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Wright On Gnosticism

August 26, 2009

Which is a little different than “Right On Gnosticism”…

Which I suppose could even be construed differently depending on your emphasis. One could be like directions, “Right, on gnosticism.” The other like you’re cheering it on, “Right on, Gnosticism!”

Anyways, Chris Tilling in his bi-weekly post (or is it bi-monthly now?) directed his reader’s attention to the YouTube channel created by St John’s of Nottingham and their growing collection of fine videos.

Yesterday’s addition is interesting for two reasons. One, Bishop Wright talks of gnosticism ancient and modern and makes a couple of salient points. As someone who has to deal with modern gnostics on a consistent basis–and the worst kind: those untrained in any of the disciplines of philosophy or theology–I enjoyed this video.

Second, at the end of the video there is a brief advertisement for a project of which this video is a part. The production value is obviously high in this sample video, and the quality and value of this project as a whole looks to be top notch as well.


20 Comments leave one →
  1. Fr Craig permalink
    August 26, 2009 10:36 am

    I have tremendous respect for +Wright – though he is sadly on the wrong side of the glbt issue, and is – in his arrogance – helping to foment the schism of my Church. His NT works are still brilliant. We anglicans joke that his frequent flyer miles could fund the CofE for a year… this a good piece

  2. August 26, 2009 11:29 am

    Oh dear. Jim West may never talk to you again if you say nice things about Wright

  3. steph permalink
    August 26, 2009 11:30 am

    Matthew, Mark Luke and John tried to “squash this early Christianity” down? Hasn’t he ever so slightly misrepresented Ehrman and possibly even Pagels here? I’m sure he could have found an American lunatic or two who have said that, but not Ehrman. And the Gospel of John goes back to Jesus? Of course all our gnostic texts are late but did he have to invent this big ‘conspiracy theory’? Has he got evidence? Sure – but which American scholars? Geez you Wrightians would believe him if he told you cows had begun to go miaow instead of moo. 😉

    • August 26, 2009 11:47 am

      Yes, clearly, what I wrote between the lines was, “I am totally uninformed in historical and biblical studies. I have read nothing BUT Tom Wright. You will never, ever have to read any gnostic documents or secondary literature because in his brief discussion Wright has perfectly encapsulated all of gnostic though and its commentators.”

      Obviously, someone as ill informed as Wright could not have any good insights on ancient gnosticism if he had a view different than Ehrman’s (or yours?), and I am but a blind follower of his.

      I guess if I am a blind follower of every person in every video, yesterday would make me reformed, and the day before that would make me a mime.

      I’m not a Wrightian. You should actually read what I wrote; it would help inform your dismissive rhetoric better… 😉

  4. steph permalink
    August 26, 2009 11:57 am

    ouch – my snarling at Wrightians wasn’t directed at you … although it does look a bit like it was – but it wasn’t! And I do read your blog (and did read your post) so there! 🙂

    • August 26, 2009 1:21 pm

      “And I do read your blog” Well, I guess that’s better than, “I did read your blog!”

  5. August 26, 2009 6:38 pm

    I often have my students do projects on the Bible and popular culture, including film. The first Matrix movie is basically a re-telling of the Gnostic myth, and when I started teaching in 2000 almost every group presentation on the Bible and film included Neo as a Christ figure. I soon realized that the reason why so many students saw Jesus in Neo was that they were basically modern-day Christian gnostics. That is confirmed by the fact that they like John a lot better than Mark.

  6. August 26, 2009 7:19 pm

    Bishop Wright and I have crossed swords before (in the pages of US News & World Report). I respect him as one of the few critics of Gnosticism who has actually read the source material. His interpretation, I feel, belies his Calvinist, misanthropic leanings, and his complete straw-man argument of Gnostic claims to historicity (as well has his mischaracterization of both Pagels and Ehrmann) do him no credit. There is simply no “conspiracy theory” element to Gnosticism, although I do understand that six minutes of footage can lead to gross oversimplification for the sake of expediency; a hazard of the medium.

