Note: portions in italics and within brackets are later editorial additions.
May 2nd, 2005
Unfortunately I haven't much time right now, but I did want to acknowledge receipt of the [Derek Prince] tape you were kind enough to send, and to say that I have already listened to it. The earlier parts thereof, in which he discusses his childhood and youth in England, I found quite interesting, but more from a biographical standpoint, as I myself had two maternal grandparents from that place. The parts toward the end, where he discusses his views on 'religion' I found (I must confess) rather tedious, since I have heard similar things most of my life, and have long since either discounted, or accounted for, the same.
Do I consider him my intellectual equal (to re-state your question to me)? More than that; I would hasten to say that he is probably my intellectual superior. And I would say that the same may even be true about yourself as well. Would I be qualified to hold (or capable of competently exercising) the jobs which he has held? Or the jobs which you hold? Perhaps, and again, perhaps not. I have never yet been in any such position, and I therefore do not feel that I am in any position to competently answer such questions (though I would like to know); and I am not, in any event, in the business of comparisons, nor do I think it meet to so be. My main response or criticism to this line of questioning is that however intellectual a person may be (or despite ever so many degrees he may proudly possess) he does not necessarily have a monopoly on truth or correctness in opinions, any more than the rest of "labouring humanity" (James Allen's words).
Nor do the 'uneducated' (or more precisely, the 'self-educated'; I must needs correct myself there) necessarily or always fare worse than their sheepskin-adorned brethren; one need only think of the example of self-educated (and positively brilliant) men such as Abraham Lincoln, or, more recently, famed mythologist and scholar Joseph Campbell, to refute that thesis. And (as you will surely know as well as I) there are many more such examples we may draw.
It would be easy for the wider world to quickly and tidily dismiss me because of my relative lack of formal education or academic position (without having actually read what I have to say). But this, I believe, would be a profound mistake, and a disservice, not just to myself, but to themselves as well (to borrow a similar train of thought from John Stuart Mill), in that they would be depriving themselves of the "opportunity of exchanging error for truth," should I happen to prove correct in any of my points.
And in any case, most of the points I make were not even my own to begin with. Mostly I have only learned from others far wiser and more knowledgable than me. If I possess any great virtue, I believe, it is that I have been a good, thorough, and attentive a student. And that is where any native intelligence I possess will have come into good service.
It was good to see you in person again yesterday, though under sad and regrettable circumstances. I wish we had had greater opportunity to really converse, which is my ever-continuing delight and pleasure.
Remember, in any case, the parting words I left you with yesterday: that "Amor vincit omnia" [Love conquers all]. "Love never faileth ..." (1 Cor.13, et al.) My favourite verse from scripture is undoubtedly 1 John 4:7-8, a verse you will no doubt know. The Bible is still one of my most favourite books to read and study--even now. And I try to be (and like to think of myself as) a spiritual human being--filled with God's Divine and Holy LOVE. But I think Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass to be of at least equal importance to the Bible. Ditto for the Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas.
As we agreed yesterday, we are both busy with careers, and this discussion may take some time. Nevertheless, I look forward to future opportunities (including perhaps sitting in on classes and/or corresponding with your students). Who will learn the more--I or they? (I speak honestly here, not capriciously.) I think in any case the learning will certainly occur on all sides. But I also think (and hope) that they will definitely sharpen their minds against my foil.
Finally, is it a sin to be self-possessed or self-confident?--provided it does not cross the border into real lack of humility? I think not.
With great respect ...
May 20th, 2005
Dear [name withheld],
You have indeed given me a lot to chew on. Probably I could spend the next year or more trying to adequately respond to it all. I will answer honestly right away that most of what you refer to I have not yet had the pleasure of actually reading first-hand (though I would truly love such an opportunity)--remember, I have had to mostly educate myself, due to my inability to get my foot in the door of any academic institutions lately. I have at least HEARD of most of it, however, so I'm not completely ignorant.
