There are several recurring themes in how others describe me: tall, arrogant, idealist, gnostic. Some of these are fitting, but others are not. Which one, in my opinion, fits least well? That's easy….gnostic.
Certainly a person must use caution when correcting how others perceive him. It is often easier for others to see the parts of yourself to which your are blind. I have blind-spots, but this isn't one of them. Actually, from what I can tell, my point of view, as fragmented and in development as it may be, is on the fringe of what may be the very opposite of gnosticism. If there is any quarter I can offer to those who mistake me for a gnostic, it is only that sometimes opposites are alike in that they both criticize the center, and may do so in a similar way (though for opposite reasons). This quarter does not absolve the accusers for bandying about accusations of heresy (the individuals in question consider gnosticism a heresy) without giving due diligence to notice those distinctions before making accusations.
Also, this post has been a long time coming. I've let many accusations of gnosticism, in particular, slide off my back like water off a duck, but the time has come to really discuss gnosticism. Part of my motivation is to actually assist my ideological opponents to use better critiques of my views. They really aren't making any progress by calling me a gnostic if I'm less a gnostic than they are. The remainder of my motivation is frustration. When I'm called a gnostic, the opposite of my position, it makes me feel either crazy, disrespected, or like I'm talking to a wall. I'd like to clear the issue up, and if nothing else, this post will allow me to post this link instead of answering every accusation. So I've discovered a third motivation: time saving!
I intend this post to develop in concert with the input of those who think I'm a gnostic. I'm just trying to get the ball rolling with this first one (although I intend to do most of the legwork in demonstrating that I'm not a gnostic). I can't lay it all out now because, honestly, I don't even know where to begin. How do you start to convince someone that a white wall isn't black (in any regular sense). So, I'll begin by briefly discussing the "big ideas" of gnosticism and how I don't adhere to them. This post is adapted from a quick reading of p. 20ff of J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrine, although I riffed where I wanted to.
1. Impersonal source God: God is beyond matter, being, morality, or any other qualifier. God exudes being and its accoutrements in what is poorly called "emanations" or "demiurges". We are poor demiurges who are trapped in matter, and there is a chain of being between us and God in less and less engagement with matter. God is impersonal and is the Source of being. Most of this is borrowed from Neo-Platonism
2. Dualism: especially the dualism between Soul/Nous and Matter. God is pure Soul, and so matter is the being of evil, of not-God, of that which keeps us from being like God. Sanctification is synonymous with less and less engagement with matter. Gnostic asceticism is motivated by this idea of sanctification/deification. This also leads to an ontological dualism between good and evil, although many would not extend this dualism to God, who isn't good, but the source of Good. Gnosticism is quite fragmented in this and all that follows.
3. Salvation through higher knowledge: we, by being initiated into a school of death, become less and less engaged with the material world, and ipso facto ascend to higher forms of divine being. We are always divine, but become more so as we die to matter and its concerns. There is no peace to reconcile the material world to God, but rather God is drawing all of his being out of matter. There are lots of varying mythologies which describe this, some in surprisingly Christian terms.
Re: 1. I testify now that I believe in God, who is a person and a trinity. (trinitarian theology doesn't really play into this, but I'm orthodox or I try to be on trinitarian theology). God himself and by his word created the world, and declared the world he created to be good according to his purposes. Thus, there is no similarity here between myself and gnosticism. I am actually the opposite. While the Gnostic claims that matter is evil, man is divine being becoming, and God is impersonal source, I claim that God is personal creator and thus matter is his creation, is good, and that we humans are, not divine, but a part of that very creation. Salvation and sanctification comes, not through escaping the dualism between matter and soul, but by God's divine and sovereign act of creating a unity into that impossibility. God, in Jesus, creates a marriage between himself and his creation.
Points of agreement re: 1: I believe that God is wholly other, and is pure spirit. I believe that sanctification entails a disengagement with "the world", although I mean this differently. The world, using Pauline typology, signifies the state of being outside of God's covenant in broad terms. The world, in a relevant specific term, is evil precisely because it is alienated from the earth, from matter. Thus, in Pauline typology, "the world" is evil because it hates the earth. This is part of the problem, that Paul requires Christians to appropriate terms that have other referents in Neo-platonism, for instance. Paul requires us to be thoughtful and critical.
