Saturday, February 7, 2009
Many people are unaware that the New Age does actually have an explanation for why this happens, most people I speak to are only aware of the traditional Christian explanation for such things. Admittingly, very few people within New Age discuss this, many people who I have raised this with just dismiss such things as being untrue. This is unfortunate, as anyone who has spoken with many people on the subject and made a sincere attempt to research it, will have encountered the fact that not everything related to the Supernatural is all love and light. Things aren't necessarily better with the traditional Mystical philosophies, I've heard a few stories of Ashram's turning away people with Spiritual Crisis. Probably the groups that have paid the most attention to this are the Spiritualists and the Occultsists from around the beginning of the 19th century (such as the early Theosophists). So the question then is, what are these two explanations for this phenomena? And what evidence / arguments are used for the two perspectives?
So firstly the two explanations:
1) The Christian explanation - The heart of this explanation is the belief that there are only two distinct Spiritual Dimension Heaven and Hell, and similarly two classes of Supernatural entities, Angels and Demons. Therefore is is believed that the vast majority of Psychic experiences had by the general public are the work of Satan and Demons (all fallen Angels), whether or not the experiences are percieved as positive or negative. Accordingly, only a small percentage of supernatural phenomena are considered to be the work of God and Angels, and these are described as being distinctly different to those of the other category. The differentiating factor is often whether the experiencer is themselves a Christian, however it should be noted that many people who have converted to Christianity after spending time practicing other faiths have commented how the experiences as a Christian are clearly different in many ways. Christians believe that Satan goes around trying to decieve people into following a false philosophy and engaging in practices that are forbidden by God, so that they will be seperated from God (generally considered eternal). As a result, Christians believe that Satan seeks to imitate genuine Spiritual gifts and that therefore so called "Psychic abilities" are generally "Satanic Counterfits" of the true fruits of the Holy Spirit.
2) The New Age explanation - The foundation of this explanation is the belief that above the level of the Physical world their are a multitude of higher dimensions, inhabited by beings of higher and higher consciousness. The level directly above us is referred to as the Astral Plane, and this itself can be considered to have many different tiers (although it should be mentioned that many people who have had NDE's or OBE's have stated that Space does not exist in this world in the same way that it does in the 3D world of Matter.) The Higher Astral worlds are considered to be the home of advanced Spiritual Beings, the middle realms are a Heaven for the majority, and the lower realms of the Astral are a place where lost souls dwell in their own personal self-inflicted Hell. (There is variation on this theme in different traditions, however the finding of NDE's, OBE's, Regression and Spiritualism seem to be consistent in this regard. Many of the traditional Mystic philosophies had some concept of temporary Hell as punishment for evil deeds, some of these concepts could be considered a Spiritual Prison). Also, it is taught that some souls upon leaving the Physical body do not enter into the light for whatever reason (A ubiqutious element of world spiritual teachings and NDE's is that soon after death a bright light appears to the deceased to take them out of this world and into the next), and find themselves trapped on Earth without a body, whether by choice or due to confusion. Some of these beings do not understand that they are dead, whilst others stay due to mental addictions (drugs, sex, etc). Some might even choose to stay to be near their loved ones, thinking that they will be able to help them.
Now, according to this philosophy, there are always reasons why particular experiences happen, and there are clear ways to avoid the negative ones. Serious researchers into this maintain that there is always an identifyable cause for such events, and my experience in talking with many people that have had such experiences seems to back this up. There are a couple of basic rules to know in relation to the Supernatural. Drug and alchohol abuse seems to be one of the most commonly occuring factors, also the use of Oujja Boards and amateur Seances are a common factor. Other factors relate to extreme emotions of fear, anger and hate. Another common factor is intense belief in Evil, "Spiritual Attack" is quite common amongst the more conservative Christians who believe very strongly in Satan and Demons. Part of the New Age explanation for such things is the belief in the law of "like attracts like", meaning that when approaching any sort of Spiritual pursuit one should focus on feeling love and peace, and rejecting fear and doubt.
Basic rules to avoid such occurences are:
1) NEVER play around with Oujja Boards, as these are red flags to draw earthbound spirits, they are too easy for the Spirits to move, and are generally used in the wrong context (seeking out something spooky) and environment (ie parties) for seeking spiritual counsel. The vast majority of modern Spiritual teachers take this view, with a few exceptions (notably Doreen Virtue who sells "Angel Boards".) I have heard some people say that they can be used safely by the right person with the right procedure, but are generally too dangerous for the general public, but the vast majority of advisers warn against their use completely.
2) Never attempt any sort of Spiritual practice whilst under the influence of any drug or alcohol (or even better yet, never takes drugs at all, or Alcohol! (Ok, I know this last one is abit difficult for most people today.)) It must be mentioned that in many Indigenous Shamanic traditions use of Psychotropic substances as a Sacrament is a significant part of their Spiritual practice, I believe that this generally falls into a different category, and isn't exactly black & white. As such I won't comment on this today.
3) Learn Psychic Self Protection - The use of basic prayers, invocations/affirmations and visualizations to protect oneself mentally, emotionally and spiritually from any lower entity, whether that be someone alive in the flesh, or disembodied. This doesn't just apply for spiritual work, it can be very helpfull in the workplace or any social environment and is extremely effective. Ask anybody that has experienced Spiritual/Psychic attack how they fought off the attack, most people have instinctively recited a well known prayer such as the "Lord's Prayer" over and over again until the attack ceased.
Secondly, what arguments are used to support these views?
Firstly, I think I should state it seems very difficult to provide any sort of ojbective evidnece for this topic. Whilst many of the questions I raise can only be addressed by philosophical and intellectual debates and anecdotal accounts, many of the other topics can be argued with reason and logic instead of circular reasoning. This particular topic on the other hand must rely on circular reasoning to some degree in both Worldview explanations.
