Were the Gnostics the Original Christians : Part Three Enlightenment
In part one of this discussion I made the case that the violence and threats of the Christian conversion experience leads to a traumatic stress disorder common to victims of violence, which then evolves into a Paranoid Personality Disorder. In part two I discussed the origins of the doctrine of sin, since it is the fear inculcated by this doctrine that creates the disorder. This disorder is regarded as very difficult to treat, but the treatment involves the gradual introduction of doubt. Given the harmful effect of the doctrine of sin (paranoia) and the irrational inconsistency of the doctrine (it is reactionary) a satisfactory conclusion can be drawn the revolutionary doctrine of Gnosticism was the original Christian doctrine in that, unlike the doctrine of sin, its revolutionary philosophy is match (rather than a hindrance) to the cross symbol. (This version is properly formatted)
Gnosticism : Knowledge and EnlightenmentIn a desert in Egypt around the middle of the previous century a collection of previously hidden documents was discovered (now known as the Nag Hammadi library). The books were written by persecuted early Christians, and are often referred to as the Coptic Gnostic texts. Gnosticism was not one monolithic movement but rather a number of different groups are typically classified under the blanket umbrella of Gnosticism.
Revolution and reaction in the early church
A mini commentary on the Gospel of Thomas
It was the attractiveness of the gnostic teachings and their resulting popularity that made necessary the persecution of this early gnostic movement on the charge of heresy, and scholars have discovered extant copies of manuscripts that were once previously known only through the polemical attacks launched against them in writingsb the early church Patriarchs.
Anyone who first reads these ancient Christian texts is at first struck by how incomprehensible, how utterly foreign is the language of these documents. The view of the world represented by the Gnostics was so completely oppressed, and so thoroughly was every trace of their thought removed from our collective history that their ideas have become so alien to our culture's way of thinking that it seems that they can no longer be understood.
The defining difference between gnostic Christianity (the word gnosis means 'knowledge' or 'insight') and what came to be known as Orthodox Christianity is a controversy over the meaning of 'salvation'. In what became orthodox thought the world is to be understood in terms of sin and punishment or redemption and reward. To the Gnostics what was important was knowledge, insight and understanding which then led to enlightenment. Their Gnosis (knowledge or insight) was not of the scientific sort but rather consisted of an intuitive, very personal way of knowing something, in the same way that through personal experience you might know another person (and one of the highest goals is to know yourself, since if you knew yourself you gained an understanding of human nature that resulted in prophetic insights into the course of the future as well as an understanding of the nature of God, since your nature was a product of the working of God, and thus to know oneself was to know God). The problem with the world then was a kind of ignorance, rather than 'sin', and in Gnostic thought then 'salvation' consisted of enlightenment.
As orthodox Christianity developed as a patriarchal hierarchy, there was an emphasis placed on the authority of certain sources of 'divine revelation' which were located outside the individual (situated then in some authority figure) while to Gnostics the most important source of revelation was to be found by each person embarking on a search for enlightenment within themselves (in this way Gnosticism developed in a way which was not hierarchical).
The difference in outlook between these two viewpoints can then be seen in the political and social order which would result from the application of these two divergent ideologies. Buddhism was another ideology which emphasized 'enlightenment' rather than a doctrine of 'sin and atonement' (and it is this viewpoint that characterizes the historical differences meant when comparing 'East' and 'West'). According to the Buddha's doctrine crime was the result of poverty. At the time, the Eastern Kings regarded crime as 'sin' and dealt out severe punishments which were then criticized by the Buddha because they were unjust in that they failed to deal with the fundamental problem. In this way the Orthodox Christian doctrines of 'sin and punishment versus redemption and reward' can be seen to be a proxy for a system of punitive justice which characteristically ignores all the root causes of social problems and focuses instead on punishing individuals while the doctrine of enlightenment emphasizes a collective social responsibility. An analysis of such things as the intransigent violence surrounding the conflict over resources in the world's poorest nations would then be seen as a problem with 'individual sinners', a world view which logically results from viewing the world from the perspective of 'sin and redemption', and in this way it can be seen that what has been called 'Orthodox theology' actually perpetuates class divisions and inequality, focuses on treating symptoms, and if we ask whose interests are served by such an approach this leads to the conclusion that the doctrine of 'sin and redemption', with its characteristic dualistic polarity between good and evil, between judge and sinner, mimics the polarity of a society with rigid class divisions, and in that sense is actually an elitist doctrine. The fact that this doctrine was formulated by elitist priests, who were then granted authority by the ultimate elitist, Caesar, and who then ruled as part of the elite alongside Caesar, can be seen as logically connected, in that elites created a doctrine which in the end protected the interests of the elite. The doctrine of sin then cemented into place class divisions by rationalizing the subjugation of lower classes who were 'defective' by their very nature (having been 'born sinful').
