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Monday, September 22, 2008

What is God's relation to evil?

Break out those musty, dusty old systematic theology texts, kids. We're going to do some old school theologizing.

Our discussion on Dostoevsky's Rebellion chapter has stirred a good deal of discussion on God's relation to evil. We will return to Dostoevsky and the Grand Inquisitor soon, but in the meantime I would like to explore three different theological approaches to evil. Specifically, we are exploring how these different theological perspectives view God's relationship to evil.


Calvinism
Let's begin with Calvinism. And who better to represent Calvinism than...well....John Calvin?

For Calvin, God's sovereignty over creation means that nothing happens apart from his will. All things that happen are decreed and have been determined by God's will. There are some moderate forms of Calvinism that distinguish between what God "determines" and what God "permits." According to these more moderate Calvinists, God determines good but merely permits evil. In this way, they seek to create distance between God and evil, thereby creating no confusion regarding the goodness of God. Not so for John Calvin, the original Calvinist.

In the Institutes I.18.1, Calvin explicitly rejects a distinction between what God determines and what he permits: "The distinction was devised between doing and permitting because to many this difficulty seemed inexplicable, that Satan and all the impious are so under God's hand and power that he directs their malice to whatever end seems good to him....Whatever men or Satan himself may instigate, God nevertheless holds the key, so that he turns their efforts to carry out his judgments. God wills that the false King Ahab be deceived; the devil offers his services to this end; he is sent, with a definite command, to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets [I Kings 22:20, 22]....It would be ridiculous for the Judge only to permit what he wills to be done, and not also to decree it and to command its execution by his ministers."

Calvin cites many passages that he believes demonstrates that God is an active participant, not merely passively granting permission to evil doers. The primary citation here is Acts 2:23 and 4:28: "The Jews intended to destroy Christ; Pilate and his soldiers complied with their mad desire; yet in solemn prayer the disciples confess that all the impious ones had done nothing except what 'the hand and plan' of God had decreed." (I.18.1)

Following his citations, Calvin summarizes: "From these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God's providence, substitute bare permission as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will." (I.18.1)

For Calvin, there will be no talk of assigning evil to the human will. It is God's providential work all the way down: the good, the bad, and the ugly are all ultimately the result of God's providence.

Evil does not exist because of free choices; rather, evil is God's will. This God accomplishes, in part, by working "inwardly in men's minds." (I.18.2) God "blinds men's minds (Isa. 29:14), smites them with dizziness (cf. Deut. 28:28; Zech. 12:4), makes them drunk with the spirit of drowsiness (Isa. 29:10), casts madness u pon them (Rom. 1:28), hardens their hearts (Ex. 14:17 and passim)." (I.18.2)

Even the work of Satan is under God's control: "I confess, indeed, that it is often by means of Satan's intervention that God acts in the wicked, but in such a way that Satan performs his part by God's impulsion and advances as far as he is allowed." (I.18.2)

Calvin goes on to cite I Sam. 16:14, Ezek. 14:9, and Rom. 1:28, 29, and then concludes: "To sum up, since God's will is said to be the cause of all things, I have made his providence the determinative principle for all human plans and works." (I.18.2)

It is at this point that Calvin responds to two possible objections. First, if God wills both good and evil, it would seem as though God had two wills, two divided wills. Calvin begins by citing I Sam. 2:25 ("Eli's sons did not obey their father because God willed to slay them"), Ps. 115:3 ("God, who resides in heaven, does whatever he pleases"), Isa. 45:7 ("he creates light and darkness, that he forms good and bad"), Amos 3:6 ("nothing evil happens that he himself has not done"), and Deut. 19:5 ("he who is killed by a chance slip of the ax has been divinely given over to the striker's hand"). (I.18.3)

Having cited more references, Calvin concludes that God's will is not divided but "one and simple." It is merely "our mental incapacity" that fails to grasp "how in divers ways it wills and does not will something to take place." Here Calvin cites Augustine who notes that God can will something that human beings cannot (and should not) will. "For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills." The (somewhat perplexing) conclusion of the matter is that "nothing is done without God's will, not even that which is against his will." (I.18.3)

The next objection that Calvin takes issue with is that if God governs the plans and intentions of the ungodly, then he is the author of all wickedness and human beings do not deserve to be damned for actions that God has willed. Calvin points out that human beings are rightly judged because they do their evil out of their own evil desires and the sin that is within them. (I.18.4)

But what if all of this just doesn't sit well?

"But if some people find difficulty in what we are now saying--namely, that there is no agreement between God and man, where man does by God's just impulsion what he ought not to do--let them recall what the same Augustine points out in another passage: 'Who does not tremble at these judgments, where God works even in evil men's hearts whatever he wills, yet renders to them according to their desserts?'" (I.18.4) We ought not reject the truth because of "squeamishness," nor should we deny "clear Scriptural proofs" because it exceeds our "mental capacity." (I.18.4) For Calvin, this is one of the "mysteries" of God that we should not question simply because we cannot understand it.

Any passages that speak of God changing his mind or leaving the future open (see Open Theism, below) should be considered a product of God dumbing himself down so that we can understand him. It is as though God "lisps" to us: "as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to 'lisp' in speaking to us." When God describes himself in human terms, "such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness." (I.13.1)

Brief Evaluation
Pros:
Calvinism takes into account the many biblical suggestions that God determines all things, even evil.
Cons:
Calvin cannot accurately take account of passages that describe God's openness to change, the openness of the world, and the seeming absurdity of the world. (See Open Theism, below)
Calvinism seems to be confused--if God determines evil, how is God himself not evil? Or at least less than perfectly good? Despite Calvin's protests to the contrary, it is hard to see how God does not become a terrifying, determining force for good or evil.
Also, it seems a bit unreasonable that Calvin dismisses contradictory elements in his theology by simply appealing to "the mystery of God" or to the feeble intelligence of human beings.
Links of Interest:
John Drury's short summary on Calvin's view of providence (from this section of the Institutes.
John Murray's "Calvin on the Sovereignty of God"
Wikipedia article on Calvinism


Open Theism
Of all of the systematic approaches to God's relation to evil, Open Theism does the most to distance God from evil and affirm his absolute goodness. There is no confusion: God is good and has nothing to do with evil. As an expression of his love, God grants humanity the freedom to choose evil. As such, evil is completely the result of free choice.

Open Theists are incompatiblists: for a choice to be truly free, it cannot be determined in advance. To be a free choice, the choice must be able to legitimately go either way. This means that one cannot either determine or even know what a choice is in advance. For example, suppose I go to your home tomorrow night for ice cream. You offer me my choice of my two favorite flavors: mint chocolate chip and moose tracks. If I am to freely choose between mint or moose tracks, my choice cannot be pre-determined. For an Open Theist it is almost true by definition that if my choice is determined in advance, then it cannot be truly free.

So, God grants humanity freedom of choice. God does not pre-ordain evil, but evil exists because human beings have used their freedom to choose evil. God is not the author of evil. God is good. On the Open Theism account, God is actively engaged to destroy the works of evil, and he in no way wills that such evil should occur.

Open Theists see in Scripture an openness in the future. Not only this, but because the future is open, it is unknowable. God is thus a participant (albeit quite a superior one!) in the openness of the world. God, in fact, demonstrates openness himself, as he responds to the choices of human beings. God deals with humanity most fundamentally out of love, and it is only through freedom that love can be most fully expressed.

A few of the Scriptures that imply an open universe and an open God are: Gen 6:6 (God repented that he had made humanity), 1 Sam 15:11 (God regrets that Saul became king), Jeremiah 18:8 (God repents of the evil he had determined to inflict), Jonah 3:4, 10 (Out of his mercy and compassion, God changes his mind and does not destroy Ninevah), and Isaiah 38:1, 5; 2 Kings 20:1, 5 (cf. 1 Chronicles 32:24) where Hezekiah plead with God and God changes his mind in regards to Hezekiah's plight.

Open Theism is presented as a more livable theology. Open Theists argue that often the traditional theological formulations of doctrine develop a tension between belief and lifestyle. For example, a Christian will believe that the future is closed and determined, and yet he or she will be expected to pray for a certain outcome to take place. This begs the question of why one should pray at all if the future is determined.

Brief Evaluation
Pros:
God is not the author of evil.
God's goodness is preserved, without question or contradiction with other assertions of God's "providence."
God both grants freedom to human beings and also absolutely opposes evil: as such there is no need to even suggest that God "permits" evil; he categorically stands against it and fights with all who wish to eradicate it.
Cons:
Open Theism has a difficult time accounting for the many portions of Scripture that suggest that God providentially controls all things, even evil.

Notable advocates: John Sanders, Greg Boyd, and Clark Pinnock.

Links of Interest:
Here is my lengthy Introduction to Open Theism paper.
Open Theism in a Nutshell is a summary of the above research.


Molinism

Molinism is a rather complex theology developed by the 14th century Spanish Jesuit priest Luis Molina. It attempts to hold together God's providential control (Calvinism) and human free will (Open Theism). Molinism does this by suggesting that God has middle knowledge.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of the free choices that we humans would make if we were put into a given situation. Let's say that I am determined to vote this fall in the Presidential election. Ergo, I go to the ballot box and have a decision to vote for McCain, Obama, or some obscure Independent or Libertarian candidate. Given God's extensive knowledge of me and his thorough knowledge of these circumstances, God knows the candidate for whom I will cast my vote. (In this case, probably Obama....given what I know about myself, anyway!)

God possesses a seemingly infinite array of knowledge of an infinite number of different scenarios. Since each choice we make might be different in a different situation, there are a wide variety of different scenarios that God knows. Together all these choices come within a seemingly infinite number of possible worlds. God knows how I will vote in all of these myriad possible worlds.

According to Molinism, God freely chose one of these possible worlds out of a seemingly infinite possible number of choices. God knew just what would happen and what we would freely choose in this world. So, God freely chose to create this world out of all of his possibilities.

So.....how does Molinism explain God's relation to evil?

God predestined and foreknew all evil that would happen in the sense that God created a world in which all possible free choices were known by him in advance. In this way, the Molinist would claim to have the best of all worlds (pun intended) by preserving human freedom and God's providential control over all things. I can make a free decision to vote for Obama in the fall election, and God can also claim that this decision was not out of his control.

Thus, when people murder, cheat, abuse children, or otherwise inflict evil on others, they do so as a free person, not as though they were somehow controlled or even permitted by God. On the other hand, this world of free choices is exactly that which God intended.

Matthew 11:23 seems to be one biblical example of middle knowledge. Here we have Jesus saying that if certain miracles had been performed in Sodom, then Sodom would still be standing "to this day," suggesting that the people of Sodom would have repented. This seems to indicate that Jesus knew what the free choice of individuals would have been if circumstances were different. To me, this is a rather powerful suggestion: that people would have changed the course of their lives if Jesus would have performed the same miracles that he performed in Capernaum.

Brief Evaluation
Pros:
Molinism seeks to preserve God's control over all things in the universe (per certain Scripture references) and human freedom. If successful, it would explain the compatibility of two theological concepts that have seemed contradictory.
Cons:
Molinism may be open to charges from both sides: God still chose to create a wretched world, and it is questionable as to whether human beings are truly free.
One common objection is the "grounding objection": can an action truly be "free" if it is known ahead of time?

Notable Advocates: Luis Molina, William Lane Craig, Alfred Freddoso.