1) So what evidence and arguments can Christians cite for their interpretation of these experiences? Well, there are in fact many people that have converted to Christianity after being involved in New Age practices. There are a number of books that have been written by authors that have converted to Christianity after bad experiences in New Age such as "The Beautiful Side of Evil" by Johanna Michaelsen. There are also countless personal accounts that are well known within different communities that tell similar stories. Christians tell of how they had to specifically renounce all New Age activities and beliefs before being free of their ailments.
2) So then, what evidence and arguments can the New Age movement cite for their interpretation of these experiences? Well, this is far more complex, as it relates to the concept that Reality isn't purely solid and objective, but subject to expectation. Upon joining a Christian community and individual becomes part of a collective mind, and thus are subject to beliefs of others. In the cases where someone has been suffering as a result of past experimentations in the Occult, they are convinced that they must denounce all their previous beliefs and practices. I would suggest that a common factor in these cases is that the individual found the complexities and paradoxes of Mystical Philosophy too difficult, and found solace in a more simple black & white worldview. This might in fact have been in their best interests short term, but it doesn't justify the denouncing of all such activities as evil. A central them of these stories is the shifting of emphasis from experiences of the Supernatural to the worship of God and serving of others. Such a shift of emphasis could have taken place within a New Age context, if the individual had encountered the right teacher or path.
Ultimately, it is impossible to make a case one way or the other without calling on other assumption of the respective Worldviews, this topic can be understood from both perspectives. For this reason, I believe the New Age explanation to be far more satisfactory, as the overall Worldview is supported by a vast number of sources, whereas the Christian worldview is argued solely on Circular reasoning and the logical fallacies of Apologists.
In the Vedic tradition of India there is some discussion of Psychic abilitis, however in a different context to that of New Age. For example in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's Psychic abilities are defined as "Minor Siddhi's" (Siddhi meaning perfect, sign of one approaching Spiritual perfect, Siddha-meaning perfected being) whilst also mentioning Major Siddhi's - full on miracles in the Biblical sense: Walking on water, walking through walls, making oneself invisible, levitation etc. Contrary to New Age which seems to encourage people to specifically seek out these abilities, the Yogic tradition warns people not to be attached to such Spiritual perks, saying that they can be a distraction that can take one away from the far greater attainment of Transcendental Love and Peace. It also warns that such abilities are not always a sign of true Spiritual attainment as they can be attained through use of drugs or specific rituals and incantations.
I see this as a differentiation between Psychic Development and Spiritual Development, where as each category can but wont necessarily include the other.
Pyschic Development is the attainment of abilities that are considered Supernatural or Paranormal, ie: Extra Sensory Perception (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic), Telekenethis, Reading Aura's, Mediumship and Trance, Spiritual Healing etc
Spiritual Development is primarily the transformation of one's state of being or realisation from the Ego to the Spirit, that is seeking to change one's vices into virtue's and weaknesses into strengths, serving others over yourself yet enjoying and living life to it's fullist in a healthy manner, the seeking of one's Higher Self through practices of devotion, study, meditation and discernment.
Psychic abilities do have practical uses which can help others in many ways, however they can also be used for control over others, whilst others even think such things are games for fun. Hence, in my opinion the Occult and Witchcraft if seperated from Mysticism are not Spiritual, but merely Supernatural. The true Spiritual seeker who is attempting to live a life of love, truth, strength and faith will be in the right position to use such abilities wisely, so in some ways I think it is better to allow such abilities to manifest (and perhaps dissipate) spontaneously in the due course of time as ones Consciousness expands beyond the physical plane. However, I do not mean to imply that it is specifically bad or dangerous to seek out such abilities, only that is very important to have a greater context for their use.
I spoken to many people that have had negative experiences within New Age context and later become Christians, as well as reading the testimonies of many other people, and I have found in every case that I have examined, there were clear reasons for why these things occured. In ALL the cases that I have seen the person was initially seeking out experiences of a Supernatural nature, rather than specifically seeking to improve themself Spiritually. Here's where my definition of New Age is different to that of many others. I specifically believe that the New Age movement needs to make clear that there is an Absolute goal of which to strive for (God Consciousness), and that the attainment of Psychic abilities is only a minor step along the way. In this way perhaps it is an essential next step for the New Age movement to have some sort of unifying creed.
The New Age view would suggest that these abilities are essentially neutral, not intrinsically good or bad, but can be used for either intent. This is similar to any "Science" (of course many people will object to the use of that word in relation to Psychic phenomena), understanding that Electricity isn't intrinsically good or bad. Any force or power in nature can be dangerous if misused, yet many can be harnassed in specific ways for our benefit.
This neutrality doesn't mean that God is Neutral, and this is an important point as some people perceieve this as a New Age teaching. All Mystics have proclaimed that God is good and that suffering and evil are ultimately illusions. Vedanta proclaims that "All is Brahman" (and Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence, Consciousness and Bliss) and everything else is merely Maya (the cosmic illusion).
Take care everyone,
Friday, January 30, 2009
Moral, ethical and psychological teachings of the New Age movement and traditional Mystical philosophy.
clear this up. Firstly, many people accuse New Age of being self-centered and having a weak stand on morals, stating that all this focus on the self is detrimental to society and takes the focus away from God. This is clearly not the case though, as in virtually all traditional Metaphysical schools the true Self is Spirit, that is the Eternal Essence that is the foundation of all existence. Along with this concept goes the concept of the false self, the Ego.
The Ego see's itself as being limited and seperate from other life, and thus leads to other false conceptions, which in turn leads to destructive behavour, selfishness, anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, doubt, greed & lust, etc. On the other hand, knowledge of one's true nature as Spirit leads one to naturally serve others selflessly, knowing that the same Spirit that dwells within oneself also dwells within all others. And what is the nature of this Spirit? Infinite Love, Bliss & Cosmic Consciousness. Or in the words of Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss), and "All is Brahman", that is to say their is only one Absolute Reality-Brahman, everything else is only real from a Relative perpective, and so is thus from the ultimate perspective, an illusion.
