Concerning Gnosis and Gnosticism

Yesterday I made the following off-the-cuff remark in a comment to my post Theosis and Kenosis:

It’s less about knowing who we are (that’s the error of gnosticism) and more about simply a way of being, a way of doing life.

And in reply, a reader named Tomasis left a simple frowning (sad) emoticon:  :-(   To this, I replied,

I don’t know if it’s ever possible to affirm what one believes without sooner or later saying something that will elicit a “frowning face” from those who walk a different path… I struggle with the limitations of human language, and am continually challenged by the problem of how to express the teaching I’ve received from my own tradition in a way that refrains from attacking or dismissing other traditions. Clearly, my own lack of charity and wisdom works against me here.

And now, his lengthier (somewhat edited here) response, with further thoughts from me interspersed.

You seemed to be in contradiction of yourself in a couple of ways… your explanation for your statement after my disheartened response seems to suggest a man who is becoming something far right of the mystic and contemplative and accepts the Church’s dogma as fact, without personal investigation or even getting to know us Mystic, Gnostic and Hermetic Christians.

Ouch! Hit me below the belt, why don’t you? Okay, fair is fair, and I’ll admit that my off-the-cuff comment was poorly worded, primarily in that it appears that I attacked gnosis which I then labeled “the error of gnosticism.” Gnosis cannot be a heresy, since it refers to an experience or a degree of consciousness, and not a chosen belief or opinion (heresy basically means “chosen” and refers to those who choose beliefs which place them at odds with the teachings of the Body of Christ). However, I think we need to be careful in our reading of history: there is a difference between gnosis (as a category of mystical truth) and gnosticism (a religious movement which led to distortions of that truth).

If the end all in your journey in regards to Gnosticism is reading and believing with blind faith in the heresiologists, then I may have mistook you for a man of different character, humility aside.

Lay off, man! My legs are getting bruised. Actually, I suppose I should thank Tomasis for questioning my character; everyone in the Christian mystical tradition from Christ himself down at least to John of the Cross suggest that this is a good thing.

Seriously, though, the key here lies in understanding the difference between gnosis and gnosticism. Gnosis is the experiential knowledge of God, and of course the contemplative tradition is concerned with it (it is also concerned with the mystery which transcends all categories and forms of knowledge, conscious or unconscious, but that’s not the point here). Gnosticism, meanwhile, represents a cluster of religious movements in the early centuries of the common era that, despite what the revisionists may claim, were elitist, dualistic, and subtly anti-semitic. This is not just church propaganda, but the understanding of history (look at the Wikipedia entry on Gnosticism, for example). If accepting the verdict of history that such groups represented distortions of the gospel (which is not elitist, but radically inclusive; not dualistic, but deeply affirming of the material world) makes me a rightist or a patsy of orthodoxy, well, then, so be it. I reject gnosticism precisely because gnosis is too important to be left in the hands of those who would make it the province of only a privileged, anti-immanent few.

Granted, the catholic/orthodox church itself has often failed to live up to the gospel, and has suffered from its own problems of elitism and dualism. But the fact that the church has erred does not mean that gnosticism is therefore blameless.

I know that it has been fashionable for those who reject the church to see in gnosticism some sort of “pure” mysticism that the church itself abandoned when it got in bed with the empire. I have no problem with criticizing the church’s failings here, but I remain unpersuaded that gnosticism is the key to recovering authentic mysticism. Before jumping to the conclusion that gnosticism comprises some sort of noble mystic fraternity that was cruelly marginalized by those mean orthodox/catholic Christians, it’s helpful to remember that the Pagan philosopher Plotinus, founder of Neoplatonism and arguably a mystic of the same caliber as Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross, wrote a treatise against the gnostics (which Ken Wilber quotes extensively in A Brief History of Everything). Gnosticism (the heresy), in its dualism and elitism, represents a distortion of true gnosis, not some sort of preservation of it in the midst of the church’s inevitable failing (if you want to find the preservation of gnosis in the Christian tradition, look to my reading list).

So, back to my original comment that started all this: the reason why I dismissed “knowing who we are” as the error of the gnostics is simply because, as best I can tell from my reading of history, gnosticism, not gnosis, but gnosticism, privileged elite self-knowledge above loving relationships as the key to entering the mysteries. This is what I reject. If that makes me a man of questionable character or poor judgment, then I guess that’s what I am.

From Pseudo-Dionysius to the Cloud of Unknowing to John of the Cross down to Evelyn Underhill and Thomas Merton, the Christian tradition has spoken consistently that love, rather than knowledge, is the final key to the mysteries. This is the faith I follow. A loving person without gnosis is far, far closer to the kingdom than a gnostic psychonaut with a narcissistic heart. And I’ve known people who fit both of these descriptions, and they can be found both inside and outside of the church.

Ironically, I believe I haven’t mistook you not only because of the few months I have been following your blog, but also because of acquaintances of some of your blog followers who do you know you personally as well and in this I am inclined to take their word, tho with an open end as I watch you to continue to peer into unknowing.

