Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Gnostic Gospels (Book Review)

Elaine Pagels explains in The Gnostic Gospels (1979), clearly and concisely, why it is that the suppression of the Gnostic gospels and Gnostic thought was deemed so necessary by the early orthodox/Catholic Church. Her writing is eloquent, well thought-out and easy to understand. She asks a lot of important questions that the Nag Hammadi findings of 1945 have encouraged. What do the Gnostic texts permit? What is the significance of their interpretation of the Resurrection? Should the role of women in the church be reconsidered? Can self-knowledge bring one, not only to the knowledge of God, but even to the stature of Christ himself? How does Gnostic Christianity undermine orthodox hierarchal authority? Is the controversy merely about maintaining power over the laymen? These are questions which Pagels attempts to put on the frontlines of Christian thought. She does a superb job of showing the direct link between the Church’s need to suppress Gnosticism, and its need to maintain its power and authority over believers.

Pagels sets the stage of her book with the introduction to both the journey and attainment of the Nag Hammadi texts, followed by their possible esoteric meanings, their relationship to orthodox Christianity and, hence, their invaluable significance. She notes that there is little controversy about the dating of the manuscripts, which is most likely between 350-400 CE. However, the original versions are most likely no later than 120-150 CE, “since Irenaeus, the orthodox Bishop of Lyons” condemns them as heresy in his treaties against heresy and heretics, written in the year 180 (xvi). The name Irenaeus is crucial, given that much of what is known about the onslaught against Gnosticism is taken from his polemics. Therefore, his claims and accusations, along with Tertullian’s, against the Gnostics and their sacred writings are discussed throughout the book.

An interesting topic, which Pagels addresses, is the inversion of the value-judgements and myths by the Gnostics found in the Bible. For example, the Testimony of Truth and Thunder, Perfect Mind, take the side of the serpent in the book of Genesis. In fact, the story of the so-called “fall from paradise” is taken from his point of view. This is quite astonishing since New-Testament Christianity brands him the Devil himself. In these two gospels, however, he is presented as something possessing divine wisdom and truth, and Adam and Eve are, in fact, punished by Jehovah, who is petty and jealous, because they gained the knowledge that only he wishes to have (xvii). Meaning, it is the snake (a Satanic figure), which is good, and God, who is wicked and filled with pride, not the other way around, as the orthodox churches have presented the case to be for two-thousand years.

It is for unorthodox interpretations like this that Gnostic Christianity was deemed, and is stilled deemed, heretical by the mainstream Christian churches. An historically enlightening fact, which Pagels presents, is that when Constantine made Christianity “an officially approved religion in the fourth century, Christian bishops, previously victimized by the police now commanded them” (xviii). It was declared heretical, and a criminal offence to hold in possession any and all Gnostic literature, and “copies of such books were burned and destroyed.” It was this, Pagels notes, that led “someone, possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St. Pachomius,” to hide a few of these banned manuscripts, to keep “them from destruction – in a jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years” (xix). Such a clandestine event as this, gives an idea as to how controversial and significant these texts are. They were deemed extremely dangerous, due to their corrosive nature to what we now know as modern Christianity. This is the reason for their suppression, and Pagels’ mission, in her book, is to explain all the reasons why they were deemed such a threat.

In Chapter 1, Pagels begins with the controversy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; for the Church, as we know it, was founded on this theme, and presented as historical fact. It is something, Tertullian states, which “must be believed, because it is absurd” (5)! Primarily, according to Pagels, the ultimate necessity for belief in a literal resurrection of Christ lies in the fact that “it legitimizes the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership over churches as the successors of the apostle Peter” (6). However, the Gnostic view takes the resurrection of Jesus symbolically and spiritually, not historically, and so the orthodox condemned “all such interpretations.” Tertullian declared “that anyone who denies the resurrection of the flesh is a heretic, not a Christian” (5). The Gnostics did, indeed, understand “that their theory, like the orthodox one, bore political implications. It suggests that whoever ‘sees the Lord’ through inner vision can claim that his or her own authority equals, or surpasses, that of the Twelve [disciples] – and of their successors,” that is, the church leaders (13-14). Gnosticism, then, loosens the chains that the Church elders have over believers, as those who believe in the Gnostic version of Christianity have no reason to feel humbled and subservient to the Church’s hierarchy. They can, in fact, surpass the stature of any priest, bishop or pope. “All who had received gnosis, they say, had gone beyond the church’s teaching and had transcended the authority of its hierarchy” (25). In other words, it is all about maintaining the power which the apostle-witnessed resurrection of Christ offers, which incited the censure of Gnostic thought regarding the resurrection. The power the orthodox Christian leaders had (or have) was founded on the supposed lineage of authority derived directly from the apostles themselves, and, hence, the sole reason for the derision of Gnostic Christianity by the heresy hunters.