It can then be understood that the Gnostics were persecuted, and eliminated, not because their doctrine was 'heresy', but rather because the political implications of the doctrine of 'enlightenment' was that this would result in a challenge to the class structure of Roman society and would also result in the loss of influence of religious authorities, who placed the emphasis on the outside, in outside sources of revelation, such authorities as 'scripture' and 'canon law'. When an individual looks within themselves for Gnosis, religious hierarchy is nullified, and this nullification of the religious elite only mirrors the inevitable political challenge to the Roman elite in general, since if all individuals can seek revelation, then all individuals must be equal and all supposed differences in authority or equality between individuals must be artificial. This classless analysis of social problems would lead to a critique of society at large, and demands for sweeping reforms in the system (of the type demanded by the Buddha, as one example) in contrast to the focus on 'individual sinners' which is the logical outcome of the opposing doctrine of sin and redemption, which then serves to perpetuate inequality and hierarchical class divisions in society by ignoring root causes and focusing on an erroneous analysis of the symptoms (with the root cause, it is claimed, being 'inherited sinfulness', such an evil nature being it is claimed the natural state of all humanity apart from the saving intervention of powerful religious elites...that such a thing is a self serving doctrine which perpetuates a power structure should be self evident upon even a cursory examination).
This difference is emphasized in the opening verses of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, where we are told not to look outside oneself for enlightenment and thus 'salvation', but rather to look within. To turn away from outside revelation is considered the most natural course of action (since it is suggested that by nature this is what the birds and the animals do) and in this sense then what we have here is an argument which insists that God must have created the world correctly (in opposition to the doctrine of 'sin and redemption' which incongruously attempts to make the argument that humanity is 'defective and sinful' from birth, while at the same attempting to uphold the contradictory doctrine which states that God is perfect and thus incapable of error...on this matter the Gnostic doctrine provides a more intellectually satisfying description of the nature of reality than Orthodox thinking ever has).
According to the Gnostics, salvation, we are told is to be found both inside of oneself and can also be discerned in the natural world, being displayed without any doubting or second thoughts, without the need for any leaders, by such creatures as the birds and the animals and the fish. The Gnostics mad a call to people to ignore the religious leaders, and then draw the conclusion that by rejecting their necessarily authoritarian doctrines the path would be open to 'come to know yourself' which would then lead enlightenment, this enlightenment being the only 'salvation' people require in Gnostic thought, with the implication being that religious leaders and authority figures are actually an impediment to human salvation, since it would appear then that people need to be saved from religion. There is no doctrine of 'punishment' in Gnostic thought, but rather if you fail to achieve enlightenment, you pay the price by living a life of inner 'poverty'. When you achieve enlightenment then you will realize that you were not born an icomplete or somehow defective 'sinner', and thus in the need of authoritarian religion as a form of social control, but rather you are by your very nature children of God. On the other hand, it is implied, if you continue to listen to your religious authorities then you become an impoverished pauper as a result of accepting their doctrines, which are hostile to your very nature, and to the nature of the world around you (which is very true of Orthodox doctrines of 'corrupted nature' and 'fallen Eden' and 'hereditary sinfulness').
"Jesus said, "if those who lead you say to you, "see the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea', the fish will precede you. Rather the kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourself, then you will become known, and you will realize that the it is you who are the children of the living God. But if you do not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." Gospel of Thomas verse 3
Wisdom was the natural state of human beings, who were created perfectly just to be what they were created to be, who were created not 'sinful' but rather were created with all the wisdom required to be fully human. If this was true then once again religious authorities are not required, and here we can see that Gospel of Thomas begins with an attack against the Orthodox hierarchy, which does explain the vituperative venom with which the Gnostics have been attacked throughout history by Christians holding to the authoritarian doctrines of 'sin and redemption' and 'outside revelation' which comes by means of authority figures. In the following verse the elderly, a classic symbol of wisdom, are contrasted with a small new born baby, already come into the world perfect and with wisdom, which is an attack on the doctrines of fallen humanity and sinfulness preached by the Orthodox hierarchy. The leaders, who are regarded as the first will thus fall and become the last, and once this leveling takes place, hierarchy and class divisions will no longer exist, since everyone will become equal, all 'one and the same.'
"Jesus said, "the man old in days will not hestiate to ask a new born child about the ways of life and he will live. For many are the first who will become last, and they will become one and the same." The Gospel of Thomas verse 4
The polemic against the Church hierarchy continues, with the author suggesting that the end result of of their doctrines being that people can no longer recognize what is right before their eyes. Certainly they cannot recognize the inconsistencies of what is called 'Orthodox thought', but rather such things as these are kept hidden from them by that very system of thought. This is then used as a polemical argument against Orthodoxy since what creates blindness obviously does so for reasons that are self serving, and not in the individuals best interest, and thus must be invalid.
Jesus said, 'recognize what is in your sight and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you, for there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest." Gospel of Thomas verse 5
The Gospel of Thomas also contains sayings which are references to revolutionary thought, the requirement to transform society, and polemics on the nature of class conflict. Either you will be devoured by the lion, and the lion will then prevail over humanity (a type of predator, here being employed as a metaphor for the leaders), or you will devour the lion. If the lion masters you then the lion enjoys a privileged position and great blessings, while the blessings could be yours to share if you were to master this lion.
