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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" 
Subject: RE: (urth) Gnostic Wolfe
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2002 10:22:52 -0800


It's good to hear your comments, and to the very large extent
that we seem to be in agreement I take this as a point in 
favor of what I've been saying -- not merely because you are,
as always, astute, but because you are this list's other
vocally professing Christian; I think that our agreement
suggests that what we are seeing may well be close to what
Wolfe, also a vocally professing Christian, intends, in that
we're coming from a similar world view to his.

>          1. Gnosticism is just "philosophy + myth." 
> Philosophy, whether Greek or Buddhist, held that the
> "world" is corrupt in some essential way, and that the
> wise man "escapes" from the world through contemplation, 
> contemplating his way out of the "cave." Gnosticism
> popularized this notion, adding myths, and various
> ritual and esoteric ways of escape (though esotericism
> is all over Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, if you 
> read them aright). 

Pythagoras and Plato, certainly; I'm not as sure about
Aristotle, who leaned almost to empiricism at times, or
at least this is the impression I get from my limited
reading of his work (lecture notes, whatever you want
to call it). 

But the point that this kind of esotericism is deeply
present in Gk philosophy is quite true ... Socrates, if
I am not mistaken, was an initiate of the Mysteries; and
all the Gk philosphers seem clear that some people are
fit for _sophia_ while the many are not ... an interesting
contrast with the Hebrew Wisdom tradition, which arises
from the Middle-eastern wisdom literature. 

The latter was intended to educate court scribes and 
officials; this remains clear in especially the earlier 
Wisdom books of the Hebrew canon, like Proverbs, which 
have signficicant hunks of advice about how to behave 
around kings. But even in the earlier books, it's clear 
that "wisdom" is something offered to the common 
Israelite, and which should be sought by everyone ... 
while plainly stating that there are many individuals 
(generally referred to as "the fool") who will not.

The other unique aspect of the Hebrew wisdom books,
vis-a-vis Gk philosophy and Middle-easter wisdom
literature, is its reliance on relationship with God
-- "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" is one
typical expression of this.

> The prophets of Israel preached against all escape,
> and called the people to involve themselves with the
> plight of the poor, the oppressed, etc.; 

The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (which is
mostly what we would call the wisdom literature) are
quite univocal about this; it is the duty of those
with enough to concern themselves with the plight of
those who do not.

(An interesting take on this, dragging us back momentarily
to contemporary fantasy literature and thus to something
vaguely similar to the ostensive topic of this list, is 
Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle," about a very Tolkien-like artist 
who wants nothing but to complete his Great Painting and is 
constantly bothered by his duty to his neighbors. Which, 
however grudgingly, he does, which ends up being the 
salvation of both himself and his painting. Grotesque 
summary, but...) 

And actually reaching out to the list topic: Silk and
the Narrator continually harp on the plight of the poor
of first Viron, and then Blue. One sideline interpretation
of one aspect of the Short books would be to consider
the inhumi as a divinely-sent scourge, whose menace would
be reduced to nuisance if the people would live according
to the Law (loving one's neighbors, taking care of society's
poor). I do not go so far as to say "Wolfe intended this,"
but it wouldn't _surprise_ me.

> and Jesus and the (best) of the Church follows this. 
> Christianity, with its sacraments of water, oil, bread, 
> and wine, and with its central doctrine of physical
> resurrection, is very "this-worldly," preaching redemption
> and activistic good works, not escape into contemplation.

Absolutely ... even Catholicism, with all its cloistered
and contemplative orders, is tremendously insistent on the
physical aspects of religion, which is often referred to as
"incarnationalism." The RCC insists on the importance of
both the physical substance of the Eucharistic Host, and the 
physical requirements of the poor. Indeed, I (as a Catholic) 
believe that it is only by that insistence that the 
contempative orders are kept from becoming essentially 
Manicheeistic in their detachment from "worldly things" --
that, perhaps, is was necessary when the majority of 
Protestant churches shucked off the concept of 
transubstantiation, it was necessary for them to shuck off 
also the monastic orders ... and vice versa. (I do not here
intend to argue for one church over another.)

> 3. Typhon is, IMO, much like the Demiurge, in that 
> he forms his Whorl out of preexisting matter. Pas
> rules this Whorl, so he is not a "demiurge" but
> merely a "god."

Okay, this is a distinction I had failed to make ...
somehow, I have this tendency to think of Typhon and
Pas as one entity. My bad. With this distinction, the
analogy/allegory becomes much clearer ...

> But the Outsider, is just that: outside of it all.
> He is the Creator, not a Prime Mover, and the cosmos 
> is not made out of his substance. He is outside of
> it, not the highest part of it.

Part of the issue, of course, is that the Outsider is 
Outside because the gods of the Whorl deliberately
shut him out -- tried to erase all memory of him when
they reprogrammed the original Cargo. But memory of the
"long sun Whorl" religion, in trace form, remained, and
became part of the Writings, in the few references to
the Outsider ... This implies, incidentally, that the 
Writings were not presented to the people of Viron 
already-written by Scylla or some other god, but were 
set down by them in the early days ... so that they are, 
in a way, roughly analogous to one Christian model of 
the Old Testament: "a collection of the written records 
of one people's experiences of God..." the "Book of Silk"
taking, presumably, a role similar to that of the NT,
something I claimed long ago in my comments that the
search for the "facts" behind the BoS is roughly analgous
to that of Christians trying to uncover the "facts" of 
the "historical" Jesus by looking at accounts written
years later by people who may or may not have been 
present at the events. (Luke as much as confesses that
he was not; John claims that he was. Matthew and Mark
make no direct statements on the subject.)