In Chapter II, Pagels discusses the dualistic nature of Gnosticism. The orthodox Christians insisted upon Christianity being essentially monotheistic. The Gnostics believed not only that there were two gods, but that the creator-god, that is, Jehovah himself, was evil. This does not apply, however, to Valentinian Gnosticism, which is also monotheistic (31). It is the monotheistic nature of orthodox Christianity, Pagels maintains, which grants spiritual authority to church leaders, for their power derives from Peter, who was given it by Christ personally, and, hence, Gnostic dualism takes this authority away from them. It only follows, that the main proponents of the orthodox view, “were the bishops themselves. [..] As there is only one God in heaven, Ignatius declares, so there can be only one bishop in the church” (35).

Chapter IV deals with martyrdom and the suffering that supposedly comes with being a Christian. Certain Gnostic texts deny the suffering of Christ, saying that his divine nature transcended his human nature. Being the Son of God, he is pure spirit, which overcomes the flesh completely (75). Gnostic Christians believed that Christ was killed so that they “might not be killed” (82). This naturally led to the belief that the martyrdom of the orthodox Christians was in vain, and, hence, took the glory of it away in the process. This did not please the orthodox Christan leaders in the least. They “insisted on the necessity of accepting martyrdom” as a way of imitating and taking part in the glory of Christ (82). According to Gnostic Christan thought, however, as deduced from many of its sacred texts, their sufferings and executions were not at all honourable martyrdom, but, in fact, unchristian baseness. Also, one argument by the orthodox Christians, like Tertullian, was that their suffering and deaths was in itself evidence of the truth of the Gospel, that their theological take on Christianity was the right one, and that the Gnostics were mere liars and cowards. Justin Martyr went so far as to call their lack of persecution a crime (84).

Chapter VI is of great importance, because it emphasizes the meaning and power of gnosis within Gnostic philosophy and theology. For the Gnostics, finding the one true God required finding the one true self of the individual, and, clearly, no authority-figure is necessary for this. Hence, the Gnostics rejected “religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress.” For the orthodox believers, it was sin that separates humankind from God. The “gnostics, on the contrary, insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering” (124). Ignorance could then be considered the one true sin in Gnosticism; for “whoever remains ignorant, a ‘creature of oblivion,’ cannot experience fulfillment” (125). They remain in a state of sheer darkness and foolishness, as explained in Teachings, a Gnostic text written by the teacher Silvanus, and found at Nag Hammadi. This call for independence, then, is the ultimate undermining of clerical power and authority, and the absence of the Christian, metaphysical concept of sin also removes the need for priest absolution (something stressed by Protestantism, as well). The clergy, then, become something superfluous and unneeded.

Pagels transitions smoothly from one topic to another. The dominating theme is clear throughout the entire book, and gives a vivid backdrop, which unites the issues she covers. I enjoyed the feminist matter covered in Chapter III. The matter of denying the feminine aspect of Gnostic theology to maintain patriarchal dominance in the Church is, indeed, a serious matter, which is as relevant in the 21st Century as it was in the time of early Christianity. It is the timely relevance of The Gnostic Gospels which makes it such an important document. Seeing “God as a dyad whose nature includes both masculine and feminine elements” (57) can completely change a modern-day monotheist’s view of his/her God, be he Jehovah or Allah. Except, the most astonishing aspect for me of Gnostic theology, is the ability to not only achieve knowledge of Christ through gnosis, but to become his equal. For “whoever achieves gnosis becomes ‘no longer a Christian but a Christ’” (134). This is sheer blasphemy in New-Testament Christianity.