"Jesus said, "blessed is the lion which becomes humanity when consumed by humanity, but cursed is humanity whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes humanity.
Even common fishermen know to throw back fish they have caught which are worthless, and in the same way the one who has achieved enlightenment understands when to throw back the doctrines of the religious leaders, which are worthless, and also knows, through inner understanding (Gnosis) which doctrines are precious and thus worth retaining.
The person is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found one very fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without any difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear let them hear.
To even participate in such orthodox rituals as fasting or praying is compared to sin (this is irony).
If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourself, and if you pray you will be condemned.
The Gnostic doctrine encapsulates a revolutionary view of society. Many of the parables found in the Gospel of Thomas appear in a different context (surrounded by the sin doctrine in the Gospel of Mark) and here we can see that old parables are being reinterpreted through the lense of the doctrine of enlightenment. There is a kind of commentary being made here upon Orthodoxy, the suggestion being that familiar parables are being distorted and misunderstood.
The sower went out to sow seeds, and some fell onto rocky ground and did not take root...and some fell onto good ground and produced good fruit...it bore a hundred twenty per measure. I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.The point lof the struggle is not to replace one authoritarian system with a new (Gnostic) authoritarian system, but rather to eliminate the authorities altogether, in a struggle for a complete transformation of society.
Jesus said to them 'I am not your leader. Because you are drinking, you have become drunk from the bubbling spring I have measured out.
The effect of the current system was to create a false person (making one person into two, one the real person, kept suppressed, and the other the false person, created by the blocking of enlightenment in favor of authoritarian leaders - the lion) and therefore struggle must be to achieve enlightenment, which results in social transformation, the form of salvation promoted by the Gnostics (and in the Gospel of Thomas they certainly understood the revolutionary political and social implications of their doctrine, which they probably, out of necessity, blanketed in the language of metaphor ... another doctrine which sometimes surfaces in Gnostic thought is that of the 'secret teaching' which would be understood by initiates, such ideas the product of severe persecution. In Thomas a figure of justice (in the form of 'James the Just' is used to symbolize this 'secret knowledge', and it is worth noting here that 'James' was known for his sermons which humiliated the rich and powerful, and hence his moniker 'James the Just'. Sometimes the symbolism in Gnostic verses can only be understood if one is familiar with certain references contemporary with the culture of the time, just as the original readers of the document would have been familiar with these things..)
When you dwell in the light, what will you do? When you were one, you became two. But when you became two, what will you do? The disciples asked, 'when you leave us, who will be our leader?' Jesus replied, 'wherever you are, you are to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.'
The only authority worth following would be one who was never born by the usual means of exiting through the vagina of a woman (once again this is irony, since there is no one like that, therefore there is no one worthy of being an authority, and there is also irony in the comparison to the doctrine of being 'born of a virgin', which is also excluded since the person was born by a woman...what is suggested here is that the orthodox argument that authoritarianism is justified by the principle of royalty encapsulated in the virgin birth doctrine is questionable, and better that one was not born, so as not to raise questions about ones actual credentials).
.When you see one who was not born of a woman, fall on your faces and worship him, for that one is the authority ('the father', the patriarchal authority).
It is worthwhile to study a mini-commentary on the Gospel of Thomas, both to understand the revolutionary implications of the doctrine of enlightenment, and also to highlight the reactionary nature of the authoritarian doctrine of sin and enlightenment. What such an analysis reveals is that the Gnostics were not persecuted because they were 'heretics' but rather because in rejecting the doctrine of 'original sin', and by reinterpreting well know parables, they were questioning the validity of class distinctions (the very essence then of the authoritarian system) and calling into question the validity of the authorities who had interpreted the same parables through the lense of the doctrine of sin and redemption. Just as the Buddha was led to a revolutionary questioning of the justice system in his time (its focus on sin, on crime and punishment, which punished 'individual sinners' while ignoring social crime), so the Gnostics were pushed inevitably towards a revolutionary stance by the implications of the doctrine of enlightenment. What this indicates is that the doctrine of sin and redemption, with its focus on authoritarianism, is an elitist doctrine designed to preserve the status quo and guard the interests of the powerful, and this doctrine is such by its very nature in that the 'cure' for 'sin' is 'accepting the Lord', and due to the defective nature such a cure can only be found in a reliable source outside oneself (the authority) while by its very nature the doctrine of enlightenment, which holds that such a 'defective creation' is unnatural and unreasonable, turns towards an egalitarian view of human society and holds each individual in equal esteem. Such a doctrine can be nothing but revolutionary, and the Gnostics were viciously persecuted for this reason, and this reason alone.
The writings of the Gnostics can seem utterly incomprehensible when first encountered, and this experience can leave one with the impression that such documents must therefore be utterly worthless, perhaps consisting of nothing more than weird speculations, and this strangeness can then lead to a feeling that while it might have been wrong for the early church powers to have so viciously persecuted the Gnostics, at the very least nothing of any real value was lost. And this conclusion is false.