I appreciate this vote of confidence, although I fear that this morning’s post, with further evidence of my anal-retentive submission to Christian orthodoxy, may cause Tomasis to rescind these kind words!  :-)

He continues:

There will always be differences between faiths, the whole being as much about diversity as it is unity, but as mystics and contemplatives we know the intimate and personal relationship God extends to each of us.  God being the one common and ancient deep pool that branches out infinitely to touch each seeker (creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel) who humbly empties himself.  This mystic touch leading to listening which doesn’t always immediately hear what it hears.

No argument here.

Yet “…Mysticism which has not given birth to gnosis, magic and Hermetic philosophy — such a mysticism must, sooner or later, necessarily degenerate into “spiritual enjoyment” or “intoxication”.”   — Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 43 Tarcher/Putnam Unknown (Roman Catholic) Author

I have great respect for Valentin Tomberg, the “unknown author” of Meditations on the Tarot, but here I disagree with him. I think the gold standard is not gnosis, but agape. Mysticism which has not given birth to self-giving love must, sooner or later, necessarily degenerate into a form of spiritual narcissism, which, I should think, is what “spiritual enjoyment” or “spiritual intoxication” points to. Julian of Norwich pointed out that her visions (her gnosis) meant nothing if they did not lead to an increase in love within her. “I myself am not a good person merely because I received these showings; they will only make me a better Christian if I come to love God more. And inasmuch as you come to a greater love of God through them, then you will profit more than I… I am certain there be many who have had neither sight nor showing save that of the common teaching of Holy Church, yet they love God better than I.” (Revelation of Love, tr. Skinner, chapter 9)

Back to Tomasis:

Possibly, emptying ourselves is the path to knowing ourselves and that we are the children of God?  Possibly, knowing ourselves isn’t as awful as the heresiologists would have us believe?  It only being a manner of does it create humility, awe and love or does it blow us up with false pride and false humility?

Well, yeah. Again, a point of agreement. Knowledge in service of love is what true gnosis is all about. And to the extent that anyone who identifies as a “Hermetic” or “Gnostic” Christian is seeking such a gnosis-for-agape, I’ll be your loudest cheerleader. But my (and Plotinus’, and Ken Wilber’s) concern that gnosticism-as-a-movement has a tendency toward spiritual pride, elitism, and dualism must also be considered. Knowledge that leads to love is a sign of the kingdom. Knowledge as an end to itself is simply a cul-de-sac.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Shadwynn


    I tend to agree with your analysis. One thing I noticed during my sojourn in neo-paganism is the fact that too often Gnosticism was glorified as a form of insight into the Mysteries (sort of a fellow-traveller along with other pagan and new age perspectives). I was often guilty of this blurring of distinctions as well. But Earth-centered approaches like Wicca and Paganism are just that: Creation-oriented, if nothing else. (In its extreme form, immanence emphasized to such an extent as to eclipse any hint of divine transcendence.) On the other hand, classical Gnosticism, as I understand it, is focused upon divorcing one’s spirit from the “evils” of the material realm and attempting to ascend into the rarities of the pure Spirit realm, dualistic dichotomies abounding. So even in contemporary Pagan thinking, I would see an inconsistency in embracing some of the more basic tenets of Gnosticism.

    When it comes to Christianity, I think your distinction between true gnosis and “Gnosticism” is a point well taken. What comes immediately to mind is the author of the first epistle of John, who emphasized his own adherence to a decidedly incarnational gnosis revealed in the person of the Christ “who was made flesh.” If I remember correctly, one of his favorite phrases was “this we know (gnosis),” but the gnosis to which he made reference was thoroughly affirming of the material world as an appropriate vehicle for the incarnation of God, as opposed to the Docetic heresy which he was combating that insisted that the Christ could not have become incarnate in real flesh, since matter (being a creation of the evil Demiurge) was not a suitable vehicle for the epiphany of the Divine presence.

    Farther along in the development of classic Gnosticism, there seemed to be an increasing tendency towards spiritual elitism, magickal evocations, elaborate mythological fantasies, and an over-all loss of “groundedness” which put them more and more out of touch with the real world and the spiritual needs of common humanity (or, should I say, a disdainful lack of concern for others?) So, from my decidedly non-professional viewing, such Gnosticism was a polar opposite of the revelation of kenotic gnosis as emplified in the Church’s insistence on an incarnational Christology and all that implies for Creation’s eventual transformative evolution in God, and our own theosis.