This is what is meant when people say they there is no such thing as Evil, only Love. This means that the conception of evil is only a Relative truth, whereas the concept of Infinite Love is the Absolute Reality.
And once again, this is not some soft wishy-washy belief, this is essentially the teachings of the most advanced and complex traditional Mystical, Metaphysical and Occult Philosophies.
Thus, New Age teaches that we should aspire to the highest heights, and that there is no vice or weakness that cannot be overcome. Initially this will need to be done consciouslly, however as one progresses such a morality will become completely natural, as there will not be an alternative. Whatever state we reach at the end of our life will continue on through the veil of death, into the Astral Realms and most likely for most of us, back to Earth again.
Here this quote from the Bhagavad-Gita:
"Lord Krishna said: Fearlessness, purity of inner psyche, perseverance in the yoga of Self-knowledge, charity, sense restraint, sacrifice, study of the scriptures, austerity, honesty; nonviolence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, equanimity, abstaining from malicious talk, compassion for all creatures, freedom from greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness, splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of malice, and absence of pride, these are some of the qualities of those endowed with divine virtues, O Arjuna. (16.01-03)"
Secondly, many people state that the doctrines of karma, manifestation & reincarnation implies that we should not help people that suffer, as they are simply experiencing the consequences of their actions, and we should not interfere with this. Examples are given that supposedly in India people walk over the bodies of the inflincted without helping them as they do not want to interfere with their karma.
Now I don't personally know how true the above example is, I can say with certainty however that the Vedic scriptures tell us that we should show love, compassion and charity to all beings, regardless of their circumstances. If the masses choose to ignore this and use karma as an excuse for not helping others, than this is simply a case of them misunderstanding and possibly deliberately misapplying the teachings, it does not reflect in any way of the nature of Vedic teachings. I find that those who use this argument have never read any Vedic Scriptures, and have a very shallow understanding of Hindu Religion. To use this example as an indication of the consequences of the Doctrine of Karma, would be similar to comparing the actions of the Catholic Church during the Dark Ages as being an inseperable consequence of their Christian teachings, something which I'm sure all Christians would object to. In a similar vein, most people have met someone who refuses to show compassion to the suffering of others by stating that "God is punishing you for not baptizing your children", or something along those lines. Similarly, when hurrican Katrina ripped through New Orleans I remember hearing about someones Blog that stated that it was God's punishment for all the sexual promiscuity in the city.
Whatever the cause of suffering, whether it be obvious or obscured we should show compassion, understanding and forgiveness to others. An understanding of Karma and Manifestation is supposed to help us avoid suffering in the future, however it does not in any way mean that we should not console those that are in pain, just because we might believe that they had a part in creating it.
To be fair in comparing Religious teachings, we must compare the best with the best, rather than taking the best possible perspective of one and comparing with the worst possible perspective of the other.
I have seen that when many people reject the traditional conservative Religions, they also reject some of the stricter moral, ethical guidlines. It is indeed true, that many "New Ager's" do not see the importance of high morality, thinking that Spirituality is all about the development of Psychic abilities, Meditation and Manifestation. However, the teachings themselves do indeed stress the importance of developing virtues, perhaps the rejection of this is a symtom of the "pick and choose" nature of New Age as it is sometimes conviently applied by the general public, who are now devoid of a strict and clear list of guidlines and dogmas. Interestingly, as I'll explore later, development of Psychic abilities, Meditation and Manifestation can actually be dangerous without the proper moral, ethical and psychological groundings. Many of the traditional Mystical schools demanded that one have conquered the basic struggles of the Ego, before given access to Metaphysical teachings and pratices. This has all changed today, for better and worse.
For this reason, an organised group is very helpfull, as they structure teachings from the basic to the advanced, where as if one is fully independent in their Spiritual path then they can easily miss out on alot of vital information. Personally, I am involved with Spiritualist Churches and the Satyananda Yoga Lineage, both of which I see as ultimately cohesive. Thus I emphasize once again, whilst the Syncretic approach of New Age is fantastic, and there is a cohesive Universal philosophy, it is vitally important to ground oneself in a particular path, rather than jumping too much from one to the other.
To summarize, any accusations that New Age and Mystical Philosophies do not teach moral, ethical and social conscience are clearly false, and based on blatant misrepresentations of these teachings. The New Age movement calls for us to be continually moving forward, evolving towards higher and higher states of being. There is no weakness that cannot be overcome, no vice that can't be transformed into a virtue. I will leave you with another quote from the Bhagavad-Gita, one of my favourites:
"Even if the most sinful person resolves to worship Me with single-minded loving devotion, such a person must be regarded as a saint because of making the right resolution.
Such a person soon becomes righteous and attains everlasting peace. Be aware, O Arjuna, that My devotee shall never perish or fall down. (9.30-31)"
Take care everyone,
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
So, Argument No 1: The Bibliographical Argument
It generally goes something like this: Historical scholars have a method to test the accuracy of ancient documents. They examine how many years past between the original composition of a text and the oldest surviving copy of the text. Along with this they compare the total number of surviving manuscripts to see whether they have mistakes of any sort, or whether they generally conform. The final part of this test is how many years past between the events being described and the original composition of the text. Now, the argument then proceeds to state that many well known and accepted Classical works have massive time spans between their original composition and the oldest remaining copy. Adding to this many of these have only a handful of ancient manuscripts which have survived. In contrast, the New Testament has more than 24,000 partial and complete manuscripts available, with the oldest dating roughly to the mid 2nd century. Most Biblical Scholars consider most of the New Testament to have been composed from the mid to late 1st century, with a handful of texts being early 2nd century (However I think that there is reason to believe that most of it was written in the mid-late 2nd Century.) Therefore it is concluded that a very short period of time passed between the original composition of the texts and the oldest surviving manuscripts. This is in comparison to time spans of 500+ years for classical works of Homer, Caesar and Plato. Further, the amount of surviving copies for non-Christian classical works is minuscule by comparison to the New Testament.