Gnostic writings are 'incomprehensible' only because they were persecuted, and their books burnt (only to resurface in the twentieth century, having lain hidden for so long). The end result has been a society impoverished (to use Gnostic metaphor) in that the world has for so long been viewed as 'sinful' and religion has been for so long been viewed as authoritarian, and dependant upon outside sources of authoritative revelation, that the language of enlightenment now sounds completely foreign, and their arguments are so alien to us today that they risk being completely misunderstood ('hidden in plain sight' to use the Gnostic description of this phenomenon which they also confronted in their own time). As well the Gnostics were persecuted, and thus we find them cloaking themselves in strange sounding parables, and some Gnostics referred cryptically to 'secret teachings' and like Nostradamus, who also faced persecution, they then resorted to what might seem like cryptic sounding parables, whose meaning was coded, in an attempt to survive in an environment of bitter persecution. The meaning can still be unraveled if we first understand the fundamental difference between the doctrines of 'sin and redemption' and 'blindness and enlightenment' which is at the core between the conflict over 'heresy' in the early church. When we comprehend the political nature of the conflict, then not only is the reason for the persecution made plain, but the nature and function of the two doctrines becomes transparent once again (we become one of those 'Gnostic initiates' who then become privy to the 'secret doctrine'.
I have chosen the Gospel of Thomas for this mini-commentary, since less is concealed in this book, and often the attacks on the Orthodox elites are open and direct, although the practice of concealment is still present, as anyone who first reads the document will probably find it incomprehensible and strange, as I first did (the product of a mind trained to think in terms of sin, as well as a product of the persecution of the Gnostic authors).
In the Gospel of Thomas we find a doctrine wedded to the notion that nature is good (rather than corrupted and thus permeated with sinfulness). It is by returning to what is original, what is natural, by returning to 'Eden' as it were, that enlightenment can be found. This concept then expresses itself in a direct attack on the doctrine of sexual shame promoted by the Orthodox elite, and the doctrine of 'sinful flesh' which was central to the doctrine of sin (since it was held that such sin was hereditary, passed on from Adam, and thus all individuals were defective from birth...if then followed that the only trustworthy source of revelation was the hierarchical authorities since the individual could only produce corruption and doctrines which were defective, due to their defective nature). An appeal to nature, and an attack on the notion of sexual shame was thus revolutionary in its implications, for it was an attack on the very foundations of the doctrine of sin which was an attack on the power base of the orthodox elite, which in turn was a challenge to the inequality and injustice of the entire social order.
In the following passage the Gospel of Thomas directly attacks the doctrine of sinful flesh and sexual shame (nothing is cloaked here) and there is an appeal to returning to the nudity found in the Garden of Eden, which is an appeal to the goodness of nature, which is another way of saying that enlightenment can be found, by natural design, within each individual, for everyone is equal and has been created good and perfect, not sinful, defective, and corrupt.
"His disciples said, "When will you appear? Jesus said, "When you strip and are not embarrassed, and you take your clothes and throw them down under your feet like little children, and trample them, then you will see the Child of the Living One and will not be afraid... Whoever has discovered the body is worth more than the world...Have you already understood the beginning so that you now look for the end? For where the beginning is, there the end will be also. Blessed is the one who takes his stand at the beginning, for that person will know the end and will not experience death."
A doctrine should be analyzed based on class interest, as the example discussion illustrates, since religion is merely politics concealed. It was the Gnostics whose doctrine promoted egalitarianism (indeed it could do nothing else by its very nature) while the doctrine of 'hereditary sin' and 'corrupted nature' promoted by the elite priests could only by its very nature promote inequality and thus worked to preserve poverty, hypocritical injustice, and thus served to prop up the status quo (rather than being persecuted by the state, they joined Caesar on the throne, since they both shared the elitist point of view). The purpose of a doctrine then can always be deduced if we make note of whose interests are being served by the doctrine. Like the Gnostic's fisherman, we can always spot the large fish, and throw all the other worthless fish away, without any great difficulty, if we always remember, as the Gnostics themselves, as well as their persecutors, were aware, that all religion is merely politics concealed, and all theology is merely a form of political propaganda intended to promote a certain social order. As the Gnostics, nothing that is hidden can forever remained concealed, and often things are hiding in plain sight, and are only unseen when viewed by an 'unenlightened mind.' It is also true that when elite priests joined Caesar on his throne the politics concealed in their doctrine became clearly visible, and in the same way, religion preached today cannot forever hide the politics that lie hidden in plain sight within the doctrines a religion promotes.
