I believe the world is round,
Yet I have not travelled 'round it;
I've seen round maps and globes,
Yet I have seen God's face in paint
And heard God's name in hallowed words.
I've seen square maps with cliff-fall edges,
And I've seen scientists preach their gospel
In magazines and books, and upon the TV screen,
And I believe the world is round
Because they tell me so.
I have not measured inch by inch, the earth,
Nor have I toyed with test-tube trials;
I've talked with people around the world,
Though I do not know they are not actually
Five minutes down the road from me,
Or that America exists,
Or that my plane really left the ground
And didn't drive to Belfast,
Carrying cloud machines and minature cars
To prove how far above the ground I was.
I do not know the moon-landing was real.
If I accept it was, it is because I believe
My loyal TV;
If I accept it was not, it is because I believe
The world is out to get me,
Especially my "loyal" TV.
I believe the earth revolves around the sun -
Yet I have not once looked in a telescope
(And even then, how can I know
That what I see is really there?),
Nor have I travelled space.
I've read people's works, which said
They believed the sun revolves around the earth,
And I believe they really believed that,
Because I believe these are their words
And because I believe in carbon-dating,
Because I believe the man in the white coat,
Who told me so.
I believe 1+1=2, because that is what I was told.
I was programmed like a computer
And now I see 1+1 can only equal 2,
And is "proven" as logically the result of this equation.
I believe numbers exist
(or that what I see are numbers),
And that + means plus
And = means equals
And that there is an equation
And that this is it.
I believe what I believe is true,
And I believe that I'm actually writing this,
And you believe you're reading this,
And the gospel of science believes it has found
And you and I both know
That we believe we know what we believe,
And I believe it's true. Do you?
Monday, October 30, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
In vessels of beauty I sought the beloved;
I sailed upon seas made of poetry and prose.
This tongue-tied tale of a travelling wayman
Brought me to the foot of the cross and the rose -
And there in the shadow the hidden light shows.
In moments of rapture and deep thoughts enclosing,
I rode on a mule that was made out of me;
This trip was in darkness, though on the horizon,
Was a single star shining for all us to see.
Lost in my thoughts, I was trapped and yet free.
In times of great trial when the dark is approaching,
I only need look past this valley of death,
This cage of bleak remnants and careful supposings,
To the great and wide ocean outside the fish net,
Where the waters still nourish and the Mother is met.
Inside are the waters, within is the Tree;
I sailed upon oceans that were all within me.
It took me so long to stop sailing and Be,
And in that pure Being my being was set free -
Let no Dark avail, for the Light is the Key.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
- There is an original and transcendental spiritual unity which came to emanate a vast manifestation of pluralities.
- The manifest universe of matter and mind (psyche) was not created by the original spiritual unity but by spiritual beings possessing inferior powers.
- These creators possessing inferior powers have as one of their objectives the perpetual separation of humans from the unity (God).
- The human being is a composite, the outer aspect being the handiwork of the inferior creators, while the "inner man" has the character of a fallen spark of the ultimate divine unity.
- The fallen sparks of transcendental holiness slumber in their material and mental prison, their self-awareness stupefied by forces of materiality and mind.
- The slumbering sparks have not been abandoned by the ultimate unity, rather there is a constant effort forthcoming from this unity that is directed toward their awakening and liberation.
- The awakening of the inmost divine essence in humans is effected by salvific knowledge, called Gnosis.
- Salvific knowledge, or Gnosis, is not brought about by belief, or the performance of virtuous deeds, or by obedience to commandments, for these can at best but serve as preparatory circumstances leading toward liberating knowledge.
- Among the helpers of the slumbering sparks a particular position of honor and importance belongs to a feminine emanation of the unity. The name of this emanation is Sophia (Wisdom). She was involved in the creation of the world and ever since remained the guide of her orphaned human children.
- From the earliest times of history, messengers of light have been sent forth from the ultimate unity. The task of these messengers has ever been the advancement of Gnosis in the souls of humans.
- The greatest of these messengers in our historical and geographical matrix was the descended Logos of God, manifesting in Jesus Christ.
- Jesus exercised a twofold ministry: He was a teacher, imparting instruction concerning the way of Gnosis, and he was a hierophant, imparting mysteries.
- The mysteries imparted y Jesus (which are also known as sacraments) are mighty aids toward Gnosis and have been entrusted by him to his apostles and to their successors.
- By way of the spiritual practice of the mysteries (sacraments) and by a relentless and uncompromising striving for Gnosis, humans can steadily advance toward liberation from all confinement, material and otherwise. The ultimate objective of this process of liberation is the achievement of salvific knowledge and with it freedom from embodied existence and return to the ultimate unity.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Graciously stolen from Fr. Jordie+, who has an excellent post on it here.
Don't forget to read "Thunder: Perfect Mind" in full if you haven't already. It is one of the most beautiful and poetic Gnostic pieces, a personal favourite, and deals with the Divine Feminine (Sophia).