Therefore, the Apologist concludes that if you are to chuck out the New Testament as unreliable then you should also reject the rest of Classical literature!
Now, many Apologist just leave it there and say case closed (such as the following link: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Manuscript.html ), however, others consider this only the first stage of the argument. They rightfully state that this only proves that the New Testament today is the same as was original written down. (This does rightfully dismiss the argument that the Bible has changed over generations.) The second stage of the argument is to argue that what was originally written down was the truth, historically accurate.
To this effect, Apologists are forced to draw directly from the New Testament itself!
They offer arguments such as:
1) The Disciples wouldn't knowingly die for a lie
2) That a myth takes several generations to develop, and the original manuscripts where written down within one generation of the events.
3) That the original Christian community wouldn't have allowed mistakes to have been published, that they would have pulled them up on any falsehood as they were all eye-witnesses to the events.
4) That they earliest opponents of Christianity didn't deny the events as the New Testament states, as they were also eye-witnesses.
5) Events from the Pauline epistles, which supposedly show the existence of a cohesive, orthodox creed right from the beginning of Christianity.
Now, this many seem convincing, and certainly many people see it that way. However, there is one very fundamental flaw behind all of those arguments, as well as the fact that each of them can be accounted for individually.
All the above arguments rely on material from the New Testament, essentially they use the Bible as evidence to prove the Bible! The Bibliographical argument therefore serves only to show that the New Testament Gospels have not really changed since they were first composed, however this is all it proves!
The reason why there are so many copies is that Catholic Christianity was chosen as the official Religion of the leading country of the Western world, by a power mad lunatic (Constantine), and for no other reason. This is not a conspiracy theory, regardless of how you interpret the rest, this much at least is historical fact.
The points used to argue that the originals were accurate are all based on circular reasoning, that is they assume other parts of Christian Doctrine as already proven.
The proposition that rejecting the New Testament means you should reject the rest of Classical literature is also false. I have never studied classical literature, but I'm pretty sure no one is making statements about the absolute nature of God as being infallibly proven from the writings of Julius Caesar. Therefore, clearly they can be treated differently. I'm sure scholars must acknowledge the possibility that Caesar showed bias in his writings, selecting what to include and what not to. I would encourage any involved in Christianity (and others interested in knowing as much as possible about it) to familiarize yourself with the topic of Apologetics, as the infallibility of the Bible as God's word is used as the primary basis for virtually all attacks on the beliefs and practices of others.
Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell both have many short videos online as well as their well known books (The Case for Christ and Evidence That Demands A Verdict), also I recommend checking out Kenneth Humphreys website (http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/ ) for the alternative view. He is very blunt, and not particularly kind to believers (he is also equally critical of my Spiritual beliefs, but he has been gracious enough to respond to all my emails), but he has very strong arguments for his case.
Next up, we'll look at some more arguments put forth by Apologists, such as an examination of the so called "Non-Christian" attestation of Christianity, ie the writings of Josephus, Tacticus, Suetonius and The Talmud.
Thank you all again for your time,
Friday, January 16, 2009
So the question's are: What is Gnostic Christianity? How did it begin? How does it differ from Orthodox Christianity? And finally, what relevance does it have towards the current New Age movement?
So, the first question: What is Gnostic Christianity?
Well, quite simply, there was not one singular Gnostic Christian group / sect, there were many, and using the term Gnostic to cover them all can be quite deceptive. Scholars make a rough division between Syrian/Egyptian Gnosticism and Persian Gnosticism. However, there are some basic features of Gnosticism which have become well know, and some I might suggest that are overall a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The 3 most well known basic principles that define Gnostic Christianity are:
1) GC does not rely upon the view of Jesus as the "One and Only Son of God". Various views exist of Jesus as an Enlightened Teacher, a good man, and as Spirit that never took incarnation in the Physical world. Overall, in GC the exact identity of Jesus and the details of his life are far less important than the following of the teachings given by him. (In direct contrast to Orthodox Christianity where the Identity of Jesus and his death and resurrection (and consequent Substitutory Atonement) are the very heart of the Religion itself.) The understanding which I suggest has the most evidence to support it is that the founders of GC chose to create a series of myths so as to use the universal language of symbols to portray complex metaphysical truths, which can be otherwise quite difficult due to the limitations of language in comparasion with extra-dimensional reality of the Spiritual worlds. Thus they created a Hero, a wise teacher with disciples. Countless similar Mystery Cults sprung up all over the ancient world, many predating Christianity by a significant period of time. Gnostic Christianity is therefore the creation of a new Myth, culturally significant to the Jewish race, although under heavy influence from Greek culture. The context of a Dialogue between Guru and Devotee is found frequently in the Mystical texts of many traditions (Vedic and Greek to quote a few). (The perfect examples for this are the Bhagavad-Gita, the focal point of the Mahabharata, in the Dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, or the writings of Plato, with his Dialogues with his teacher Socrates). The Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdelene for example are wholely composed of saying's of Jesus, given to his disciples, and feature nothing else about the life (or death of Jesus).
2) The teaching that the Material World is somehow a "lower" world, and that there exists "higher" spiritual worlds to which one should aspire to reach. Now, this aspect has been specifically highlighted and twisted due to the bias of many who have reported on this. Frequently we here the accusation that Gnostics hated the material world, and aimed simply to escape it. In conjunction with this is the concept of a "Demiurge", which in this context is seen as a "lesser god" or even an "evil god", created by the Supreme Being for the creation of an "imperfect" world. Thus the most common dismissal of Gnosticism is that it held a very negative Dualistic Cosmology. Now, as this is known as one of the hallmarks of Gnosticism, I think this requires explanation, especially since overall, I believe it is a gross misinterpretation.