The conflict betweeen the Cross and the Doctrine of Sin
The revolutionary dilemmaThere is a pattern emerges in society which due to the way that it repeats itself could be said to be the typical example - a movement emerges, and in its infancy it poses a challenge to the status quo, and this explains its appeal. It attracts members, and at first it is viciously persecuted, but because this a movement which criticizes the status quo, it proves to be unstoppable. It grows despite, or even because of, persecution. A truce is then called as the status quo moves to give in to some of the demands of the new movement, instituting very modest reforms, and at this point a first victory is celebrated. The new movement is now recognized and the process of the movement being absorbed (and the neutralized) by the status quo has begun. As time goes by the new movement begins to move into the status quo and a subtle change begins to take place. The movement begins to transform from a revolutionary movement, into what is usually called a progressive movement. Change will come, gradually, progressively, a little at a time. The evidence for this are the first tentative victories. Eventually the movement becomes completely corrupt. Progressively, one step at a time, the olive branches extended can be taken away, once the danger is passed, and the movement, while it might still hold a fondness for the label progressive, becomes totally corrupted. It then persecutes newer and more revolutionary movements, and the process continues.
The history of the twentieth century is littered with the corpses of 'progressive movements' that deteriorated and eventually joined the status quo. One good example of this sort of thing is that Democratic Party in the United States which I regard as a moldering corpse. What is worse is that 'progressive' theory works both ways, and now that the 'progressive movements' have been gutted, what we have seen for over twenty years, is that once the threat is removed, the status quo begins to become a progressive movement itself, step by step progressively dismantling all the gains that were progressively won by progressive movements earlier in the century. I regard the progressive movement as being one the great failures of the 20th century, but it is easy to understand the appeal. The argument is that change must be revolutionary, since this harmful, but that we can reach the same goal, progressively, one step at a time, and do no harm in the process. The results can be seen in the rising and every increasing inequality, the freedom with which attacks are launched against such places as Nicaragua or Iraq, the collapse of the Union movement, the progressive full scale assault being launched against the country by plunging it into debt (as Reagan's own budget chief admitted, this was an attack on the progressive movement, for the government would no longer be able to afford any progressive programs, thus getting rid of them once and for all).
The problem lies in the fact that change is being made to a system where power is shared unequally, and in a battle to see who can progressively get what they want in such a system, what the 20th century reveals is that the deck is stacked against the progressive movement. At the end of it all what is left is a corpse, run by the status quo, and once again you can consider the Democrats, who if they get in, plan to scale back the next phase of the Bush tax cuts, by trimming 90 billion off of the 690 billion price tag, as a kind of sop to the progressive base of the party. In short then, the Democrats will also shove the knife in real deep and make damn sure that for the forseeable future there will never again be threat of some progressive movement developing in the United States (thus no doubt setting up the conditions for the next revolutionary wave, which is building around the world, now that the progressive movement and its promises have collapsed and been discredited).
What made the progressive movement attractive was the unattractiveness of the violent revolutionary movement of the 20th century. Violent military revolution is one of the great failures of the 20th century as well, and its failures are what led to the rise of the progressive movement in the first place. Almost without a single exception (the only exception I have ever seen having been in Nicaragua), every military revolution resulted in a military dictatorship and a police state (commonly referred to by the blanket description 'Stalinism' by those on the revolutionary left who are struggling with the implications of their legacy). Conventional analysis would suggest that this repeating pattern of failure is the result of 'corruption by compromise with the bourgeois' resulting in the corrupted form of leftism known as Stalinism. I feel that while violent revolutionaries hold to the doctrine that 'the end justifies the means' what history actually shows us is that the means dictate the ends, so then when shell shocked and battle hardened revolutionaries take power, they naturally begin to mold society into the image of a military boot camp. They have learned that the way to deal with a problem is to kill people, and thus come the purges, and the gulags are only a compromise solution, while being an expression of the same spirit.
And therein lies the revolutionary dilemma. Violent revolution proves attractive because it offers a quick fix to what would otherwise seem to be an intractable problem, but in the end the cure has always proved to be as bad, or typically even worse, than the disease. Similarly, the progressive movement offers a solution to the problem of relying on the military as a so called 'force for progress in human society' by propounding the doctrine of gradual, systematic change, but in the end delivers a gradual and equally progressive return to the conditions prevalent during the time of Charles Dickens, which were so horrible that they provoked both violent revolution and the progressive movement in the first place. Anyone who has their fingers on the pulse of the planet knows that the process unfolding over the last few decades has created the conditions that are precursors to another revolutionary wave (the clearest examples that come to mind are the revolutionary precursors that are clearly evident in what has been going on in South America).
So then we can note that not only do the 'revolutionaries' have a dilemma, but the status quo has a bit of a problem as well, in that it is the very forces at work within the status quo itself that create the revolutionary conditions in the first place, and this process appears to be unstoppable, for the status quo would have to be something other than what it is to stop the process, and that it cannot become without ceasing to be the unequal, unegalitarian, oppressive, grasping thing that it is...So then the only way to permanently forestall revolution would be to have revolutionary change, and therefore, since this is what is being avoided, there is nothing in the world that can prevent this persistent movement towards revolutionary change from unfolding as it does - it is simply in the nature of the beast.