As to the finer points of most of the "isms" you mention, again, I have to admit that I presently lack the scholar's (or specialist's) knowledge of most of them.
You will surely (and rightly) say that, that being the case, how can I possibly maintain the position I do? How can I claim to know that the traditional "Christian" version of facts is false, and a radical new, reinterpretation of the historical evidence is somehow correct? To put it in blunter terms: how do I seriously believe that 99% of the Christian world can be mistaken, and only 1% of historians and scholars correct?
Well, without getting into specific detail RIGHT NOW (which would indeed take a lot of time) I will say this:
I readily perceive that the world at large is mostly made up of blind fools--the blind leading the blind, as it were. I put no faith or trust in the opinions or beliefs of majorities, simply by virtue of the fact that they ARE the majority. I require greater proofs than that. History amply demonstrates, it seems to me, that on many past occasions, the majority have simply been dead wrong about some very important matters--the roundness of the earth, the earth (or even the sun) being the center of the universe, for example. They are quite capable of being equally wrong about other matters which are now commonly accepted as fact. This is at least a logical or theoretical possibility, which I believe you also admitted to me when we first met.
I put much greater weight or credence on the studies and honest integrity of objective SCHOLARSHIP (as much as it is possible to BE objective) than I do on masses of largely under-educated (or even uneducated) AVERAGE JOES. And that is precisely what the vast, overwhelming majority of "Christians" are. (Or any large group of human beings, for that matter.) Their opinions and beliefs are no more to be relied on than a lunatic's, because no more AUTOMATICALLY subject to being correct in every important detail.
[There are simply far too many unchallenged, unexamined assumptions inherent in traditional "Christianity"--far too many for any true PHILOSOPHER (or lover of truth) to let them pass unnoticed or unchallenged, anyway. Well, many years ago, I set myself the task of particularly examining those automatic assumptions. And upon closer scrutiny--lo and behold!--most of them turned out to be false and groundless--i.e., no longer worthy of being believed or followed. Traditional "Christianity" then--as I have expressed elsewhere--is, in my view, merely a fragile house of cards awaiting the faintest breath of wind to knock it down forever. The truly amazing miracle is that it has lasted as long as it has (and that it moreover kept the mind of Western man enslaved in the darkness of ignorance for nearly two thousand years!)]
And it seems to me (though there is by no means unanimous agreement yet) that a general concensus is emerging in the world of Christian scholarship concerning the existence or "reality" of Jesus, and "his" and Christianity's relationship to GENERIC "Gnosticism" and "Neo-Platonism" and the whole "Mystery Religion Tradition". (And I stress that word "generic") As you know much better than I, there were many branches or offshoots within "Gnosticism" itself, which perverted (for lack of a better word) the original doctrine away from its roots (which were really Neo-Platonism).
I am an intelligent, rational thinker (an empiricist, really). You yourself have admitted this. Unquestionably, [however,] I lack much of the finer detail of education which you and many others possess (and I would like to acquire it, too).
In other words, there are many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which I do not possess. But I believe I do possess a fairly accurate idea of the bigger, broader picture of things, based on extrapolating from those few pieces I do possess. And I believe such an extrapolation is not only possible (to an intelligent mind), but not necessarily or automatically subject to complete or grave error. I believe the intelligence God gave me has enabled me to piece together those pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of life that HAVE managed to fall within my grasp, and moreover to form with them an astonishing and unexpected picture (a picture almost completely at odds with what I previously thought, and yet a picture which does not at all deny reason or violate or ignore real historical evidence).
The truly remarkable thing, I believe, is that I have been able to accomplish so much, and go so far, with really so little to start with. This is really, as I've said, an incredible, daring feat of logical, intelligent extrapolation (but based on sound historical evidence and sound scholarship, however). And I realize that, based on this fact alone--the fact that I, a man of limited education and limited scholarship--have dared to challenge one of Western Civilization's most sacred tenets, and say that I am right and the other 99% is wrong, will set me up for serious challenges and criticism, not to mention ridicule. I know all of this. Many of the scholars--"Christian" or otherwise--who are presently saying the same thing as I, but with much greater scholarly weight than I, are also facing the same denial, ridicule, and abuse. I consider it an honor to be placed in their company. I had rather be correct than popular, any day.
