function perfectly within their programming. Someone who is programmed to be a being of Love will Love perfectly based on perceptions: those who Hate are programmed to Hate within that circle of perfection. Same for the gods: they are limitless in their respective domains, but have to fuction within it. (The Christian God must function within His Laws; is above Good and Evil, but cannot break His word. A trully limitless being could.) Only the Godhead itself is beyond limitation, one could believe.

I don't believe all that I hear...but I do not doubt it all, either.

Thank you for hearing me, if you have read this in its entirety.

So it is, so it shall be.

Prime-Epitome said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prime-Epitome said...

I realize this is an older thread, but I believe it's never too late to speak (in some contexts.) I have "officially" turned to MY Gnoticism, and no one else's, about a month ago. I will respectfully decline taking the test, for reasons I cannot explain adequately. I understand I am bound to fall somewhere on the scale, but don't want limit myself with a value not set by me. (I am my own Spiritual Mediator.)

On God/Godhead: I believe is every bit as male, female, flesh, spirit, something, and nothing, every bit as it is not any of these...I guess that means it, in its pure state, transcends all law or ideals we can fathom. To even try, is to fail. Yet, we have been given the capacities to create a proximity, to have a "tangeable" goal to strive for. Other gods may or may not have been made after by any source, and striving torwards anything other than the Godhead Itself sets one into a fickle realm of systematic faiths, that is confining to the Beings we are meant to be. That does not mean you are beyond "Salvation" for choosing one or the other, in the sense of the word...it simply means you may be in over your head.

Salvation: Is through our own faith, expectations, standards, and perceptions. It is up to us to set the polarities and ailignment of our Beings to reach the desired afterlife, which is all the same in The Grand Scheme. Terms such as "Christ," "Buddha," and the like are purely names we call this state of mind; they are blueprints, principles, and guidelines for most of us to get on our feet. They are beautiful, they have power, and they have merit within their own prospects. I myself owe my Awakening to the Spirit called "Christ," who lives in all those who reach Enlightenment (oftentimes under different names..."Christ" is simply a name as well.)

Religions of the World: We are not to change anything, beyond the natural state of progression. The spirit evolves, and in some circles slower than others...and to force change could be detrimental to those who are not ready. There is validity in all faiths, every bit as much as there is falsehoods. If we were to re-write faith, someone would (more than likely) find fault in what has been written, and attempt to re-write it later. We would be no better than the Constantines in the world, should we re-write Faith ourselves. Conversion through force (however that forcing manifests) leads to Lies, Conflict, and Falsehood, in most cases. It is an ongoing, Healthy cycle of progression; it should not be forced change. There is some Truth in all Myths, just as there is Myth in many Truths.

Cerimony and Practice: I do not believe there is "power" in methodical prayer, relics, or traditions on their own. Yet, there is Faith behind them...and it is Faith that truly holds the power. Some people simply require external aid to tap into what they already have. Any of these without Faith are just pretty trinkets, and empty motions. There is nothing "wrong" with them, but they are not the complete answer. Similar to putting a Face/Standard to the Godhead: believing soley in Cerimony and Icons has potential to limit growth.

People are perfect, and function perfectly within their programming. Someone who is programmed to be a being of Love will Love perfectly based on perceptions: those who Hate are programmed to Hate within that circle of perfection. Same for the gods: they are limitless in their respective domains, but have to fuction within it. (The Christian God must function within His Laws; is above Good and Evil, but cannot break His word. A trully limitless being could.) Only the Godhead itself is beyond limitation, one could believe.

I don't believe all that I hear...but I do not doubt it all, either.

Thank you for hearing me, if you have read this in its entirety.

So it is, so it shall be.