    First, I find his claim that Gnosticism is popular rather amusing. We’re honestly overjoyed if we can get thirty people out on a Sunday, and if we ever totaled 1% of the CoE, Gnostic clergy everywhere would fall over in a dead faint. Secondly, his position that the idea that “the kingdom of God is within you” is contrary to the Christian message is refuted by Paul, who said exactly that – curiously enough in those very words. His presentation of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as a monolith is deeply misleading, and omits the very important role that the Gospel of John had in _cementing_, not discouraging, Gnostic thought in the late first and early second centuries. The preamble to John’s Gospel is one of the most Gnostic pieces ever composed.

    Gnosis is work. It is often unpleasant, and alienates one from one’s former sense of identity. It comes at a cost. But the insight into who we truly are, and how we connect with God is, ultimately, a treasure. Know thyself, to thine ownself be true; these are hard-won, and in my understanding the responsibility of every mature individual.

    As a post-script, I do regret that you have to deal with “the worst kind” of modern Gnostics, and I do so hope you do not count me among them.


    Jordan Stratford

    • August 26, 2009 9:24 pm

      No Jordan, I would most certainly not count you amongst them. I have to deal with them because they’re related to my wife.

      They’re the kind whom are untrained in any sort of philosophical discourse and make ridiculous truth claims starting with “I believe…” and then say something asinine, and think their verbal vomit stands as a self-evident truth claim because they said the magical words “I believe.”

      They aren’t entirely Gnostics; they grab a little of anything, as long as it helps them build their religion of themselves. Christianity, Buddhism, The Secret, whatever, as long as it serves their purposes. The problem in their self-centered dilettante world I perceive is they ignore reality instead of constructing their own reality; which from their ignorant speeches is what I think they are attempting to do.

  7. August 26, 2009 9:27 pm

    Well there’s your ticket right there: real Gnostics don’t have beliefs. We have “understandings”. 😉

    • August 27, 2009 8:36 am

      Would you say that ancient gnostics had “understandings”? What would be the basis for that? What are the differences between ancient and modern gnostics in your opinion?

  8. August 27, 2009 2:01 am

    As someone who has to deal with modern gnostics on a consistent basis–and the worst kind: those untrained in any of the disciplines of philosophy or theology

    Are you speaking of students?
    Do you find the best gnostics those with strong rationalizations by philosophy to be the “best kind”?
    Do you find the best kind of Christians to be those trained in the disciplines of philosophy and theology?

    • August 27, 2009 8:41 am

      I’m not speaking of students.

      I use “worst kind” in this instance about some persons I know, but the attitude I’m speaking of can be applied to other situations. Basically it is this: the most ignorant persons I know usually have the most inflexible opinions (I use ignorant as uninformed); it is a lethal combination that usually leads to them understanding they don’t even have an “opinion” but are actually stating how things really are.

      On the other hand, many of those I deal with who have been trained in certain discourse eventually (most of the time) start to realize they don’t know everything, they could be wrong, and hold some things with an open hand.

      I would much rather talk with the person who has the second attitude.

  9. Jake permalink
    August 27, 2009 8:53 am

    Which is why talking to people like Jordan Stratford about Gnosticism would probably be way more enjoyable than talking to me about music…


  10. August 27, 2009 7:01 pm

    First I’d like to focus on the continuity of expression from classical Gn to contemporary Gn:

    I posit that if it’s acceptable to suggest that a modern Christian is still a Christian, despite the great variance in regional expression and even firmly held tenets of faith (no one is suggesting for a moment that “primitive” Christians believed in the Assumption, for example, even though it’s absolute infallible dogma today) then to my mind it’s equally acceptable to claim that a twenty-first century Gnostic is in fact a Gnostic.

    Like our 200 BCE Greek-speaking Egyptian Jewish forebears, we hold;

    – to the pre-existence of the human soul as a spark of the Divine (this one was a deal-breaker in our later negotiation with Christianity)

    – to the responsibility of the individual to attain intimate knowledge (gnosis) of one’s relation to the Divine

    – to the salvific exclusivity of gnosis

    – to the due respect and honour of those who have attained gnosis

    – to the distinction between the ideal world and that of the inhabited world, and a rejection of the kosmos, or system, as a means of understanding who we are [a philosophy castigated as “dualism” or “world-hating”, but if I tell you that a tuna sandwich is all well and good, it just is limited in terms of what it can tell you about your Divine origins and the true nature of the human condition, is that “tuna sandwich-hating”?]