Links of Interest:
This link lists several of William Lane Craig's writings on Divine Omniscience:
http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/omniscience.html
Alfred Freddoso: http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/molinism.htm
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Middle Knowledge:
http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/middlekn.htm
Molinism dot com: http://molinism.com/

68 comments:

daniel hutchinson said...

I'm out of my depth here, but I was cycling this morning around time and thinking about how God created things that are not necessarily immediately good or beneficial. Like take certain posoinous plants, that if used as medicine, must be used with extreme caution. Or take the destructive power of nature in earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. In fact, there are many things that can be equated with the tree of knowledge that we encounter in our everyday lives. The one example that also came to mind are mind-altering drugs.

ktismatics said...

Don't you get the sense that all these theorists were like Ptolemaic astronomers, inventing all sorts of epicycles to account for the course of the stars through the heavens, trying to fix through complexity a system that gets a lot simpler to understand if you look at it from a different point of view?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, K. I would say that this is exactly what is going with these approaches.

Part of it goes to the fact that theologians have tried to make the Bible speak as one voice. They have placed a higher value on the so-called unity of Scripture; rather than seeing the Bible as containing very diverse voices that even conflict with each other at times. The traditional theologian (of the conservative stripe) would say that they value the diversity of the perspectives, but all perspectives are looking at the same truth. I would suggest that what "truth" is varies according to one's perspective.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

Good point. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil does seem to present itself in various forms today. It seems to stand as a metaphor.

Btw....I didn't know you cycled. I went for a ride on Saturday. I really enjoy getting out for a few hours to enjoy the solitude of the outdoors. Good stuff.

ktismatics said...

It is a nice summary though, Erdman.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

A very nice summary indeed. It even has me questioning a few things. I know for sure that I am not an open theist. I have always accepted and agreed with the Calvanisitc point of view. But I do question the logic in the Molin point of view. What if we did have several tuly free choices and because he knew how it was going to play out, he predestined it. Oiyeevay, I am so perplexed.
It is just hard to wrap our minds around the fact that a God who is so loving and good, could be the creator of evil, but is he not the Creator of all!? Also, to acknowledge that is almost like admitting that I am a pawn on hs chess board. I have several directions to go, but he moves me. I don't get to choose. My destiny is His hands. Honestly, I agree with Calvin...there are just mysteries...things we don't know, things we can't understand.
These things are just mind boggling, and I wish that I could know for sure. But I think that it is truly impossible.

Jason Hesiak said...

what about the gnostic view of evil?
(jason grins mischeviously)

Eve.........Interrupted said...

It also dawned on me last night, another perspective:
I questioned last night if God is the creator of all, why not be the Creator of evil? But then I thought, "Well God didn't make my house or my car, men did. God enabled them to have the abilities to create it. So why would it be far fetched to think that God enables us to have the ability to choose to do good or evil? Who taught Cain to kill Abel? It was in him. He was enabled with capacity to hold both good and evil because of the tree of knowledge of good and evil...you know the one Eve wasn't supposed t touch, but did anyway. It is not a sin to be tempted, but it is to give in to it. So, she had the chioce to leave the tree alone. She chose not to. Jesus was in the same situation in the wilderness, he was tempted. But he chose not to give into.
I am now not so sure that I stand on the Calvinistic side of the fence as much as I thought I did. I am questioning things now.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sounds like you are leaning toward a more moderate version of Calvinism......John Calvin would mock you for your lack of nerve!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Gnostic theologies of evil are diverse, and they can get a bit bizarre. As I understand it, the Gnostics usually see evil as coming into existence by a demiurge....usually, evil comes into existence prior to history by some activity of the gods.

The evil (or in some cases just imperfect) demiurge creates matter. Since matter is created by an imperfect (or evil) being, then it is also imperfect/evil. The point of Gnosticism, of course, is to escape the materiality of the world through a spiritual experience that usually involves gnosis or "knowledge," which usually involves some connection with the divine (a "divine spark"). It is very "Platonic," we might say.

The Apocryphon of John is a very interesting account of the origin of evil. God the Father creates things through a feaky kind of thought-intercourse of purity, and things go well and good until Sophia decides to create something of her own volition without the pure-freaky-spirit intercourse with the Father. Things go downhill from there. Without the pure One (the Father), a monster is born, Yaltabaoth, probably a reference to the "Yahweh" of the OT.

Here are a few selections:

"The Monad is a monarchy with nothing above it. It is he who exists as God and Father of everything, the invisible One who is above everything, who exists as incorruption, which is in the pure light into which no eye can look....

"He is immeasurable light, which is pure, holy (and) immaculate. He is ineffable, being perfect in incorruptibility. (He is) not in perfection, nor in blessedness, nor in divinity, but he is far superior. He is not corporeal nor is he incorporeal....

"How am I to speak with you about him? His aeon is indestructible, at rest and existing in silence, reposing (and) being prior to everything....

It is he who puts his desire in his water-light which is in the spring of the pure light-water which surrounds him.

"And his thought performed a deed and she came forth, namely she who had appeared before him in the shine of his light. This is the first power which was before all of them (and) which came forth from his mind, She is the forethought of the All - her light shines like his light - the perfect power which is the image of the invisible, virginal Spirit who is perfect.

"And the Sophia of the Epinoia, being an aeon, conceived a thought from herself and the conception of the invisible Spirit and foreknowledge. She wanted to bring forth a likeness out of herself without the consent of the Spirit, - he had not approved - and without her consort, and without his consideration. And though the person of her maleness had not approved, and she had not found her agreement, and she had thought without the consent of the Spirit and the knowledge of her agreement, (yet) she brought forth. And because of the invincible power which is in her, her thought did not remain idle, 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. And she surrounded it with a luminous cloud, and she placed a throne in the middle of the cloud that no one might see it except the holy Spirit who is called the mother of the living. And she called his name Yaltabaoth.

"This is the first archon who took a great power from his mother. And he removed himself from her and moved away from the places in which he was born. He became strong and created for himself other aeons with a flame of luminous fire which (still) exists now. And he joined with his arrogance which is in him and begot authorities for himself. The name of the first one is Athoth, whom the generations call the reaper. The second one is Harmas, who is the eye of envy. The third one is Kalila-Oumbri. The fourth one is Yabel. The fifth one is Adonaiou, who is called Sabaoth. The sixth one is Cain, whom the generations of men call the sun. The seventh is Abel. The eighth is Abrisene. The ninth is Yobel. The tenth is Armoupieel. The eleventh is Melceir-Adonein. The twelfth is Belias, it is he who is over the depth of Hades. And he placed seven kings - each corresponding to the firmaments of heaven - over the seven heavens, and five over the depth of the abyss, that they may reign. And he shared his fire with them, but he did not send forth from the power of the light which he had taken from his mother, for he is ignorant darkness.

"And when the light had mixed with the darkness, it caused the darkness to shine. And when the darkness had mixed with the light, it darkened the light and it became neither light nor dark, but it became dim....

"And having created [...] everything, he organized according to the model of the first aeons which had come into being, so that he might create them like the indestructible ones. Not because he had seen the indestructible ones, but the power in him, which he had taken from his mother, produced in him the likeness of the cosmos. And when he saw the creation which surrounds him, and the multitude of the angels around him which had come forth from him, he said to them, 'I am a jealous God, and there is no other God beside me.' But by announcing this he indicated to the angels who attended him that there exists another God. For if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous?....

"And when the mother recognized that the garment of darkness was imperfect, then she knew that her consort had not agreed with her. She repented with much weeping. And the whole pleroma heard the prayer of her repentance, and they praised on her behalf the invisible, virginal Spirit. And he consented; and when the invisible Spirit had consented, the holy Spirit poured over her from their whole pleroma. For it was not her consort who came to her, but he came to her through the pleroma in order that he might correct her deficiency. And she was taken up not to her own aeon but above her son, that she might be in the ninth until she has corrected her deficiency.

"And a voice came forth from the exalted aeon-heaven: 'The Man exists and the son of Man.' And the chief archon, Yaltabaoth, heard (it) and thought that the voice had come from his mother. And he did not know from where it came. And he taught them, the holy and perfect Mother-Father, the complete foreknowledge, the image of the invisible one who is the Father of the all (and) through whom everything came into being, the first Man. For he revealed his likeness in a human form.

"And the whole aeon of the chief archon trembled, and the foundations of the abyss shook. And of the waters which are above matter, the underside was illuminated by the appearance of his image which had been revealed. And when all the authorities and the chief archon looked, they saw the whole region of the underside which was illuminated. And through the light they saw the form of the image in the water.

"And he said to the authorities which attend him, 'Come, let us create a man according to the image of God and according to our likeness, that his image may become a light for us.' And they created by means of their respective powers in correspondence with the characteristics which were given. And each authority supplied a characteristic in the form of the image which he had seen in its natural (form). He created a being according to the likeness of the first, perfect Man. And they said, 'Let us call him Adam, that his name may become a power of light for us.'

Jason Hesiak said...

so basically Sophia - in her divine foreknowledge, knew that Ialdaboth would imitate the "image" of the power of her thought - and was thus able, sort of, to make good on her previous mistake? :)

and btw i think that the "archons" are the "agents" in The Matrix :)

and so anyway...thanks :) so...how do you end up throwing much of (the traditionally Christian) John and Paul out if you throw out "the gnostic"?

(jason is grinningly enjoying this :)

Jason Hesiak said...

btw i wasn't suggesting that calvinism is gnostic or that gnosticism is calvanist...just pointing out a correlation. also...it seems like calivn...sees relating to jesus as rather...heady, if you want to put it that way. like maybe in an unspoken way, i'm not sure...anyway...i guess all i'm saying is...i could see how it would be easy to go from calvanism to being attracted to gnosticism's concentration on wisdom as the way to...to whatever...salvation, if you will. i'm also not suggesting that anyone HAS MADE that jump. i'm just sayin'.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

Why do I have lack of nerve?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think Calvin might suggest you have a lack of nerve based on this passage:

"But if some people find difficulty in what we are now saying--namely, that there is no agreement between God and man, where man does by God's just impulsion what he ought not to do--let them recall what the same Augustine points out in another passage: 'Who does not tremble at these judgments, where God works even in evil men's hearts whatever he wills, yet renders to them according to their desserts?'" (I.18.4)

Calvin suggests that we ought not reject the truth because of "squeamishness," nor should we deny "clear Scriptural proofs" because it exceeds our "mental capacity." (I.18.4)

I don't think you lack nerve....I'm just speaking for John Calvin; it's what I think he would say!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

I don't throw out anyone!

I keep them all!

