Bishop of Durham Vs. Dan Brown

Following on from the previous entry, this article is of some considerable interest. Now I have no issue with the Dan Brown critique at all. Conspiracy theorists come and go and Wright already mentions the “Holy Blood/Holy Grail” book which is highly amusing (as is John Allegro’s “Mushroom and the Cross”) but pretty much forgotten now. My problem is that the good Bishop is not addressing the simple fact that wheras his form of religion is not as popular as it once was, the readers of Dan Brown novels clearly feel some form of interest, even affection, for “that old time religion” and are perhaps discovering that the alternatives he both mentions and dismisses provide a key to this.

From what I have read of the Gnostic Gospels, they consist more of quotations and koans rather than narrative and resemble, in many ways, similar scriptures to be found in Buddhism, Hinduism and even Sufi Islam. “Thomas”, for example, has no narrative concerning the place of Christ in God’s salvation plans for mankind, it simply presents a series of Christ-attributed quotations, many of which pointing to the fact that one does not need external guidance (ie. priests) to find union with the divine, merely silence and contemplation:

“If those who guide you being say unto you “Behold the kingdom of heaven is in the sky”, then the birds of the sky shall precede you, if they say “Behold the kingdom of heaven is in the sea”, then the fish of  the sea shall precede you. But the kingdom of heaven is within you and without you. Once you know yourself, you will become known and you will know that you are the sons of the living father. But if you do not know yourself then you are in poverty and you are the poverty.”

One can quite easily see the political challenge this posed to the orthodox Christian hierarchy at the time. It is just as radical as that posed by Martin Luther several hundred years later and also rather similar in its position ie. critical of the establishment and denying that salvation is found in hierarchical structures. But wheras Luther put his faith in enhancing the authority of the bible, the gnostics made individual  divinely aware conscience the sole arbiter and authority. This would explain why numerous sects reportedly had widely differing views from the reputedly orgiastic to the radically ascetic (which I believe was its proper intention) and why an ideological attempt to supress and control it was deemed necessary and, as all good authorities know, the best way to do that is to deliberately distort and poison it against the minds of the masses. Or, as the hierarchy did, declare it officially to be heretical and attempt to eradicate all traces of it. If it wasn’t for the accidental discovery at Nag Hammadi, nobody would have known anything about these sects.

Now I, personally, find much sympathy with the gnostic viewpoint, particularly in its imputation of evil to the god who created  and sustains this world of corruption, violence and greed. It is one area where the orthodox viewpoint regarding free will cannot cut the mustard as, if the creator god was all good, there would be no evil as a part of either his being or his plans. It would be equally absurd for this almighty goodness to create an evil archetype or create an angel (Lucifer) he knows will rebel as, again, the concept of evil would not be a part of his being. Besides having him knowingly create something he knew would embody the worst of human endeavours makes him equally, if not more, culpable in propagating that  evil.

The Gnostic focus away from narrative as theology is also useful as the Judeo-Christian  scriptural narrative approach in regards to the issue of Christ’s Messiah status has long been exposed as being fraudulent. Tom Paine’s “Age of Reason”, for example, explores verse by verse every OT scripture said to refer to Christ’s messiahood and shows that they have either little relevance to the issue or have been twisted into bizzarre contexts to make them fit. So Lutheran dependence on scriptural authority is pretty much as dead in the water as dependence on hierarchies.  

 So I think, intellectually, the Gnostic cosmology works better as it posits an eternal transcendental deity of goodness, uncompromised by the filthy habits of the created world’s inhabitants and argues that the world as it is does not repesent the divine plan for humanity and that higher things are attainable if one wishes to meditate on the meanings of divinity. For that reason I feel Mr Wright is being a little too uncompromising in his viewpoint, though I can see that if he did allow more leeway to it, he could be out of a job as Pascal’s “body of thinking members” would probably not actually need bishops.

It is also fair to point out that the chuch has, at many points in its history, not always  solely listened to and promoted holders of orthodox views. The case of Marsilio Ficino and the Neoplatonic strain that stemmed from him is one example, John “Honest to God” Robinson is another. Indeed, if memory serves me correctly, a previous incumbent in the very diocese Mr Wright now serves, became a minor celebrity on account of his unorthodoxy. 

The unorthodox viewpoints always have something in their favour and it would be something of a shame if people were to be discouraged from exploring them.


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