Brother Jeremy over at Palm Tree Garden posted a link to this article, which is interesting reading. My own musings on this style of "Militant Atheism" are below:
Atheism and Scientism are, in my opinion, just as much religious movements as Christianity or Gnosticism, except they hide behind the veil of not having traditional religious imagery. Religion is anathema to many now, which means these religions, which don't call themselves religions, can grow and proselytize without the stigma that known religions would have for similiar practices. Indeed, on many Christian forums I have visited, the majority of posters are atheists who are indeed militant and aggressively trying to enforce their beliefs onto people. This is more dangerous, in my opinion, purely because it's often not recognised as faith-pushing, which means these practices are allowed (or even encouraged) when they are defamed elsewhere.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I uphold a strong respect and admiration for the tradition of our forefathers (and foremothers), not in the sense of unwavering doctrine and clinging to the beliefs and practices of the past, but what is a dynamic and living tradition that has been passed on to us and that we pass on to those that follow.
Trade is the handing over of goods for currency (or vice-versa, or for other goods), whereas tradition is the handing on or handing down of goods, and these goods are often priceless – pneumatic truths, effective spiritual practices, and that wonderful warehouse of divinity and sublime beauty that is poetry and mythology.
I am not an advocate of traditionalism, which idolises and, indeed, worships the traditions of the past as solely authoritative and baseline principles, in much the same way as the rationalists cling to reason as the ultimate source of religion and divinity. Recognising these as vital elements of our spiritual makeup are, I believe, essential, but adhering to one alone, including scripture and/or church doctrine, is not only naïve and foolish, but actually dangerous, in that it deifies and idolises what is essentially, while inspired and ,without doubt, useful, also severely incomplete and flawed.
Some people argue that we should not have a Priesthood, or certain Sacraments, or Apostolic Succession (among other things) because they are not mentioned in the Bible. This is, effectively, a Protestant standpoint, and one that is as flawed as that which they are criticizing, if not more so. Firstly, the Bible is inaccurate and contradictory. It is also vague, and, for the most part, doesn’t give much information on spiritual practices to follow, which is an equal criticism of the Gnostic scriptures we have today. If we cling to the Bible (and other scripture and revealed works) as the only source for our spiritual practices (in effect, worship it as the word of God, when Christ is the Word of God, and Christ must be experienced, not merely read about), then we will have very little to work with, as the Bible simply doesn’t, and can’t, have everything.
Tradition, I feel, bridges this gap, and it is tradition that gave effective practices to our ancestors (such as the Eucharist and Apostolic Succession, which predate Christianity), and it is this same tradition which gives us these effective practices (built upon experience, trial and error, experimentation, and cultural integration) today. We don’t just hand down something because it’s tradition – we do so because it works, and it is tradition because it works. If it is broken or doesn’t work in our land or for our character, we fix it or alter it to suit our time, but we do so with experience, respecting that tradition is there so we don’t have to start from square one. Adepts, masters, and other such people have handed such on based on their life’s work and attainment, and it is the role of the priest (among others of equal grounding) to continue this by handing on not only those things which previous people have handed on, but what the priest him or herself has found useful and vital from their own experiences. If it was not useful, was not worth something, why would it be handed on? Would you travel a vast sea with a stock of trade you didn’t feel was worth something, or, indeed, worth a lot? Would you leave your spiritual family some rusty relics of merely sentimental value, or would you give them what matters, something that they can actually use to help them not only get to their ancestors’ stage of evolution, but go beyond it? Tradition is about the master being such a good teacher that his student transcends him, helping him avoid the pitfalls that he himself has encountered, and teaching him the value of this handing down of things, that this spiritual growth might be shared continuously (and humbly, for without some humility, our growth will collapse into egotism), not hogged by one “illuminated” master who merely uses it to raise his social status or mystical grandeur.
Tradition (which is, indeed, what the word “Kabbalah” means, from “to receive/accept”, and was/is the oral tradition of teachings handed down side-by-side with the scriptural teachings of the Torah, which hints at why we need both in Gnosticism too) is undying. The Romans are gone. The Greeks are gone. Those old Christians are gone, and the old Gnostics are gone. Gnosis remains, and the path to Gnosis is preserved in tradition, one that will live on when we’re gone, and one that is undying because it is living.
“True tradition is always a living tradition. It changes while remaining always the same. It changes because it faces different situations, not because its essential content is modified. This content is not an abstract proposition; it is the living Christ Himself, who said ‘I am the Truth’.”
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
There was a recent discussion at the Palm Tree Garden forums regarding the possibility and validity of self-ordination to the Gnostic priesthood, an issue which received a wide range of responses from a wide range of backgrounds, and one that I feel will be raised again (given the general liberal attitude of Gnostics and Gnosticism), so I will share my thoughts on it now.
The original question was about if it is possible to be ordained by the grace of God and not another priest or bishop, and from thenceforth commence a priestly life, officiating the Sacraments, etc.
