I particularly enjoyed the recent episode of Aeon Bye Gnostic Radio: The Failure of Atheism and Theism. Our Astral Guest was Scott Smith, whom I see as a burgeoning voice in modern Gnostic thought. I enjoy all those who grace the show, yet Scott touched on a subject during the interview that was a main reason I was initially attracted to the ethos of an obscure 2nd century heresy.
That is the notion of suffering. More than any other ideology or faith, the Gnostic worldview granted me a viable understanding of why we suffer—or more precisely granted me the spiritual elbow room to finally do something about suffering. I’m sure Scott, who attends the Ecclesia Gnostica services in Los Angeles, was in some way influenced by Stephan Hoeller’s exemplary article on suffering: The Mystery of Iniquity.
I could never surpass Hoeller’s homilies or Scott’s erudition in his book God Reconsidered, but between them I am grateful to be reminded that I am no longer steeped in Orthodox, secular, or the New Age delirium—that I was offered a different (and harder) path to some sort of lasting individuation. With the Gnostic worldview, I no longer have to accept that suffering is caused by:
- Two nudists and their indigestion caused by Elohim-GMO fruit (even as the Orthodox antacid is a gory apocalypse with Michael Bay special effects).
- The wispy illusion-farts of a deity playing hide and seek with itself (even as Jews and other minorities were incinerated in concentration camps, just unable to see past the impish maya)
- The karmic reverberations of a cosmic learning process leading to Oprah-enlightenment (even as kiddie porn and pedophilia soak society).
- The random tension of an expanding mechanical universe that came about by the reverse discovery of the demigod Neil Degrasse Tyson (even as…eh, it’s all meaningless and Zen-like…better go see what’s on Reddit).
I do agree with Scott in the interview that, as traditional views contemplate, suffering can indeed lead one to expanded consciousness or a higher kismet. But for the most part suffering is just sucky suck. And very real.
Always the outcast geek, the Gnostics’ take on suffering is basically this:
We exist in deficient bodies in a deficient universe ruled by deficient beings. Only a special type of knowledge (Gnosis) will remove all these deficiencies and disimprison our inner savior, all resulting in our finally becoming completely and crazily free.
You can take this as literal, philosophical, or psychological as you want. Your mileage may vary. I have never personally been to face to face with a lion-headed demiurge or hermaphrodite angels with a penchant for rape and bureaucratic fiats. Regardless, the Gnostic worldview gives me a fighting chance because I no longer have any excuses. Between Isis and Ebola, I now realize suffering is woven into the fabric of the universe. Suffering is not my fault, but it is my responsibility (and I need help beyond myself, or else I would have figured out this mess many incarnations ago).
This reminds of a Philip K. Dick quote, from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?:
You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.
I’m sure the Great Dick was also addressing another Gnostic concept I have also dealt with: The Counterfeit Spirit. This notion basically claims that all of our dooms are inbuilt in our physical and spiritual DNA, manifesting as fickle Lady Fate, and it’s all loaded with vast operating systems of suffering.
So basically we’re screwed right? Everywhere in the universe?
No, there is a solution, as Bill W might tell Phil D. In the next article, I’ll address the Gnostic solution to suffering. If you’re not too depressed because of all this suffering, I’ll see then on the dark side of the moon.