    To be sure, Gnosticism raised some very good questions for theological pondering, but as a hope for the “common person” or the “religiously challenged” it was ultimately an ineffectual failure. But I am so glad you are broaching such substantive topics; it gives us much on which to meditate and ponder. Keep up the good work.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    I was much more cutting in my original draft…LOL. Sorry about that. I do try to be more objective/neutral but alas like you, pure language on a screen can belie the full intention. Though I admit getting away with myself. I suppose, it would have been more simple to point out that we now know there is no one “Gnosticism” that can be simply stereotyped, Ancient or Contemporary. To rely only on heresiologist, whatever stripe, isn’t a fair and honest assessment of who they are and what they and we have become. And to differentiate Gnosis from Gnosticism in such a matter as you do isn’t fair or honest and I can’t but help believe you know this from your own pagan and mystical wanderings.

    My own blogspot is a personal exploration of kenosis and theosis Titled: Come to Be as You Pass Away, taken from saying # 42 of the Gospel of Thomas, a more literal translation than the more common Jesus said: Become Passers-by. So this topic is near and dear to my heart. This discussion with you and your readers is envigorating and I apologize if I come off too cutting, I have coyote blood.

    In way of self-disclosure — I grew up close to the Church even when my family was religiously ambivalent. I entered into to a Roman Catholic college seminary, but after accepting myself as a gay man I couldn’t reconcile the Church’s position even when my colleagues and even cousin could and did. From there I explored my native religions, Native American and Irish, but sentimentally I am always Roman Catholic, even tho she refuses me communion. One final note of self-disclosure, I of course am not innocent of bias and prejudice, occasionally I refer to institutional religions as the huddled masses :).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    I hope you appreciate that I could find at least a measure of humor in your “questioning of my character”! :-)

    You’re right about how dangerous it is to view Gnosticism monolithically, just as it is dangerous to view Christianity or Buddhism or even the Republican Party monolithically. So perhaps if I can learn to be a bit more gracious toward those who identify as Gnostics, and you can find some more compassion toward the “huddled masses,” we will have both clawed our way just a wee bit more toward the light.

    FWIW, my continual struggle with Catholicism -as- institution has largely to do with how it marginalizes and seeks to silence those who are not heterosexual or male. I’m currently reading Jim Marion’s Putting on the Mind of Christ; have you read it? Perhaps there are some parallels between your story and his.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    Indeed, while in the back of my mind I worry about being misunderstood, in acknowledging this I find more often than not we are good intentioned (something about roads and hell here…hehe), curious and eager for more discussion even debate.

    I’ll give the book a preview and see where I can fit it in the mountain of reading I am building to reach heaven. Thanks for the recommendation and the discussion.

  • Brian Doyle

    For what it’s worth, Elaine Pagel’s book was instrumental in opening my mind to the potential of Christianity. I think we must bear in mind that the meaning of Gnosticism today is, like all meaning, co-constructed and negotiated. Classical sources may inform our understanding but they need not dictate it.

    I understand gnosis as referring to our true selves, the uncarved block of the Taoists, and not to our worldly selves. The two, however, are unseparable. Reconciling gnosis with daily life is what genuine practice is all about.

    Regarding gnosis and agape, are we sure that they’re different things? When Jesus says, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ is he not talking of the knowledge of love?

  • http://lightandstorm.wordpress.com lightandstorm

    As someone who has regularly attended a Gnostic mass led by a wonderful (and female) Gnostic bishop, I can assure you that modern Gnostics are not elitist, dualistic, or spiritually prideful. The mass is incredibly sincere and completely open to all, even in the Eucharist. It is the most inclusive church I’ve been to, in fact. They do recognize that not everyone will get the same meaning from it, but that is considered the natural way of things and one of the reasons for the repetition of the ritual. It’s not a bad thing that not everyone is at the same level spiritually speaking. And it doesn’t mean that we should purposefully keep things from these people…so much as there will be things that are hidden from their view as a natural consequence of their mode of understanding. As they grow into their spirituality, they will see things differently.

    It makes sense to me. :)

    Though I certainly recognize the trend towards elitism and dualism in those just beginning to explore Gnosticism (who don’t get what is meant), and also that there were certainly groups of ancient Gnostics that held those sorts of beliefs. In my opinion these would be the less gnostic of the Gnostics.

    Although, modern Gnosticism doesn’t feel the need to concentrate so heavily on the past. The present moment, and what the texts/rituals say to *you* is emphasized above all else. Our priest always tells us that there is no wrong answer and that we should speak freely from wherever we are at.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    The only “Gnostic mass” I’ve ever attended was an O.T.O. ceremony some years ago. So I must emphasize that the charges of elitism, dualism, etc. that I have made, are all aimed at ancient, and not contemporary, expressions of gnosticism.

    Part of what I’m taking away from this conversation is the interesting question of how both creative and destructive energies can co-exist within the same community or tradition. History is written by the winners, of course, but one of the challenges facing us “orthodox” Christians is the task of deconstructing our own pride, arrogance, dualism, etc. The commandment to remove the log in our own eyes before going after the mote in another’s seems to pertain here.