Is it possible to be ordained by the grace of God? Yes, of course it is. Indeed, any true and genuine ordination is an ordination by the grace of God. However, I feel there is another layer to this question that needs exploration: how can we be sure it is by God’s grace that we are to be ordained, and not by our own desires? If the person in question had a revelatory experience of Gnosis that looks a bit like God’s grace, then that’s an obvious sign (though not a guarantee), but I feel a large part of this question is about self-dedication to the priesthood, not based on an actual message from God calling the person to Formation and Vocation. I think a lot of people feel a “calling” to the priesthood, but for the most part, there is a certain level of self-delusion regarding the real reasons for this want. Like with the common saying associated with ceremonial circles (“when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”), if the person in question really feels a Calling, then the options for such will be revealed, and if not now, such will be revealed later – and the person should still feel that Calling then, if it were more than a transitory desire. If they really want it, they will get it, even if it means travelling or waiting a few years. Such a small sacrifice is little indeed in comparison to the monumental life decision joining the priesthood actually is.
I feel that having a “long” (it is no longer than most systems of initiation/formation) process of Formation helps avoid people feeling a calling on Monday and ordaining themselves that Friday, performing the Eucharist on Sunday, and then quitting the Work the following Monday. If there isn’t a procedure to chart the candidate’s suitability and progress, then it will bring with it all the flaws of self-initiation that are found in ceremonial circles, with many people not even remotely coming close to doing the work, but claiming the title/s, grade/s, etc.
I do support, generally-speaking, self-initiation when it comes to ceremonial work, but here is, I feel, a big difference between self-initiating into the Current of the Golden Dawn and self-ordaining yourself into the Priesthood. Firstly, the Priesthood could be seen as the equivalent of Adepthood in the G.’.D.’., so to self-ordain yourself into the Priesthood is not the same as self-initiating into Neophyte. So, of course, the question of Formation (i.e. the equivalent of the pre-Adept grades) comes into play, which will be addressed later.
Indeed, exactly how is someone to self-ordain themselves? If you were to self-initiate into the Golden Dawn, you would use an altered form of their initiation rituals. What ordination ceremony would be used for self-ordination, and would any ecclesiastical denomination really approve of someone using their ceremony like this (if, indeed, their ceremony was even allowed to be viewed by someone outside of their group or outside of the clergy)? If you belong to a certain church or order, you are expected to follow their structural and organisational procedures, including that of initiation/ordination and gradework/formation.
The question of why the candidate wants to “self-ordain” would then come into question. Is it because they do not agree with the procedures of the church? If this is so, then more than likely they should not be a part of that church. Is it because they do not live in an appropriate location? If so, then some flights for the ordination ceremonies themselves can be done and the formation process can be done long-distance with appropriate mentorship (at least, this is a procedure in place in the AJC). If self-ordination is desired because the person wants status and wants it now (i.e. wants to skip the whole Formation period), then obviously that person shouldn’t and can’t be a priest (i.e. they are most definitely not ordained by the grace of God, as they will not have a priestly character and are not a priest at heart). If you can think of more reasons why self-ordination might be sought, please share them with me (add a comment) so I can see the totality of the issue and not just what I have outlined here.
Now this leads me to the final topic, which is one of the most important: Formation is an important and integral part of becoming a priest. The ordination itself is but the culmination of that process (and the beginning of a new, equally difficult, but also equally rewarding process), the icing on the cake, as it were, and it does not make you a priest, just as the icing is not the cake and does not make the cake – ordination is a ceremonial recognition of what you have become through Formation, and thus the real work is done in those many years spent before ordination. Indeed, I am always disturbed by the large growth in online ordinations, where people pay their $10, receive a certificate, and go on their merry way as a “priest”. While there are indeed some people who use this method in a genuine fashion, and some who have undergone Formation (in some manner) and possibly have taken a course in Ministering, the sheer fact that anyone who pays can be ordained renders the system extremely open to abuse. Of course, not all who undergo the traditional process of Formation and ordination come out well, as all systems and approaches can be abused, but, I feel, this limits that considerably, especially in the sense of those who are not as dedicated as they think they are, those who are doing it for a title, and those who do not have the appropriate teachings and experience to provide the necessary ministering required. Formation also offers a substantial spiritual transformation and self-discovery for the Formationer, in the same vein as those offered by various esoteric orders, and this is necessary if the new priest is to then be able to help with the spiritual transformations and self-discoveries of their parishioners.