Jason Hesiak said...

i don't throw out anyone

what does THAT mean? as in a) "i hold some things that are seemingly opposite in tension as the honesty in my heart and the path of my life would dictate, until God dictates otherwise", or as in, b) "the truth is poly-vocal. haven't you read the pomos? there's no priveledged viewpoint."

or, c) some third option that i am not seeing...like some combination of (a) and (b)? for me it was (c) until i became good friends with a bunch of gnostics without even realizing they were gnostic...until, of course, i realized they (and i, myself)were gnostic, lol. (or c.2, lol...a verson of (a) combined with (b) involving Perter Rollins and doubt, in particular)

if a), then - but what if the opposite voices say "Jesus is Lord," and "I am Lord." after all, the telos of gnosticism is that through gnosis of higher worlds, we become like gods, thus able to rule down below. another expression of gnosticism i think found in both The Matrix and V for Vendetta. anyway...if that is in fact what the or a "foundational" difference is between gnosticism and "traditional" Christianity...then we are dealing with the foundational difference between anything "pagan" and what all varieties of "Christianity" have in common. or aren't we?

if (b) - see (a). my thought there, in terms of "viewpoints"...in my own thinking and in my own life...is that (a) isn't about "viewpoints." i do think that ultimately most of the frontier pomos were "pagan", in the sense described above. for example i once read an essay by Umberto Echo where i agreed with the entire essay until the very end when he revealed that the basic "point" of everything he had said was "freedom", and not "freedom" in the Pauline sense but more in the Greek polis sense. but anyway...besides that fact that most of the "original" pomos are "pagan", i still think that for the most part the issues that they are addressing involve things that came onto the scene of history at the same time as or after the arrival of the "viewpoint." and the difference between what is "foundationally" Judeo-Christian (and maybe Muslim) and what is "foundationally"...not that...came along long before that point in history.

anyway...i have a feeling, however, that its (c.2, lol)...???...so i don't know what to say and am out of words. nothing i can say to that, i don't think. God will do what God will do. not up to me...at all.

Jason Hesiak said...

oh...forgot to mention...from what i can gather...Rollins is still "foundationlly" Christian, in the sense described above...

Jason Hesiak said...

wait...lol...or did you just mean you keep them all on your book shelf and don't throw them in the trash?

Eve.........Interrupted said...

Jon,
Thanks for thinking I don't have lack of nerve.

I question a few things here:
1) God creates the universe and all that's in it. To Him, it is good. It's not perfect, imo. Because, he is going to create the perfect one later (Revalation).
Since He is omniscient, he knew what the outcome of this world was going to be.
I don't get then why he regrets things???...this is so confusing to me.
2) Predestination seems limited to me now. That is where I question my Calvinistic point of view.
How much does he predestine? I mean he already knows, so that would make sense to predestine.
Say I have a Raspberry Yoplait yogurt and a Strawberry Sunrise flavor sitting in front of me. You ask me which one I am going to pick. Let's say you know that I am going to pick the Strawberry sunrise, well then, you predestine that it's going to happen that way. You knew, you predestined it. But you gave me the choice....WHY?
It seems futile to dangle a choice in front of me, when you knew that today I would want SS and not Rasp.
So, why would God dangle the choice, if we did not have the opportunity to choose??
I am not saying he does or doesn't at this point. I am just trying to sort it out, I guess...
Here's the big one I think:
Does he KNOW or does he PREDESTINE first?
He either knows first, and then predestines it, or predestines it and therefore knows it..

Jason Hesiak said...

i got to wondering about the relation between Calvanism and God's goodness...and found what i felt to be a really good and helpful article online...

Amanda...it may help a bit, i dunno...

http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm

Amanda...here's mainly the part that I thought might be helpful to you...Notice three very crucial points in that definition [of "hyper-Calvanism"]: First, it correctly points out that hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of "the will of God," hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God's will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I don't like the term "hyper-Calvinist." I tend to think that John Calvin was a hyper-Calvinist, ergo, I think that the term hyper-Calvinist should be Pure Calvinist or just plain "Calvinist." From my reading of Calvin, he definitely stresses the importance of knowing the "secret" will of God......secret will of God.....hhhhmmmm....sounds a bit...uh, Gnostic to me......

Jason Hesiak said...

i am vaguely aware that there is a lot more to the history of "Calvinism" than John Calvin. but regardless that article was still very very helpful for me to get a better hold of what's going on here.

on the gnostic front...i am never sold that something is gnostic just because it involves knowing someing that is secretive. that's kind of my pastor's idea of what gnosticism is, i think. but i think there's a lot more to it to get to what is essentially or "foundationally" gnostic. THAT SAID...i could see how Calvanism...after reading a bit more about it...could paralell actual gnosticism. it seems like Calvanism emphasises God's will in eternity so heavily that there can seem to be a distance between us and God, and even between us and...reality...or destiny...or whathaveyou. in that sense i could see how, even practically, Calvanism and gnosticism could look similar.

but then...regarding the most foundational (not "foundationalIST" but foundational...like "beginning", "arche") question...of who is Lord, of Alpha and Omega, of the "telos"...from my readings so far it seems like Calvanism is still "foundationally" "Christian."

interestingly though i think i'm Catholic in that i believe in infused grace...whereas in gnosticism it's "emmanation" of the Archon that makes it possible for us to become like gods (in terms of the question of telos) in the first place.

Jason Hesiak said...

i had this hunch yesterday, but after reading further...i feel that either Calvanism wouldn't have happened if Calvin would have read Marshall McLuhan (lol Calvin and his relation to time, ha ha), or Calvin was simply already thinking fairly mechanistically about how the world works. what makes me think this is the following link...

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

Therefore we know it was not the "will of God" that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall's statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: "We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen."

The part about distinguishing between what God would like to see happen and what he "actually does will to happen" makes it sound like a question of Idealism (soon from there entering Baudrillardian territory, I suppose).

but for my part, i think of the situation presented - God "didn't will for Judas to betray Jesus" and "it was God's plan" for Judas to betray Jesus - and i simply think to myself: "what's the big deal? THIS was the cause of lots of war and killing? shit, man. why does "will" and "plan" have to be so connected to what we actually see happen? like, duuhh, every architect whose really studied his shit knows that Corbusier did the "same house" (with the same "plan") over and over again even though they looked quite different, and further, even though the "plan" drawn on paper looked quite different! deerr. and this is GOD we're talking about, not Corbusier. so...i dont' see the problem."

Eve.........Interrupted said...

I sometimes think we think about it to much. I can vouch that being Calvinistic or not can make or break something, especially with my family. I have watched my parents who are the "hyper-calvinistic" type,(sorry Jon, but trust me, they are hyper), on countless occasions treat the view as if it were the Gospel (according to Jon Calvin, that is). I have been frustrated with it and put it to rest until now. That is why it is interesting for me to read and see someone else's take on it. That is why I am now questioning the Creator of good vs. evil, and the permission or lack thereof to allow it; as well as the foreknowledge of the world becoming this crappy place, Eden Lost, and whether I "freely" have the choice to choose good over evil or not, or if I am just doing what has already been planned out for me like a robot(or a puppet, as I have earlier referrenced).

Jason Hesiak said...

amanda...here's SORT OF what i was getting about about Calvin, McLuhan and Calvin's "fairly mechanistic view of the universe" (it seems to me)...

http://www.trueu.org/dorms/stulounge/A000000931.cfm

should be fun :)

An example of (1) is an illustration that teacher Ray Vander Laan uses when explaining the difference in Eastern and Western thought. He tells everyone in the room to close their eyes and shout out descriptions of God. In fact, you should try this right now. Don't continue reading until you've listed some words that describe God. Go ahead, I'll wait …

OK, I bet your list sounded something like this: God is just, holy, love, omniscient, pure, good, omnipresent. All of these things are very true of God; He is all of those things. But notice that all of those words are also abstract concepts — we can't picture them. We do this because we have been influenced by Greek thought, and we tend to think in terms of abstract ideas.

Now contrast your list with the way a Hebrew student in Israel would describe God: He is a rock, an eagle's wing, a shepherd, shade when it's hot. These are all physical descriptions.


Marshall McLuhan was notably "more interested in percepts than concepts", and was responsible for the famous phrase: "the medium is the message"...it would make sense to McLuhan to say "God is a rock" rather than "God is so-and-so-concept like a rock."

but then at the same time what the mechanistic universe does is separate the rock from the concept like east from west. that's what i mean when i say it seems like Calvin already thought rather mechanistically. its like he views scripture like its a pool table. his analysis of what's going on is based on his seeing two balls moving in opposite directions on the table (Judas betraying Jesus was God's will, and Judas' betrayal of Jesus was against God's will), and there must be some other unseen (conceptual) force that is separate from it but determining the movement of the balls, right! when i think of the event, i firstly just think of the rock...i see Judas' betrayal of Jesus. i don't really see any great conceptual leaps in logic to overcome that are behind it and determining it to happen.

Jason Hesiak said...

but then again maybe my whole thought process about calvin and mcLuhan is just based on a lack of knowledge of the history of theology, i dunno. i'm sure calvin didn't just make up a bunch of issues out of the blue that no one had ever talked about before.

i dunno.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

On the "attributes" of God. You cited this in your last post:

OK, I bet your list sounded something like this: God is just, holy, love, omniscient, pure, good, omnipresent. All of these things are very true of God; He is all of those things. But notice that all of those words are also abstract concepts — we can't picture them. We do this because we have been influenced by Greek thought, and we tend to think in terms of abstract ideas.

Now contrast your list with the way a Hebrew student in Israel would describe God: He is a rock, an eagle's wing, a shepherd, shade when it's hot. These are all physical descriptions.


Yes, I also read the Hebrew Bible as speaking metaphorically about God. But it does also contain "abstract" ideas. God is love; God is faithful; God is sovereign; God is all-mighty.

But I still think that the theory is incomplete. Even more than being defined by metaphor or by abstract ideas, God is also defined by what he does in relation to the world. That's why we have conflicting reports about God: in one case he is open to change and reacts to his people's free will and in yet another case, God seems to override the will of humanity to accomplish his purposes and plans (which on rare occasions are actually evil....i.e., using evil for good.) This conflict seems most prominent in the highly studied Pharaoh passages: God hardens Pharaoh's heart and then Pharaoh hardens his own heart.

I suggest that the best theology of God looks to God's actions as the most fundamental source of study. This makes me something of a narrative theologian (and as such I'm "hip and down with all the cool po-mo kids.") But I also think there is a place for metaphor and abstraction....just that it should be embedded with it's respective narrative.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason said: that's what i mean when i say it seems like Calvin already thought rather mechanistically. its like he views scripture like its a pool table. his analysis of what's going on is based on his seeing two balls moving in opposite directions on the table (Judas betraying Jesus was God's will, and Judas' betrayal of Jesus was against God's will), and there must be some other unseen (conceptual) force that is separate from it but determining the movement of the balls, right! when i think of the event, i firstly just think of the rock...i see Judas' betrayal of Jesus. i don't really see any great conceptual leaps in logic to overcome that are behind it and determining it to happen.

I tend to agree. It's ironic, but I'm actually working on an academic treatise on this very subject, using your example of billiard balls. The title? I have it picked out already: Calvin's Balls and the Invisible Stick

Too racy????

Jason Hesiak said...

oh my...Lordy Lordy what have i done? lol i'm at work...bout to go to lunch...and i literally just laughed out loud. my goodness. but what of the stories of castrated monks?

on the whole concept/percept/medium thing...yeah i thought the same thing when i read the link...the bible DOES give God abstract attributes. but i think generally that link is making a good point. i think its probably most evident in how the biblical authors STRUCTURED their text, even moreso than in what they said. whaddayou think?

Eve.........Interrupted said...

O, Wow, LOL...Jon, you are such a comedian! Nice...very nice.
(Amanda shakes her head with a heavy sigh and smiles in a flusterating way trying to delete mental images from her head...Where is that damned Delete button?!).
Anyway,
The dilemma is how do I know what to truly believe? I guess, I either have to let the force between the balls be a mystery(what makes them move), or search for a logical answer. It's difficult to believe both could be true...but maybe one ball isn't enough, especially if one happens to be the 8 ball, because it would be used to have moved the other ball. In which case, you can't have one without the other...there would be no purpose of the one single ball.
Ok, that is just nuts, but does it make sense?
I am still thinking about what Jon said, I guess...LOL

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, Jason. Again, I agree with you.

