Gnostic Morality Part 2
 
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
 
This is the continuation of the earlier post 
articulating some basic
principles that may help you think about the 
implications of
Gnosticism for modern morality and ethics. 
I had planned to write
an article last week and follow up on our 
previous discussion of the
principle of "moderation" by exploring a 
second principle, that
of "right intention."
 
 
Events, however, have caught up with all 
of us since then, and I am
sure we have all seen played over and over 
the images of crimes
against humanity in Iraq, and so we are 
brought face to face yet
again with the realities of human suffering, 
human hatred, and human
fear. We are perhaps reminded of the 
plaintive words of
Jeremiah: "A voice in heard in Ramah, 
lamentation and bitter
weeping; Rachel is weeping for her children, 
and she will not be
consoled, for they are no more." At any rate,
 it seemed appropriate
now for me to set aside the principle of 
right intention for the
moment, and move on to the last of the 
three principles, the one
that focuses on our relations with 
other people, namely "non-harm."
 
 
We are fully aware of how much our 
action (and inaction) can impact
and touch those we love or come in 
contact with. It can be hard,
however, to fit a cohesive notion of 
the relationship between the
self and the other into our fundamental 
religious frameworks. This
is due in no small measure to our 
involuntary but not insignificant
immersion in a kind of popular modern 
Christianity, defined by a
tremendous form of spiritual egotism, 
elevating one's own self as a
kind of highest good, defining all 
existence and spirituality by "MY
salvation, MY personal relationship to Jesus,
 MY conversion"). In
the end, of course, this pseudo-Christian 
solipsism is not really
even fulfilling to the self at all, which 
is why we have such a mass
of seekers cast adrift as it were in the 
sea of spiritual confusion
in the world today.
 
 
I certainly feel that Gnosticism offers 
an alternative to this
deification of the ego, but to be fair 
I should start by saying that
even Gnosticism itself can be subject 
to this kind of (mis)
interpretation. Let me offer a few 
pointed questions that critics
might pose and that Gnostics and 
fellow-travelers really need to be
able to answer in this area. First, 
is not gnosis a fundamentally
personal and individual process, 
indeed the very realization and
actualization of the spiritual 
core of the self? If so, how can a
religion based on such a process 
have anything to say about
relations to others? Further, did 
not Jesus say that we would have
to pursue gnosis essentially within 
ourselves, as in the Gospel of
Thomas ("Blessed are the alone and 
chosen, for you will find the
kingdom. For you are from it, and 
to it you will return," Gos. Thom
47)? Finally, if, in the Gnostic view, 
nothing is INHERENTLY "good"
or "evil," (which I shall discuss at 
more length in the post
on "right intention") does Gnosticism 
present anything other than a
vague confusion regarding our relationship
 to other human beings and
the world around us?
 
 
I hope I have stated these questions 
fairly and strongly enough,
because they are legitimate objections 
to Gnosticism as far as they
go, although the essence of my response
 is that they indeed fail to
go far enough in drawing out the 
implications of a neo-classical
Gnostic worldview. Gnosis is indeed 
an individual process that
involves a genuine actualization of 
the spirit, the real source of
all "self." We must understand this, 
however, in the context of
Gnostic cosmology, which sees such 
spiritual selves lying under the
surface of all those around us as 
well as within us. If I, as an
individual, am of genuine objective 
value, it is because of that
spiritual essence within me that 
gives the force and the energy and
the very existence to my life and my 
identity, the spiritual spark
that innervates the material parts of 
my being. If this is true,
however, it is also true that every 
other individual shares this
same fundamental dignity and importance, 
and indeed shares it in
equal measure with me, since there can be 
no division or distinction
between spiritual essences, which all 
partake as it were of the same
spiritual reality. This means, in turn, 
that there can be no
distinctions in terms of the fundamental 
spiritual equality of all
people.
 
 
This must inform all our actions and 
decisions because the spirit is
all interconnected; the destiny for all 
of us is the same through
the liberation of gnosis, as Christ 
himself taught: "If they say to
you, 'Where did you come from?', 
say to them, 'We came from the
light, the place where the light 
came into being on its own accord
and established itself and became 
manifest through their image.' If
they say to you, 'Is it you?', say, 
'We are its children, we are the
elect of the living father.' 
If they ask you, 'What is the sign of
your father in you?', say to them, 
'It is motion and rest" (Gos.
Thom., 50). The plural "you" and 
"we" here seem quite intentional,
and quite significant, because we 
are called through gnosis not only
to fulfill ourselves as individuals
 (though that is certainly true),
but also to take our place among a 
community linked by spiritual
equality.
 
 
Since we as Gnostics assert that 
all spirit is interconnected and
intertwined in source and in destiny,
 it is no great leap to
conclude that to undertake actions 
that harm the spirit of another
essentially and fundamentally harm
 the spirit within us. While no
act is inherently "evil" in terms of 
Gnostic theology, there are
many acts that are harmful and simply 
wrong when this standard
of "non-harm" is applied. In particular 
we can immediately point to
acts of violence, acts intended to cause 
emotional injury, acts
which elevate one's own self at the expense 
of another. Perhaps
most serious of all, as Christ himself noted,
 are actions that
injure or take advantage of a child or young 
person, perhaps
scarring them forever. The strongest moral 
claims upon us are made
by those we are responsible for, such as 
life partners and children,
for we are in some way deeply engaged in 
helping them in or
hindering them from their own growth in 
the spirit.
 
 
Though in many such cases a Gnostic morality 
and mainstream "Judeo-
Christian" moralities may overlap, Gnostic 
morality ultimately
proves to be far more serious and rigorous, 
in that it calls on us
to look not just as superficial realities 
but into the heart and
soul of those with whom we engage on any 
human level. In this
sense, morality to a Gnostic is totalizing 
and universalizing; it
deals with all things, visible and invisible, 
or as Christ said,
both "motion and rest." On the other hand, 
this means that there are
no arbitrarily superficial rules imposed by
 such a morality, such as
the bizarre conservative Christian stance 
on homosexuality. It is
clear within a Gnostic framework that a
 loving, supportive
homosexual couple make a family that is 
beautiful in the sight of
God, while a married heterosexual partnership
 based on abuse or
coercion or a fundamental disengagement
 between the partners does
not.
 
 
Having said this, we must go on to 
recognize that spirit is surely
not contained in humans only. Look 
what damage such a species-based
arrogance has caused to the Earth 
around us. To paraphrase
Augustine, consider the beauty of 
the mountains and the sea,
consider the peacock's brilliant 
plumage, consider the profundity of
the starry sky cast out as a great 
canvas before our eyes – do all
these things not testify to the 
fundamental beauty of the spirit
underlying a world that even at the 
same moment can be harsh and
cruel? Do we not feel longing and 
connection when we look to the
stars? Where can such longing arise 
but in the fundamental affinity
of spirit for spirit? Therefore we 
must also apply the standards of
non-harm and the principles of spiritual 
equality to our actions
toward animals and the environment, to 
all living things and indeed
to the things that do not live in our 
sense of the word but breathe
out in their beauty the very spirit 
and essence of almighty God.
 
 
This discussion leaves us with the 
fundamental principle of "right
intention," which in essence replaces 
the Christian dogma of
metaphysical categories of "good" 
and "evil," "right" and "wrong."
I will take this up in the next 
installment of this series, and in
the meantime I encourage you to 
post or email other questions you
might like me to address.
 
 
I warmly extend the apostolic 
blessing of the Church on all who read
this and seek the truth with a sincere heart.
 
 
In Christ and Sophia,
+Matthew
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