The road to ordination is a long one, and one that should transform the driver. The priestly “driver license” does not make them a good driver, nor does it prepare them for the trials ahead. The driving lessons undergone in Formation will give them the necessary education and experience to travel the road responsibly, and allow them to drive passengers in a safe and productive manner, helping them on their own journeys. Many people can drive, but there are substantially less who are good drivers, and less again who having driving in their heart. So it is with the priesthood, and if we are to be considerate of the safety of the other people on the road, especially to our passengers, we need to recognise this, train our applicants, and help transform them into priests worthy of the title. If we do not do this, the roads may become very dangerous.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
"Farming in the world requires the cooperation of four essential elements. A harvest is gathered into the barn only as a result of the natural action of water, earth, wind and light. God's farming likewise has four elements - faith, hope, love, and knowledge. Faith is our earth, that in which we take root. And hope is the water through which we are nourished. Love is the wind through which we grow. Knowledge, then, is the light through which we ripen."
- The Gospel of Philip
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Palm Tree Garden
"And God said: Go ye now (swiftly) to the Palm Tree Garden!"
- Book of Made-Up Godliness 1:37
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Friday, October 13, 2006
Today is the Commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Knights Templar, those Gnostics who were credited as heretics by the Church in the early 14th Century, arrested, tortured, and executed. It was on Friday, October 13th 1307 that King Philip IV of France ordered their arrest, and this could be the origin of the "Friday the 13th" superstition (supposedly, for example, the last Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, who was burned at the stake on accusations of heresy, cursed King Philip and Pope Celement V to join him in death within a year. Clement died within a month and Philip after 7 months), which is particularly relevant for us today, given the 13th falls on a Friday for us. I offer the following prayer in their memory:
Lord, may we remember those who have suffered unjustly at the hands of tyranny and oppression, those who have been wrongly accused by false workers of justice, and those who have been peresecuted because of jealousy, bigotry, cruelty, and the vanity of those who cannot allow another way.
Lord, may we lower our heads in the memory of these people who have gone before us in dark times when the admission of belief could result in death. May we learn from history's mistakes and vow to work against such persecution, which continues still in different guises. May we pray for those who endure this now, remembering the plight and struggle of the innocent in the face of torture and torment.
Lord, may we never become complacement in our ways that we ignore such persecution. Work and walk with us, that we may overcome such darkness as we grasp ever closer to You and Your Eternal Light.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
An extract of my commentary on the Gospel of Thomas:
(67) Jesus said, "If one who knows the all still feels a personal deficiency, he is completely deficient."
“The all” could easily be interpreted in two ways here: 1) all of possible knowledge, and 2) God, in the Gnostic sense of the Monad, the indefinable – the all. But what does it matter if you know God and do not know yourself (“a personal deficiency”), for if you fail to know yourself, you technically fail to know God, and are therefore “completely deficient”. This effectively explores the idea of “knowing God, but not knowing oneself” as being an illusion, and the truth of one’s own divinity serves to dispel this illusion and allow you to truly know “the all”.
Some samples of Father Ted goodness (a hyphen/dash indicates a break to another quote):
Father Dougal: God, I've heard about those cults Ted. People dressing up in black and saying Our Lord's going to come back and save us all.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I decided to gracefully steal Fr. Jordan+'s latest post on the Frappr Gnostic Map as an excuse to holler out at my European brethren and sistern - get your little markers out and get on the map! I know we've a long way to go before we'll have anywhere near as many Gnostics as, for example, America and Canada, but I also know we have alot more than is shown on this map, so spread the word and mark yourself down if you're not already there.
We haven't got a strong Gnostic ecclesia here in
Who's with me?
Tying in with my previous posts on Original Sin and the abolishment of Limbus Infantium, I’ve been thinking about the theory and practice of infant baptism. It’s easy to understand why infant baptism would be used if we were to accept Augustine’s doctrines, but since most Gnostics reject such views, why is it still practiced in some Gnostic Churches, is there a distinction between the adult baptism and infant one, and what are the theological and mystical implications thereof?
Personally, I’m not overly keen on the notion of infant baptism, as I believe a spiritual path should be chosen by a responsible person, not “enforced” upon someone at birth. Indeed, while the ceremony will undoubtedly have spiritual and psychological effects regardless of the mental development of the child, they will not have the capacity to either understand or appreciate that which they are passively undertaking. That said, however, while it may look like our parents are indeed choosing our spiritual path for us (at least, initially), the lack of a baptism or similar ceremony in infancy will not necessary detract from the fact that we are always influenced by our family, friends, and larger society, and that this influence will mould our spiritual path and direction, which is, at least partially, enforced by these influences. If we do not teach our children certain spiritual beliefs and practices, they will have very little to work with when it comes to making their own choices about whether or not to explore these things further, and this is, effectively, choosing our (initial) path for us just as much as a ceremony like baptism does, though, perhaps, less formal.
So, while I don’t like infant baptism personally, and would generally ask that all seeking baptism do so as adults who actually want to pursue that path, I understand why some parents would want their child baptised, and do not doubt the magical and spiritual effects of the ceremony (afterall, we are responsible for the spiritual health of our children just as much as their physical, emotional, and mental health, and would all want, providing we are spiritual ourselves, our children to have a strong spirituality). I do not consider such a rite binding (i.e. that you are henceforth a member of that faith alone, etc.), so the child may still go on to explore another path and possibly seek baptism (or the equivalent, if there is one) in that faith.