Now, before the finding of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945 and the subsequent translations and publishing of such (that took place over a period of time due to political considerations), most of what was know about Gnostic doctrines, was what was written about them by their opponents, early Christian Apologists such as Irenaeus. In these cases, what was written was very negative, and it can be argued that we should not trust these sources as an accurate depiction of Gnostic doctrines, any more than one would trust a writer from the Spanish Inquisition to give a balanced portrayel of medievel, peasent pagan practices.
Now clearly, there were many different Sects being referred to under the title of Gnostic. It is known that they weren't all identicle, they had different beliefs and practices. Some of these sects reinterpretated the Old Testament from a Dualistic perspective, portraying Yahweh as an "Evil God" (admittedly, it's not hard to see where they got that idea, considering some of the content of the Old Testament (ie Yahweh demanding the death of innocent children, babies, women and animals). Generally the Persian Sects were known as emphasizing Dualism, as they borrowed heavily from Zoroastriansim, which is by definition Dualistic. However, it can be argued that some of the Syrian/Egyptian strands were in fact Monistic / Non-Dualists, and that any complex myths relating to the creation of the different worlds can be seen as a Relative emanation from the Absolute, in much the same way that in Advaita-Vedanta (Hindu Philosophy), Brahman is the one and only, yet He creates beings / yet He dreams the concept of emanations from Himself that take on roles in expanding creation / expanding the dream within His Mind.
Now, have a look at the picture below, as I believe that this is strong evidence that the concept of the Demiurge is being mistranslated in at least some of the cases. Whilst the exact identity of the figure is not comfirmed, there is good reason to believe that it is a depiction of the Demiurge / Yaltaboath. Now, the pictures depicts a Serpent with the head of a lion with the sun shining behind it, and the moon on one side, and a star on the other. This picture very closely meets the depictions of Kundalini (Sankrit: meaning coiled serpent), suggesting a link between Gnosticism and Vedic knowledge, something that is quite apparent when actually reading the Gnostic Gospels.
Now, most Spiritual philosophies have a teaching that we should be "in the world, yet not of it". Certainly New Age pushes this point, encouraging the elevation of Consciousness to Higher states, and the application of Higher truths in ones life, whilst still living an active life on Earth. Orthodox Christianit also has a concept of the Earth as being "Fallen", and they aspire to reach Heaven after death. Yet, they aspire to following God's commandments whilst on Earth. The point is this, that Christians have assumed a negative portrayel of the Gnostic concept, whilst pushing a positive understanding of their own. In this respect, I believe it is unfair to label Gnosticism as having a negative Dualistic Cosmology, with a negative perspective on the Physical World.
The Gnostic Gospels that I have read *(see at the bottom of the article) seemed very cohesive with the Hindu Scriptures & the New Age worldview, which teach that the physical world is the lowest level of a series of emanations from the Divine, and that life on this planet has purpose & meaning, whilst there is much pain and suffering in this place, there is also the potential for much joy, love, adventure and learning. Ultimately, the hardships of this plane are a drop of sand in the ocean compared to the transcendent joys of the Higher Spiritual Worlds. The Gnostic Gospels teach that we should rise above the temptations to become lost in this world, and fall victim to the tendencies of the Ego (anger, hate, jealousy, envy, fear, doubt, gossip, pride etc), and that we should aspire to attain the qualities of Spirit (unconditional love, joy, compassion, forgiveness, faith, modesty etc).
So, overall, I believe that Gnostic Christianity should be interprated as one particular cultural and mythological offshoot of Perennial Philosophy, of which New Age is attempting to sum up. That doesn't mean that every Gnostic Sect was identicle, or that every Gnostic figure was an enlightened Sage. Just as today there are offshoots of Hinduism which have a mixture of beliefs, the lower human qualities of the Ego can degenerate and infiltrate any philosophy.
3) Gnosticism has a completely different model of "salvation" then Orthodox Christianity. Whereas in the Orthodox creed Salvation is the forgiveness of our Sins through Grace by the Substitutionary Atonement which is seen to allow us to enter into Heaven after death, Salvation within Gnosticism is similar to enlightement in the Eastern Philosophies (or New Age). It is taught that one must attain "Gnosis" to attain complete freedom from the miseries of the physical world. Now Gnosis is usually translated as "secret knowledge", which has brought on the accusation that Gnosticism is Elitist. However, I see a strong argument for the translation of Gnosis as "Direct Perception", a knowing that is beyond an intellectual concept, something which is a universal concept amongst the worlds Mystical traditions.
Many Gnostic sects taught reincarnation, so failure to achieve Gnosis does not necessarily imply Damnation, so this sheds light on the accusation of Christians that Gnosticism is Salvation through works, rather than Salvation through faith, as Salvation through works is only a dirty concept if you hold the Dualistic belief of Eternal Heaven or Hell as do Christians (also some Jews and Muslims).
Whilst I'm here, I'll quickly mention. Many people also bring up the point that some Gnostic sects used drugs and were sexually promiscuous. In relation to this, it's quite possible that some of them did, but this should not be considered a general distinguishing feature of Gnosticism, as there were many differing Sects, in the same way that one bad Yogic Guru should not diminish the Advaita-Vedanta tradition.
Now, the second question: How did Gnostic Christianity begin?