Jason Hesiak said...

first of all...the "force between the balls" isn't that much of a mystery...however big it may or may not be. secondly...metaphorically speaking...what is the 8 ball? is that the ball that wins or looses the game...Jesus as Lord? i'm confused.

ktismatics said...

Truly there are many things in this corrupted nature which may induce contempt; but if you rightly weigh all circumstances, man is, among other creatures, a certain pre-eminent specimen of Divine wisdom, justice, and goodness.

- John Calvin

Jason Hesiak said...

thanks doylomania...thats a cool quote

Jason Hesiak said...

so what did "i don't throw out anyone" mean?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I don't throw anyone out basically means that I keep them all on the shelf for consultation.

I'm primarily sympathetic to gnostics b/c they were kicked out of the institutional church. Just because they lost they You're-a-heretic-no-you're-a-heretic game doesn't mean they were wrong.

Jason Hesiak said...

but would you agree that Gnosticism asserts that:
a) traditional Christianity and Gnosticism work on two different "fulcrums", as I put it previously
b) the traditional Christian Yaweh is actually Satan, and the traditional Christian Satan is actually "God", and
c) Jesus is not really "Lord" (like, with a kingdom), but really just a teacher to point out the way
???

and if those are true...or even really any of them...then would you agree that there is a choice to be made between traditional Christianity and gnosticism (if presented with a the question of whether gnosticism is true or not, that is...like the doyle you could be A-gnostic :))?

btw the choice of others' is their choice. i'm not trying to force that. but i am trying to sort of push the issue at hand. because there seems to be a lot going unsaid...i mean...i read "doesn't mean that they are wrong"...and i'm thinking..."uuhh...what does THAT mean? i mean...yeah of course that doesn't mean that they aren't wrong, but there's a lot more to it than...wait...uuhh..." also of course you are free not to respond to my "pushing"...but if that's your decision (and i'm fine with that), then please aknowledge as such to me...and so that way i can just chill and have a sense of "closure" to this particular thread...please pretty please :)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

Could you rehash what you mean by "fulcrums"? I searched for the word "fulcrum" in the comments list, and my search only yielded one result: your most recent use.

Regarding letter "b".....I disagree...at least, based on what I know about gnosticism....In some formulations Yahweh of the OT is the imperfect demiurge that created the imperfect (or "evil" in some cases) material world. But the beliefs vary. What I think is a legitimate discussion is the difference between the conceptions of God found in the OT and NT.

It wasn't just the gnostics who questioned whether the OT God was compatible with the NT God. God of the OT seems to stand most fundamentally as a law giver and disciplinarian for those who get out of line. Not that he is no more than this, but it seems as though God's primary objective is to uphold law within a covenant relationship with a specific and exclusive group of people. In the NT era, God opens up grace, love, and mercy to any and all, and the point of human existence is no longer to live up to law but to be ushered into a "new creation" (Paul) or "new birth" (Jesus, John 3) that transforms. Love (1 Cor 13) and freedom (Gal 5) now attain the pride of place that law used to occupy (Ps 119).

Marcion was a non-gnostic who believed that the OT should be set aside in favor of focusing exclusively on the NT.

Marcionism is the dualist belief system that originates in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144.[1] Marcion affirmed Jesus Christ as the savior sent by God and Paul as his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and Yahweh. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This belief was in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology, but in other ways quite different and unique. (from Wikipedia Marcionism)

Also, before I move on to your letter "c," I don't ever recall a gnostic belief that the biblical Satan is actually "God" or related to "truth." But, I'm certainly open to correction on this point.

I think "C" might be more or less on target. Though the specific gnostic theology of the nature of Jesus Christ varied according to the specific gnostic or gnostic group that one was dealing with.

Some (perhaps many) gnostics were content to simply co-exist within sects of Judaism and Christianity without forming their own exclusive club. This implies to me that many gnostics were not doctrinally dogmatic. Their emphasis, perhaps, was more on the experience of a gnosis that resulted in a connection with the divine spark, an experience that could usher in a new perspective and way of living. In this regard, they resemble "new creation" Paul and the "new birth" Jesus of John 3. For Paul and Jesus, one needs to establish a connection with the divine--something greater than one's self--in order to transcend the mundane existence of this world.

I don't want to suggest that all gnostics were "sincere," just that there is really no category of "gnostic" that can accurately capture a particular movement. Some contemporary scholars even suggest scrapping the term altogether.

Jason Hesiak said...

"fulcrum"...

http://theosproject.blogspot.com/2008/09/defined-by-misery.html?showComment=1221622440000#c7720659448500548831

from the previous comment (maybe 2comments previous, I think)...

to rehash a bit...b) in the religion of gnosticism...in light of the gnostic mythos...the "goal" is to "purify" yourself. to release yourself from this "lowly" tangible sensible stuff. to "escape". to "go higher". to get beyond the limits of your physical body, which in Truth and in Reality (both Truth and Reality) are "other (emmanated) worlds" in and of themselves) is only illusory. because you are ultimately an "emmanation" of the One, you have the ability to re-unite with Him in Pure Spirit, to completely divorce and tear yourself from the lowliness of matter and the illusoryness of "this world." this is something that you learn to do through "gnosis," through secret "knowledge." in many gnostic stories there is a salvation figure who "comes to this lower illusory world" to "show" us "the way" to "the higher realm." in The Matrix that was Neo. he demostrated a greater ability than others from the beginning to "transcend" the limits of his body.

and btw the very cinemotography itself of The Matrix goes along with the mythos of gnosticism. playing around with Time (and lighting/digital effects) and the limits of how we experience it (and the sensible world). all film does that by the nature of the medium, but compare that with the gritty grainyness of a seventies Western, for example, and you see how The Matrix goes with the gnostic mythos of "escape". each illusory world "based" on a "lower emmanance" is just a dead end. why not just create a more true world that is not tied to the limits that we experience in our bodies? not only "why not?", but its imperative, in order to get to "the Real truth." The Matrix often takes itself very serious in this regard. it presents itself as an imperative to...to..."go higher". the matrix isn't really a very JOYFUL film, and it certainly doesn't take joy in the glory of the Cross. quite the opposite.


and crap i'll have to return to this later...sorry...work...

Jason Hesiak said...

more of what i mean on the "fulcrum" thing...from you...The point of Gnosticism, of course, is to escape the materiality of the world through a spiritual experience that usually involves gnosis or "knowledge," which usually involves some connection with the divine (a "divine spark"). although the point of traditional Christianity, as you keep pointing about about Paul, is "life in the Spirit", that is still very very different from how you described the "point" of gnosticism here. Christianity is "incarnational", gnosticism is...not (although i think you do still here the word "incarnation" in gnostic texts...they still aren't talking about the same thing, and in terms of a qeustion, again, of "telos", they are talking about the opposite of traditional Christianity).

on my point (b) about Yahweh and Satan...from Wikipedia on "demiurge": The Gnostics attributed much of the actions and laws that in the Tanach or Old Testament are attributed to the Hebrew God Yahweh to the Demiurge (see the Sethians and Ophites). Alternative Gnostic names for the Demiurge, include Yaldabaoth, "Samael", "Saklas", and "Kosmokrator", and several other variants. He is known as Ptahil in Mandaeanism. The figures of the "Angel of YHWH" and the "Angel of Death" may have contributed to the Gnostic view of the Demiurge.

from that same link, under the heading Gnosticism: Some Gnostic teachers (notably Marcion of Sinope and the Sethians) seem to have identified the evil Demiurge with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, in opposition and contrast to the God of the New Testament. Still others equated the being with Satan. Catharism apparently inherited their idea of Satan as the creator of the evil world directly or indirectly from Gnosticism.

now...i know that not all Gnostics equate Yahweh with Satan. in fact i just read a blog by some guy who claims to be gnostic who said explicitly that Yahweh is not Satan (because Ialdaboth is just ignorant, whereas "Satan" is willfully ignorant, he says...but then in some Gnostic texts the whole piont of the "archons" is that they are willful agents of Ialdaboth to keep us chained here in his illusory world (like the Agents of the Matrix)). but i originally got the idea of gnostics thinking of the Christian Yahweh as Satan from Dr. Stephen Holler, who is the Bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostic in Los Angeles...from reading an article on him in some free Los Angeles newpaper thingy (i can reference it when i get home).

anyway...all that is to say that i know that (b) doesn't necessarily represent "every gnostic"? but what is "every gnostic" anyway? that's like some mdoern mathematical or algebraic set. i'm talking about what is "foundationally" gnostic. meaning what is "at bottom" - gnostic. in one sense you might say that what i'm talking about is the "extreme" end of gnosticism, where you might paint a picture with gnosticism at one end and traditional Christianity at the other - just to make a point - realizing that its not really that black and white. my point is that my point (b) belongs to what is "foundationlly" gnostic, and that if you were to be presented with a choice between the two ends of the spectrum (traditional Christianity and gnosticism), then my point (b) would belong on the gnostic end of that specrum.

and i know for sure...from experience...that some gnostics really do think that way...that the Christian Yahweh IS SATAN. or...i'll say that some folks whose world view is HIGHLY gnostic think that way. i know a guy who hung out with like the illuminate and free masons and stuff...and they said that explicitly to him. and this is not like "i know a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy." the guy i'm talking about was one of my best friens in LA. i showed him my paper on gnosticism, and when he read the part about my point (b) presented here (christian Yahweh is considered in gnosticsm to be Satan, and vica versa), he got all excited and was like: "dude, that's EXACTLY what they said to me, like verbatum!!"

anyway...the other side to my point (b)...is that the Gnostic "God" is the Christian Satan. i originally got this idea from Bishop Stephen Holler as well. the traditionally Christian "Satan" is the one who "opens our eyes" and gives us "knowledge" of the bondage that we were previously trapped in prior to his opening of our eyes. WHICH MEANS that (the traditional Christian) "Yahweh" was the one who set the trap, who put us in the bondage in the first place. and yes part of that in their eyes does have to do with "following rules"...although some ancient gnostic groups were very legalistic (and some were the opposite...like "oh well the body doesn't matter so we might as well have orgies").

on point (c), you said: This implies to me that many gnostics were not doctrinally dogmatic. Their emphasis, perhaps, was more on the experience of a gnosis that resulted in a connection with the divine spark, an experience...

i would agree. so would the previously referenced Dr. Stephen Holler. but Dr. Holler would also use phrases and language like: "if we are going to stick to what is essentially gnostic, then...", or "what we just read is quintessentially gnostic in the sense that..." and part of what he would mention along those lines, too, would be gnosis as an EXPERIENCE, too (i think, at least Harold Bloom certainly would).

Jason Hesiak said...

correction...previously i said:

now...i know that not all Gnostics equate Yahweh with Satan. in fact i just read a blog by some guy who claims to be gnostic who said explicitly that Yahweh is not Satan (because Ialdaboth is just ignorant, whereas "Satan" is willfully ignorant, he says...but then in some Gnostic texts the whole piont of the "archons" is that they are willful agents of Ialdaboth to keep us chained here in his illusory world (like the Agents of the Matrix)).

but MEANT:

now...i know that not all Gnostics equate Yahweh with Satan. in fact i just read a blog by some guy who claims to be gnostic who said explicitly that Yahweh is not Satan (because Ialdaboth is just ignorant, whereas "Satan" is willfully evil, he says...but then in some Gnostic texts the whole piont of the "archons" is that they are willful agents of Ialdaboth to keep us chained here in his illusory world (like the Agents of the Matrix)).