The most beautiful aspect of Gnosticism, which Pagels rightly emphasizes, is its artistic nature. It is a matter of finding God in the self-knowledge-seeking of the divine within, which is then expressed through creativity. This is a spiritual form of religion, which cannot be overly emphasized in its ability to help a person feel fulfilled, elated and genuine. The Gnostics encouraged the expression of “their own insight – their own gnosis – by creating new myths, poems, rituals, ‘dialogues’ with Christ, revelations, and accounts of their visions” (20), and it is very telling that the orthodox teachers, such as Irenaeus, censured and ridiculed this very creativity and deep, soulful expression (21). For the Gnostics considered it proof of enlightenment that one could “create the poems, vision accounts, myths and hymns that” were created “only on the basis of immediate experience” (145). Pagels was right to identify all of this artistry and spiritual creativity as an expression of power, and, hence, an undermining of achieving spiritual awakening solely through the Church’s hierarchy.

The Gnostic Gospels is an enlightening read, and a necessity for anyone who is interested in the early rise of Christianity. Although the attainment of power by “spiritual” leaders is not only a religious problem which expresses itself in Christianity, the historical analysis of it within the context of the orthodox churches can help us understand its significance and expression in other religious myths. Elaine Pagels gives a very well thought-out analysis of early Gnosticism, and the threat its sacred texts pose to orthodox Christianity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Comedic Two-Pager - Charlie's Boner

Alright, so here's another two-pager I aced the following month. We had to do a comedic one this I did this. In class, we'd present the assignments by acting them out around the long, rectangular, wooden table we always sat around. It was fun. I played the husband for this, a couple of other guys played the smaller parts, and a hilarious chick in the class played the wife, Lisa. She was awesome! She played it just as I wanted and as I knew she would be able to execute it. It had'm all in stitches. One guy asked if he could have the copyrights to it. Heh. Damn, that class was fun! First semester, anyway.




A car is speedily driven to the front of the convenience store. CHARLIE (34) jumps out of the front seat and rushes inside. He is wearing dress pants, dress shoes, and a disheveled, white dress shirt.


He opens the door and rushes to the clerk (40) at the counter.


Please, call 911! I’m outa gas! She’s coming!


What’s wrong, Mack? Who’s comin’?

Two car headlights suddenly appear through the window. Charlie gulps with fear. LISA (28) gets out and slams the door behind her. She furiously enters the store with a look of sheer wrath upon her face.


Cheating on me with the babysitter, eh, Charlie? Well, now you pay the price!

She reaches behind her back and takes out a butcher knife.


Your prick is miiiiiiiiiiiiiine!

Charlie lets out a gasp and heads to the stockroom. She chases after him with her right arms stretched forward and the knife pointed upwards. He exits out the backdoor.


The supermarket is immense and very busy. Charlie enters terrified, looks around, and dashes down the fruit section. He reaches the end of the isle and desperately grabs a GROCER by the collar.


Please, my wife is comin’ for me! Help!

Lisa enters, stops, sees him, and then bolts after him with the knife pointed up in the air.


Your wife?




What does she want?

Lisa screams at the top of her lungs with a sadistic look in her eyes. She is headed right for Charlie’s crotch.


My penis!

He dashes around the corner and gets some distance away from her. He stops and then she does the same. He frantically looks from left to right. He grabs a watermelon. There is a pause as he looks at her slyly.


To the wicked, inevitable.

She darts for him. He starts bowling watermelons as fast as he can towards her, then small cans of food. She acrobatically jumps off of each one towards him. He grabs a grapefruit and heads down another isle.

He stops about 50 feet in front of her, grabs three cereal boxes, and starts shooting them at her like giant ninja stars. She dodges each one. He heads for the exist. Just when he is about to leave, she catches up to him.

She lets out a scream, brings the knife down towards his lower region, he blocks it with the grapefruit, and the knife cuts it in half. With both halves, he squeezes citrus spray in each of her eyes. She screams, drops the knife, and covers her face. He escapes.


Charlie runs to a building across the street without looking. A car swerves to avoid him and hits another car coming in the opposite direction. Lisa leaps over the cars effortlessly. She gets to the front door of the building and reads the sign: “MISOGYNISTS OF AMERICA.”