Well, there are three main versions of this story, none of which have absolute consensus (although the Conservative Christians will tell you that they do!) about the course of History. Briefly outlined, the three version of events are as follows:
a) The Orthodox Christian version: That Christian history began with the well known story of events with Jesus and his disciples, and that after his ascension his Disciples (and Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus) started preaching the Gospel and forming Churches. Soon afterwards splinter groups started forming as abberations/deviations from the Apostolic teachings, and started changing doctrines and fusing elements of "Pagan" traditions into this new version of Christianity, essentially in the minds of Orthodoxy, taking Christian concepts into a Pagan context.
b) Gnostic version 1) That along with the well known aspects of Orthodox Christianity, Jesus gave his disciples "Secret Teachings" to be passed only to those who were shown worthy. Accordingly, mainstream Christianity is seen as the outer layer of the Religion - the exoterical part, whilst Gnosticism is seen as the inner layer - the esoterical part. Accordingly, the masses are given symbolic stories (in the forms of parables) regarding morals, ethics, basic psychological principles and the worship of God. Whilst, those followers who show a thourough understanding of the above are initiated into the deeper metaphysical aspects of the tradition, including Meditation and a more advanced cosmological model.
c) Gnostic version 2) That the first Christians created myths that were culturally appropriate for the Jewish people, some of whom were then increasingly under the influence of Greek and Egyptian culture. As with previous Mystery Cults, the myth served as a vehicle for the transmition of advanced metaphysical concepts and practices. Over time many different factions formed, and started competing amongst themselves for followers, hence was born the Catholic Church with Irenaeus. (Peter, Clement and Ignatius are considered the founders of the Catholic faith, but I have seen reason to doubt the genuineness of the letters ascribed to the above, more info later when I go back to apologetics). As I have previously stated, I think this model has the evidence to support it, but this leads me back to the study of Apologetics, which I will need to go much deeper into.
Question 3: How does it differ from Orthodox Christianity?
Well, the primary elements are these:
1) In Orthodox teachings, the exact nature of Jesus is essential, and His very being is primary, and Salvation is primarily through faith in Him, whilst all teachings come as natural expressions of this faith. In contrast, in Gnosticism the exact nature of Jesus is relatively unimportant, it is the teachings and the realization of Gnosis that is important.
2) Orthodox cosmology proposes that we have 1 human life, with either an eternity in Heaven with God, or an eternity in Hell, seperated from God as the consequence, depending on whether we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, and thus give our life over to Him. In contrast, differing Gnostic sects had various beliefs in this regard, however at least some of them followed closely with the Mystic/Occult belief in Reincarnation and the existence of a multitude of intermediate realms. Discussion of this area is very complex, but the creation myths of many Gnostic Sects involved parallels with what could be considered Mental, Spiritual and Astral Planes, as did the works of Plato and Pythagoras from whom many Gnostic sects derived many of their concepts.
Regardless of how you believe Gnosticism began, there are clearly a lot of common teachings and concepts between Gnosticism and Christianity. For example, the Gospel of Thomas contains many sayings and parables that are also found in the Canonincal Gospels, yet it also contains verses which say that the Son of God is found in everybody, not just in Jesus. In the canonical gospels, there are many verses which can be interpretated from the Gnostic perspective, and also a handfull of verses which specifically sound like Gnostic concepts. In Orthodox Christianity Jesus alone is the Son of God, and by God's grace his Spirit can dwell in us. In Gnostic Christianity Jesus is one who is fully self-realized as the Son of God, the potential lies dormant in all of us. Gnosticism say that "The Son of God dwells within all" in much the same way that Vedanta says that "The Atman dwells within all", and then Gnosticism states that "The Father and the Son are one", as Vedanta states that "The Brahman and Atman are one and identicle.
And finally: What relevence does it have towards the current New Age movement?
The archetypal understanding of Gnosticism that I have briefly laid out above is very similar to other Mystical traditions, and thus becomes part of a cohesive, syncretic Universal Mystical tradition, understanding of course that not all Gnostic sects were identical, and that it might in fact be misleading to the the term in a general sense. Most New Age figures tend to interpret New Testament Scriptures from a Gnostic perspective (assuming the second version of History as laid out above), and try and argue therefore for cohesion between New Age and Christianity, with Gnosticism as the common ground.
I personally don't think that this will work, I think New Age should take a stand and acknowledge Christianity most likely begun as a myth and slowly became frozen into the belief of a historical reality. I think New Age should debunk Christian Apologetics, and then show how the spiritual experiences of Christians can be understood from a New Age worldview. I understand that denying the historical existence of Jesus is very controversial, and generally tends to offend and upset people. This is unfortunate, as my goal in all of this is to promote love and peace, however, I think it is essential that we make the point solid, so we can all move forward.
I apologize to everyone for the length of this post, I also hope that it is readable (I'm not so sure personally). Any comments, criticism or corrections? I'd love to hear them.
*( The Gnostic Gospels" published by Sacred Texts / Watkins, a selection mostly from the Nag Hammadi Library, including: The Fable of the Pearl, The Gospel Of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Melchizedek, The Gospel of Phillip, Poimandres, The Apocalypse of the Great Power, The Sophia of Jesus Christ, Human Suffering, The Gospel of Truth, The Greatest Human Evil is Forgetfullness of God, The Secret Book according to St John 1, 2 & 3 & finally Thunder. I would recommend that anyone interested in this topic should read the texts for themselves, then follow it up with a reading of the New Testament, than compare it to some Eastern texts, such as the Bhagavad-Gita)
Absolute & Relative truths: Do you have to think in terms of one or the other, or can you cohesively use both?
Ok, now the concept of Absolute Truth, implies there being a singular truth with no exceptions or loopholes. As a consequence, if something is not the Absolute truth, than it logicaly follows that it is false. This is known as Black & White thinking.
Alternatively, the concept of Relative Truth, implies that there are no Absolute truths applicable in all circumstances, and that different truths have important places in different contexts. This could be referred to as thinking in Shades of Grey.
Now, traditionally, Conservative Religion is known for being Black & White, many Christians will say either your saved, or you are not, and if you're not saved, then you will go to Hell. Alternatively, New Age is known for being Relativistic, in that many New Ager's will say that Truth is changing, that everyone should find their own individual truth, and that one person's truth isn't necessarily another person's truth.