Jason Hesiak said...

oh - and when i refer to "what is 'at bottom' gnostic, i mean that what else is gnostic stands up on this stuff that is more "foundational."

Jason Hesiak said...

on the "fulcrum" thing...i think that's the biggest area where gnosticism has influenced protestantism in america. in the relation between spirit and materiality.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Two quick things.

First, to this point, when I have talked about "gnosticism," it has been in the historical sense of the term. I do NOT know anything about contemporary gnostic movements. I'm talking early centuries CE (and BCE, actually): ancient gnostics. But that's part of my point: the term "gnostic" is completely artificial, an invention of contemporary (modern) scholars. There simply were no groups in the ancient world who called themselves "gnostics." So-called "gnosticism" would probably have appeared very consistent with Platonic thought, and Platonic thought influenced pretty much everyone in that day.

There were "Christians," who were identified as a group/sect/cult in the ancient world. But there was no "gnostic" group. Therefore, I agree with scholars who find the term deceiving. Also, then, I think that the search for what is "foundationally" gnostic might be futile. Of course, if you want to talk about contemporary gnostics, that might be a different matter. But let's make sure that you and I are on the same page by keeping this question in mind: are we discussion ancient "gnostics" (who did not exist as a distinct entity) or contemporary Gnostics (who define themselves as such).

Second, I think that the idea that "matter" is evil has been very much alive in Protestant thought....even to this day. I think particularly of Puritan strands of the faith. There is a very very prominent strand of Escapism in American Christianity. Just tune in to your local Christian radio station and you'll likely hear "You've found a 'safe' place on the radio." Christian schools protect children from the evils of the world....etc., etc., we've discussed these things on the blog already.....I heard a funny line on 30 Rock by the Kenneth Parcell character. He said something about how if you lie, then your soul is heavy and it can't float up into heaven when you die.

That's a lot like American Christian Escapism: Trying to make their souls so light and fluffy that they will just float up into heaven one day. We are obsessed with protecting our delicate spirituality. Now tell me that this isn't very very gnostic.

daniel hutchinson said...

Hi

Yes Jon, I enjoy cycling, but only really get a chance to cycle when it's off to work or the shops or the library. Can go for days without using the car.

You said someplace above:

I suggest that the best theology of God looks to God's actions as the most fundamental source of study. This makes me something of a narrative theologian (and as such I'm "hip and down with all the cool po-mo kids.") But I also think there is a place for metaphor and abstraction....just that it should be embedded with it's respective narrative.

I agree with some reservation, as you know I too look to God's actions as fundamental; before you have termed this "radical sovereignty".

However, let's go back to the idea of the tree of knowledge as metaphor for obedience, ambivalence, evil, deception... choosing words to describe the place of the tree in the narrative of the garden, that correlates with the choices we face daily.

Does it really matter if this methapor is embedded in a broader narrative, or can it stand alone?

It would appear to me that we have many metaphors in the Bible, applicable to our daily lives, that can stand alone. The cross is another example.

We "crucify the flesh".

Going a step further could mean locating the metaphor and extending the narrative. Hence we are "resurrected with Christ", or to go back to the tree of knowledge metaphor, when we disobey God we still hide away and look for "fig leaves".

How useful is this way of reading the Bible actually? Does it impose a narrative schema both on the text and on our own experience that is not necessarily true?

How much of our Christian walk is "unscripted"?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel, You've picked up on something significant here:

Does it really matter if this methapor is embedded in a broader narrative, or can it stand alone?

It would appear to me that we have many metaphors in the Bible, applicable to our daily lives, that can stand alone. The cross is another example.


My suggestion was to give narrative the pride of place when reading Scripture and even in doing theology. Our lives are embedded in a particular context, and as such our theology and reading of Scripture seems most productive when we are explicitly bringing our narrative to the narrative within the text.

Theology in the Modern era seemed most motivated by finding the abstract and "eternal" truths. I'm not necessarily against abstract and eternal truths, but it does seem quite obvious that an obsession for the abstract often comes at the expense of developing the ability to spiritually react to life with love and freedom. There is the old saying, "He's so heavenly minded, that he's no earthly good." That's kind of what I'm talking about.

So....you mention metaphor....things get a bit messy.....

I agree with you (assuming I understand you correctly). I think metaphors can be lifted out of their context and grow and become significant beyond the initial intention of the text. A more Modern minded biblical interpreter might take issue with this statement; however, I find it absolutely impossible to read the NT and not see that many of the OT texts (and metaphors) were "updated" so that they could speak to a new era (the Christ-era) and so that they could speak to the unique challenges faced by local Christ communities (see e.g., the book of Hebrews, specifically 3:7-4:13).

So, yes, I think metaphors can and should take on a life of their own. However, if we take Scripture seriously, as a book that is "God-breathed" (theo-neustos), then I think the text serves to shape our appropriation of metaphors. Scripture guides. Take the "cross" metaphor for example. There are so many appropriations of the cross metaphor in contemporary American society (I obviously can't speak intelligently of your, South African context) that the cross metaphor is trite and trivial to me. To be perfectly frank with you, all of American Christianity is generic and trivial to me. The metaphors have been so overused that faith is cheap. We plaster metaphors and verses on billboards, print tee-shirts, wear bracelets, get tattoos, etc., etc. The result is that I think that all we have are more-or-less useless metaphors and no substance.

In fact, if I can be so bold as to borrow from Baudrillard, I think Christianity in America--with all of its commercialization, cheap offers of salvation, and easy-to-chew Bible preaching/teaching/publications--primarily functions as a reminder that Christ himself is no longer amongst us....and some of us wonder if he ever was.

But to summarize: metaphor is absolutely essential. It kind of helps us lift significant things from the text that can result in life-transformation.

daniel hutchinson said...

Yes, I too see metaphor as essential, and the narrative approach certainly yields further usefullness for metaphor that borders on cliche.

Today we visited a local church, and the message pointed to Joshua's attitude before entering the promised land as a metaphor for our faith walk: God said "I have delivered Jericho into your hands" and Joshua acted in faith to possess what God had already done.

Of course there were many other examples given, in a metaphorical sense, which could be termed the narrative strategy of the sermon.

Another was in Luke 13:10, where Jesus heals an infirm woman who was a "child of Abraham", who should have been walking in the covenant provision and not crippled.

When challenged about healing on the Sabbath, Jesus compared the woman to an animal that had been bound by Satan for eighteen years, telling the hypcrites that they would not shirk from unbinding their oxen and donkeys on the Sabbath to get a drink of water.

This comparison was more practical and convinced all of the truth of Jesus ministry.

Whereever one may be in life there is always a different way of looking at it, with the eyes of faith, inspired by what God tells you through the Bible or in the world around you.

The metaphorical approach is a higher level of learning, and perhaps shows up the common opposition between Greek "abstract" thought and Hebrew "pictoral" thought that was reffered to by Jason.

I believe that our lives are scripted from a spiritual growth perspective, that we live an life of aletheia, we live a "Bible" in our own unique personal existence. One way of geting to grips with this is through metaphor, "embedded in narrative" - telling our story, our testimony (mostly telling it to ourselves), but making sense through reference to spiritual truths.

I sense there is more to be grasped here.

ktismatics said...

"The metaphorical approach is a higher level of learning"

Daniel, you're sounding like a medieval Catholic exegete here. Do you know four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological, anagogic? It certainly reflects what we've come to regard as a gnostic approach, where only certified illuminati like priests and monks dare attempt authoritative readings that go beyond the literal meaning.

Jason Hesiak said...

first of all, sorry its taken so long to get back to you...so...

First, to this point, when I have talked about "gnosticism," it has been in the historical sense of the term. I do NOT know anything about contemporary gnostic movements. I'm talking early centuries CE (and BCE, actually): ancient gnostics. But that's part of my point: the term "gnostic" is completely artificial, an invention of contemporary (modern) scholars. There simply were no groups in the ancient world who called themselves "gnostics."...

...There were "Christians," who were identified as a group/sect/cult in the ancient world. But there was no "gnostic" group. Therefore, I agree with scholars who find the term deceiving. Also, then, I think that the search for what is "foundationally" gnostic might be futile. Of course, if you want to talk about contemporary gnostics, that might be a different matter. But let's make sure that you and I are on the same page by keeping this question in mind: are we discussion ancient "gnostics" (who did not exist as a distinct entity) or contemporary Gnostics (who define themselves as such).


well yeah, but early Christians didn't call themselves Christians either. that doesn't mean that they weren't a distinct group with distinct values and a distinct mythos, correct? similarly, even those "gnostics" themselves who did not call themselves that (and i think you are correct about that)...they DID take pains to be sure and distinguish themselves from those who we would now call traditional "christians."

so i don't see how you can possibly say that there actually WAS NO gnostic group, and nor do i think its possible to say that there was no group of "gnostics" who were distinct from other "Christians." they two groups were arguing with each other constantly!! OF COURSE they were distinct! just because they weren't termed "gnostic"?...it is clear that BOTH groups considered the "gnostics" (not yet with that name at the time) as separate and distinct.

and my guess is that the contemporary scholars who "find the term decieving" have some sort agenda. but i say that a bit flippantly because i don't know what scholars you are talking about. it seems a similar situation today, actually, from the early centuries of the arguments. dan brown and company (for example) claim the truth, but they don't really bother to use terminology that would distinguish them from the traditional "Christians", other than terms that clearly denote an abuse of power. but they clearly speak a language that is not traditionally "Christian", and they clearly refer to a "them" that is separate from their own group. and on top of that they don't really clearly delineate their own gnosticism, and nor do they even get it right, greatly americanizing it to the point of sort of being gnostic while also getting their gnosticism completely confused and bass-akwards.

So-called "gnosticism" would probably have appeared very consistent with Platonic thought, and Platonic thought influenced pretty much everyone in that day.

well yeah but like i said that the beginning, platonism (and neoplatonism) is still different from gnosticism. and it has mainly to do with the material/spirit issue. its one thing to consider "Truth" to reside in "Forms", but its antoher to make it your life goal to GO to the Land Of The Forms, so to speak, which i don't think Platonists or Neoplatonists were really doing. In fact I know for a fact that the basic idea of what Plato was doing was walking around in a room or in the Forum or wherever just talking to people and/or students (mostly students, I think).

Second, I think that the idea that "matter" is evil has been very much alive in Protestant thought....even to this day. I think particularly of Puritan strands of the faith. There is a very very prominent strand of Escapism in American Christianity....That's a lot like American Christian Escapism: Trying to make their souls so light and fluffy that they will just float up into heaven one day. We are obsessed with protecting our delicate spirituality. Now tell me that this isn't very very gnostic.