My agreement with Gnosticism is on a general, non-specific level mostly. If you get down to the level of specific, minute beliefs or doctrines, I probably would disagree with most of them. Where I do agree is in their general thrust and agreements with one another, and with the main argument of "Christianity" itself (which is "Love God" and "Love thy neighbour as thyself," etc.)
I do own the Gospel of Thomas, and a few other such texts--but not nearly as many as I would wish.
I do consider myself a (sort of) "pneumatikos". (As you will know much better than I, the "oi" ending is plural. I'm just letting you know that I know.) By this I mean one who has inhaled the Breath of Spirit, which brings enlightenment, or "Gnosis".
I affirm neither the deity nor the humanity of "Jesus". From the historical evidence I've seen, I consider "him" to have been an ancient, perennial MYTHOLOGICAL figure or personality (in the same vein as Zeus or Apollo) appearing in different cultures and places under various names and/or guises (such as Mithras, Bacchus, Orpheos, Osiris, etc.) but underneath all the various masks, basically the same general god-man who dies and is resurrected. (See Joseph Campbell's "The Masks of God", for example.) The "Christians" simply came along and gave "him" a new name, which they borrowed from the Hebrews (via the Greeks): "Jesus" "Christ".
The "Jesus" name (as you will know) is simply a Greek form (and a contrived one at that) of the Hebrew name "Joshua" or "Yeshua"; whereas the "Christ" name or title is merely a literal Greek translation of the Hebrew word which we know as "Messiah" ("the Annointed One"). But I'm not telling you anything new there, am I?
"Have [I] given thought to what is at stake in [my] quest for truth?" Oh yes, indeed I have. Quite a lot. There were many years at first when I kept on wanting to deny the evidence of my senses (the historical record, that is) simply because it meant that I would be forced to deny my previous beliefs (and I was raised a "Christian"). But ultimately my love of logic and truth, and the weight of undeniable historical evidence won me over.
You call my beliefs "heretical". But I remind you that "Christianity" itself was once considered heresy (and by intelligent people, too).
May 21st, 2005
After thinking much on the matters you presented the other day, some additional thoughts or responses have occurred to me. I hope you will indulge me.
In order for you (or anyone so disposed) to better understand me and how I arrived at the beliefs I now hold, you must first understand a few basic aspects of how I think, or in other words, how I perceive reality or the world.
First of all, my thought processes are most likely a little unusual--i.e., different from most people's. Although an 'official' diagnosis is still lacking (but I'm working on that, though), I now believe that there's a very strong likelihood that I have what is known as Asperger's Syndrome, or High Functioning Autism--i.e., a less-severe form of classic Autism. There is much literature on the subject, easily available on the internet, so I won't rehearse it here. You can easily look it up if you desire. Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University in England, has devised two separate tests, which, when taken together, provide a pretty good indicator of whether or not a person has Asperger's. These two tests are his "Empathy Quotient Test" and his "Systematizing Quotient Test". I took them both recently. "On average," he says, "most women score about 47 [on the "Empathy Quotient Test"] and most men about 42..."; whereas, says he, "most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20." My score on this test was 6.
As for his "Systematizing Quotient Test", the average scores were 24 for women and about 30 for men. People with Asperger Syndrome (etc.) usually score in a range from 51 to 80. My score on this test was 67. That sounds pretty conclusive to me. (These tests, by the way, are found at the web-site http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/ .)
One central aspect of people with Autism, including Asperger's, is that they tend to be very good at systems--i.e., recognizing patterns, relationships, or systems within what would otherwise appear to most people as either random, unrelated data, or even apparent chaos.
Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, a child psychiatrist at Trinity College, Dublin (Ireland), and author of the recent book, The Genesis of Artistic Creativity: Asperger Syndrome and the Arts, says (in this book) that in all likelihood, some very famous and influential people in the fields of the arts, sciences (and even government and politics) had Asperger Syndrome. Among these people (Dr. Fitzgerald claims) are Michelangelo, Lewis Carroll, and Thomas Jefferson. Other famous current or former Asperger 'sufferers' proposed (by other researchers besides Fitzgerald) include Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. (From the web-site http://www.lcmedia.com/mind374.htm .) So you can see (if nothing else) that having Asperger Syndrome, and viewing the world slightly differently from the majority, is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Now, why do I mention this business here, to you?
It relates to how I was able to develop a radically-different view on the subject of religion, I believe. I have always been good at perceiving relationships, patterns, or discrepancies in, among, and between various belief-systems. This has, I believe, helped me to weed my way through the various errors, half-truths, misunderstandings, and even outright falsehoods, so prevalent in most human belief 'systems'. And, partly because of my limited education (as mentioned in my previous letter), I have studied all these matters from a generalist's perspective, rather than a specialist's. And this is crucially important, I think--not only for perceiving truth generally (for anyone so inclined), but also for accounting for how I was able, despite my lack of specialized knowledge of the literature, to nonetheless 'leapfrog' around or beyond so many well-educated specialists in the fields of theology, philosophy, or comparative religions (to take just a few), and arrive at my present radical revisionist understanding of religion and spirituality.
Famed mythologist, scholar, teacher and writer Joseph Campbell [1904-1987]--one of my most cherished and influential mentors, by the way (though I was never priveleged to meet him personally)--addressed this subject at one point in his 1985-1986 conversations with journalist Bill Moyers (published in their 1988 book, The Power of Myth):
Specialization tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn't a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist--and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there. So the generalist--and that's a derogatory term, by the way, for academics, gets into a range of other problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural. [page 9]
What Campbell did not say, but which logically follows from what he does say, is that generalists are more likely to see the 'bigger picture', and a more accurate one at that.
I would add that this is because most specialists, by virtue of being burdened with too much specific detail, miss many opportunities of seeing important contributions or parallels from other fields or disciplines which would better enable them to grasp the 'bigger (and more accurate) picture' of reality, or whatever it is that they are studying. I don't for a minute claim that, simply because I happen to disagree with them, most specialists in the subjects of religion (etc.)are therefore dishonest or disingenuous. No! I merely say that not only are they simply mistaken, but that their very specialization itself in their one and only field, their very narrowness of focus, as it were, has in a real sense handicapped and thwarted their very search for truth itself. My disagreement is thus not with them personally (even though I may challenge some of their premises or conclusions), but rather with the very structure of the educational and/or academic system which produced and encourages their commonly-used methods of arriving at truth (or understanding of fact).
Now, on to a somewhat different topic:
In your recent letter you brought up several specific points, or questions, one of which I would now like to attempt to answer somewhat:
You said, "[m]ost Gnostics embrace either extreme licentiousness or radical ascetism ...[Which is your worldview?]" (I was already aware of this fact), and you then asked a few related questions.
Many would probably call me 'licentious', though I would take issue with this label[ling of ] myself. Many of Spinoza's detractors called him an atheist, but he hotly denied this charge. Yet from his Ethics, we see that his views on 'God' or deity were, at the very least, daringly close to classic atheism. So, was he an atheist or not? I think the answer lies in how he (or we) define the term 'God'. Likewise, am I 'licentious', or not? Again, the answer will lie in how the term is defined. (I address this issue in one of the postings in my web-site, entitled "Spiritual Journey Part Six: The Avatar Speaks", by the way, and I would encourage you to read it if you have the time, because it goes into much greater detail on this topic than I will attempt here.) As for whether or not I think matter to be 'evil'--my answer is basically "no", though this question, too, is addressed in the same article mentioned above (the web-site, for your convenience, is at http://nonconformistsbible.blogspot.com ). Do I believe that there will be a bodily resurrection? No, probably not. But I do believe in the generic form of reincarnation as taught by most Gnostics, Neo-Platonists, Buddhists, and even early Christians such as Origen.