Now, there is a third alternative, the acknowledgment of the existence of Absolute Truth, with the firm conviction of striving towards it, whilst acknowledging that there are countless tiers of Relative Truth along the way, are in a way equally important. This third approach is the traditional way of Eastern Philosophy (and from what I've seen many other Mystical/Metaphyiscal traditions, I can just speak more firmly about what I'm familiar with). I can say though, that many of the well known Authors and speakers within New Age also affirm to this belief, however they focus more on the Relative, as that is more immediately practical.
I also read a book by Brian McLaren, a leading writer amongst the Emergent Church movement, who also favoured the same approach. He mentioned that this was a post-modern approach, I personally do not have any real knowledge of Post-Modernism, so I cant say, but I can say with certainty that if you read some traditional Eastern texts, than this view becomes very clear. You could even say that it is absolutely essential to understand this point, if one is to perceive the true meaning with Eastern Philosophy, without this than you will surely miss the point. In fact, this is going to sound quite blunt, but: If you don't get it, don't critize it!
Which brings me to frequent mistranslations and misrepresentations of Eastern Philosophy and New Age by Conservative Christian ranks. Even the best of them often fall victim to the Strawman argument, by massively misperceiving their opponents beliefs, generally as a failure to understand the Absolute-Relative truth situation.
Countless times I have seen Christians say that as New Agers believe truth is Relative than what difference does it make if one is a tyrant or a saint.
Example, taken from the "All About God" website: http://www.allabouttheoccult.org/celestine-prophecy.htm:
"Celestine Prophecy - Is Spirituality Really Relative?Books like The Celestine Prophecy are at the heart of New Age spirituality and relativism. They encourage us to seek meaning and purpose in our lives through personal experiences and subjective reality. Truth is what we make it… But is it really? Through the teaching of New Age spirituality and moral relativism, we've removed God from the potential answers to the ultimate questions of life. Without God, we lose any transcendent purpose for the universe in which we live. Without God, we lose any transcendent purpose to give meaning to our individual lives. Without God, we also lose any possibility for life after death. When you remove the hope of heaven, you remove the ultimate value and purpose of life. What difference would it really make whether we lived like a philanthropist or a terrorist? True spirituality must be grounded in some kind of truth."
The clear answer to the above is that 1), New Age does have a concept of God, 2)It also has a concept of Heaven (which I might add is completely consistent with reports from countless NDE's.) and 3) New Age teaches Karma & Reincarnation, direct consequences for our actions, meaning that it makes a huge difference how you live.
Frequently, I have heard it said "But do you see how saying truth is relative is a self-refuting statement?" The response to this is easy, yes if one where to say that "All truth is Relative", than you have a situation were the statement itself is an Absolute concept, and thus self-refuting. However, the approach I take (and is taken by virtually all the serious writers and speakers with New Age, not to mention the Eastern Sages) is to say that "There is Absolute Truth, and there is Relative Truth". We should aspire to Absolute truth, but apply it as in Relatively practical.Ok, here's a couple of short examples. In everyday life we experience the material world as possesing solidity. Due to modern Physics however, we know however, that on a deeper, more fundamental level, matter is primarily made up of empty space, permeated by fields of energy/force. So therefore the solidity of the world is a Relative fact, and the truth that matter is made up primarily of empty space is closer to an Absolute statement. Scientists are still searching for final building blocks of the universe, ie they are looking for an Absolute truth. So clearly, both these truths have their place. You cannot ignore the Relative truth in acknowledgment of the more Absolutue truths, ie you cannot ignore the Solidity of the World just because you know that it only appears to be solid, but in fact is actually empty space. Unless you can realize a state of being where you can experience everything as empty space, rather than just hold the intellectual concept, than you must live by the Relative truth that the world is solid.
Another example: Take the statements, Do not kill, or Cause Harm to None. If you take them as being Absolute statements, then you will soon find them impossible to apply. For example, what if your country is being invaded by tyrants, surely you defend yourself, in doing so you will be forced to kill. Also, we all must kill some forms of life for food. Some people eat the meat of animals, I am vegetarian and as such have to except that some the food I eat is also a form of life. So, what I do is try to cause as little harm to others as possible, try to apply the law of Cause harm to none as much as is practical. Merely getting out of bed in the morning probably kills countless microscopic organisms. There is clearly a hierachy to life, we value human life more than animal life, animal life more than plant life, etc. So the the statement of Thou shall not commit Murder must be applied in a Relative way, otherwise life would be impossible. So, we acknowledge the existence of an Absolute truth (That we should cause harm to none, and show love to all), we must apply it in Relative ways, depending on our circumstances.
In the above example, if I was stranded in a forest with no supplies, I would likely be forced to kill an animal for food, however as I currently live in a wealthy country, I can attain all the nutrition I require without having to kill an animal to do so. (And the vegetarian diet suits me, I realize it doesn't work this easily for every body.)
If I lived in a war-torn country, and some armed people started attacking innocent civillians I would be required by moral duty to attempt to defend the innocent, even though this would require doing harm to those attacking. But, as I live in a peacefull country, physical violence is virtually never required, if I have a disagreement with someone, it will play out with words rather than violence. So, the application of a truth, depends on the context.
(The above example is illustrated nicely in the Bhagavad-Gita, where in the beginning Arjuna breaks down, saying he cannot fight his own friends and family, as this would surely be a sin. He is then corrected by Krishna, who assures him that it is his duty to defend the innocent (within the story of The Mahabharata there are clearly defined Good and Evil sides), and that it would be a sin for him to infact ignore his duties (the relative truths). Krishna goes on to teach him the Absolute truth, that God alone is eternal, and the struggle before him is only a small play in the grand scheme of things, and that the Eterenal Truth is wonderfull beyond all description. So, he is told to fight, bravely perform his duty in the Relative world, with knowledge of the Abosulte within him at all times.)