NO I DO DO DO think its gnostic!! that's been my whole point!! its GNOSTIC and NOT CHRISTIAN! i repeat: NOT CHRISTIAN!! i think that when you said "American Christian Escapism" you meant "escapism that is prominent in Christian life" rather than "said escapism that belongs in any way to the truth of Christianity", but i just want to clairfy...that's what you meant, right? i mean...otherwise i can't figure out why we are having this disagreeement. on the one hand it seems like, if you were to be associating "escapism" with Christianity, then i could see how we are thinking differently. maybe you just aren't distinguishing at all between the practice of contemporary Christianity and the "truth of Christianity" as I referred to it.

i think part of the issue here, btw, is Derrida's "trace." it seems to be in the background of the conversation, at least. traces of gnosticism (the substance of it, once we started calling it as such and the substance of it was largely lost), and traces of Christianity (which gets tricky, since the way I see it the Word is living and active, like a two edged sword...but yet i see truth in Derrida's idea of "trace" as well).

Jason Hesiak said...

But let's make sure that you and I are on the same page by keeping this question in mind: are we discussion ancient "gnostics" (who did not exist as a distinct entity) or contemporary Gnostics (who define themselves as such)?

uuhh...that's partially why i brought up the trace/substance thing. i myself am talking about both, sort of. the way i see it...like the way i see many things...basically back in the day people had some sense, and now no one has any sense (like, actually, "no sense"). so to "figure out" what's going on with a lot of stuff you have to go toward the center of the labyrinth...back back back...its very rigorous and requires lots of intuition and imagination and such things, i think. then over time, with big steps here and there...all there was left to talk about were "traces." some say you just make a patterned quilt out of the traces, some say you follow ariadne's thread back to the dead minotaur. i kind of like to try to play at both ends of the thread at the same time. to me it IS STILL all one thread.

i hope that answers the question.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: well yeah, but early Christians didn't call themselves Christians either. that doesn't mean that they weren't a distinct group with distinct values and a distinct mythos, correct? similarly, even those "gnostics" themselves who did not call themselves that (and i think you are correct about that)...they DID take pains to be sure and distinguish themselves from those who we would now call traditional "christians."

That's my point, though: Not all "gnostics" formed separate groups. Some just intermingled with existing Christian or Jewish sects, feeling no need to form a separate community. Some DID form a separate community, such as the Valentinians, but there is even some evidence that not all Valentinians felt compelled to form separate groups.

Jason: so i don't see how you can possibly say that there actually WAS NO gnostic group, and nor do i think its possible to say that there was no group of "gnostics" who were distinct from other "Christians." they two groups were arguing with each other constantly!! OF COURSE they were distinct! just because they weren't termed "gnostic"?...it is clear that BOTH groups considered the "gnostics" (not yet with that name at the time) as separate and distinct.

Yes. As I've said, there were certainly some distinct groups, but not all so-called gnostic groups were distinct.

I will refer you to the wikipedia article on gnosticism as a potentially flawed category, where the controversy of the "gnostic" label is briefly discussed. It's not the Dan Browns of the world who are finding the term "gnostic" to be problematic. I'm talking about scholars who have no major theological ax to grind but rather are interested in accurate historical terminology.

The Nag Hammadi texts are a very very very recent find (discovered in the 40s and only first published in available form in 1977 by James Robinson). The Nag Hammadi texts are fantastic, b/c they allow us to read the writings of gnostics themselves, and not rely solely on the writings of Irenaeus and other so-called "heresiologists." It is the texts of the "gnostics" themselves that make the gnostic label problematic.

Michael Allen Williams wrote the book Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Here is the excerpt from the wikipedia entry:

This is one of the first critical works that goes about comparing the established academic definitions of gnosticism to the now acquired Nag Hammadi texts. The main points of the book are that there is no established definition of "gnosticism" by people who use the term, let alone the academic world; and that the groups referred to as "gnostic" by the Christian church apologists referred to themselves often by their leader or leaders' names but no group referred to themselves as "gnostic" or "gnostics".

Also, Williams mentions the argument that none of the groups labeled "gnostic" shared a common set of beliefs that put them in a group together. The only things close to this would be the Christian heresiographical use of referring to these varied groups as "gnostics". As well as the varied set of interruptions of the creator of the material world (Yahweh or demiurge) by these early groups. Finally Williams clarifies that the ancient "gnosticism" of the Nag Hammadi groups and the misused "gnosticism" of moderns groups and academia have little if anything in common. Williams suggests a better and more adequate term for these hereticial groups would be "biblical demiurgical traditions".


To my knowledge, Williams has no theological ax to grind, nor is he trying to peddle a best selling novel soon-to-be-Tom-Hanks-movie.

Here are a few interesting comments I pulled from an Amazon.com reviewer, calmly:

1) That that which we consider Gnostic was not necessarily world rejecting but was often world embracing, a positive effort to make sense of Jewish and Christian teachings in light of Platonism and other teachings current in the world at that time.

2) The myth of the demuirge was not "anticosmic" and may have led those who accepted it to greater, rather than less, involvement in the greater society. The modern label of "anticosmic" seems to Williams a cliche which fails to capture the ethical concerns of the early Christians who consider Gnostic. This calls into question Carl B. Smith's definition of Gnostic in his recent work "No longer Jews" which, though written after Willams work, relies on a negative anticosmicism as a key part of Smith's narrow definition of Gnosticism.

3) Williams notes that "everything we know from these sources [ e.g. those grouped as "gnostic"] themselves suggests not persons who were defiantly indifferent to all questions of right and wrong in human behavior and human relationships, but rather persons who quite often appear to be preoccupied with the very issue of achieving (or restoring) human excellence."

5) Williams see innovation as a key theme for the "Gnostic" groups who have been accused of being parasites. Williams suggests they may have functioned as "antibodies" and not "parasites". Innovation would count if Christian teaching were understood to be dynamic rather than a one-time static dump from heaven to earth. One would wonder reading Williams why Darrell Bock "The Missing Gospels" why Bock went to such lengths to distance the activities of the first century of Christianity with those of the second.

6) That "Gnostics" are characterized by revolt seems misleading to Williams, who favors innovation as a way to understand the efforts of various "Gnostics".


Jason: its one thing to consider "Truth" to reside in "Forms", but its antoher to make it your life goal to GO to the Land Of The Forms, so to speak, which i don't think Platonists or Neoplatonists were really doing.

But gnostics still lived in this world as well, but they sought to connect with the "more perfect" world of forms that they had spiritualized into a complex theology of metaphors and gods and demiurges. Sure, they took Platonism in a bit of a different direction, but I don't see it as really all that different from Platonism as a basic theory.

Here is an excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discussing Plato's central doctrines. I have added emphasis to places where gnosticism seems to align with Platonism in its basic aim. Not that gnosticism is Plantonism, but I'm just suggesting that there is a fundamental connection between Platonism and gnosticism (and, if Augustine and Nietzsche are right about Christianity being "Platonism for the people", then there is also fundamental overlap between post-Augustinian Christianity and Platonism):

Many people associate Plato with a few central doctrines that are advocated in his writings: The world that appears to our senses is in some way defective and filled with error, but there is a more real and perfect realm, populated by entities (called “forms” or “ideas”) that are eternal, changeless, and in some sense paradigmatic for the structure and character of our world. Among the most important of these abstract objects (as they are now called, because they are not located in space or time) are goodness, beauty, equality, bigness, likeness, unity, being, sameness, difference, change, and changelessness. (These terms — “goodness”, “beauty”, and so on — are often capitalized by those who write about Plato, in order to call attention to their exalted status; similarly for “Forms” and “Ideas.”) The most fundamental distinction in Plato's philosophy is between the many observable objects that appear beautiful (good, just, unified, equal, big) and the one object that is what beauty (goodness, justice, unity) really is, from which those many beautiful (good, just, unified, equal, big) things receive their names and their corresponding characteristics. Nearly every major work of Plato is, in some way, devoted to or dependent on this distinction. Many of them explore the ethical and practical consequences of conceiving of reality in this bifurcated way. We are urged to transform our values by taking to heart the greater reality of the forms and the defectiveness of the corporeal world. We must recognize that the soul is a different sort of object from the body — so much so that it does not depend on the existence of the body for its functioning, and can in fact grasp the nature of the forms far more easily when it is not encumbered by its attachment to anything corporeal. In a few of Plato's works, we are told that the soul always retains the ability to recollect what it once grasped of the forms, when it was disembodied (see especially Meno), and that the lives we lead are to some extent a punishment or reward for choices we made in a previous existence (see especially the final pages of Republic). But in many of Plato's writings, it is asserted or assumed that true philosophers — those who recognize how important it is to distinguish the one (the one thing that goodness is, or virtue is, or courage is) from the many (the many things that are called good or virtuous or courageous ) — are in a position to become ethically superior to unenlightened human beings, because of the greater degree of insight they can acquire. To understand which things are good and why they are good (and if we are not interested in such questions, how can we become good?), we must investigate the form of good.

So, Jason, this fundamental dualism between the perfect world of Forms and the imperfect material world underlies Platonism and gnosticism in the same way. (And, per Augustine, Nietzsche, etc., it is also the same paradigm upon which Christian theology is built.) They both seek to "escape" this world by connecting with something more perfect in the world of forms. Neither actually are looking to "go" to the place of forms, they just want to connect with it and draw something from it. And, interestingly, for both Plato and many "gnostics," it is perfect theoretical knowledge that they seek.

Per Williams, it is also questionable as to how "elitist" or "escapist" the gnostic groups really were. Williams sees them as innovative in their interpretation of Scripture.

All I'm saying is that everyone breathed the same Platonic air in those days. We need to be careful that we don't rely on old stereotypes of "Gnosticism." With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, greater care should be taken to understand the "gnostic" texts on their own grounds, rather than viewing them through the lenses of conservative evangelicals, feminists, Jungians, Hollywood films, or Dan Brown's novel.

daniel hutchinson said...

Ktismatics said:

Daniel, you're sounding like a medieval Catholic exegete here. Do you know four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological, anagogic? It certainly reflects what we've come to regard as a gnostic approach, where only certified illuminati like priests and monks dare attempt authoritative readings that go beyond the literal meaning.

Interesting.

It seems to me that most of contemporary Biblical exegesis, inclduing popular versions, rely more on metaphor in the Bible than any literal meanings. What is thought provoking, is to consider how much of what is stated in the Bible is first order metaphor, like was there really a tree and a garden, or is this already a metaphorical picture?

Look at the impact of a metaphorical understanding of "crossing the Jordan" on North American Church culture. Yet we take this as literal fact, historically.

what of the battle of Jericho - metaphorically we realize the power of praise, faith and obediance to God, but do we still look to see literal walls falling down?

God still acts, God still performs miracles in a literal sense. But the greatest miracle of all is the new life of a Christian, to be "born again". We get to grips with spiritual truths metaphorically.

When I say it's a higher level of learning, I mean it speaks to the spirit in the language of the senses, but cannot be comprehended by the senses - like Nicodemus didn't understand Jesus, despite the metaphor Jesus used.

Jason Hesiak said...

ok. lets go back to, or near, the beginning of this thread (from your Defined By Misery post/comments):

erdmanian...ok...the gnostic thing. reminder to self...the goal here is to ask the you what you meant when you said: If you're that afraid of the gnostic, then you may end up throwing out all the Johannine writings and a good deal of Paul! To review...my response after that was basically: "huh?" to be more specific than "huh?", my response at that point was:

the gnostic thing. first of all, i will readily admit that my reason for being so gnosto-phobic is my own past gnosticism. so if that bothers you or anyone else...sorry :) that said...however...why would you say that Paul's writings are gnostic!? or even John's, for that matter...Plotinus(ians) and the gnostics are two different groups of folks...and that's not even necessarily to say that John's writings ARE Neoplatonic in the way that The Matrix IS gnostic. i'm saying that The Matrix is gnostic from its very foundations. are you saying that the writings of Paul or John are foundationally gnostic!? i mean...i can kinda see where someone might say that John's writings are at least influenced by gnosticism. but Paul..."whachu talkin' 'bout Willis!?"