How do you feel about infant baptism? Do you have any theological position that influences, dictates, or affirms your opinion of this ceremony for infants? Do you feel this ceremony may have a stronger impact on a younger psyche and may help towards, in the Gnostic tradition, the attainment of Gnosis? And, if you are clergy, do you have any special considerations you make that differentiate this passive version of baptism to the active one pursued by “the willing”, and do you make any recommendations, etc. to the parents in question?
Monday, October 09, 2006
In you is Binah’s
Cool and dark embrace, and veils
Of great secret things.
A hidden treasure
Lies between the lines of verse,
This sacred stillness.
I am the shadow
Of a great and dancing fire
That burns eternal.
Beauty knows no bounds
That poetry cannot pierce
With its blessed sounds.
We speak holy names
In an undying passage
To the undying.
Walks upon his cushion clouds
While he watches us.
God takes great pity
On the blind leading the blind,
So he shows the way.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Saturday, October 07, 2006
I just found out now that the Pope has abolished the teachings on limbo (at least in relation to infants) formally on Friday (the day I posted my thoughts on Original Sin and Augustine's teachings in relation to infants being condemned if they die before baptism) after a council of 30 Catholic theologians discussed the matter on Wednesday gone.
"THE Pope will cast aside centuries of Catholic belief later this week by abolishing formally the concept of limbo, in a gesture calculated to help to win the souls of millions of babies in the developing world for Christ.
Christians hold that Heaven is a state of union with God, while Hell is separation from God. They have long wrestled, however, not only with the fate of unbaptised children, but also with the conundrum of what happened to those who lived a “good life” but died before the time of Jesus."
You can read more about this here.
I had a Cultural Studies class yesterday that began to explore some of the differing views on the study of culture, what culture is, is not, and if culture is declining in the modern world. Since I have encountered firsthand both of the extremist views I am going to share below, and thus was exposed to their flaws (not that any view is “perfect”), I felt it important to share about them, especially in the light of modern religious and Gnostic culture. Secondly, I feel that, while there is undoubtedly much “crap” out there (for want of a better word) in terms of culture, this is not necessarily because we are abandoning “High Culture” (that is, exhibitions, literature, operas, plays, etc.), but because there is more culture to contend with. If we had, for example, 10 elite for every 90 working class in bygone days, this would mean 10% of the population had access to culture, that it was a restricted and limited thing. Now if we still have this ratio, but the working class has its own kind of culture (pop culture, if you will), that’s 100% culture, while retaining the original 10% of “High Culture”. Yes, indeed, that may mean that up to 90% of culture nowadays could be seen as diluted, weak, uneducated, or, as Matthew Arnold would say, “raw and half-developed”, but it honestly does come with the territory. If we want, for example, Gnosticism to be strong and popular in the modern world, and for people to have easy access to it, we have to take it as a given that we are going to get books like “The Da Vinci Code”, not to even mention the whole Madonna-Kabbalah fiasco. Does this mean that “true” culture is dying out? Hardly. That “elite”, if you will, is still there, still providing and critiquing and exposing us to “High Culture” – Harold Bloom is a perfect example – but this also means we have access to good quality “pop culture” like the various HBO TV shows, Philip K. Dick’s work, the Matrix, V For Vendetta, etc. Indeed, isn’t it better that there’s more to choose from, even if a fair chunk of it isn’t great?
The first view presented was that of the “Conservative Critique”. This view postulates that there is a cultural decline going on, that High Culture (literature as apposed to books, classical music as apposed to pop, etc.) is being overrun by “pop culture”, which is a degradation of the form (and, effectively, doesn’t count as culture), that an “influence of America” is taking hold, that there is “worship of machinery”, a rise in “utilitarianism”, and that the masses, that is, not the elite, who do know about culture (and, indeed, are “cultured”), are “raw and half developed”. This view also often contains a lament for what is seen as a decline in religiosity or faith in the people as they become more robotic and scientific, and can, given this, appear more strongly in the views given by those involved with religion and related fields.
I think the above (in particular, the critique of the masses) might seem like a ghastly view to many people nowadays, especially since we live in a world that is much more liberal and utilitarian (which is, indeed, one of the fears that the conservative critics have), but it’s also important to note that this view has been the most popular out there up until the mid twentieth century, and that its views are still present in modern society, especially in what we see as “proper” culture. I disagree with the conservative critics on some key points.
Firstly, while the world is indeed becoming more mechanized, this is not inherently a bad thing – yes, there are long commutes and such which may distract people from engrossing themselves in culture, but because a larger number of people now do not need to spend their entire life solely focused on the bare essentials of physical survival (i.e. farming, etc. for their own day’s worth of food, as compared to our modern “luxury” of being able to pop down to the local shop and have it all delivered up to us, pre-packed, etc., from a factory [indeed, this is a change from the elite who didn’t do the work but had the culture, to the working class pushing the work onto machinery and now having access to culture], they have more time and energy to devote to their other needs, needs of the heart, mind, and soul.
