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9646Re: Tangential musing

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  • Gerry
    Jul 2, 2004
      --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "Mary VanEsselstyn"
      <maryjvan@m...> wrote:
      > I may be a pessimist when it come to a world that is changing
      > drastically and may not turn out for the better

      I think I share your view, Mary, but as far as Gnostics were
      concerned, creation was an abysmal failure from early on, so their
      goal never really focused on making a utopia of the physical world.
      Where would one start?

      > When I used to believe the optimists I was often disappointed.

      Sounds like my own experience again, but then, this is someone whose
      mother came right out and taught, "Don't get your hopes up, honey;
      I'd hate to see you disappointed." That kind of instruction
      evidently left a profound impact.

      > If optimism means lookng for utopia or a perfect society then
      > count me out but. It doesn't have to be either or. I find it helps
      > me to be more content and less disappointed and discouraged
      > when more reailstic than the otherway around. from my own
      > understanding I believe the Gnostics are realists but am afraid
      > Americans have always been conditioned to be optimistic no matter
      > how bad thiings look and may be the reason we don't learn from the
      > lessons of history.

      Yep, I'd probably agree with that, too, although it may be helpful to
      examine how we mean to use "realists" in that instance. What some
      people see as being `real' involves things like material acquisition
      or gaining fame and prestige. In another sense, even atheists will
      lay claim to being realists, but then, it may be a fine line indeed
      that separates them from the Gnostics (let's see if that statement
      can stir up some controversy). ;-)

      > However I don't see that if one is not always optimistic about
      > our futrure in the world it means living wiith out hope or in
      > despair by giving up and crawling in a hole. They are not the same
      > thing in my view and is possible to survive without wishful
      > thinking. If we can become a realist we may find ourselves feeling
      > more serene when we accept the world and our lives the way they
      > really are. then we can lower our expectations for ourselves and
      > others. I don't know what others think about my world view but
      > has worked fo me, a recovering optimist Mary

      I'm not sure if I follow you correctly here. Either you're saying
      that we don't need to engage in wishful thinking in order to live in
      a world where we can maintain hope, or you're saying that a pragmatic
      approach to survival in the world is simply not the same as those who
      wish to bury their heads in the sand. You could well be saying both,
      I'm just uncertain which elements you wanted to emphasize. Either
      way, pondering your comments led me to a discovery on the Web today
      that may fit right in with what we're discussing.

      What I ran across turned up when I was looking for instances
      of `hope' in the Nag Hammadi texts. Just like the goal of realists,
      I had intended to point out that hope can have different objectives,
      so I'll elaborate on these distinctions first. The world we live in
      was very real to the Gnostics, but so was their determination to
      focus on a higher reality. Just as with the passage that Cari
      offered, the Gospel of Thomas offers another insight into the fact
      that we have to deal with existence in the here and now by advocating
      that we give Caesar what is Caesar's.... Taxes are real enough, as
      certain as Death, even, but that IRS deadline is something we
      generally don't celebrate. Neither do we all run off and hide from
      the revenuers. Extreme reactions aside, it's just one of those
      things that happens, and most of us deal with it the best we can.
      For the Gnostics, the concern that was even *more* real to them was
      that part of us which is of the Divine.

      Similarly, with `hope,' we can examine where it is exactly that we're
      placing our aspiration. We can observe the tragedies in the world
      around us and hope for a better tomorrow, but you'll be hard-pressed
      to find instances of that sort of hope among Gnostic writings.
      Again, they described the origin of the world as beginning with the
      flaw of creation. In most texts, hope is viewed as one of the
      ingredients that brings us closer to God, a divinity that transcends
      that creation, but at the same time, you can find examples of what
      *not* to hope for:

      "Woe to you who hope in the flesh and in the prison that will perish!
      How long will you be oblivious? And how long will you suppose that
      the imperishables will perish too? Your hope is set upon the world,
      and your god is this life! You are corrupting your souls!"

      ——The Book of Thomas the Contender

      Now, here's what I stumbled across, and it may well be that no one
      else will find it even remotely interesting, but it really struck me
      as peculiar. The Gospel of Truth opens with a paragraph that
      mentions hope in the context of our eventual reunion with the
      Father. Something caught my eye just below that part in the first
      translation I read——something I really hadn't noticed in previous
      readings. When I consulted another version, I wondered about the
      difference in perspective between the translators. Since the
      paragraphs are divided differently, I'll add emphasis to the last
      portion of each of these passages so you can compare what I found to
      be a bit controversial——in fact, the rest is just background material
      for anyone less familiar with the work, so you can jump straight to
      the ALL-CAPS parts if you wish:

      "This ignorance of the Father brought about terror and fear. And
      terror became dense like a fog, that no one was able to see. Because
      of this, error became strong. But it worked on its hylic substance
      vainly, because it did not know the truth. It was in a fashioned form
      while it was preparing, in power and in beauty, the equivalent of
      truth. This then, was not a humiliation for him, that illimitable,
      inconceivable one. For they were as nothing, this terror and this
      forgetfulness and this figure of falsehood, whereas this established
      truth is unchanging, unperturbed and completely beautiful.