The Christian RevolutionI felt it was worthwhile to review the recent history of revolution as sketched out above in that this process explains Christian history as well, for it turns out that Christianity can best be understood as a revolutionary movement, which then deteriorated into a progressive movement in the second century, and which then was co-opted by the status quo, and became in the end a weapon in the hands of the status quo after being gradually transformed into a tool being used to prop up the status quo (which once again makes me think of the forces that went into the development of that Democratic party in the United States, which like Christianity before it, was at one time home to a radical wing, then dominated by progressives, and now has evolved into one of those tools...the radical element, after a long history of bitter criticism of that party, have long since, and the progressives remain, just barely, due to their fear of the right wing, which goes to show you how right baiting can be just as useful as red baiting, depending on who you are trying to co-opt...).
If we strip away the veneer of Christian dogma, and examine the crucifixion symbol in isolation, and we keep in mind that the cross was a symbol of resurrection, then we can note that the cross symbol was an insolent, insulting revolutionary symbol in the context of the culture in which it emerged. Roman citizens were not crucified, and that form of gruesome torturous death was reserved for those lower on the totem pole. Of particular interest is the fact that crucifixion was the punishment meted out to rebellious slaves This punishment was intended to be gruesome so as to instill terror, and to deliver the message which stated that the powerful were powerful and for this reason you will die. The public torture involved in crucifixion was therefore a form of punishment infused with political significance (it would be kinder, but much less terrifying as a display of power, to cut off a head in a second, but this form of death did not send the intended message, nor would it have instilled the required degree of terror needed to create docile and compliant slaves...this was important in that slaves produced all the wealth and they outnumbered citizens, for if a citizen wanted to be as rich as 500 people he would require the labor of 500 slaves - either that or he would have to work 500 times as many hours himself, and that was impossible).
It is inherent in the politics of slave driving that the slave has been reduced to something less than fully human, and it is also the case that all people are pretty much the same, something that a slave would understand, and this explains the terrors of crucifixion, required to overcome that natural offense and stubbornness that might otherwise become a problem for slave drivers, who are, after all, only oppressors who must rely on the fiction that taught that somehow all human beings are not equal.
During the age of the monarchs there was a legal prohibition against insulting the majesty of the king. Such an insult was punished with death. Now when a group of slaves adopted as the symbol of their movement a cross, and a victim who had been saved from the clutches of Caesar by the hand of God, it follows that they were being insolent in that such a display was insulting to the majesty of Caesar. What it meant, to put it in words was, Caesar, you brutal and oppressive ruthless prick...God is disgusted with you, you filthy old tyrant, and so God raised the victim of your torture from the dead. It took remarkable courage to proclaim that Caesar crucifies slaves, but God raises his victims from the dead. This understanding has been lost owing to the fact that the cross was eventually co-opted and turned into a weapon (using the doctrine of sin to drain it of its meaning), and after long regarding the cross symbol as representing backwards right wing reaction, most people who first encounter this hidden act of political insolence would probably be surprised, since such a thing would not have occurred to them before, despite the fact that it is obviously the truth (what the Gnostics referred to as those things which are hiding in plain sight, and this does demonstrate how co-opting works, how it hides, disguises, and then makes a thing into a tool for Caesar and his elite priests). And here we can find what the Gnostics would have called 'insight' (Gnosis) at work, in that what is revealed here is a classic example of how the status quo really works, and how anything, no matter how difficult the task at hand might be (and certainly hiding that insulting cross message might have been considered impossible) nonetheless anything at all can be and has been completely corrupted, so as to deny the individual Gnosis and instead perpetuate ignorance, in the service of propping of the status quo and maintaining hierarchies and inequalities..
Traces of this early revolutionary understanding remain buried here and there (although it would seem that most of it has disappeared). For example, the books known as Corinthians are composed of remaining fragments which were all that remained of early documents, and which may have been written by many different people (certainly the mix of doctrines and politics in the documents suggest numerous authors). We find the following scrap which insults Caesar (interestingly enough Caesar is insulted for his lack of 'Gnosis' - understanding) and the fragment describes the membership of the audience (they were lower class) and then calls on them to launch revolution so as to overthrow the Roman empire. Fascinating scraps such as these are hard to find, they open briefly a window into the earliest days of the Christian movement, and it is interesting to note here how the politics of the passage agree with the political message of the cross symbol as I sketched out above, which is a strong indication that this is an authentic early passage from the Christian movement, since it shows an awareness of the political significance of the cross symbol. It is interesting to note that the authors suggests that cross symbol 'shames the rich and powerful' which is another indication that the author understood the meaning of the symbol, as described above. The author uses language which echoes the themes and concerns of the gnostics (secret wisdom, an attack on hierarchy and power, a suggestion that the fault with the elite lay in the fact that they lacked knowledge and understanding (Gnosis), and so on...)
