On Gnosticism and Mysticism

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the Gnostic Gospels, the life of Jesus in his early years, the authority and accuracy of the traditional Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and other related issues. A lot of people have flocked to the likes of Deepak Chopra and others who claim to know the “real” story of Jesus. This got me thinking. I mean, it’s not as if these things are exactly new ideas. People have been undermining the truth of Biblical accounts for centuries and disagreeing with the stories presented in the traditional Gospels. But why, I asked myself, are these ideas given so much credence in today’s time? Why are so many people flocking to the likes of Chopra and New Age gnostics? And I think, at the heart of it, it’s the spirit of our age – Postmodernism/ Deconstructionism – that has given rise to such widespread acceptance of these “secret” Gospels.

In the age of Postmodernism (though technically we’re kind of in the post-postmodern phase… but I won’t pretend to know much about these kind of classifications) there is an extraordinary amount of emphasis placed on questions. Not so much answers. The mysterious, the new, the mystical – all these categories are given a high place in the minds of many people. However, the clear-cut, the traditional, and the orthodox are not held in so much esteem. I won’t go into a history of philosophy (partly because I don’t think it would help and partly because I know enough of it to know I don’t know anything), but basically mankind’s search for meaning within Himself has lead to Nietzsche’s nihilism – and then, manufactured meaning. And so in our time, we are left with trying to come up with an irrational, illogical, unfounded leap of faith (believe just to believe) in order to try and come up with some sort of meaning. This illogic leads us to forsake all kinds of traditional ideas and to look for meaning in those mysterious, unknown, mystical depths. Their nature reflects the very nature of our looking – unfounded and irrational.

But, also, I think that what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” comes into play here. No matter how relativistic, no matter how “tolerant” people in our age say they are, in fact they consider themselves to be much better and smarter than people who have come before. I think this is due in large part to the theory of evolution (which is another discussion in itself), but I think it greatly adds to the almost-disdain people have for traditions of the past. Oh, many people seem to revere ancient practices, or at least seem to like to study them. But in the end people that lived before us are thought to be less in touch with what the real world is like, less in touch with Reality. Yes, I agree, we are more advanced technologically than people were two thousand years ago. But I find it interesting that we are so quick to throw out traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs that have been around for thousands of years for ideas that were also written back then – and called heresy by church fathers. We forget that if people back then were naïve and out of touch with reality, that would include the writers of the Gnostic Gospels as well.

So why do we give them credence? Why do we accept so readily as possibly true those books that were deemed heresy when they first circulated? Why do we shirk eye-witness accounts of Jesus, books written within a century after his death (which is remarkable, by the way, in regards to historical documents), and a multitude of copies of that canon that show very little in the way of changes? We do it because the Gnostic gospels are new to us, because this story of the “real” Jesus is new to us. Because this makes life more mysterious and interesting. We can revel in the questions now, revel in the mystical and mysterious. We fail to see that that life is misery. We fail to see how unfounded, irrational, and illogical it is to fly in the face of a heap of evidence and hold fast to ideas which have never in the history of the church been seen as other than heresy.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. Care to add anything?

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9 thoughts on “On Gnosticism and Mysticism

  1. dan says:

    I think people these days are addicted to anything that seems new. A rejection of all things “old” is a pretty common thing within this generation. A rejection of old age, old products, old ideas, all things “old” are sub-par.

    Youth obsession.

    I think you’ll find that within our postmodernism, (which is a response to modernity) that christianity has found its way into conversation again, whereas in modernity, it didn’t make “logical” and “naturalistic” sense.

    And according to Tim Keller, who pastors Redeemer Pres in NYC (Cultural capital of the world,) says that Christianity is not losing ground, in fact, its gaining ground, but its polarizing people…..(my paraphrase)

    does that make sense?

    • Sure. I’m not saying biblical and historical Christianity is losing ground. I was just thinking about why these “new” ways of thinking are so popular (especially around where I live).

  2. I think the reason so many people have begun to look to the Gnostics and Mysticism is that it gives them ground to deny the truth, or, as Paul puts it, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

    If the Gnostics are true, they don’t have to deal with the Biblical Jesus as a historical fact.

    I agree with you, Dan. Technology-driven humanity in general, and American culture in particular, is so saturated with instant gratification of most everything, especially information, that we get frustrated when we don’t find what we’re looking for by page 10 of our Google search. I think that facet of our society also shapes our thinking. If the truth is hard to uncover or understand, we don’t like to have to work hard to think it out, we’d rather just drink in an explanation that is easier to swallow.

  3. I completely agree with the denying the truth part. I was going to put that bit from Romans in the original post but ended up leaving it out. What I find interesting is the sheer inconsistency with these views: that those texts are considered more reliable and more true than the texts of the Bible.

    Know what I mean?

  4. dan says:

    Totally hit the nail on the head cameron…. If its too hard to figure out, we’d rather give ourselves an answer that we can swallow.

    Are the Gnostic Gospels really gaining more credibility than the traditional gospels of the new testament?

    Perhaps i’m naive, but i’m not sure that’s the case.

    But i do think i know where you’re coming from mike. I think the “giving of credibility” to the Gnostics is simply a response to the “calling” of the canonical gospels true. y’know? I think its the rebellious heart, and the suppression of truth….Exchanging God’s Glory…….

  5. ctlockey says:

    Dan, I guess Mike is just addressing the fact that discussion of them and their supposed credibility seems to be reemerging to some extent – not necessarily that they are on a large scale being accepted as more truthful, accurate or historically trustworthy than the Canonical NT Gospels.

    There is a reason the NT Gospels are in the canon, and it is not just due to “some council hundreds of years ago” where Christian leaders arbitrarily “cut and pasted” together the parts of the historical texts they liked and called it the Bible. They are in the Biblical Canon because they are historically accurate, and were already in wide use among Christian churches AS Scripture before anyone decided a council among churches to nail down what books were Scripture was a good and wise idea. This argument is only scratching the surface.

    Sorry for the digression. The point is, whatever interest in the Gnostics seems to be growing is probably more due to an ever-increasing interest among non-believers to defend their hearts from the truth of the Gospel than actual conviction of their supposedly inherent veracity.

    • ctlockey says:

      Dan, I just realized you basically already said what the gist of my third paragraph here says. My apologies for the redundancy… 😉

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