Then your response to that: What does one have to believe and/or stand for in order to be "foundationally gnostic"? Gnosticism is such a broad and vague term, that it would help to flesh it out a bit. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It's a form of thinking that is very bound to it's time, so it certainly has its drawbacks: it can get very weird, it was kind of cultish sometimes, and it could be very elitist. But sometimes I think the gnostics get a bad rap. So what if they were a bizarre bunch of religious wackos! What did they ever do to hurt me??!! Janet Reno might burn down their compound, but I'm not going to go to such extreme measures!

then i went on to explain what i mean when i say "foundationally gnostic." clearly my idea of "gnosticism" is "hersiological."

i feel i was open about this when i said (don't remember when i said this), basically (in response to your "what did they ever do to me?" comment): "i feel that they mislead me."

now it has come to light that you don't think of gnosticism in any of those ways, really, but you think of gnosticism as basically a maybe-slightly-in-some-cases-but-not-all-of-those-cases-altered Platonism. SO, to return again to the beginning:

i had been asking you what you meant by the following: If you're that afraid of the gnostic, then you may end up throwing out all the Johannine writings and a good deal of Paul! so from what i can gather so far, it seems that by saying that, you are understandably associating "all the Johannine writings and a good deal of Paul" with the many centuries of (traditional) Christian theology on John and Paul. i suppose the reason for this association is because those many centuries of theology so effect our current idea of what Christianity is. and most all of that theology was filtered, in one way or another, through Augustine (who himself was a Platonist), who said that Christianity is "Platonism for the people." so then if gnosticism is basically a maybe-slightly-in-some-cases-but-not-all-of-those-cases-altered Platonism, then gnosticism and Christianity - or at least my idea of what Christianity is that was handed down to me through the ages - is greatly tied to gnosticism. so then if i throw out gnosticism, then i throw out a lot of my Christianity, too. especially those portions of my Christianity that are most Platonic. have i recapped correctly?

now obviously in that last paragraph i was using the term "gnosticism" rather liberally, since part of the point of your last comment was the possibility of "gnosticism" as a flawed category. but i hope you get the point of my question. i'm still just trying to understand what you originally meant by saying, basically, that i'd have to throw my John and Paul out with my gnosticism. that's why i asked: "have i recapped correctly?"

i'm ok with your thinking of gnosticism as basically a maybe-altered-Platonism. if that's what you mean when you say gnosticism, i'm fine with that. now you know what i mean when i say gnosticism, and i know what you mean when you say it.

to me you seem a bit bent on removing any traces of "heresy" from the "definition" of gnosticism. i'd say i think that's a different conversational thread, but obviously it's found its way as a chord into this weave.

i say that about heresy because of the following from you: I don't throw anyone out basically means that I keep them all on the shelf for consultation. I'm primarily sympathetic to gnostics b/c they were kicked out of the institutional church. Just because they lost they You're-a-heretic-no-you're-a-heretic game doesn't mean they were wrong.

in response to THAT: i said:

but would you agree that Gnosticism asserts that:
a) traditional Christianity and Gnosticism work on two different "fulcrums", as I put it previously
b) the traditional Christian Yaweh is actually Satan, and the traditional Christian Satan is actually "God", and
c) Jesus is not really "Lord" (like, with a kingdom), but really just a teacher to point out the way
???


you said previously that you agree with me on (c). in light of your idea of gnosticism that i now understand much more betterly :), i suppose (b) becomes a bit irrelevant, and (a) becomes "in some cases but not all and certainly its not necessarily 'foundationally' gnostic."

so now i have a few more questions.

well, one of those questions was going to be: the gnostics refusal to accept Jesus as Lord isn't enough to render them 'wrong'? but i think i see where that would go (i THINK). from the position of our Christianity, they were wrong about that, but that certainly doesn't mean that there isn't lots of truth found there for "consultation."

one of my other remaining qeustions was going to be: do you feel, Erdmanian, that there are any other loose ends to this thread? anything else i've said that you would like to address?

there is something i would like to address. i went back to the beginning of the conversation in the "Defined by Misery" post/comments, and i could see how you felt like i sort of went no the attack. i'm not sure if you really felt that way or not, but sorry if you did. i mean, sorry for sort of bull rushing you. i guess. although i of course didn't realize it would come across that way, since you and i think of gnosticism so differently. for clarity, here's the comment i'm referring to when i say i could see your feeling a bit:
http://theosproject.blogspot.com/2008/09/defined-by-misery.html?showComment=1221453360000#c2543146218971344749

i'm glad we seem to have sort of worked through some tension that seems to have been there somewhere along the way. i'm not sure where or how exactly, but it just seemed to have been there. i think some of it, too, has to do with the heresy thing, but like i said i think that's a bit of a different thread. but obviously tied in with this one.

and my last remaining question...related to the whole "trace" thing: if gnosticism is basically just a in-some-cases-slightly-altered Platonism, then where do you think the escapism came from in Christianity? from the Platonism? from "human nature"? from sin? from those more extreme versions of gnosticism that i consider to be "foundational"? btw again i'm actually curious to hear your answer on this. i don't really have an agenda on it. i mean i kinda do, sorta kinda. i myself think it (the escapism) basically came from what-i-think-of-as-gnosticism. well, actually i think it came from a certain actuality, a certain substance, that underlies "gnosticism." but what i think of as "gnosticism" is the only thing i know of that, from what i can see...nevermind this is too complicated to explain in this comment that is already far too long. lol. my explanation is further complicated by how i think modernity/descartes is tied into this escapism thing. so i'll just save that for another time (maybe soon, who knows).

Jason Hesiak said...

oh an Erdmanian...some more things.

one of the things you quoted to show the fundamental overlap between post-Augustinian Chrsitianity and Platonism was: Many of them explore the ethical and practical consequences of conceiving of reality in this bifurcated way. We are urged to transform our values by taking to heart the greater reality of the forms and the defectiveness of the corporeal world. We must recognize that the soul is a different sort of object from the body — so much so that it does not depend on the existence of the body for its functioning, and can in fact grasp the nature of the forms far more easily when it is not encumbered by its attachment to anything corporeal.

1. the gnostics were like basically done and off the scene by the time Augustine came around. are you in fact suggesting, in your close association of gnosticism with Platonism (which i mentioned in my last comment), that gnosticism influenced Augustine, and thus the many centuries of Christianity?

here's the part of my last comment to which i'm referring: it seems that by saying that, you are understandably associating "all the Johannine writings and a good deal of Paul" with the many centuries of (traditional) Christian theology on John and Paul. i suppose the reason for this association is because those many centuries of theology so effect our current idea of what Christianity is. and most all of that theology was filtered, in one way or another, through Augustine (who himself was a Platonist), who said that Christianity is "Platonism for the people." so then if gnosticism is basically a maybe-slightly-in-some-cases-but-not-all-of-those-cases-altered Platonism, then gnosticism and Christianity - or at least my idea of what Christianity is that was handed down to me through the ages - is greatly tied to gnosticism. so then if i throw out gnosticism, then i throw out a lot of my Christianity, too. especially those portions of my Christianity that are most Platonic. have i recapped correctly?

or instead of saying that gnosticism actually influenced Christianity, are you just saying that gnosticism and Platonism are similar, and thus gnosticism and much of Christianity are closely akin to each other?

2. for clarity: i think that a Platonists' recognition of the difference between soul and body, one and many, ect., is still ultimately quite different from what is really going on in gnosticism. for Plato, the soul is disembodied (i don't like the term "disembodied" there, but we'll go with it) and re-membered (hopefully, at least :) over and over again cycically, which is sort of a microcosmic process. for the gnostics, however, its a linear process of dissassociation and detachment from the body, based on a fundamentally different (from Platonism) idea of who i am and what the world is (even, yes, i think a fundamentally different idea of the "world" for those gnostics who didn't necessarily think of the world as "evil"). so for me gnosticism and Platonism are still two different things.

now unrelated to that quote on the soul and the body:

xor6ps;4lkj) do you think that the escapism in contemporary Christianity is an URGE? is it an "urge" to escape? or a compulsion? or just something people do? what is it? for me i think of it, partially, as an urge, which is partially why i think of it as connected to gnosticism.

wq49t8hj) you said: All I'm saying is that everyone breathed the same Platonic air in those days. We need to be careful that we don't rely on old stereotypes of "Gnosticism." With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, greater care should be taken to understand the "gnostic" texts on their own grounds, rather than viewing them through the lenses of conservative evangelicals, feminists, Jungians, Hollywood films, or Dan Brown's novel.

do you think of my viewing of the gnostic texts as being through the lenses of conservative evangelicals, feminists, Jungians, Hollywood films, or Dan Brown's novel? or do you think that my idea of what is "foundationally gnostic" happens to be (mainly) the gnosticism of the most extreme of the highly varied groups?

and lastly: as sort of part of the whole heresy thread, do you feel that there is something wrong with making a judgement on gnosticism based on my Christian bias? and if you don't necessarily think that there's anything wrong with that, do you feel like there just ins't really the need? and if you feel that there just isn't really the need, then would you say that this is this part of your Calvinist influence?

jhesiak said...

also notable on the "heresy" thread...previously I had said:

why would you say that Paul's writings are gnostic!? or even John's, for that matter...Plotinus(ians) and the gnostics are two different groups of folks...and that's not even necessarily to say that John's writings ARE Neoplatonic in the way that The Matrix IS gnostic. i'm saying that The Matrix is gnostic from its very foundations. are you saying that the writings of Paul or John are foundationally gnostic!? i mean...i can kinda see where someone might say that John's writings are at least influenced by gnosticism. but Paul..."whachu talkin' 'bout Willis!?"

you asked me at some point what i meant by "foundationally gnostic." what I meant by the following...and that's not even necessarily to say that John's writings ARE Neoplatonic in the way that The Matrix IS gnostic....was that both The Matrix and John's writings have other influences other than gnosticism and, well, Jesus (like, as Lord). But at bottom John, although less apparent than in say Matthew, is writing about Jesus, as Lord...with Platonic influence. Whereas to me, The Matrix is, at bottom, Gnostic, with other influences as well, of course. like, you can't really say that John's writings "are Platonic." Platonism doesn't take Jesus to be Lord. and this Lord to whom I refer was "the firstborn"...another reason for my reference to what is "foundational."

so yeah...to clear that up a bit...

daniel hutchinson said...

shjoe!*

*colloquial exclamation

ktismatics said...

Jason Dude, I regard the Matrix as kind of the opposite of Gnostic: only those who are in the know realize the true physicality of existence hidden behind the illusion of everyday life. And also, as I said earlier I think on this thread, the Matrix was created and is sustained not by the gods who made men but by the machines which were made by men. It's a warning against man-made virtual reality replacing real physical reality, don't you think?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: one of my other remaining qeustions was going to be: do you feel, Erdmanian, that there are any other loose ends to this thread? anything else i've said that you would like to address?

It's a good discussion, Jason. A few points, if I may:

1. I don't think that my position has altered all that much. I'm still arguing for the diversity of gnosticism--that gnostics were not one, unified group that believed the same things. That's why I mentioned the Nag Hammadi texts and the scholarly debate, etc.