(looks up)
This isn’t over, Charlie! It shall be my trophyyyyyyyyyy!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Two-Pager - Autumn Day

Back in September of 2005, I started taking a 7-month screen writing course at Ryerson University. The first assignment wasn't anything specific. It just had to have dialogue (my specialty), and it was limited to two pages. So I did this, and before October ends, I just thought I'd give it a post up here. I got an A on it, by the way. I don't know why; it's not that great. I hope you've enjoyed your autumn.

Autumn Day



Two best friends, TYLER PARKER (21) and KAYLA CLARK (21), are sitting beside each other under an apple tree with their backs resting against the trunk.

The leaves are changing colours as apples fall from their branches. Kayla is sitting with her knees up to her chest and her arms rapped around them. She rarely looks at Tyler while they speak.


I just love fall.




It’s beautiful. There’s colour to the leaves, there’s a perfect end of summer breeze, it’s not too cold, not too hot, there’s that unique autumn scent...but I guess mostly the colours. I love colours. What, you don’t like it?


No, I hate it.


How can you hate Autumn?


Because everything’s dying, for God’s sake!


Must you look at everything so morbidly?


It’s a morbid season. I look at it that way because it is! If you have an issue with the fact that everything’s dying, take it up with God.


I’m not speaking to him!


It’s not that I’m morbid; you’re just overly merry and optimistic.


I’ll have you know that I take pride in my pessimism.

He starts picking at the grass.


Oh, please. The trees are dying, the grass is dying, birds are flying away so they don’t die, squirrels are frantically scavenging around collecting enough scraps from the dying trees to survive the upcoming harsh, callous winter freeze, which homeless people are shaking in horror at just the thought of, and here you are talking about how beautiful it is because the leaves are changing colours in response to their death. Oh, and some imaginary smell.


Hey, if you can’t smell it that’s your problem. If anything, you’re just jealous that I can find beauty and token hope in a time of year that you choose to find miserable and depressing.


I find it that way because it’s blatantly obvious. This just epitomizes the way you sadly go through life. An overtly delusional optimist. You blind yourself to the obviousness of the negativity so you can hold on to the scraps of your childhood la-la land.


I am not an optimist, alright?! Stop calling me that! I really resent it. I’m the gloomiest person anyone I know has ever encountered.


Don’t kid yourself. You find pure joy in a time of year cleaved with the natural despondence of death.


Correction: I see beauty in what you morbidly choose to deem as despondence of death.


You used to just love the Polkadot Door, didn’t you?


Hated it, as a matter-of-fact.




Polkaroo was Satan!


Don’t hurt yourself.


Look, I just like colours! Do I really deserve this reproof for that? What’s your problem?


Nothing. I’m just stating my case.

An apple falls from the tree clunking him on the head.


(grabs his skull)

Ah! Fuck!


That’s fall for yah.


Unbelievable. Newton’s an iconic genius for realizing what we all know as toddlers. If he was such a genius, why didn’t he reverse the process?


The process of life and death, or what goes up must come down?

Another apple falls and cracks him on the skull again. He yelps out in pain.


Goddamn it!

He grabs the apple angrily, stands up, and whips it as far as he can. Kayla stands up beside him.


I guess the tree doesn’t want us sitting under it anymore. It doesn’t want us reminding it of its time of dying.



Autumn sucks.

They start walking.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saved by a Magic Mushroom

I love October. Good things always happen to me in October. Four years ago today, I had the craziest trip of my life, and through it I was literally reborn and emancipated. My life was changed forever, and I never viewed people, religion, ascetic morality or social mores the same way ever again. I was always skeptical about them, but now, seeing the psychology behind them, I had both reason and instinct for cynicism. I finally saw so clearly the rancour and hostility of the rabble - like never before. The way they use superstition and morality as a weapon had always bothered me, but now I knew exactly why. I saw the vamparism. I still see the vamparism, more and more every day. So much happened to me that magical day - perceptions, revelations . . . the experience of a lifetime. However, a few months later, I decided to write a strange little poem about it that turned into a prose, and then a poem again, and I think a prose near the end . . . I don't know . . . Fuck it; it doesn't matter; I'd just like to show it to you . . . whoever you are.

