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