The second view presented was that of “Cultural Relativism”, which basically resorts to “you have your opinion, I have mine – none is right, so let’s just all get along – *group hug*”. While I agree that we all have our own views, none of which are inherently “right” or “wrong”, and that culture is indeed relative to the groups and people in question, I feel Cultural Relativism is dangerously close to complacency. There is no more disagreement because we simply recognise that all is relative – so there are no more arguments and debate, and without these we become apathetic, uninspired, and even, dare I say it, dull. Indeed, without debate, without arguing views, discussing alternatives (rather than just recognising we all have the perfect view for us), etc., there is a high chance that we will slow, stagnate, and sink into indifference. Yes, of course none of us are wrong or right, as we are all conditioned with our views, but if we are to not allow the questioning of them (by ourselves or others), how are we to expose our reality tunnels to scrutiny in the interest of improving them into better (admittedly, equally conditioned) views? Now, of course, the cultural relativists would ask “what is the ‘better’ view, and who gets to decide what is ‘better’?” However, while that seems like a strong argument against what is, essentially, an elitist view coming from the conservative critics, it is equally flawed, because it suggests jumping to the other end of the spectrum just because opinions and “truths” are relative. Does this mean we should sit back and not try to discover stronger arguments, truer realities, and more enlightened opinions?
I’ve seen so many critiques of the conservative view (indeed, isn’t the word “conservative” seen as anathema to many in our increasingly liberal world?) and a general change of the word “elite” (which was, at the times in question, seen as a good thing) to the form of an insult or dismissal. A lot of people who critique this “elitism” fall into the cultural relativist camp, and actually claim that this relativity is a balanced view. I strongly disagree here, as I feel it is just the other end of the spectrum entirely; indeed, the other extreme. While the conservatives might be suggesting that an “elite” alone have access to valid culture, the relativists go 180 degrees to the view that all culture is relative, everyone has access to it, and we should just sit back and accept everything as right, because there are no wrongs. Notice the swing from an authoritarian to a utilitarian view, both equally flawed, though I have a strong dislike for the latter for what I see as a pretentious all-loving kumbaya-culture that will bore itself to death for pretending there is no disagreement between opinions, or what could be seen a watering down of views, so that they become so diluted that they no longer have the efficacy to work in an argument.
So, the effective point of this rant is: I disagree with both extremist positions. I feel we should indeed “discriminate” between what is good and bad culture (this word was used in a question I received on it, and, while it has horrible connotations nowadays [discriminating against race, sex, orientation, etc], it used to have a “higher” meaning in another respect – discrimination is the Virtue of Malkuth, for example), for it is this argument and debate, in itself, that helps contribute to the growth and development of our views, stopping us from stagnating. Yes, indeed, we should not force our opinions or views upon others, or herald them as inherently above those of others (i.e. the elitist view), but, at the end of the day, we need to have an opinion (and, indeed, we do – anyone who tries to play off that they don’t have an opinion on something is, I believe, lying or fooling themselves), and we need to recognise that, no, not all opinions are equal, relevant, or “valid” in respect to what they are dealing with.
For example, I don’t like the “reality” show “Big Brother” – I think it’s weak, pointless, and a waste of time, not to mention a debasement of the original work and the argument contained within it. Saying that, I recognise why people watch it, why it is popular – humanity has an inherent voyeuristic quality that achieves its epitome in the idea of looking into someone else’s life, unadulterated and uncut. We play on this quality when we watch any kind of TV or Film, for example, but not to quite the same extent as is suggested in the show “Big Brother”. However, I think this is flawed, because there is no way I am going to accept that these people in that house are acting as they normally would. They know there are cameras there, and are going to play on that by either avoiding embarrassing things they would do normally, or by going over the top with other things they wouldn’t do, knowing that they’re being watched, and, indeed, judged. Now, am I to, given the relativist theory, accept that this program is in any way on par with Shakespeare, for example (indeed, I’d have a very hard time trying to compare these)? True, the latter is a different medium entirely, but what about “Six Feet Under” and similar shows? I am not going to get so liberal and all-accepting that I begin to allow a level of disinterest and apathy to sink in, so I’m not going to pretend I don’t have views, or to pretend I don’t feel very strongly about certain things. I recognise and accept that there is much in modern pop culture that is valuable (and, indeed, I have many favourite modern singers, TV programs, films, etc.), and I do consider it as culture, but there is a difference between some elements of these spheres which I can’t even pretend to ignore.