    – to the obligation of such a rejection, and a constant critical examination of authority

    – to the value of creativity, curiosity, imagination, and intuition in discovering and celebrating our relationship to G@d

    – to a pragmatic syncretism, honouring a variety of techniques and stories to enhance and illustrate gnosis, regardless of their culture of origin

    But what would one expect from a religious movement that began, in essence, as a literary genre, developed by Hellenized Jews, living down the block from the temple of Isis, on the doorstep of the Roman empire? It’s messy. We’re used to it.

  11. August 28, 2009 8:03 am

    Very interesting Jordan Thank you. Though I can’t believe you hate tune sandwiches… 🙂 !

    Three questions if you continue to indulge me:

    1) You understand there is an ideal word (which we’re presently not in?) and must critically examine authority. So if we are to reject Wright’s generalization (made in an attempt to be brief and understood) that there’s a “conspiracy theory” what generalizing term would an insider use to describe that things are not how they seem or there is something more?

    2) What is it in your faith belief that does not allow you to write God? Seeing that it is a generic term and not the name of any god? Or at least none that I know of, and there’s a lot of things I don’t know!

    3) In your salvific exclusivity what are people saved to (or maybe from)?

  12. steph permalink
    August 28, 2009 10:01 am

    A little note – having in the past commented on and appreciated many posts on your blog, and having read this post and made a comment, I regret not reading your angry response to me properly until now because I was so surprised … I’m sorry you misinterpreted it as an insinuation that you were a Wrightian but I’m surprised you thought I was implying Wright was wrong and Ehrmann was right. What I in fact suggested was that Wright had misrepresented both Ehrmann and Pagels. I didn’t say they were right but I know they’re not as bad as Wright suggests. When misrepresentation occurs, I think it should be corrected. Dismissive rhetoric? 🙂

    Congratulations on your scholarship. Kia kaha! 🙂

    • August 28, 2009 10:19 am

      Yeah not my best response ever, but I think I was going more for sarcasm than anger.

      Another example of millions of the imperfect form of writing…

  13. steph permalink
    August 28, 2009 10:26 am

    yes – it was more sarcastic but it seemed less insulting to accuse you of anger than sarcasm even if sarcasm was correct. 🙂

  14. August 29, 2009 8:59 am

    Well, I’m always reluctant to monopolize another’s blog, but I’ll take a quick crack at your questions:

    1) We make a distinction between kosmos and hypostasis, between system and underlying reality. We’re ALWAYS in the reality of things, but we’re veiled from it by “the way of the world”, by “the powers and principalities”, as Paul put it. These powers are generally held by modern gnostics to be limiting aspects of self; ego, jealousy, materialism, greed. We get in our own way.

    2) God / G@d. That’s just a typographic convention that I do pretty much on autopilot as I correspond with a lot of Jews, including my sister, and it’s out of respect for that tradition. Personally I have no preference and there’s no tie-in with Gnosticism, it’s just something my fingers do when I’m not paying attention.

    3) We are saved by insight from ignorance, saved by union with the pleroma from the illusion of separation. Now, I don’t see this as problematic with Christian soteriology as Gn has (for the most part – it’s a big movement with lots of variations) seen Jesus as Logos – word, reason, the ideal nature of things – and this is in fact what we must have insight about, gnosis of. Mangled English, no coffee yet.

    So gnosis is exclusively salvific in that in our view, faith alone is not going to do the trick (and scripture alone is a non-starter). One has a responsibility to internalize and incorporate one’s relationship with God – intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, creatively, and in practice. This I think is why Gnosticism will always be a fringe path. It’s too much bloody work. Much easier to shout out something at a big screen tv in an sportsplex revival meeting and hand out Chick tracts. Gnosticism requires what Jung called “individuation”, maturity.

    “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age”

    And congratulations on your scholarship! Now I’m off to make a tuna sandwich! 😉

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