A Magic Mushroom was My Saviour

What began as a feeling deep,
An awakening of my struggle sleep,
A grinding, a churning, a marching dirt within,
Earthly purification, an excavation of sin.
Faces, bodies, images of the forbidden above me as I lay,
Never had I felt as whole as I had felt that day.
Patterns of light morphing...devouring and creating itself,
and out it came as totem images before me,
Light of coloured, bright life empowered, knowing faces of myself.
Inner glow comforting, soothing, warming feeling of my soul,
‘twas love possessing my every being and my whole.
With my new eyes, emancipated, outside did I drift,
That beloved 2005 of October 25th.
Seeing the wholesome world and sky of autumn as if for the first time,
I finally understood that my pious inculcation was nothing short of a crime.
That eternal place of fire and sulfur, pain and agony – a fear-tactic! Nothing more!
A devil who was the cause of my doubting a book founded on contradictions and errors - a scare-tactic! Nothing more!
Why hadn’t I realized it before?
Why was it only then that I so clearly saw through the scriptural deceit as spawned by bile?
Always a person of strong intuition and freeing will,
I guess I just needed the inevitable nudge,
But this was that times a thousand,
And now behold my mighty grudge!
So many years wasted in unwarranted guilt,
Without which the Cross would have not any power,
But once and for all reason cooled the burning,
I was then freed that warm, blessed hour.
Can anyone deny that if it wasn’t for the fabricated Hell and Satan that Christianity and Islam would have been mere footnotes in history?! Nothing more!
The grand idea of heaven takes people to places of worship,
the fear of hell keeps them there.
But it’s funny that when you acknowledge that there are no such things as demons, perdition, or “sin,” the term “Saviour” then means nothing.
And so now the lies and nonsense are affirmed to me for what they are. Fear tactics! Nothing more!
Now I live anew! Without the folklore.
Once and for all purged of any ravishing Christian guilt – as from refusing the weakening stagnation of that horrid Gospel pseudo-stilt!
Almost crippling me as it has done to so many past and present,
Leaving me an empty, scared, hollow peasant.
But my will was too strong,
For the joy of the world I would always long!
My entire life its evils raping my conscience by shrewdly violating me through what makes me human,
I am an innocent animal capable of my own benevolence; cleansed, and free, I am my own dominion!
The Church’s archaic form of control now impotent – so clearly self-servingly schemed,
Making you feel like a sinner in order to make you feel like you need to be redeemed.
No more acidic burn simply for being a healthily carnal creature,
My chest now safe from Christ’s phallus of fire.
The monster Paul dared condemn passion and ambition!
Tfou! I spit on him! Weakening was his mission!
For what then is the point of life? So befuddling is this heinous nihilism!
Paulianity is its true name – the ultimate masochism!
But I shall have none of it!
For me it was always misery not joy!
I embrace the seven deadly sins as intrinsic growths of living!
It is only through them in which I may cultivate my being!
Behold! I am a free man at last!
To express, to write, to laugh, to know, to fuck - to have a blast!

“Christianity has been up till now mankind’s greatest misfortune.” – Nietzsche

“That’s why I always recommend a psychedelic experience, ‘cause it does make you realize that everything you learned is, in fact, just learned and not necessarily true.” – Bill Hicks on religion

So true, Bill. R.I.P.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dark Angel

See my dark angel,
See her soaring in the night?
Even through the day,
She still soars through the night.

Why so melancholy, dear angel?
Feel that all you do is glide?
Sweep down for me, dark angel,
Won’t you take me for a ride?

What do you search for, my angel,
A demon to fructify your role?
What will it take to slake you?
Is there a limit to your soul?

Why do you look away, dark angel?
Why so sullen, so morose?
My heart distends like yours, dark angel,
For it’s with you that it’s engrossed.

Hail down on me, sweet angel,
How I long for your embrace,
Grant me this much, dear angel,
As I take in and kiss your face.

Who do you swoop down on now, dark angel,
Another demon to cause you grief?
Such a veneer of charm is gravity,
Which pulls you in without relief.

Saddened once again, dark angel?
Another supposed personage, O so puerile…
But why be so dejected, sweet angel?
By yet another demon, O so vile?

Can I eat your pain, dear angel?
Can you rain it down on me?
I’ll always do my most, my angel,
Our hearts a synergy.

Don’t feel this way, dark angel,
To let your heart grow cold with stings!
Keep soaring on, my angel,
And let no demon break your wings.

I look on in awe, dear angel,
As I see you streaming 'cross the sky.
I look on with roses knotted,
For in my heart you’ll never die.