Friday, June 5, 2009

Gnosticism - Fascinating and Frightening

When Aeon Byte interviewed me for their internet radio program, they brought me back to thinking about Philip K. Dick's gnostic quest for sacred secrets. Their web site is all about gnosticism. I'll post a link to the interview when they have it up on their web site, "the god above god":

Aeon Byte

Gnosticism both fascinates me and frightens me. It fascinates me because I crave knowledge. It frightens me because I fear losing my faith, which is quite fragile, I must admit.

The Lord called me when I was a child, but my journey of faith has been long and tortuous. I am already a heretic, or at least a backslider -- I rarely go to church -- but I cling to that thin thread of faith in the Savior who will lead me by the hand when my soul departs this body.

When I was 7 years old, my grandmother gave me a Bible. I was an early reader, and I used to read from that Bible at random before bed. I was fascinated by the story of King Solomon. When Solomon was still a youth, God offered him his choice of three gifts. He could choose only one -- great wealth, or great power, or great wisdom. When Solomon chose wisdom, the Lord was so pleased that he gave him all three gifts.

Gnosticism is the quest for esoteric knowledge, and it is not necessarily wise to seek such knowledge.

Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. This is clearly demonstrated in Paul's list of the gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 12:8, where he lists wisdom and knowledge as separate and distinct gifts of the Spirit.

Regarding knowledge, let me point you to Philip K. Dick's favorite verse -- I Corinthians 13:12:

"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (King James version)

That verse inspired the title of my husband's novel A Scanner Darkly, and it also defined his life-long quest for knowledge. Phil's religious speculations and conclusions definitely had their roots in dualism, especially the Manichean heresy, but his quest was primarily that of a gnostic -- a seeker of esoteric knowledge. He also sought Holy Wisdom in the form of a woman, a character who appears in several of his novels, often under the name of Sophia, which means Holy wisdom.

The Nag Hammadi texts (discovered around 1979) were not available to Phil, but he did study the Dead Sea Scrolls, and he picked up a gnostic turn of mind through his close personal relationship with Bishop James Pike, the Episcopal Bishop of California in the 1960s. Pike was tried by the church for heresy, and although he won his case (as described in his book If This Be Heresy) he agreed to resign from the church. He was busy consulting mediums in an attempt to contact the spirit of his dead son, which led to Pike's book The Other Side. Phil and his wife Nancy attended one of those seances. Phil was convinced that the medium had contacted something, but that it was not human -- it was something evil, purely evil.

Toward the end of his life, I believe that Phil contacted something evil, and that it might have caused his premature death. Thus, I believe that gnosticism is dangerous. A little knowledge is good, but great knowlege can destroy you. Just look at the Faust legend. For 20 years, Faust had everything he wanted, but then he had to give up his soul to the devil.

I hope that my soul goes to Heaven when I leave this body, this wonderful animal that God has given me to carry me through this life. I thank God for this body, which bears my burdens, pains and sorrows, but I look forward to having a more perfect body in the next life.

~~ Tessa

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