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8918Re: "The Lost Gospels"

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  • Gerry
    Jan 7, 2004
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      --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, lady_caritas <no_reply@y...>
      wrote:
      > [....]
      > Interestingly in contrast, Elaine Pagels, to whom I also referred,
      > described heresy as "choice" in a recent interview with Mary Alice
      > Williams:
      > http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week706/interview1.html
      >
      > The following comments during the interview, however, elicited a
      > mixed reaction from me:
      >
      > "I'm trying not to use polemical language. After I wrote THE
      GNOSTIC
      > GOSPELS, I realized that the perspective was particularly
      Protestant.
      > It was rooting for the underdog -- in this case the heretics --
      > against the authorities in the church and the bishops and the
      > hierarchy. Now I realize that's a little oversimplified. To write
      > history well, one has to be on both sides of a controversy. You
      could
      > write the history of the Civil War, but if you're only on one side,
      > it's not going to be a very powerful story. In this work, I'm
      really
      > trying to engage the controversy as fully as I can."
      >
      > Here we see Pagels trying to be critically objective about her
      > writing. And, in _Beyond Belief_ she does attempt to offer a
      > balanced presentation. Yet--and here, Gerry, I probably will
      > sound "highly opinionated"--I have difficulty with a couple
      analogies
      > in the comments above. First, realizing she was coming from a
      > Protestant perspective when writing _The Gnostic Gospels_, rooting
      > for the underdog, the "heretics," may be even more oversimplified
      > than she realizes. I understand her sentiment, but Protestants,
      > although considered intransigents by church authorities, were still
      > within an orthodox Christian fold. Gnostics were not, as much as
      > Ebionites, followers of Marcion (with his two gods) and other
      > heretics were not orthodox or rather proto-orthodox. "Heretics"
      now
      > and back then encompass(ed) a wide range of possibilities, quite
      > frankly, some I would have difficulty rooting for.
      >
      > Secondly, regarding her analogy about the Civil War -- Are there
      only
      > two sides? IOW, are we again seeing a predilection for what you
      > labeled "a vast accommodation of mainstream interpretation" in
      terms
      > of orthodoxy or proto-orthodoxy vs. everyone else? History is told
      > in terms of the "victors"? Would Gnostics ultimately even place as
      > much stock in divisive earthly political intrigue or power?



      There definitely seems to be a propensity for confusion when authors
      go out of their way to appear unbiased with regards to all of these
      historical groups. Odd phraseology and overly simplified analogies
      aside, just look at the question posed by Mary Alice Williams that
      prompted the response by Pagels (quoted above):

      Q: You try very hard not to personalize any of this and not to use
      words like "suppress."

      To be fair, Pagels did use the word in an earlier response, but the
      host was far quicker to throw the term out there——on several
      occasions. Indeed, the author tried to stay away from polemical
      language, but does that mean that the facts don't already offer their
      own damning testimony as to what actually transpired? She might have
      cited any number of early Church fathers, or even the edicts of
      Constantine himself, to demonstrate the extent to which people were
      vilified when they resorted to scriptures outside of the canon
      advocated by Athanasius, whose effort to cleanse the clerical
      libraries of heretical influence was cited in the interview. In
      light of that corroborative evidence, I fail to see why a historian
      would shy away from a word like "suppress." While not in itself as
      guilty as some revisionist histories, the avoidance of such a word
      still gives the appearance of whitewashing recorded accounts, as if
      to indicate to some that the persecution of Gnostics never happened.

      The inevitable corruption of politics is bad enough in its own arena,
      but when an author must temper his own writing so as not to offend a
      large section of his would-be readership by simply stating the
      obvious, then I begin to lose hope. As I alluded to in an earlier
      post, when the attempt to write in a manner that appears "unbiased"
      results in little more than a happy and harmonious history wherein
      all parties are portrayed favorably and none did wrong, it makes me
      wish that the author had simply chosen sides from the beginning and
      simply disregarded the pretense of objectivity. Perhaps it's just a
      necessary evil for historians of any age to contend with.



      > Elaine Pagels also seems to be defining "beyond belief" as
      tradition
      > encompassing more than belief, i.e. "There's worship, there is
      > community, there are shared values, there's spiritual discovery."
      >
      > In another interview in _U.S. Catholic_, she seems to be describing
      a
      > more liberal existing tradition (faith, anthropomorphic God):
      > http://www.uscatholic.org/2003/09/featb0309.htm
      >
      > "I'm trying to say there are things beyond belief. Being a
      Christian
      > involves a lot more than just an intellectual exercise of agreeing
      to
      > a set of propositions.
      >
      > Faith is a matter of committing yourself to what you love, what you
      > hope. It's the story of Jesus, which is a story of divinely given
      > hope after complete despair. It's a set of shared values by a
      > community who believes that God loves the human race and wants us
      to
      > love one another. There's common worship, and there is Baptism and
      > Communion.
      >
      > Much of this is very mysterious. It's much deeper than a set of
      > beliefs to which we simply say yes or no."
      >
      > Now, in all fairness, was she simply using wording that would
      relate
      > to a Catholic audience? If so, I nevertheless do not even see her
      > endorsing heterodoxy, let alone Gnosticism, in this article. Now,
      I
      > have no problem with this. Actually promoting Gnosticism
      > specifically may not be her intention. And, I do appreciate Elaine
      > Pagels' and others' scholarly work to correct misinformation about
      > early Christianity.
      >
      > I *do* have difficulty however with others who would use Gnostic
      > scripture in an eclectic manner to inform or enhance an orthodox
      > tradition, in essence making a bigger, grander, all-inclusive
      > tradition of "faith" without considering basic, very significant
      > underlying differences such as mythological/meaning vs.
      > historical/moral approach, soteriological function and concepts
      > of "God."


      Despite your (our) appreciation for scholarly endeavors to address
      the misinformation out there, it is becoming increasingly clearer
      that such efforts may be futile. A pneumatic understanding isn't
      gained simply because a psychic wills it so. I'm skeptical that any
      amount of historical elucidation can play a role in such a personal
      change in perception.


      > I don't view these differences as being reconcilable or even two
      > sides of the same coin or common Civil War. Now, we certainly have
      > seen, in the case of the Valentinians, psychic and pneumatic
      > approaches existing within the same church. However, I see
      Gnostics
      > describing an experience that truly goes beyond belief, not one
      that
      > merely changes the timbre of a faith tradition.
      >
      > I wonder if some scholars agree.
      >
      >
      > Cari


      Perhaps Pagels *was* simply relating to the target audience in
      her "U.S. Catholic" interview quoted above. It's interesting,
      though, that she begins that passage explaining that there is more to
      Christianity than simply swallowing dogma——that "there are things
      beyond belief," and then begins her elaboration in the following
      paragraph, "Faith is a matter of . . . ."

      As I think you're suggesting, every element Pagels proceeds to cite
      at that point can already be found in virtually any example of
      mainstream Christian faith. Well, that works just fine for the
      interview, but to do her own book justice, she would have been better
      off describing as you did——that for many, venturing beyond belief is
      not merely a step, but a leap beyond when compared with their
      previous position grounded in a "faith tradition."

      Gerry
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