Monday, March 5, 2012

Gnosticism: Dissing God's Creation

This post started as Footnote 1 in "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers" (September 29, 2011), and "Humans are Animals: But Not Just Animals" (August 31, 2011).

The Filthy, Rotten, Despicable, Nasty, Physical World??

I've run into the idea that there's a two-way split in reality:
  • Spiritual world
    • Clean
    • Decent
    • Spotless
    • Undefiled
    • Painfully virtuous
  • Physical
    • Corrupt
    • Obscene
    • Repulsive
    • Revolting
    • Pretty much completely yecchy
I can sympathize, a little, with folks who have a fastidious distaste for the more overtly biological aspects of the visible world. Lacking a sense of smell makes tasks like cleaning the toilet or shoveling manure easier for me than it is for many: but I can understand why many folks would rather do something else.

Preferences and Moldy Cheese

But I don't take my preference for a keyboard over the back end of a horse, and claim that the physical world is intrinsically nasty.

For one thing, I like the physical world. I'm missing one of the standard-issue senses; but it's so much fun, using the others, I don't really miss the smell of roses, fresh-mowed lawns, and moldy cheese.

For another, since I believe God created everything, including the visible world, I'm not going to tell the Almighty that I think He made a cruddy creation. Seriously: dissing1 the Lord of Hosts doesn't seem prudent.

God's Creation: Ordered, Good

We don't live in a perfect world. Part of the explanation is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 388-409. Basically, God created a good world. We messed up. Big time. But God still created a good world. That's a huge oversimplification.

Here's part of what the Catholic Church has to say:
"Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: 'You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.'151 The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the 'image of the invisible God', is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the 'image of God' and called to a personal relationship with God.152 Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work.153 Because creation comes forth from God's goodness, it shares in that goodness - 'And God saw that it was good. . . very good'154 - for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world.155"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 299) [emphasis mine]
I haven't run into many folks who say they're Gnostics. But the notion that the physical world - and humanity - is completely yecchy? That, I've run into.

Gnostics: Pessimism as a Virtue

"...The Gnostics, it is true, borrowed their terminology almost entirely from existing religions, but they only used it to illustrate their great idea of the essential evil of this present existence and the duty to escape it by the help of magic spells and a superhuman Saviour....

"...This utter pessimism, bemoaning the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence — this is the foundation of all Gnostic thought...."
(Gnosticism, Catholic Encyclopedia)
Definition time:
  • Gnosticism (noun)
    • "a religious orientation advocating gnosis as the way to release a person's spiritual element"
      • "considered heresy by Christian churches"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Gnosis (noun)
    • "intuitive knowledge of spiritual truths"
      • Said to have been possessed by ancient Gnostics
    (Princeton's WordNet: gnosis)
Sort of like "Luke, trust your feelings!" Only not quite.

Gnosticism was a big hit, back in the 2nd century:
"...The second-century Church was threatened by the so-called Gnosis, a doctrine which affirmed that the faith taught in the Church was merely a symbolism for the simple who were unable to grasp difficult concepts; instead, the initiates, the intellectuals - Gnostics, they were called - claimed to understand what was behind these symbols and thus formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity...."
("General Audience" Benedict XVI (March 28, 2007))
Gnosticism has been back since then, with a new name and updated accessories. It's still a bad idea.2

Then there's the sort of dualism that sees Satan as God's evil twin. More bad ideas: and more than I want to tackle in this post.

Related posts:
Background, mostly about gnosticism:
And see:

1 Language changes, like just about everything else in the visible world. Which is just as well, considering that we sometimes need ways to express new ideas. And sometimes find quicker, more effective, ways to express very old concepts. For example, this word wasn't in general use when I was growing up:
  • Diss (verb)
    • "Treat, mention, or speak to rudely"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
I appreciate having a one-syllable term to describe a sort of rudeness.

2 'Bad idea' when considered as something that's real.
"Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and cultures produced many myths concerning origins. Some philosophers have said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the development of the world is the development of God (Pantheism). Others have said that the world is a necessary emanation arising from God and returning to him. Still others have affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked in permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism). According to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind (Gnosticism). Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a watchmaker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself (Deism). Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world, but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed (Materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively human...."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285)


Brigid said...

Abruptly cut off: "I enjoy the "

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Yeah: I was going to say something, then thought better of it. And I still do, so the fragment's gone. Thanks!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.