  • noel

    whats a gnosis mass
    let all meditate on the wedding feast at cana
    lets all go
    lets all notice the wine running short
    lets all see the embarrassment
    lets all hears jesus mother ask him to do something
    lets hear him reply not yet …i am not good enough at this yet
    lets all see her take charge and tell the others to do whatever he says
    lets ask god for everything
    lets keep annoying him
    all our pettiness is so we can keep him in our lives at all times
    is this the call to pray ceaseless ly

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    as the young potential “spoon boy” in the Matrix might have said:
    Spoon boy: Do not try and remove the log. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
    Neo: What truth?
    Spoon boy: There is no log.
    Neo: There is no log?
    Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the log that must be removed, it is only yourself.

    More coyote wisdom…LOL

  • noel

    more coyote wisdom needed
    thanks thomasis marie

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    Only to humbly ask that we may all emanate and send as much prayers, love, light, compassion and comfort to Haiti, its people and their loved ones around the world. Regardless of how we come to know such horror, 100 of thousands estimated dead, we must at the very least thru the love of Christ, the Most Highest and the power of the All Powerful Holy Spirit embrace with our All Powerful Hearts those affected.

  • Infinite Warrior

    The distinction between gnosis and gnosticism is a welcome one. It seems all our paths begin to stray the moment they become “isms”.

    the interesting question of how both creative and destructive energies can co-exist within the same community or tradition.

    That would pretty much cover the gamut of human endeavors. Perhaps if all our paths manage to reunite their esoteric and exoteric aspects (profound knowledge, properly applied) and we learn to understand “power” as energy rather than “authority over”, we’ll have it made.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    Curiously something I myself have been pondering: By upbringing and intellectual training,
    I belong to the “children of heaven”;
    but by temperament, and by my professional studies,
    I am a “child of the earth”.
    Situated thus by life at the heart of two worlds
    with whose theory, idiom and feelings
    intimate experience has made me familiar,
    I have not erected any watertight bulkhead inside myself.
    On the contrary, I have allowed
    two apparently conflicting influences full freedom to
    react upon one another deep within me.
    – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

  • Shadwynn

    “It seems all our paths begin to stray the moment they become ‘isms’.”

    I couldn’t agree more! Wonderful thought, succinctly expressed.

  • Shadwynn

    The quote from de Chardin was so interiorly true in my own experience; how I can relate! :-)

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Mike L.

    I think your mistake is in your argument that we might “accept[ing] the verdict of history that such groups represented distortions of the gospel ”

    Why should we accept that view? You’ve discounted the high possibility that all these different gnostic groups predated the “official gospel”. The orthodox view is a distortion (fabrication) based on a later developed power base that sifted through all the traditions to create its own message.

    You can’t really reject gnosticism without rejecting a big chunk of traditional orthodoxy. It wasn’t rejected as much as it was absorbed and blended. Christian Orthodoxy has been heavily influenced by the inclusion of the Gospel of John into the mix. That mystical gnostic gospel incorporates a great deal of gnostic dualism, mysticism, and the secret supernatural identity of Jesus as God (logos become flesh). So you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Well, Mike why should we not accept the orthodox view? I certainly don’t find your “highly possible” interpretation of history to be persuasive in the least.

    Meanwhile, anyone who assumes that all critics of gnosticism are simply mouthing the “orthodox party line,” needs to do their homework — specifically by reading Plotinus and Ken Wilber. Plotinus (a Pagan philosopher) and Wilber (a Buddhist integral thinker) are who have influenced my criticism of gnosticism. Last I checked, neither of them were particularly beholden to church authority.

  • Brian Doyle

    Carl: I think we need only look to contemporary criticism and mischaracterization of, say, Centering Prayer by orthodox Catholics* to remind ourselves that people too often presume to understand the ideas that they are so eager to denounce as heresy. History tells us that orthodox defenders of the faith misunderstood Meister Eckhart, just as they misunderstand Father Keating today.

    On the other hand, I think that Mike might be invoking a narrative here about hegemony that presumes to understand (and denounces?) orthodoxy.

    This tension between authority and individuality, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, is just another form of dualism, if you ask me. :)

    * e.g., http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6337

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      You’re right, Brian. And Don is right about everyone having their own “take” on Divine Truth. Sitting here, with Tomasis or Mike calling me to abandon the orthodox position, while Jeff calls me to affirm orthodoxy (and abandon integral theory) just reminds me that all of us have not only our own take, but our own stake. I suppose humility and hospitality are called for here, although I do think each of us needs to speak our understanding of truth as best we can. There’s no point in surrendering one’s perspective merely for the sake of being inclusive; that’s an aspect of what Wilber calls “Boomeritis.”

  • http://spiritnewsdaily.com don

    Everybody has there own take on what truth is. Especially Divine Truth.

