Friday, December 9, 2011

Follow Me or Worship Me?

Maybe it's the season, or maybe it's because I've been dipping lately into hermetic texts, but these past few days I've been revisiting the Gnostic Gospels and seeing them with fresh eyes.

There were some fragments of them in existence before the big trove of them was discovered at Nag Hammadi, and Biblical scholars knew of them because other early Church writings had referred to them, but it's always much better to be able to look at the earliest texts yourself and draw your own conclusions rather than simply being told what they say.

Like anything in this world, Church doctrines and decrees are largely political in nature and decisions need to be viewed through the context in which they were made. The early Christian Church had tons of factions, and the Church was not unified. Constantine, who'd recently converted, found all the conflicting Gospels, Acts, Apocalypses, and Letters confusing and challenged the Church to unify the teachings. This would, frankly, draw in more converts.

I'm oversimplifying, but there was kind of a split between those who supported the idea of Jesus as Savior who was resurrected and gave his life as a sacrifice to save humankind and then the Gnostics (some of whom refuted the idea that Jesus had even been crucified), who were much more interested in the actual teachings of Jesus and what they revealed about the Kingdom of Heaven; the idea of "being saved" solely because you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior seemed absurd to them. The Gnostics believed that the divine is within and that, for lack of a better way to put it, you "save" yourself by seeking the divine knowledge within, thus emulating the teachings of Jesus. In other words, what came to be the Church believed God was above us, Jesus was his literal Son, and then the Church Fathers reveal to everyone else what Jesus did and meant. Anything that wasn't approved Church Doctrine was heresy. The Gnostics believed it is up to every individual to interpret Jesus' teachings and to experience the Divine for themselves.

So, we wound up with a Pope who was God's representative on Earth and spoke for God. The Gnostics were deemed heretical and their writings not included in the Bible. Of some--what? Thirty?--or more Gospels, for instance, only four appear in the Bible. The original argument given was that they were the earliest (Mark the first, followed by Matthew and Luke, the latter two using Mark as a basic text--thus the three are termed the Synoptic Gospels--and then the later John, which incorporated the logos). Nowadays some Biblical scholars are refuting the Gospel of Mark as the first gospel and are saying it was Thomas (which isn't really a story like the others as much as it is simply a list of Jesus's sayings).

Now, look here. If someone like Rodrigo Borgia could eventually become Pope, do you really think the Pope speaks for God? It's hard to fathom. In fact, over the centuries, the Church became so corrupt that in swooped Martin Luther, setting off the Protestant Reformation, and then in England, Henry XIII hopped on the Protestant bandwagon because it was a convenient way to rid himself of an unwanted wife. He then elevated himself to head of the Church of England. So it is abundantly clear that Church Doctrine is, and has been since the days of the early Church, political in nature.

As for me, I accept all the writings about Jesus as potentially true and all useful to know and study. I also do not accept any version of the Apostles' Creed as literally true, which decidedly makes me a non-Christian in the eyes of today's church, be it Catholic or Protestant. I believe Jesus existed (he is an historical figure recorded in records not related to the Church). I believe Jesus was a man who became (like) a god, as opposed to a God who became a man. You could say he found Enlightenment, or he found the Divine within, and in my mind, this is what he was trying to convey to his followers ("Follow me," as in "follow my example," not "follow me" as in "See me as God.") I think he was trying to say the Kingdom of God is within each of us, and to know yourself is to know God. We are ALL God. We are ALL part of God. Creation is God revealing itself in its many dualities and varieties of form. That is the Good Word. The Kingdom of God is already here, always has and always will be. Open your eyes and you will see--if you have eyes to see.

All of which is decidedly hermetic in nature.

And all of which, I might add, is decidedly mystical in nature. One interesting thing to me is that, regardless of one's "basic background religion," once one gets into mysticism, the religions are virtually all the same. Kabbalistic, Gnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, Hermetic, and Christian mystics all sound very much alike in their experience of "God." Meditation is a big part of the practice. Once you go within to look for God, god reveals itself in the same ways, no matter what your outside rational religious practice may be.

For me, it is a message of joy, hope, deliverance. So mote it be, and Peace Profound.

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