2. I haven't yet touched on the resemblances between John/Paul and gnostics. That would require some commentary digging, which I have not gotten around to. Perhaps I will do a separate post in the next week or so on gnosticism and discuss the parallels? Some of the similarities have to do with the use of the language (cf. the metaphorical use of the Gospel of John "light" vs. "dark", etc.) The similarities are more than simply semantics, though, at least imo.

3. Personally, I don't use the term "heresy" or "orthodoxy." I believe that these terms are ultimately mere artificial, man-made constructions that are usually meant to either a) establish ME as being better than YOU and/or b) establish and maintain the power of religious institutions.

4) I didn't mean to imply that your view of gnosticism comes from any particular perspective. My point is that your view of gnosticism may be far too narrow, at least if I am correct about "gnosticism" being a collection of very diverse platonic theologies; and that "gnostic" might not be a legitimate category.

Jason: and my last remaining question...related to the whole "trace" thing: if gnosticism is basically just a in-some-cases-slightly-altered Platonism, then where do you think the escapism came from in Christianity? from the Platonism? from "human nature"? from sin? from those more extreme versions of gnosticism that i consider to be "foundational"?
....and....
do you think that the escapism in contemporary Christianity is an URGE? is it an "urge" to escape? or a compulsion? or just something people do? what is it? for me i think of it, partially, as an urge, which is partially why i think of it as connected to gnosticism.

That's too complicated a question for my limited knowledge of church (and theological/philosophical) history. I think there are definite Platonic influences that are very strong. I also think that the Reformation Protestants placed a premium on individual purity, hence necessitating that we escape anything "worldly" that might taint our "holy" souls......but aside from these, it seems as though much of religion functions out of fear and isolation. The world is an evil place; it is often dark and dangerous. Religions often offer the easy way out: separate yourselves from others (with the exception of "witnessing" to the world or handing out Jesus literature) and come join others who can't (or don't want to) face the harsh realities of the world. It's basically spiritual self-preservation.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: i think that a Platonists' recognition of the difference between soul and body, one and many, ect., is still ultimately quite different from what is really going on in gnosticism. for Plato, the soul is disembodied (i don't like the term "disembodied" there, but we'll go with it) and re-membered (hopefully, at least :) over and over again cycically, which is sort of a microcosmic process. for the gnostics, however, its a linear process of dissassociation and detachment from the body, based on a fundamentally different (from Platonism) idea of who i am and what the world is (even, yes, i think a fundamentally different idea of the "world" for those gnostics who didn't necessarily think of the world as "evil"). so for me gnosticism and Platonism are still two different things.

Sure, gnosticism and platonism are not equivalent....but that's never been my point. I've just simply suggested that platonic thought was the basis for gnosticism and the basis for the Christian religion that we have inherited. Gnostics took platonism in a certain direction and Christianity (via Augustine and other church fathers) took Platonism in a certain direction. But all three have this commonality: they seek to connect with something "perfect" that is non-material.

Jason: as sort of part of the whole heresy thread, do you feel that there is something wrong with making a judgement on gnosticism based on my Christian bias? and if you don't necessarily think that there's anything wrong with that, do you feel like there just ins't really the need? and if you feel that there just isn't really the need, then would you say that this is this part of your Calvinist influence?

1 - Not necessarily....but I just think that "gnosticism" might be a flawed category, and there may be a closer relation between Christian and gnostic thought than you realize.

2 - Yes. I don't know that there is a need.

3 - No. I'm not sure where the Calvinist connection comes in.

ktismatics said...

I'm not sure the Greeks were the sole inventors of spirit/body dualism. The Old Testament is kind of a history of God's retreat from physicality to disembodied spirit. In Genesis 1:2, when Elohim makes his appearance, he's not descending from some eternal spiritual realm; he's there on the scene, his breath wafting across the waters. In Genesis 3 Yahweh is walking through the garden, looking for Adam and Eve and calling out to them because he can't see them. Later on, when the Jews are wandering through the desert, God is accompanies them not bodily but in the puff of smoke above the Tabernacle. Still, there's some remnant of physicality that remains. The Mosaic Law specifies that when the Israelites take a shit they should cover it up. Why? Public health? No: it's in case God happens to stumble upon it

You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a spade with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover up your excrement. Since Yahweh your God walks in the midst of your camp. Therefore your camp must be holy; and he must not see anything indecent among you, lest he turn away from you. (Deut. 23:12-14)

By the time we get to the New Testament, God is so far removed from the physical world that Jesus the god-man has to make an appearance.

Jason Hesiak said...

Doylomania...

you said: Jason Dude, I regard the Matrix as kind of the opposite of Gnostic: only those who are in the know realize the true physicality of existence hidden behind the illusion of everyday life. And also, as I said earlier I think on this thread, the Matrix was created and is sustained not by the gods who made men but by the machines which were made by men. It's a warning against man-made virtual reality replacing real physical reality, don't you think?

doylomania...i only saw the first one once. then i only saw the second once. i've seen bits and pieces of both since then. i never bothered to watch the third. i probably should. the point is...i remember wondering about exactly what you are getting at with the machines and what not...about who made the matrix. i remember seeing the scene with "The Architect", and thinking: "this is bass-ackwards." but then i am still confused about where exactly the matrix is supposed to come from in the film(s). but regardless...when i say "the matrix (the film) is gnostic", i am referring to the urges that are aroused in watching it...the world it puts you in, so to speak.

and doylomania...on the whole covering up your shit thing...that was funny. and on Jesus the god-man making an appearance...yeah. i find it interesting, as well, that Jesus made an appearance just as the Roman emperor was conquering the whole world (and soon thereafter came the popularity of "gnosticism"). i think, too, that that has a lot to do with the physical world's appearing and/or dissappearing...as per the territory of Crosby's The Measure of Reality kind of stuff.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

Interesting observation.

I tend to agree. I think that the significance of Plato is that the post-Plato world now has to reckon with this dualism as a philosophical tour de force. Through the dialogs of Plato, the dualistic philosophy is poeticized and also systematized to a degree never before seen.

I do agree, however, that Plato is not the author. I've never looked at the Hebrew Bible as a progression of God's retreat from physicality into "unapproachable light."

Jason Hesiak said...

Erdmanian,

It's a good discussion...

I agree.

1. I don't think that my position has altered all that much. I'm still arguing for the diversity of gnosticism--that gnostics were not one, unified group that believed the same things. That's why I mentioned the Nag Hammadi texts and the scholarly debate, etc.

Point taken.

2. I haven't yet touched on the resemblances between John/Paul and gnostics. That would require some commentary digging, which I have not gotten around to. Perhaps I will do a separate post in the next week or so on gnosticism and discuss the parallels? Some of the similarities have to do with the use of the language (cf. the metaphorical use of the Gospel of John "light" vs. "dark", etc.) The similarities are more than simply semantics, though, at least imo.

I would look foward to that post eagerly. interestingly I think this might maybe will have a lot to do too with our sort-of-ongoing discussion on "existential angst, "metaphysics of absence" and "metaphysics of presence." but i'm not so sure. we'll see...maybe...seems like that conversation never really got exactly clear, either.

3. Personally, I don't use the term "heresy" or "orthodoxy." I believe that these terms are ultimately mere artificial, man-made constructions that are usually meant to either a) establish ME as being better than YOU and/or b) establish and maintain the power of religious institutions.

well that may be true, but for me personally they are actually helpful terms in some cases...and especially in THIS case. BECAUSE i WAS gnostic...in the extreme/narrow sense in which i was using the term. and like i said i feel i was mislead. now i feel much more of a sense of relief than a sense of "being right", in the sense that you describe here (i think). jesus really did become Lord in my life in a way that he was not before/after i realized that i had been gnostic (or while i was in the process of realizing it).

4) I didn't mean to imply that your view of gnosticism comes from any particular perspective. My point is that your view of gnosticism may be far too narrow, at least if I am correct about "gnosticism" being a collection of very diverse platonic theologies; and that "gnostic" might not be a legitimate category.

OK. thanks for the clarification.

That's too complicated a question for my limited knowledge of church (and theological/philosophical) history. I think there are definite Platonic influences that are very strong. I also think that the Reformation Protestants placed a premium on individual purity, hence necessitating that we escape anything "worldly" that might taint our "holy" souls......

again thanks for the clarification. but another additional clarification, now that we have gotten this far :) you mentioned that the strong platonic influence, and the protestants' individual purity and iconoclastic bent. a question along those lines that has often guided my quest for...wisdom, i guess...is...what is the substance of these influences? what underlies all of those various influences that belongs to...how we were/are "made" as humans and/or how the world was/is "made"? or...uumm...i guess i'm thinking prophetically...looking "behind" or "underneath"...seeking "revelation". or a question in your case...IS THERE even such a "substance" that might under-lie the events and phenomenon of our world...that can be attributed to certain human expression in particular times and places and texts...that "influences" us...that is part of the "reason" for the phenomenon in question...that "moves" us? (this is why i previously mentioned the metaphysics of presence/absence thing, btw)

but aside from these, it seems as though much of religion functions out of fear and isolation. The world is an evil place; it is often dark and dangerous. Religions often offer the easy way out: separate yourselves from others (with the exception of "witnessing" to the world or handing out Jesus literature) and come join others who can't (or don't want to) face the harsh realities of the world. It's basically spiritual self-preservation.

similar to my above question...is there some ("true") substance that under-lies "religion" as a human activity? and here by "religion" i don't just mean in the sense of the Latin "to bind". i mean...like although the term is misused a bit in such a case...if we were to think of the ancient Hebrews as "religous."

i suppose...now that i think of it...if we don't use "religion" in the latin sense of "to bind"...and if i ask the question like that...then all human activities are religios. i guess then i have to re-ask my qeustion in a new way. but now i'm not sure what to say or ask. i guess...what do you think about this particular thought train on religion?

Jason Hesiak said...

3. Personally, I don't use the term "heresy" or "orthodoxy." I believe that these terms are ultimately mere artificial, man-made constructions that are usually meant to either a) establish ME as being better than YOU and/or b) establish and maintain the power of religious institutions.

do you think this is what John was up to in his letters, going on and on about apostasy and "don't be fooled by bla bla bla..."? what do you make of that? Paul does similar things in his letters, too...?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: do you think this is what John was up to in his letters, going on and on about apostasy and "don't be fooled by bla bla bla..."? what do you make of that? Paul does similar things in his letters, too...?

Do you have any specific reference in mind?

Jason Hesiak said...

i'll get back to ya on that...

Jason Hesiak said...

1 John, Chapter 2:

18Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25And this is the promise that he made to us— eternal life.
26I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

28And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.


1 John, Ch. 4:

1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

from Galatians 3 (I like The Message in this instance, lol):

1 You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.

And I realize that the Galatians text is in a very different context, and maybe even the John text. But I've also heard that John in such passages was combating "the gnostics." i'm not so sure of that, but the ideas remain.

To paraphrase: "You crazy Galatians. Who mislead you? Why are you operating off of a different 'fulcrum', if you will?" And to paraphrase John, highlighting the context of this thread our conversation on heresy and orthodoxy: "Watch out for those who would decieve you." Neither John nor Paul seem to be speaking out of a desire for spiritual self-preservation or spiritual one-upmanship, either.

Anonymous said...

Isaiah 45:7 "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."