      "For this reason, DO NOT TAKE ERROR TOO SERIOUSLY."

      ——Translated by Robert M. Grant

      ". . . ignorance of the Father brought about anguish and terror; and
      the anguish grew solid like a fog, so that no one was able to see.
      For this reason, error became powerful; it worked on its own matter
      foolishly, not having known the truth. It set about with a creation,
      preparing with power and beauty the substitute for the truth.

      "This was not, then, a humiliation for him, the incomprehensible,
      inconceivable one, for they were nothing, the anguish and the
      oblivion and the creature of deceit, while the established truth is
      immutable, imperturbable, perfect in beauty. For this reason, DESPISE

      ——Translated by Harold W. Attridge and George W. MacRae

      Now, here's where y'all can tell me if I'm reading too much into it,
      but IMO, not taking something seriously is not at all the same as
      despising it, and yet, both of those translations make sense to me in
      a Gnostic context. As I said previously, recognizing a preferential
      reality as it relates to Spirit is not the same as denying the
      reality of the physical world in which we find ourselves at the
      moment. If that spiritual reality indeed has *more* value to us
      though, then we'll be more likely to take the problems of this world
      less seriously. If we keep in mind that our insertion into this
      imperfect world is the immediate obstacle that keeps us from our
      ultimate reunion with the Divine, then I can see where such
      figurative language as "despising" the world would also be justified.

      While I may be satisfied with the end result of either
      interpretation, I'm really not sure how Grant came by his translation
      of the Greek in that first version. The original verse derives from
      _katafronó_, which would generally be rendered as any of the
      following verbs: disdain; despise; contemn; scorn. Breaking the
      word into its roots, we could even see something like `to look down
      on' or `to think low' of something . . . but `not to take it
      seriously'? I just don't know about that, but it does make me
      question whether something as simple as one's outlook could be
      responsible for what looks like a very liberal translation.

      Could Grant be more of an optimist than Attridge and MacRae? That
      was honestly what jumped into my head when I compared those two
      passages. In a way, this is related to what Cari was pointing out
      with her earlier comments. While she allowed for a Gnostic worldview
      that is characterized by imperfection or lack, the gist of her
      question was whether or not one's attitude or outlook had to
      necessarily follow in the same negative direction. After just
      looking back through the earliest extant archives (they're difficult
      to read now because of formatting errors), I realize that we had a
      similar discussion about 2½ years ago (#5557). Then as now, I
      contend that there is definitely a difference between how we view the
      world and the disposition we maintain (in any given moment) as we
      attempt to survive in it. IOW, our outlook need not match our

      In recognizing that distinction, I see little importance in whether
      one is optimistic, pessimistic, realistic, etc., other than in how we
      go about relating to one another. For instance, as PMCV pointed out
      last month, we have had difficulties in the past with members who
      were so adamantly negative in both their worldviews AND attitudes
      that their lack of civility and otherwise brutally antisocial
      behavior made discussions with them virtually impossible. Similarly,
      we've encountered people who saw the world through such rose-colored
      glasses, with respect to both worldview and personal outlook, that it
      was pointless to discuss the traditional gnostic groups with them.
      If they're in such denial as not to recognize that a certain degree
      of negativity (even in an accidental sense) is inextricably linked to
      Gnostic accounts of the creation, then it's probably best that they
      investigate some other spiritual avenue. In that archived post cited
      earlier, Terje had made some comments regarding the dangers of
      rejecting and reinventing the negative worldview generally associated
      with those groups:

      ". . . if one thinks of "Gnosticism" positively - one projects the
      ideas, values and opinions one already possess upon the bleached and
      abstract fabric of the "ideogramme" of Gnosticism - the result is
      more or less a synthetic construct; a neo-religious ideology - such
      as Theosophy, New Thought, "New Age" and similar of the kind."

      I have to agree with him there, and while both types of extremes
      mentioned above are still prevalent on the Internet, this
      misperception of Gnosticism seems to be far more common. IOW, our
      attitudes and outlooks can vary just as other attributes of our
      personalities vary, but if we go about tinkering too much with the
      worldview of the Gnostics, then we're really discussing somebody
      else's worldview, regardless of what we call it.

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