"The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. My friends, think about what kind of people you are. Few of you are considered wise by the usual standards, few of you are powerful, few of you come from the noble families. Yet to shame the wise God has chosen those whom the world considers foolish, and to shame the strong God has chosen those the world considers weak. God has chosen those without rank and with no standing in society, mere nothings, to overthrow the established order... I came to you without pretensions of eloquence or wisdom when speaking to you about God. I resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ - Christ nailed to the cross. I came in fear and weakness. The message I preached to you did not sway you with clever arguments but rather carried with it the conviction of spiritual power, so that your faith would not be dependant on the cleverness of people but rather upon the power of God. Among the mature I do speak words of wisdom, though not a wisdom belonging to this present age or to its governments already in decline. I speak words of hidden wisdom of God's secret purpose framed from the start to bring us to our glory. None of the powers that rule this world have ever understood this wisdom. If they would have understood it then they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory.
A fragment attributed to figure known as James, also accurately describes the political significance of the cross symbol, equating it with humiliation in one of his sermons against the rich and powerful, and this passage I find interesting, not only for its political interpretation of the meaning of the cross symbol. In the passage above, and in passages from outside the Bible, produced by the Roman culture, the Christian movement is described as populated by the lower classes, and the sermon of James helps to explain why this is the case-the cross symbol was humiliating to the elite powers.
"Has not God chosen those who are the poor of the world to possess the kingdom? And yet you humiliate the poor man. More importantly, are not the rich your oppressors? Is it not they who are prosecuting you and insulting the honored name ('Jesus') by which God has claimed you...Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that whoever makes themselves a friend of this world, makes themselves an enemy of God?...Now a word to the rich. Weep and wail over the miserable fate overtaking you. You riches have rotted away, your fine clothes are moth eaten, your silver and gold have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and consume your flesh like fire. You have piled up wealth in age is that near its close. The wages you have never paid cry out against you and the outcry of the workers has reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven. You live in wanton luxury, gorging yourselves, and that on the day which is appointed for your slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent man, who offers no resistance.
Now perhaps this James character, who became so famous for his thunderous sermons against the rich and his defense of the poor, was a violent revolutionary (he speaks of the coming revolution, referred to here as 'the age nearing its close', and he speaks of the rich being slaughtered, although perhaps he expected God to slaughter them - politically there is no difference, since the doctrine is the same in either case). What is significant here is his description of the class of people who were Christians (it was the poor whom 'God had chosen to possess the Kingdom -m the language of revolution once again). He also articulates why it would have been the case the originally Christianity was not a religion of the elite, for you can see that the cross symbol was insolent and insulting (just as the Sermons of James were insolent and insulting, thus perfectly encapsulating the true political meaning of the symbol). To paraphrase what he is saying there is that the rich powerful people are oppressors, and they are big fat pigs who killed Jesus, although he did nothing to resist them (so then Jesus was not a violent revolutionary, which suggests that he was a Gnostic revolutionary, killed because of what came out of his mouth). And James said, are you now not a bunch of miserable humiliated pricks, now that God raised your victim from the dead, and even now you continue to stuff yourselves even though you are about to be slaughtered because of what you have done by condemning and murdering Jesus.
That insolent and insulting sermon perfectly encapsulates the insolent and insulting meaning of the cross symbol in Roman society, something lost to most people, who think of the cross as a symbol of right wing reaction, and when you understand this you can understand both why Christianity was a lower class movement, and why eventually it was co-opted and the cross symbol was drained of its meaning by being given a new meaning (it has been said that nature abhors a vacuum). When the cross symbol was redefined as a symbol of 'paying for the original orgasm and hereditary sin' it became a weapon which could then be used to target the 'sinful flesh' of the slave, rather than the injustice and inequality of the social order.
Christianity began to deteriorate when it became a progressive movement, and modified its message to appeal to the Roman Status quo. This process is evident when we study the Gospel of Luke, where we find a message of progressive social change combined with a favorable view of Caesar and the Roman establishment which permeates the book known as Acts of the Apostles. In this document Roman authorities are portrayed as very positive towards Christianity while it is the unwashed, unruly, sinful mob that was really responsible for the crucifixion. This behavior was caused by their inherited sinfulness, for which Jesus died. The progressive element is described in the form of 'Trojan Horse Socialism'. Private property was abolished and everyone shared everything, and this progressive system was set up in the very heart of the Roman empire, the idea being that gradually, over time, it would spread as more people joined, and Rome would be peacefully, progressively transformed into an egalitarian society.
To facilitate this process of progressive change it was necessary not to preach anymore sermons about 'overthrowing the established order' or thunderous sermons about slaughtering the Roman establishment. It would not do to talk about how ignorant the powerful were, how little Gnosis they had, or to describe them as big fat pigs and all the other things the church was saying at the revolutionary start, and it was also required that humiliating message of the cross symbol be set aside, in the interests of social harmony, and replaced by that other thing about 'original sin' so that the mob could take the blame for the crucifixion, instead of the Roman establishment, who were nice people, and really liked Christians and also liked the cross symbol and Jesus, according to that fictional, polemical rewriting of history found in the book of Acts. No it wasn't the powerful elite who killed Jesus, it was the sinful, unwashed mob, and here we see the seeds of disaster being sown, as progressively the meaning of the crucifixion symbol was altered. As for motives, well revolution was dangerous, and it got a lot of people killed by Caesar, and therefore progressive change was better, and in the end would bring us to the same place without all the conflict and bloodshed. It is worth noting here that the Luke gospel and the book of Acts are a kind of 'communist' document, and the authors shared the objectives of the radical movement, but they had problems with revolution, and preferred progressive change instead.