Re: 2. This one is harder because, although it is correctly characterized as being dualistic, Gnosticism actually rests upon a basic doctrine of monism. God is one and all beings are god in a state of becoming. Matter, which is not god, actually doesn't exist, but is static. Christianity rests on a basic dualism, that God is pure spirit and is other than his creation (perhaps there is a prior monism where only God exists, but that's tricky, since God is not in time). This dualism between God and his creation is resolved, by his free choice and grace, through his covenant with man and the mission of Jesus Christ, through the incarnation and resurrection. Thus, through this basic dualism, God creates unity again (perhaps not a monism, but you see the direction toward unity). God will reconcile his people to himself, and insodoing, will free the earth from bondage (also united). Thus, gnostics have union with God only in escape from matter; Christians have union with God only in His redemption of their bodies and their material environment. Also, in Gnosticism, God is not choosing this, but is an impersonal force dictated by logic. In Christianity, God did not have to do any redeeming or creating; he does so according to his free choice.
Points of agreement re: 2: this has already come up, but I do believe in a dualism of sorts. Thus, if you're bent on identifying all dualism as gnosticism, I'm guilty I suppose. But this is obviously stupid. Also, I agree that God is pure spirit, and thus matter is set apart from his being. This is an important correlation to gnosticism, and is not to be denied. The difference is in the nature of God, not in dualism per se.
Re: 3. Because Gnosticism is all about being freed from matter, its ideology is all about knowing that we aren't our bodies and that reality is that which is unseen. This is why it is called "higher" or "secret" knowledge. The secret is that we are gods and that we must die in order to ascend to our god-destiny. My view is the opposite. My view is that we are creatures of God, and that we are unities of dust and spirit. My form of knowledge would actually be "lower" and concerned with descending in our attitudes toward God, becoming more aware of the separation between our being and His, more submissive as his creatures, and more obedient to his will. Thus, I will become more concerned with my actions here and now and how they impact others, assuming that it is the will of God for me to be at peace and to make peace wherever possible. Also, my view demands that Christians be concerned with matter and the wise stewardship of creation, which is our role. We are not absolved from immanent ethics because we are transcendent like God. We are not like God, nor does sanctification make us like God in this regard. God, although being pure Spirit, loves his creation, and so we become more holy as we are conformed to his mind and his love, toward the unity of soul and matter. This is a wordy form of the christian doctrine of resurrection.
Points of agreement re: 3. basically only that there is a salvation, a change, required of man. Yet, this change is not, as in gnosticism, of the enlightenment of little gods, but of the submission of wannabe gods to the True God and to his will, reconciliation. Here there is little to no agreement.
Final remarks: I am interpreted as a gnostic because I am critical of "the city". This criticism wrongly unifies "the city" with matter, thus making any criticism of the inherent goodness of the city with a criticism of the goodness of matter. Actually, the city is man's attempt to remove himself from matter, from the effects of the fall, and to pursue his own deification (typified by the Babel myth). Thus, theologians of the city are much closer to being gnostic than I. They prefer cities because that is where all the souls are, and seem to have little regard for peace between men, but only their salvation from this earth and its destruction. Theologians of the city also laud the city's art, universities, and architecture, all of which are expressions of man which encourage man to think of himself as a god, as spirit, as a mind, and not as a creature with a poopy bottom.
Further, this isn't contradicted by New Jerusalem. Scripture is clear in a vital distinction between those structures made by men and those made by God. When I speak of "the city", i'm speaking of cities made by human hands and for human ends. New Jerusalem is a special case, a particular city not like those other cities, and it is special precisely because it is made by God's hands. It is the exception that proves the rule
Much more to say, but I'll stop and wait for response. I'm posting this to Facebook, and I'll let the respondents decide how public they'd like this debate to be.