Sunday, March 22, 2009

Readings: Just Like the Weather

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In Part Two of our consideration of things Gnostic, we must contemplate the development that there came to be those for whom the Greek cosmic model did not adequately address the "problem of evil": if the universe was the creation of a perfect and benevolent God, why was our world such a terrifying mess? To generally summarize the central tenet of the several Gnostic philosophies, we can say that these disgruntled participants in the terrestrial drama found the best solution to the quandry to be the simplest one: they concluded that the world had been a mistake from the git-go, created by an imperfect and ignorant "Demiurge," who believed himself to be the supreme God, but didn't even come close. The beautiful harmony of the spheres experienced by the Greeks was perceived to be an oppressive set of immutable and tyrannical laws, presided over by the myriad "powers and principalities" with all the acumen of teams of Wall Street investment bankers being prodded and goosed along by the Invisible Hand. The cosmos, including the microcosmic human body and psyche, was a demon-ridden nightmare. The argument of the Gnostics was that Everybody's complaining about the heimarmene, but nobody's doing anything about it:

We can imagine with what feelings gnostic men must have looked up to the starry sky. How evil its brilliance must have looked to them, how alarming its vastness and the rigid immutability of its courses, how cruel its muteness! The music of the spheres was no longer heard, and the admiration for the perfect spherical form gave place to the terror of so much perfection directed at the enslavement of man. The pious wonderment with which earlier man had looked up to the higher regions of the universe became a feeling of oppression by the iron vault which keeps man exiled from his home beyond. But it is the “beyond” which really qualifies the new conception of the physical universe and of man’s position in it. Without it, we should have nothing but a hopeless worldly pessimism. Its transcending presence limits the inclusiveness of the cosmos to the status of only a part of reality, and thus of something from which there is an escape. …The total gnostic view is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but eschatological: if the world is bad, there is the goodness of the outer-worldly God; if the world is a prison, there is an alternative to it; if man is a prisoner of the world, there is a salvation from it and a power that saves. It is in this eschatological tension, in the polarity of world and God, that the gnostic cosmos assumes its religious quality.
~ Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion

Man, in this world, was a resident alien: lost in Space/Time. To quote a contemporary Gnostic bard: We are spirits in the material world.
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