    It seems to me that the more popular religions had the best marketing campaigns and best salesmen. In fact, I just posted an article about this, “Was Christianity built on a management strategy”.

    peace out,


  • Jeff

    Gnosis – a great word, I wonder if your gnosis of Jesus will grow to such an extent that you will realize that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is too great to be contained as a subset of integral theory and burst it’s framework – ditto for the Father and Holy Spirit and leave what has perhaps been a half-way house and be merely Christian.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    “with Tomasis or Mike calling me to abandon the orthodox position”

    nah, I was just pointing out, well to put it plainly, how you seem to cherry pick when you want to rely blindly on orthodoxy (btw — I typed Ken Wilber and Gnostics into google and came up with quite a few cites where Wilber incorporates Gnostic thought into the higher levels of his Integral Philosophy). I was just disappointed that Gnostics weren’t granted the same respect as your Celtic/Pagan fans and hoped you would see how it appeared hypocritical to so much that write.

    However you choose to view yourself and your orthodoxy, I have a growing respect for you. But become a member of Opus Dei, I would wish you well and move on :)

    PS — is this biggest response you’ve gotten on an issue? Just curious.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Tomasis, I suspect we’re all guilty of cherry picking one way or another. If nothing else, you’ve given me plenty to think about. This is not quite the biggest response — I think my review of Avatar, which seems to have annoyed half of the Neopagan world, still has more comments than this one.

  • Jeff

    From what I’ve read and understood of integralism it does have it all explained pretty well except for the transcendent fact of the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, omnipresent Son of God whom for me is a intellectual, spiritual, perceptual, historical reality that trumps and cancels out the intricacies and logic of Wilber’s thought. I think the birds eye view is being in the Lord Jesus not in what feels to me like the condescending permission given by integralists for all to have their own perspective while they think they really see things the way they are from the highest place. I wish I could talk face to face so it could be seen this is written without rancor and is a heart sharing for a forum designed for it.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    I’m essentially when stripped of everything a relativist; so yes I acknowledge I am comfortable cherry picking as Truth continually blooms forth anew deepening and rising to ever and infinite Truth.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    Oh, in regards to Avatar; for me it was the white christian manifesto attempting to extinguish indigenous life where ever it finds it.

  • Infinite Warrior

    I agree that the juxtaposition of what I would call the hegemonous corporate/consumer culture and the Na’vi in Avatar is a powerful statement about what that corporate/consumer culture has done and is doing to the earth, but your comment, Tomasis, reminded me of where I thought the film greatly erred: in giving the corporate culture itself the moniker “sky people” and then pitting it against the “earth people” (so to speak) and vice versa, as if the corporate culture were “white Christian”.

    There’s obviously something of the transcendent/immanent lying latent in the context of the story that Cameron completely overlooked and that would have been well served itself if the “sky people” had awakened to the spirit of Pandora, seen the error of their ways and come to some kind mutual understanding with the Na’vi — without conflict. (Understanding well that “violence sells” in Hollywood, I still think there was plenty of action in the movie without the avoidable conflict. The corporate culture thing is, of course, a completely different matter and probably would have been better treated as something unto itself.)

    What’s the message in the finale, then? Because, if taken to heart, it probably would not bode so well for our future. We are “suspended between two worlds”: Mother Earth and Father Sky; Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine; love and imagination; heart and mind. Despite that most human beings seem to view them as separate, they are nonetheless One and a balance needs to be struck between them in our minds and affairs rather than one constantly conquering the other.

    I think the movie would have been nearly perfect had that transcendent/immanent aspect not been missed and, therefore, completely trashed. It’s a tension of opposites we would do well to hit and maintain.

  • Ken

    @Jeff: Wilber’s theory, by his own stance, is only concerned with making sense of relative truths, not of absolute truth. Like all theories, philosophies and theologies, it is a map. In that regard, it makes a lot of sense.

    When it comes to matters of the divine mystery – God as God is – that’s not what it tries to explain. But I learned a great deal about how we, from all our individual relative points, approach God, relate to God – the relative side. That each of us has a certain perspective from the first place – limited and partial. Apart from the elitism that sometimes comes across, studying integral theory can actually be quite humbling…

  • John

    Words, words, words!

    It seems to me that the silent “God” has “spoken” only Silence, and that only the silent heart can hear that silence.

  • John

    . . . and silent mind!

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    I have an acquaintance who writes for the Examiner on topics Gnostic. He just published an (satirical) article on Avatar http://tinyurl.com/yhn5jmv . I’m sure he like me has some coyote blood in his veins.