You further ask what it is that I find unacceptable about the Biblical record. My best answer to this question has already been expressed in my web-site, but it is small enough that I will quote it here:
And what is "the Bible"? The "Bible" is nothing other than a scattering of brilliant, priceless diamonds, embedded and hidden in an overwhelming sea of mud and filth; in order to perceive the diamonds, one must first laboriously sift through a great deal of mud, and how many ordinary people ever have the time or mental faculty to do this? (From the posting entitled "Spiritual Journey Part One".)
The Bible contains much that I would classify as folk tales, tribal mythology, morality fables or tales (intended to teach life lessons)--among which are the creation myths in Genesis. (I am certainly not alone in this assessment, either.) Much of it is also quite pointless, useless, and even distracting and misleading.
In The Age of Napoleon (1975), Chapter XIX "English Philosophy", pages 395-6, the Durants had the following to say regarding Thomas Paine's 1794 book The Age of Reason:
At the outset Paine gave an unexpected reason why he had written the book: not to destroy religion, but to prevent the decay of its irrational forms [i.e., 'fundamentalist' varieties] from undermining social order, "lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true." And he added, reassuringly: "I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life."
Then he drew his Occam's razor:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches ... appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. [This sounds much like Nietzsche a hundred years later. ...]
He admired Christ as "a virtuous and an amiable man," and "the morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind"; but the story of his being fathered by a god was just a variation of a myth common among the pagans [Celsus had argued this point as long ago as the second century!].
Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of ... gods ... The intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds. The story, therefore, had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene [once again, almost Celsus' exact words]; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, ... and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God and no more, and had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited [i.e., 'believed' or 'accepted'] the story.
So the Christian mythology was merely the pagan mythology in a new form.
The trinity of the gods that then followed was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand; the statue of Mary succeeded that of Diane of Ephesus; the deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints. The mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian mythologists had saints for everything; the Church had become as crowded with one as the pantheon had been with the other. ... The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet [i.e., 'still'] remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious ['crawling'?? 'ambitious'??] fraud.
Paine then played his searchlight of reason upon the Book of Genesis, and, having no patience with parables, fell heavily upon Eve and the apple. Like Milton, he was fascinated by Satan, the first of all rebels. Here was an angel who, for trying to depose a monarch, had been plunged into hell, there to suffer time without end. Nevertheless he must have escaped those inextinguishable fires now and then, for he had found his way into the Garden of Eden, and could tempt most sinuously; he could promise knowledge to Eve and half the world to Christ. The Christian mythology, Paine marveled, did Satan wondrous honor; it assumed he could compel the Almighty to send his son down to Judea and be crucified to recover for him at least part of a planet obviously in love with Satan; and despite that crucifixion, the Devil still retained all non-Christian realms, and had millions of servitors in Christendom itself.
All this, said our doubting Thomas, was offered us most solemnly, on the word of the Almighty himself, through a series of amanuenses from Moses to Saint Paul. Paine rejected it as a tale fit for nurseries, and for adults too busy with bread and butter, sickness and mortality, to question the promisory notes sold to them by the theologians. To stronger souls he offered a God not fashioned like man, but conceived as the life of the universe.
I don't think that I myself could have possibly stated the case better than that. That is exactly what I also think. I completely agree with Thomas Paine (as digested by Will and Ariel Durant); and this is why I have included this rather lengthy excerpt here.
But as I have also stated above, the Bible contains much of great worth (in my opinion). The difficulty (as I've said) is disentangling that which is good and profitable from that which is useless and even distracting in our search for truth and for things of real spiritual value for our lives. Many of the other postings on my web-site explore these things of value I see in the Bible, so I will not go into all of that here.
Well, I could probably say much more, but I will let this suffice for now.
Once again, I thank you for your gentle indulgence and for your time and thought.