> 4. The Outsider as a minor god in Typhon's pantheon 
> is a play on the "Unknown God" of Acts chapter 17. 

D'oh! I can't believe I missed that.

> ... Hence, for Wolfe, as for orthodox Christianity, pagan
> religions are a mixture of awareness of the truth of an 
> Outside Creator mingled and corrupted by a "scale of being" 
> or "gnostic" or "emanation-hierarchical" view of reality.
> Thus, Chapter religion has some of both in it. But what is
> happening is not a "baptizing" of prior paganism, but an
> extrication from it. It is a mistake to read early and 
> even medieval Christianity as "baptizing" pagan forms. 

I think this is too sweeping a statement ... or, perhaps, 
one that depends on a specific interpretation of "baptizing," 
different from what many writers mean when they say that,
e.g., Christmas "baptises" the Saturnalia. It does not, in 
the sense that it does not simply take the Saturnalia and
substitute Christian names and concepts and otherwise keep 
the Saturnalia intact. It does, in the sense that baptism 
is in part an act of exoricism, in which the spirit of sin
is driven from the baptised person, to be replaced in their
heart by the Holy Spirit of God. In other words, if "baptism"
is perceived (as, for example, Paul perceives it) as nothing 
less than a complete transformation -- a rebirth, a new 
creation -- then that is precisely what happens to the
Saturnalia in the institution of the Feast of the Nativity.

> 6. Greco-Roman gods and myths were not much different 
> from Semitic/Canaanite ones, and really, Nordic ones 
> were not much different either. 

There is _so_ much "point of view" to be taken into account
here ... if you take the point of view of someone like Graves
or Campbell, you find all manner of similarity, and uncover
the Deep Psychic Structures of "all" religions. If you take
the point of view of someone like Lewis, you perceive that
they are quite different in orientation -- that the Nordic
myths, for example, are deeply pessimistic in a way that
neither the Greek nor the Middle-eastern myths are. According
to the Norse myths, the monsters will win in the end, and
heroism is simply a matter of dying well. Middle-eastern
myth believed that the world was created well but became
damaged or flawed in some ur-event; most Middle-eastern
religious ritual was aimed at bringing back the prelapsarian
time, or at least making the present more like it. (Israelite 
religion, as was usual for Israel, took up this theme and 
transformed it into something quite different -- yes, the 
world had Fallen, but no amount of ritual was going to undo 
that; you had to live in the world as it was. Religion was
not aimed at bringing back the golden past but at present
blessings.) I don't really see _any_ of these attitudes in
"classical" myth.

> I don't think sacrificial rituals were much different 
> either. 

Again, the purpose seems to have a lot to do with it ...
did the Greeks use sacrifice to fortell the future? Their
oracular methodologies seemed to involve counting birds or 
listening to stoned/crazy/inspired (pick and choose) women 
in a cave. Scrying by entrails of a sacrificial victim is
very Middle-eastern.

> I don't think we have to debate much "which" of these
> myths Wolfe is using. 

While I'm guilty of this, I suppose I agree.

> 7. Wolfe did use Qabbalah some in New Sun: Yesodh and
> Briahh; though there he merely picked up some words to
> use in connection with an essentially "Catholic" universe.

Well, there's a bit more to it than that, but you're
essentially right ... NS literalizes Kabbalistic concepts
in the context of a universe in which Catholic Christianity
is true. What I've been arguing is that NS does the same 
for Gnosticism, though at much greater length, and in a way
more central to the concerns of the book than Kabbalism is
to NS.

> If I might put words in his mouth, I would suggest that he
> is saying that some kind of gnostic/polytheistic
> understanding of the universe is what everybody naturally
> thinks until or unless they come to a Christian "creational"
> view of the universe; and that the psychological process of
> moving from the former to the latter does not happen overnight,
> but takes time. 

Well said. 

> But Silk's "enlightenment" does not mean he is moving
> "up" a gnostic hierarchy into transcendence, but that 
> he is moving "out" of a gnostic view of reality altogether,
> and can now see these "gods" for what they really are: mere
> creatures, even if powerful ones. 

Yes/no: Silk's "enlightenment" is (I think) very much a
gnosis, but one could make the same claim for the calls
of Abram and Moses. 

> 9. Finally, since this came up, the Calvinistic doctrine of 
> predestination (speaking as a Calvinistic theologian) is not 
> much different from Augustine's and Aquinas's. Whoever
> described the "two eye" perspective -- from within time and
> from outside of time -- pretty well described it. 

'twas I. Thank you. (I tend to think that a _lot_ of
theological debates can be dissolved by remembering that
God is infinite and eternal, and broadening the context
of discussion accordingly ...)

> The Calvinistic confessions of faith state that this is 
> a matter that should be handled very gingerly and carefully,
> since to try to think about it very much is to fall into the
> sin of playing god. 

Whereas the Catholic church would say that theology is 
"faith seeking understanding" -- as long as we avoid the 
pride of thinking that we have ever plumbed the depths, that 
we have actually comprehended God's mind, the attempt to 
understand what we can is a worthy one.



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