I will leave off with a great phrase which I’ve seen in connection with this, one which I feel summarises my whole argument here:
“We shouldn’t become so open-minded that our brains fall out”
How do you feel about this, and where do you feel you fall in the spectrum of cultural critique? Do you feel modern Gnostic culture is a degradation of the true "High Culture", or do you feel we all have equally valid opinions, and, possibly, that we shouldn't even bother arguing them? Do you feel we need more modern and/or pop culture for Gnosticism, or should we go back to the "greats" alone as valid authorities on the subject? Do you feel Gnosticism is becoming debased by pop culture, or, rather, certain elements of pop culture (which confuses the reality of what Gnosticism is, and, then, presents it to a majority who accept it as this), and, if so, how do you feel we can change or amend this?
Secondly, I feel that, while there is undoubtedly much “crap” out there (for want of a better word) in terms of culture, this is not necessarily because we are abandoning “High Culture” (that is, exhibitions, literature, operas, plays, etc.), but because there is more culture to contend with. If we had, for example, 10 elite for every 90 working class in bygone days, this would mean 10% of the population had access to culture, that it was a restricted and limited thing. Now if we still have this ratio, but the working class has its own kind of culture (pop culture, if you will), that’s 100% culture, while retaining the original 10% of “High Culture”. Yes, indeed, that may mean that up to 90% of culture nowadays could be seen as diluted, weak, uneducated, or, as Matthew Arnold would say, “raw and half-developed”, but it honestly does come with the territory. If we want, for example, Gnosticism to be strong and popular in the modern world, and for people to have easy access to it, we have to take it as a given that we are going to get books like “The Da Vinci Code”, not to even mention the whole Madonna-Kabbalah fiasco. Does this mean that “true” culture is dying out? Hardly. That “elite”, if you will, is still there, still providing and critiquing and exposing us to “High Culture” – Harold Bloom is a perfect example – but this also means we have access to good quality “pop culture” like the various HBO TV shows, Philip K. Dick’s work, the Matrix, V For Vendetta, etc. Indeed, isn’t it better that there’s more to choose from, even if a fair chunk of it isn’t great?
Friday, October 06, 2006
So, what do I think about this concept? Well, I totally reject the notion of original sin itself, as I, firstly, do not think that God would punish us for the transgressions of our ancestors (or, indeed, punish us at all – that concept of tyrannical fatherhood is not what I ascribe to God).
Secondly I do not necessarily accept that Adam and Eve actually transgressed against God, since I would put a large question mark over the events in Genesis, for why would an all-knowing, all-loving God set up such a scenario for Mankind (it is, effectively, a trap, which doesn’t look good for a supposedly good God)?
Thirdly, I revert back more to the original meaning of sin, which is, as stated before, “to miss the mark” – i.e. to fall short of your intent, which allows you to, like an archer, reload, aim, and try again (reincarnation, anyone?) – I reject the notion of damnation and “dirtiness” associated with the concept of sin as we see it today.
Fourthly, and following on from the last, since everyone has a spark of the Pleroma in them, all are saved, and therefore “sin” is merely ignorance of that which can redeem us.
Fifthly, the only concept of original sin I can accept is a subversion of the typical formula by suggesting that the Demiurge himself committed the sin against the Original (see my poem below), who is the Pleroma (or Monad), and Man fell from grace (the Pleroma) by Ignorance, was barred from Eden by a jealous, wrathful, and vengeful god for his acquiring of Knowledge, and by Knowledge (that is, gnosis) is ultimately freed and redeemed.
Sufficed to say, none of the above points really click with the Augustinian concept of “original sin”.
For anyone interested in Gnostic songs, check out Tori Amos’ Original Sinsuality (the lyrics of which you can find here), which explores this topic a little. Also check out all of Tori’s work, especially the album From The Choirgirl Hotel, which I feel is her best work (possible because it is the most alternative).
And finally I will leave off by linking to a poem I wrote in reference to “original sin” a while back, which can be found here.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I have three fathers.
“Three?!” you might say, “Was one not enough?”
However, I am referring to the term of “father” and how we apply it physically and spiritually. Firstly, there is my physical father, who begot me physically. Secondly there is my heavenly Father, who begot me spiritually (and therefore, eternally). This is all well and good, and fairly easy to understand. However, what about the intermediary between these two extremes of a physical and heavenly father? There is, potentially at least, the priest, who often goes by the term “Father”.
Where did the appointment of this term to a priest come from, and why?
First, let’s address the main argument used against the idea of calling a priest (or, indeed, anyone but God) by this title:
“And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.”
This is indeed a powerful ally (and has been, in particular, for Protestant attacks on Catholicism) for anyone who wants to dismiss the idea of calling a priest “father” (or, indeed, the idea of the priesthood at all), but, I feel, only on the surface.
Firstly, one must note that the word priest is not used at all here, and the command is only to abstain from appointing God’s fatherly title to a mortal, not to abstain from having a priesthood (though, it could be argued, Jesus made several comments against the Jewish priesthood in other instances, which could easily be forwarded to a Christian reprisal of this role).