  • Jeff

    I took a trip to integralchristian where it says “At teal Jesus becomes an enlightened master who realized his own Christ nature, and being transformed in the image of Christ means making this same realization – realizing our own essential identity as Christ Consciousness, or I Am-ness, or the Witness. ” None of that off putting Son of God, Savior of the World stuff. The site had all sorts of favorable references to gnosticism and recommended a talk by Ken Wilber about devotion to Shiva as being illustrative of what happens to a Christian knowing the Father or Jesus. Some how I can’t see St. Paul or any of the Celtic Saints nodding sagely as a subtle pagan priest expounds on how knowing his gods is the same as knowing Christ. It was the typical perennial philosophical remake of Christianity combined with beneficent acceptance and sincere appreciation of the lower orders (colors) and their valuable contributions. It was a reworking of and proclamation of absolute truths all over the place. Typically at this point in the conversation the perennial philospopher instead of admitting he has his own set of dogmas and absolute truths and that they may be different than those of Christianity and being willing to discuss them, retreats and insists it is all so relative and a mystery beyond comprehension and explication though of course accessible in the nonverbal experiential realm , though prior to this point he’s been using tools of logic, words and so on to put forth a very clear perspective, often earnestly saying that the New Testament when properly understood really means this or that. Or an ad hominem attack is launched about the horrid actions of Christians.
    The key dogma debated here is the belief that all spiritual experience is at the root the same – Shiva and the Son of God are one. One of the offenses or scandalons of Christianity is to say they are not.

  • Infinite Warrior

    “being transformed in the image of Christ means making this same realization…. Typically at this point in the conversation the perennial philosopher instead of admitting he has his own set of dogmas and absolute truths and that they may be different than those of Christianity and being willing to discuss them, retreats….”

    I’m not a philosopher at all myself, but…

    “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods?’ ” [John 10:34]

    “They know nothing, they understand nothing.
    They walk about in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

    I said, ‘You are “gods”;
    you are all sons of the Most High.’
    ” [Psalm 82:5-6]

    Of course, that’s the section of “your Law” to which Jesus was referring. Further, utterances in rabbinical literature and by master teachers such “I said”, “I am” and “I will” were understood by the tribes of Israel to be the emanation of the voice of God, whose “name” is given in exodus as “I AM”. Every such instance of “I” or “me” in a passage credited to a master teacher (such as “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and “I and the Father are One”), then, can be understood the same.

    This and the fact that Jesus called everyone around him sons and daughters of God (obviously not considering himself the one and only) indicates to me that he was expressing a very simple and crystal clear relationship and that — quite literally — in God’s name.

    All of this pretty much convinced me very early on that Son of God and Son of Man in biblical texts are inherently plural, refer to humanity (i.e. all human beings) in relationship to the ‘Most High’ and that realizing the same level of consciousness as Jesus — a state in which one’s own ego is, frankly, completely out of the way of Divine expression — is exactly what Jesus asked his followers to do while simultaneously giving them a variety of pointers on just how to do so, such as “do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” [Matt. 10:19]

    None of that exactly jibes with any of the “Son of God, Savior of the World stuff” as taught by the institutional church, but I have this annoying tendency to give more weight to what Jesus is reported to have said than what men have built up around it. Of course, that’s precisely why the institutional church won’t have me. My heretical head on a platter? Maybe. (I apparently qualify as a Muslim, though.)

    Am I an “enlightened master”? Not by a long shot. Am I working on it? Yes. Why? For one thing, Jesus asked it of all his students.

  • Jeff

    @Infinite Warrior

    Please read on to John 10:36-37 where you will see that Jesus was arguing that he indeed was God’s special Son and using the verse you’ve quoted to make that point.

  • Infinite Warrior

    That this passage happens to be the retelling of an exchange between Jesus and his accusers doesn’t alter my understanding. Son of God is capitalized in this passage as Son of Man is also everywhere it appears.

    We all have been “sent into the world” and whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Ba’hai, et al, or even religiously unaffiliated (none of which God is), we are all “sons and daughters of God” and “sons and daughters of Man”. (This inherent relationship is, I believe, why members of religious communities historically have referred to each other as “brothers and sisters”.)

    Son of God and Son of Man is an illustration of the spiritual (infinite, eternal, immortal) and physical (finite, ephemeral, mortal) aspects of Being, in my understanding. No one, however, is required to share it to be a member of the Family. :)

  • Shadwynn

    As a neutral point of information, I would just like to mention that from my understanding of the Greek texts of the NT, there is no capitalization used to distinguish special titles. The capitalization in English translations is determined by the interpretive analysis of the translators. For instance, “the son of Man” in the OT book of Daniel has reference to an apocalyptic figure from the heavens and might logically be capitalized by the translator. The same phrase in Ezekiel is addressed to the prophet, often designating him as a mere mortal, and so may be left uncapitalized. So much depends on interpretation…and there are many.

    I would also be reticent about trying to prove too much from passages in the Gospel of John. The words attributed to Jesus are considered by most scholars to be the least authentic and far from reliable as a literal record of any actual conversational exchanges. Most see John’s Gospel as a record of what the early Church at the end of the first century believed about Jesus theologically. I’m not saying we should ignore it, but rather use it carefully and with an understanding of its devotional strengths counterbalanced by its historical weaknesses.

  • Jeff

    The early church at that time was within the lifespan, memory and witness of the apostles and others who had seen Christ. Perhaps we should surrender to their theological understanding of Jesus, apply it and see its results, meeting the Risen Jesus of Nazareth, having the Holy Spirit and knowing the Father!

