Are You a Gnostic?
This is not one of those checklist articles or baseless Facebook quizzes (such as “Which Charles Manson follower are you?”). Sadly, I must admit indulging in this type of hack writing before.
No, this piece is about relation and inspiration—two forces that certainly moved the ancient Gnostics in their attempt to scissor the veils of illusion that comprised the veil of tears that comprised sensible reality.
The answer to this article’s title takes the form of a passage from one of my favored books on the Gnostics: The Secret Book of John: The Gnostic Gospel by Stevan Davies. Beyond a remarkable preparatory work on Gnosticism, Davies’ introduction elegantly encapsulates the Gnostic ethos. In my book, Voices of Gnosticism, Davies further uncovers the intention of any Gnosis with this lucid quote:
Gnosticism is about discovering the way that God has turned into you, and then realizing that if you can describe how it is that God turned into you, you can reverse the process.
This reminds me of when Carl Jung said, “For the Alchemist, the one primarily in need of redemption is not man, but the deity who is lost and sleeping in matter.”
Basically both Jung and Davies are stating this: God went crazy and became humanity; and now humanity (or part of humanity) tarries in the world of generation for a very long therapy session. As Davies explains in his book, human salvation and God’s psychotherapy are one and the same.
Gnostic theology can be more nuanced or more complicated than that, of course, depending on the school of thought. Nonetheless, if you gain relation or inspiration from this passage, then you might be truly a Gnostic:
Perhaps you are one of those remarkable people who experience an overpowering realization of the divinity of existence. You suddenly know that everything is divine and that within you lies an ocean of God. Will you know this all of the time and every day? No. You will crest and fall and submerge again into the mundane. The realization of divinity as the be-all and end-all, as the substance of your very self—that within which you live and move and have your being—does not dominate every day, although you wish it would. The ordinary world of aches and pains and approaching death, of trouble, temptation, sin, stress, and loss seems to rule almost all the time. And yet, sometimes you can seize what you seek and see glory everywhere and know yourself to be divine.
If you are one of those people, you are one of the Gnostics. You know what you truly are, that you are God, just as everyone else is. But, as a Gnostic, your existence in this ordinary and difficult world puzzles you. You ask, “How did I come to be here?” You don’t seem to belong here. You belong in a world, a realm of divinity. And it certainly seems that the divine realm is not everyday reality. But if, in full reality, everything that exists is God, why don’t we always know this? Why do some people never even think it possible to be what, in their depths, they really are? Why don’t we know who we are? How did we come to forget? What holds us back from perpetual realization of our divinity and what traps so many people into denying that their own divinity is even conceivable? These are the Gnostic’s questions. The Secret Book of John is the Gnostics’ answer.
Gnostics know that God is all and that they themselves are God. They experience this knowledge, this realization, and know that everyone else could share their experience. But they are continually thrown back into the seemingly hard material reality that tells them that they are merely flawed humans, kin to apes, doomed to die, ruled by a judgmental creator god who often does not know a fondness for people at all. Gnostics rebel against their churches and their priests, their Bible-based pastors whose obsession with God’s supposed desire to control behavior seems not to be what true religion is about. To Gnostics, true religion, elite spirituality, is a realization of the divinity of every person, an experience of ascent to the divine homeland. It is a knowledge of the way we once were as God and of the processes by which God came to be self-forgetful as to become us, mere human beings under the control of another lesser god. Those are the lesson taught in the Gnostic Gospel, the Secret Book of John.
Gnosticism is a religion of rebels, creative thinkers whose works were systematically destroyed by orthodox Christianity between the second and the sixth centuries C.E. Gnostics were the ‘other’ to the growth of orthodoxy; they lived in the home of heresy for they were the source of self-assertiveness against the Episcopal demand for sameness. They persisted in the shadows, in certain Sufi sets, in the Christian Cathar movement, and perhaps even among the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucian orders. Only recently have the old Gnostics spoken aloud again. Their speech resounds in the document of the Nag Hammadi Library buried seventeen hundred years ago in Upper Egypt, discovered again in 1945, and read today by spiritual seekers throughout the world. Their main document, their central myth, their theory of the origin and structure of reality is a text called the Secret Book of John. In this text we learn how God fell and became us and how, through knowing that story, we can return to glory and be absorbed again into God.
There is not right result or reaction to reading this—no score, except how you relate and are inspired. I couldn’t have said it better than this passage. Or perhaps remembered it better, in those times an ocean of God pours out of my heart to assist the psychotherapy of the Divine.
Updated May 20, 2016