Secondly, and I feel this is the key point in destroying the argument (one which is almost always ignored when this verse is used as a weapon against Catholicism [and similar traditions]), the verse actually commands that we call no one here on earth by the title of “father” – so, that means bye-bye to our daddies, as they’re not worthy anymore (surely not everyone was begotten by virgin birth?). So, why do some people seemingly “obey” this command by not calling a priest “father” (or not allowing the priesthood in the first place) but then fail to obey it by still calling their biological father by this title? I will leave that for you to ponder.
Thirdly, the term “father” has absolutely no meaning when removed from the association of an earthly father; it is used in relation to God to describe those fatherly, protective, creative, and similar qualities that we are familiar with from fatherhood. If we divorce the term from that which originally gave it meaning, what relevance or descriptive potency does it have anymore?
Lastly, I would like to point out what my intuition, my heart and soul, and my Gnostic core screams at me: this verse (like most, if not all, others) should not be interpreted literally (indeed, the previous point alone is enough to illustrate this). I feel strongly that this is suggesting that we have, rightly enough, but one true Father, who is of spirit, for we have but one true life, which is eternal (though I readily believe in physical reincarnation, which means not only multiple lives, but multiple physical fathers – getting complicated?) – all else is, in effect, transitory and illusory.
So, again, why use the term “father” in relation to a priest? As pointed out above, the term has certain associations, ones which we can attribute to God (in our weak and limited effort to understand the Divine), who treats us in a divine fatherly manner. However, have we not ever used this term in relation to those who are not our biological (or divine) fathers? For example, we might get on extremely well with an older male, and may say “he is like a father to me” (and the older male may also say “he is like a son to me” too). Also, what about the “father of science” and the “father of modern medicine”, etc.? Aren’t these terms used precisely because they hold meaning? Indeed, Job 29:16, being but one of many passages in the Bible that uses this term, says:
“I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.”
This is obviously a different kind of fatherhood, a conceptual, not literal, kind – a kind which is also exemplified in the role of the priest (or, at least, what the priest should be, part of which involves the paternal [i.e. fatherly] care of his parishioners). Indeed, spiritual paternity is a common thread throughout many religious traditions over the millennia, and occurs frequently in the Bible, in reference to (as shown above) fathering the poor, to being a spiritual father of the people (see much of Paul’s letters, which contain numerous examples), and even to our ancestors, one example of which shows Jesus himself (who, at least purportedly, said what is quoted in Matthew 23:9) using the term “father” in relation to Abraham (who is obviously neither God nor our physical father):
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."
(Note that the word father is changed to “ancestor” in the NRSV translation, which I usually use when reading the Bible)
Since the priest effectively acts in paternal service to his parishioners, who are also effectively his spiritual children (in the sense of mentorship, spiritual counselling, etc.), why not use it (especially when we use it so frequently elsewhere)? Yes, we should not look to a priest as God Himself or as a required intermediary between us and the Divine, nor should we look to them as infallible authorities (though a certain respect and honour for those who have done the work and study, etc. should always be afforded, as we do for professors, doctors, martial arts masters, etc.), but can we not change our attitudes while retaining the meaning and respect?
Lastly, before I leave off, let’s get feminist. Why aren’t female priests (or priestesses) called “Mother”? In all honesty: I don’t know. Most usually content themselves with the title of “Reverend” (which can also be taken by male priests, and is sometimes done so as a token of unity with the female priesthood [though this does not mean that those who do not do so are in any way disrespecting their spiritual sisters]). Many will think of nuns at this point, and the title “Sister”, thinking it is the equating term for “Father” in the vocational sense, but we also have to remember that monks are called “Brother”, and they are more rightly the equivalent of nuns than priests are. Obviously the lack of female priests over the generations has impacted heavily on this lack of the title “Mother” (though there were female priests and prophetesses in early Gnostic Christian sects [not to mention traditions before it], and the Gnostics of today, along with other liberal and reformative Christian groups, continue to honour that tradition). However, what about Mother Teresa, probably the most famous and revered nun we know? Isn’t the term “Mother” used in reference to leaders of certain groups of nuns, and why can’t it be extended to female priests? Again, I will leave this to my reader to decide.
I hope this will help illuminate why we use such terms – understanding such is, I believe, a major step to both letting go of our religious hang-ups and also in allowing us to have a fuller appreciation of the depth, potency, and meaning present in spiritual honorifics.
P.S. I forgot to give a brief mention of the title of “Holy Father” which is used by the Pope. This term is, in a sense, a kind of honourary relation to the title of God Himself, since the office of Pope (in Latin: “Papa”, that is, “Father”) effectively equates with that of God. Theologically-speaking, I do not agree with this (and am glad that there is no Pope in Gnostic tradition, and hope it stays like that), but I understand how it developed, with the empirical slogan of “One God, one emperor, one empire, one church, one faith” quickly transmuting to “One God, one Bishop” (i.e. Bishop of Rome, the Pope), which effectively has a Bishop replace the “divine” role of the Emperor of ancient times (indeed, the Pope even took the title of “Pontifex Maximus”, Supreme Pontiff, which was previously attributed to the Emperor).