  • Shadwynn


    Perhaps I should have said that the Gospel of John was the record of what a “certain school of thought” within the Church believed about Jesus at the end of the first century. Unanimity of belief was far from the reality of the time. To which school do we surrender? Paul’s faction? The followers of James? The Ebionites? The Nazarenes? The proto-Gnostics? The school of thought exemplified in the Gospel of Thomas? The Docetists? And on and on… They were all squabbling with one another even within the lifetime of the founders of the faith.

    Surrendering our outlook to what they believed is not always that simple. We still have to follow the path of the heart and seek for the Spirit’s discernment to hear what God is speaking in the eternal Now.

  • Brian Doyle

    In a review* of Thich Nhat Hahn’s _Living Buddha, Living Christ_, Fr. James Connor writes, “the most basic principle of interfaith dialogue is that the dialogue must begin, first of all, within oneself. . . . When we have peace within, real dialogue with others is possible.”

    My own internal dialog goes like this: I recall an epiphany that I experienced in my early 20s in which I encountered in silence the Holy Spirit, or the Tao, or whatever name you wish to apply. No name was given, of course, but simply a moment of divine insight. Since then, faith for me has meant trusting that my experience was a genuine blessing. I also believe that people have encountered the eternal Holy Spirit from the beginning of time.

    Regarding the identity of that Spirit, I wonder why it matters? If we believe the Gospel of John, it is without beginning or end and thus, necessarily beyond all names and images and precepts. Why should such a generous, overflowing power restrict its expression to the life of a single man who lived and died some 2,000 years ago?

    To put it another way, if the Living Christ fills the entire universe, then isn’t it logical that the wisdom of the Buddha or of Laotse could have been inspired by “Christ”?

    * http://www.monasticdialog.com/a.php?id=758

  • Jeff

    A theological viewpoint of an early Christian faction (not my opinion, I think it’s apostolic).

    We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. I John 4:13-16

    Hey, what’s not to like! Apply them and you meet God!

    Two thousand years later scholars think they can through bits and pieces of evidence deduce factions that split the early church into contending equal and equally legitimate parts, one of which gained supremacy and crushed the rest, sealing its victory in the nefarious Council of Nicaea. I think these ideas are questionable and highly debatable and too many people place unquestioning faith in them. Perhaps the reason they do is the one Jesus referred to in the parable that contains the words “We will not have this man to be king over us!”

  • Infinite Warrior

    scholars … deduce factions that split the early church into contending equal and equally legitimate parts

    The earliest gnostics had half the key (esoteric), the earliest apostles the other half (exoteric). They were separated at birth and the Roman Empire assimilated them both.

    On the bright side, “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.” So, regardless what agenda men may try to obscure it with (then, now or in the future), “the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth”. [Mark 4:22-23; Luke 12:2; Gospel of Thomas, 5; John 16:13] Amen.

  • Shadwynn


    My comments on this blog are not for the purpose of conversion of thought to my way of thinking; they are a sharing of my theological perceptions at this point in my pilgrimage back to the Source of All. All my comments and reasoning will never shake you from what you have made up your mind to believe. That’s fine, for you will have to arrive at personal conviction based upon your own spiritual explorations, subjective as they may be (for all of us).

    Where I take issue with you is your implication that those (including historians, theologians and other varied, interested seekers) who do not agree with your religious perception of things are probably motivated by a sense of spiritual rebellion against God/Jesus (“We will not have this man to rule over us”). I find such an insinuation to be at best judgmental, and at worst smugly self-righteous, tinged with touches of condescension and intolerance.

    Many years ago, I had viewpoints similar to yours. My “certainties” were many. I was a crusader for “the one and only truth.” I was blind to the subjective nature of my own religious pre-conceptions and biblical one-dimensionalism. But time and experience had a way of curing my religious rigidities. The more I learn, the less I “know”, and the greater my humility of “unknowing” before the presence of Holy Mystery who defies the ultimates of definitions.

    Just remember, you are not the only one on pilgrimage. Others, with different stories to tell, are always there to give us perspective and keep us from making an idol of our present understandings which often change with the passing of the years and the accumulation of wisdom.

    You are on a road to spiritual adventure with many other fellow-travellers, and Jesus is often disguised with their faces…

  • Brian Doyle

    Shadwynn: Your comments about defying definitions echo my own remarks about identifying the Holy Spirit, which “beyond all names and images and precepts.” Paradoxically, however, the first lesson of Laotse tells us that the Nameless and the Named are in their essence the same–”Light from Light.”

    Many spiritual paths espouse humility and selflessness as the keys to enlightlightment. They express them in the own unique ways. Christianity tells us to repent for the Kingdom is at hand. Islam tells us to submit. Buddhism tells us that there is no self and to let go of our attachments. Yet, we know that people are stubborn. “But they all alike began to make excuses” (Luke 14:15).

