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Why Atheism?: Part IV, Gnostic Christianity

March 23, 2008

I know it’s taken a while to get this out here, but it’s not because of the careful consideration I’ve had to put into this part of the story. No, this one will be notable for it’s brevity.

I was distracted this week by the illness of my cat, Rook, who after 13 years of friendship had to be euthanized on Thursday. Rook was a great cat, and I miss him terribly.

With that out of the way, it’s time to take a look at my last bout of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Like most people that like a good mystery novel, I read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Those who have read it may remember that Gnosticism was featured prominently in the story. Now, before some assholes start calling me a conspiracy nut and pointing out what was incorrect about the “facts” portrayed in the book, please know that I already know that the book contains “much that was apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate”.* It was an entertaining piece of garbage that was as much a tutorial on religion as the Bible is on science.

However, as often happens when I read an enjoyable piece of fiction that has researchable bits in it (i.e. history, math, philosophy), I like to do that research and find out where the author had failed in his/her research. Yes, I am that arrogant. The DaVinci Code was a treasure trove of historical, mathematical, religious, and philosophical inaccuracies that gave me enough research material to last quite a while. In fact, if you are a pseudo-intellectual asshole like me, I highly recommend this book just for the opportunity of spending a whole 15 minutes of research and finding more fact than Dan Brown did in the years it took him to write the damn thing.

Now, I don’t want to go too far into this as it’s not the point of this part of the story, but a book that was featured as a “source” for Brown’s blurring of the line between fiction and fact is The Holy Blood and the Holy Grailby Richard Leigh, et al. Wow, this book was a gem for about three days, as it wove a pseudohistorical  journey into leaps of logic and flights of fancy that to this day is a perfect tutorial on how not to research history. Get it from the library, because as I said, this book was good for about three days after which I figured out that these “historians” were serious and incompetent, rather than brilliantly satirical. The book then lost it’s glow.

So, Gnosticism. Aside from the holy bloodline dreck that i read about, I also started reading up on modern gnosticism and found much that made sense. Without going too much into the mythology of it, gnosticism posits that the god of this world is not the true god, but a nasty and incompetent child that made the world for little more than something to control. The real god is was inaccessible to this world until it was able to send a kind of child/prophet to this world named, say it with me, Jesus. The souls of humans are spirits that were lured from heaven into this creation by stupid and incompetent creator god with the offer of the “worldly delights”. Jesus was sent to let people know that this is not the real existence and they must break free of creation to make it back to heaven. That’s the most brief of basics, and enough to explain my brief and last Christianical infection.

There’s a lot in there that explains the state of the world. A stupid, incompetent, childish creator would allow some of the horrific things that are documented in the Old Testament, as well as some of the tragedies we see today. If one is led to wonder why the real god does not prevent this, it’s easily explained by the theory that this is not his creation, and he has no ability to affect it in a positive way. It explains the capriciousness that the creator shows in answering prayers and randomly blessing the unworthy and worthy without any evidence of forethought or weight of merit. Salvation is the act of escaping creation and once again attaining the privileged place in heaven with the real god.

The more studious reader may begin to see why this one didn’t take either. While the mythology of gnosticism is more in line with the observable world, I still can’t get behind the idea of wanting to escape the world. Yes, I know that life is an exercise in randomness of whether good or bad things happen to me, but I don’t feel that this is a reason to hate the world and desire the end to this existence in favor of another. I recognized that this self-defeating attitude is a huge roadblock in actually trying to improve the state of the world, even though gnosticism tried to explain the idea of improving this world is a path to enlightenment and, therefore, escape. However, I can imagine that the gnostic believer may find it difficult to put their heart and effort into a world that is a false prison, especially when it is not a requirement for salvation.

Then I started thinking, how believable is this? While this was one of the best theistic explanations of the “maybe something bad, maybe something good” state of the world, did I really believe that I could escape to a vaguely-described “heaven”? The jury was out, and rather than reading more on it, I started thinking more on it.

Then came the big day for me. I felt no premonition of something great about to happen, there was no electricity in the air., no storm on the horizon or falling stars in the morning darkness. I got up, had my coffee, had my cigarette, and went to work. It was a slow day, which leads to a good amount of mind-wandering, and sometime in the afternoon I went out for another cigarette. Outside, I was looking at the trees in the distance and thinking about gnosticism, and I realized that I didn’t believe it. This lead to thought about all the other religions that I looked at, and how I didn’t believe any of them, either. Then came the Holy Shit moment when I realized, “I don’t believe any of it!” After all of my reading, studying, and practising, there was no religion, no god, that could touch my heart in the same way that reality does. No mythology could uplift me in the same way that cuddling with my wife could. No god could fill me with love in the same way that showing my daughter Venus in the evening sky could. There was no supernatural being that made me feel more connected to the world than a simple walk or watching a family of deer could. I didn’t believe in any god, because there was no evidence in favor of it, but also because a belief in a god is completely unnecessary to me living a good life.

None of it had matched the morality that I had developed over a decade and a half of agonizing over it. Every religion I came to had competed with my own code of ethics and sense of morality and had been found wanting. All this time, I had something great to believe in, and anything more was unnecessary. Family, friends, love, equality, myself, generosity, kindness, justice, sympathy, empathy, courage, perseverance; all of these things that were worth believing in, and something to work to improve. Things that I had learned of different religions called my attention to values that I already had, even if I hadn’t yet thought of them, just as the beliefs and values of these religions/philosophies that I didn’t find valuable were discarded.

I also realized that I never believed any of it. If I had, my search would never have lasted as long as it did. This was my Eureka moment, and I was ecstatic. The end of it was a wonderful surprise that still makes me smile as I write this. My search for god was over and the real work could finally begin.

PS: I know I started off by saying this would be brief. I guess I can’t see even one hour into the future.

* Thanks to Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 25, 2008 3:41 pm

    Hi Ryan,

    You’re right, Gnosticism isn’t believable. As an “ism”, it sucks. Seems to me you’re missing the point. Gnosis is knowledge, not belief, or faith, or ethics. If you know, you know. If you don’t, there are ways to find out. Then maybe the bizarreness of the intellectual superstructure starts to make a bit of sense (I’ll put it no stronger than that).

    Maybe it’s not the world itself that’s a prison, but our collective perception/creation of it. We are the demiurge, That’s worth breaking free from, but the result is more reality, not less.

    Atheism is a good jumping-off point for this I think. It clears away a lot of rubbish.

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