Finally, Scientist's use mathematic equations and rules that they know are not absolute, as long as they are in the right context. (ie: They may use Isacc Newtons equations when measuring Gravity, even though they don't really know what Gravity is, however they cannot use the same equations to measuring the forces within an electron (for example))Back into the context of Religion/Spirituality now, and many people accuse New Age of being soft and wishy washy. Whilst, alternatively no one makes that claim of Eastern Philosophy, however people do claim that Eastern thought is impracticle and pessimistic. My response is simple, properly defined, New Age bridges the gap between the level of Consciousness of most people, with the situations of everyday life, and the advanced state spoken of by Mystics
I will leave you now with a couple of quotes:
"Although Creation is discerned as not real for the one who has achieved the goal, it is yet real in that Creation remains the common experience to others." (From Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, 2.22)
"The half-wise, recognizing the comparative unreality of the Universe, imagine that they may defy it's Laws, such are vain and presumptuos fools, and they are broken against the rocks and torn asunder by the elements by reason of their folly. The truly wise, knowing the nature of the Universe, use Law against laws; the higher against the lower; and by the Art of Alchemy, transmute that which is undesirable into that which is worthy, and thus triumph. Mastery consists not in abnormal dreams, visions and fantastic imaginings or living, but in using the higher forces against the lower, escaping the pains of the lower planes by vibrating on the higher. Transmutation, not presumptuous denial, is the weapon of the Master." (The Kybalion, Chapter 5, Page 43)
And finally, "The Yoga Vasistha" is easily the most advanced book I've ever read (in fact so much so that I read 1/3rd of it, and stopped knowing that I wasn't ready for it yet, despite the fact that simply reading a few verses would catapult me into an altered state of consciousness, with Bliss exploding through me being.), and is very much concerned solely with the Absolute. However, it also states something along the lines of the following (I haven't found the exact verse):
"Truth is found halfway between the Real, and the Unreal"
(ie I read this as saying Truth is understood when you comprehend both Absolute and Relative truths)
I will leave it here now, as always I welcome response. Thank you.
Take care all,
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Now, alot of people ask me why I am so hard on Christians. And I think that's a fair question to ask, so I thought I might try and clarify my position. I certainly believe that Christianity does alot of good, both for individuals, and for society as a whole. When someone referrs to "Christian Morals", generally they're referring to the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and striving for modesty, truthfulness, sincerity, purity, compassion, forgiveness etc. Spiritual principles such as the existence of an Absolute Being (God) and, similarly the existence of a Spirit and/or Soul within every individual, gives hope and context to life and all it's trials. Similarly, the belief that life continues after death, and that the way we live our lives are important is a strong motivating factor. Ultimately, the example given of Christ of how to live, and the promise that we too can strive to live in such a way is in my mind the essence of true spirituality. This is all great from where I'm standing.
At the level of the community, Churches do an immense amount of good. Churches facilitate Soup kitchens, small groups for fellowship, a variety of short courses to help with a wide variety of issues from family problems, to addictions etc, and generally provide an uplifting atmosphere for the anyone to experience. I do not doubt that many people have genuine Spiritual experiences as Christians. I have seen it myself, the transcendent peace and love, and the direct intervention that often occurs in the outer life of a believer. But the thing is, I see these same things happening to non-Christians as well.
Unfortunately, the thing is, that technically, Christian Theology is exclusivistic, it claims itself to be the only true Religion, and that therefore all others are false. And it makes horrendous statements about the eternal destiny of those that reject it's tenants. Now, many people respond to me that not all Christians are like that. Many Christians just take the good and leave the bad. Not all Christians are getting in your face and talking about Satan, Hell and all that. So, the question is, where does this leave the more liberal members of the faith.
First off, I have an immense amount of respect for liberal Christians, I find them to have very similar beliefs to myself in many ways. As a child that grew up in a Christian household, I instinctively wanted to be able to separate the Spirituality from the Religion, that is to say, separating the positive active principles and practices from the negative beliefs and doctrines.
So, the question is this: Is Liberal Christianity a genuine choice, a solid position and philosophy?
Now, the reason why I consider this to be an important question is that the Conservative ranks consider their own position to be solid and criticize others they perceive as soft. Also, many non-religious minded people similarly criticize New Age as being soft. So, for the purpose of this work, I perceive it as being important to maintain a solid position. I do not personally think that a lack of knowledge in any way condemns an individual, or takes away from their worth as a Spiritual being, but it is necessary for this work to try and clearly define boundaries of belief.
So, is a Liberal Christian really a Christian? Is being a Christian defined as following the guidelines of moral, ethical & spiritual principles as put forth in the Bible, in particular the New Testament, or is it firstly and formerly defined as a literal believer of Jesus Christ, His death & resurrection, and ultimately the substitutory atonement as outlined by orthodox theology? As I have learned from countless discussions with Christians, the second element is essential to Christianity, and the first is seen as a natural progression from the first. Any attempt to have the first element, without the second, results in a philosophy which may be Spiritual, but is ultimately not Christian.
OK, so what's wrong with a Christian believing in substitutory atonement, but being liberal towards people of other faiths? What's wrong is that the concept of substitutory atonement implies that a person is "lost" without it, and that there is only one way to achieve it (ie Jesus).
Therefore, by definition, this docrtrine is intrinsically incompatible with a liberal approach to non-Christians.
If you reduce the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection to a symbolic myth, than you have Gnostic Christianity, which, properly understood is essentially Perennial Philosophy (quick note, there are alot of myths and warped understanding of Gnosticism around, I will write on this very soon.), totally compatible with New Age and Eastern Mysticism. And, as I think that if you truly examine Christian Apologetics, then there is no reason to believe in the literal story of the Gospels, I think liberal Christians should consider identifying themselves more with Gnosticism and New Age, then Christianity.
It is my belief that the arguments used to support Fundamentalist Religion can all be refuted, and we will be left with a truly beautiful & solid Universal Spiritual Philosophy. As always, I welcome discussion.