For this reason change was required if Christianity was going to make the transformation from radical movement to progressive movement, working respectfully with the status quo to peacefully change the status quo, through the process of slow gradual step by step progressive change. Of course that didn't happen and that Trojan horse socialist system went no where, being stomped out of existence after which it disappeared from the pages of history, to be replaced eventually by progressive right wing reaction. A study of history, which keeps repeating itself, tells us that this is what had to happen, and the book of Acts remains valuable as a text book for the study of how 'progressive' compromise with a hostile status quo just does not work, no matter how noble your motives might be.
The understanding of the radical meaning of the cross symbol has been successfully buried for thousands of years. Part of the blame lies with the Roman religious right (who naturally, being right wing, hopped into bed with Caesar) but part of the blame also lay with 'progressives', such as those who produced the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, in that they paved the way for such extreme right wing reaction, in that they needed to alter the meaning of the crucifixion symbol if they were going to facilitate peaceful reform in partnership with the elite, and thus they promoted that sin doctrine and shifted the blame for the crucifixion. Once again Christianity and its history provides valuable lessons, if its studied with a sharp and critical mind (by those determined to achieve 'Gnosis' - both knowledge and understanding).
The fact that the meaning of the cross symbol was destroyed is a defeat, but given how the status quo creates the preconditions for revolution, it is also an opportunity in that most people do not understand the meaning of the cross symbol, for the revelation of its hidden significance remains a polemic for how the status quo really does operate, and that has never changed, so the revelation remains valid today (and, it is ironic, but then the cross symbol becomes a tool which facilitates 'Gnosis' - the Gnostics would have been pleased). It is ironic then that despite all that happened, or even more so, because of all that happened, the cross symbol remains revolutionary even to this very day, even though the society which produced it has long since passed away.
It was the doctrine of the Gnostics that insight, that enlightenment and understanding were revolutionary, and the revolution they sought was a revolution of knowledge and understanding replacing that curious blindness and inculcated ignorance. This sad condition they said led to 'poverty' (referring to the impoverished mind of the brainwashed good citizen who obeyed the authorities), but such things also manifest themselves in the physical world (in this case in the existence of literal poverty, one thing following the other).
Given the enormous amount of time and energy even the worst dictatorships pour into making propaganda (instilling anti-Gnosis) there is here, it would seem to me, a concept very worthy of revolutionary consideration. I won't offer this as the complete solution to the revolutionary problem, but that 'Gnosis' is of central importance is clearly demonstrated by the endless effort put into 'anti-Gnosis' by the powers of the status quo, with even tyrants devoting themselves day and night to such 'anti-Gnosis'. Clearly the Gnostics were onto something here, and at the very least 'Gnosis' (insight, consisting of both knowledge and understanding) are the most important precursors to revolutionary change (and perhaps might even be the greater part of revolution, as the early Gnostics seemed to believe was the case, and tyrants always seem to think this to be true, given how much effort they put into endless anti-gnosis, and how quickly they fall when their anti-gnosis loses its effect).
Power is after all an illusion, and consists merely of consent, which is a social contract. Such consent can be forthcoming in many ways (including depressed resignation and a feeling of helplessness, or the enthusiastic endorsement of those who have been propagandized). Everything that exists in a society relies on consent. As one example, Money is simply human labor power expressed in an abstract form. It exists because we consent, and money has no real value of its own, but only has any value at all because there exists a social contract by means of which people consent to attach such value to money as a means of expressing the value of labor power. Those without 'Gnosis' might believe that such things as money have an existence of their own, quite apart from consent, and they may similarly believe that social custom is 'the way things are by nature' rather than by consent, and thus conclude that change is never possible, when in reality all change is really nothing more than a change of mind, and the prison house of society is a prison constructed withing the confines of the human mind. Everything concrete is merely an expression of an idea and things only become real because people have given their consent and have thus entered into a social contract which then gives a thing its substance..(To fail to understand these things is to have poverty, and, as the Gnostics said, you ARE that poverty. The revolutionary implication is that ANYTHING is possible, given that everything is nothing more than a product of consent, a thought that is, and the real revolution must take place within the human mind (just as the real 'counter-revolution' is fought in the mind in the form of endless propaganda-which is why the Gnostics preached against the leaders and authoritarianism and in favor of individuality and inward looking Gnosis.. For those struggling to understand the political significance of the philosophy expounded by the Gnostics, the above paragraph is my attempt at a summary. )
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