    In the context of orthodox Christianity, Jeff’s remark is no different than a Buddhist who surmises that skeptics are caught in the grips of samsara. What Jeff has reintroduced into the conversation is the very notion that sparked this whole debate about the nature of Gnosticism to begin with. Is it ever enough to simply affirm “my” truth, “my” journey, “my” God? If I profess to be a Buddhist, or a Unitarian, or a Zen Christian, does this reflect simply another manifestation of the Holy Mystery, as good as any other, or does it reflect an attachment to my own intellectual tastes and biases?

    As Thomas Merton says in one of his books, the contemplative path is difficult and fraught with hazards, which is why spiritual direction is often needed….

  • Shadwynn


    A possible answer to your last question is to assume that, indeed, the Spirit speaks to people through the medium of varied religious systems, without necessitating that we project any value judgment on which one is “best”. We may *think* our own is the “superior road to the Divine,” but it would be wise to leave that determination to the private counsels of the Creator.

    Maybe we should take a lesson from the Buddhists by applying their teaching of non-attachment to the spiritual side of things: exclusivist, over-attachment to any theological claim can often lead to religious strife and spiritual fanaticism. Which religion is best (if there is a “best”)can only be authoritatively determined by God. Perhaps we should simply be content with following the call of the Holy as best we can in whatever faith tradition we find ourselves until greater light shows us a more perfect Way.

  • InfiniteWarrior

    assume that, indeed, the Spirit speaks to people through the medium of varied religious systems

    Or perhaps that is, in-deed, precisely what has been historically and currently, widely assumed, resulting in the exclusivist, strife-riddled fanaticism we struggle to transcend on a global scale when all that may be required of us, as Brian suggests, is a simple affirmation of truth as it arises in present awareness. Might it be that our understanding of truth is as faulty as our understanding of time?

    All the sages of our varied and culturally-rich wisdom traditions have maintained that truth is an aspect of being — something to be lived — whereas we seem to think of truth in terms of knowledge — facts, concepts and the images and ideas they represent. Yet, our language itself belies such an understanding. Something “rings true”, which is to say, “resonates” with us; we all “know truth when we hear it”; and seem to share a belief that “the truth shall set us free”. These sayings all imply that truth is an aspect of being and perhaps something we (quite literally) do not realize as often or as well as we might.

    I find it perpetually fascinating that mystics from ancient times to the present and from Jesus to Buddha to Rumi all experienced compassion, truth and their “way” (of life) in a very quantum sense of the word, while “reason-ation” has been viewed by them merely as a tool of conveyence.

    Resonation strongly conveys the vibration and oscillation of sound and light. We speak of harmony and discord, all seeming to prefer that “harmony” reign and yet, the vast majority of the time, what we appear to seek is the establishment of an “harmonious system” (if not a slightly more well-oiled machine), rather than to perceive and act upon harmonious relationships when and where they exist.

    As this is a web site dedicated to Christian mysticism, I will try to convey an exposition of this point in Christian terms.

    Being that the Nazarenes’ experience of reality was markedly, palpably different than that of their legalistic contemporaries, perhaps the Aramaic language is often a better guide to the true foundations of modern concepts of Christ-consciousness than the Greek. The Aramaic language does not lend itself easily to translation because it generally does not convey any of the subject-object distinctions with which we in the West are all too familiar and fond. (Scholars have debated for centuries, for example, whether “the kingdom of heaven is within or among us”, never quite considering that the Aramaic word perhaps conveys the both/and logic of “within and among”.) The never-ending debates over “absolute” and “relative” truths, then, actually are somewhat humorous to hear, considering that if “relative” were meant in the living sense of the word, it actually might be the closest we have to describing the nature of truth.

    Delighted recently to discover a site dedicated to the Nazarene Way, I find its translations and history of the Lord’s Prayer (or Pater Noster, if one prefers the Latin); its treatment of the Divine Feminine; and so much more resonate deeply, as does the prose, parables and poetry — epic and otherwise — of Christian and other sacred texts, whereas official expositions of “truth” seem never to cease causing a sort of abandonment of our innate, inherent common sense(s), as does this idea that our “religious systems” are “roads to the Divine” or “paths to enlightenment” rather than means to consciously direct the creative light and sound of existence in the world.

    Is it ever enough to simply affirm “my” truth, “my” journey, “my” God?

    Of all the nutshell-sized words (which nonetheless convey enormous meaning) to be found in our various traditions, Namaste is, for me, the most succinct and immediate invocation of what well may be the prime principle of all our wisdom traditions.

    Someone broadcast on Twitter last year that the meaning of the root word “Nama” in Namaste is “not me”. However, that is incorrect. The meaning it conveys is “not mine”. If “Truth is One” (and Truth is one of the “names” of the monotheistic God), then Truth is something we all share over which none of us has dominion — much the same as everything else we *think* we possess, including each other in all too many cases.

    Viewed in relationship, then, Truth would be paradoxically both mine and not mine.