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faith The confidence that what one knows, feels, or senses is ultimately real and can be verified by direct personal experience. Distinguished from belief, which always involves suppositions that cannot be verified, faith may be regarded as intuitive certainty, rather than blind reliance on suppositions. For instance, to have faith in life after death is not the same as embracing beliefs about life after death. Faith, defined as confidence in what it is possible to experience or achieve for oneself, can exist independent of beliefs.
Having said that, I must add that faith is rarely defined in this manner. Rather, it is taken conventionally as a blanket term for reliance on whatever one believes. To say, "I follow my faith," means to live and act in accordance with beliefs "taken on faith," i.e., beliefs received in a prescripted, doctrinal form, especially beliefs in regard to matters considered to lie beyond explanation or proof, such as survival of consciousness after death. Those who live by faith in this sense insist on its necessity, for there are some things that we humans simply cannot know, cannot explain out of our limited capacities of reason.
So, there is a basic difference between conventional faith and what might be called dynamic faith, as defined in the first paragraph, above.
Conventional faith not only calls for reliance on personal beliefs, it may also call for accepting beliefs that are neither chosen nor evaluated by the person who adopts them. In the polemic writings of Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers who opposed the Pagan Mysteries, "the personal systems of the heresiarchs [Gnostics] are contrasted with the teachings of the Apostles who 'had no faith of their own' and did not choose what they believed." Tertullian defined heresy as "personal choice exercised in matters where it does not apply." (H. E. W. Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth, p, 9.) In his view, the faith of the Apostles is superior to any subjective views that might be developed through "personal systems" of interpreting reality.
Tertullian's formula is the most extreme endorsement of blind faith imaginable, and it is not at all uncommon in the world today. It is widespread because it works, after a fashion. If what I believe has not been chosen by me but for me, the faith I hold in my beliefs will seem even more transcendent to my personal reality. Such faith aligns me to powers greater than myself — yes, but what exactly are these powers? Those who live by this extremist code assume that the faith derived from beliefs not of their own choosing aligns them to a superhuman agency, God. But where do these items of received belief come from? Where do the "laws of God" originate? In every instance, they are supplied by religious institutions. But faith in the beliefs provided by an institution such as Islam or the Catholic Church aligns its adherents, not to Allah or God, but to the donor institution. What is taken for a connection to Divinity is really an obligation to take the word of God's self-appointed representatives "on faith." . In great measure, the blindness of conventional faith resides in how it allows the believer to ignore where his or her faith is actually based. It is as if I relied on a cable tv service to supply me with programs to watch, but assumed that the programs come from superior beings on Mars. Delusion of this type of passes for normal in the realm of world religions.
It is said that the presidency of George W. Bush is "resolutely faith-based." His life story is now widely regarded as an example of the power of belief to shape human affairs. (Newsweek, March 10, 2003) The American president often expresses his faith in his political judgements. Some people admire him for boldly stating his faith, while others find such a blatant expression of personal faith inappropriate to his secular role as world leader. By stating his faith in such a forthright manner, Bush calls upon the allegiance of those who share the same belief-system. This self-serving tactic almost certainly decided his election to a second term.
The power of faith appears to reside in psychological dynamism: the act of believing something that cannot be determined by reason or direct experience confers exceptional strength on the believer. Thus, President Bush acquires a higher measure of strength through his faith — i.e., his beliefs regarding matters that cannot be proven by reason or verified by direct experience. By accepting to believe what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge, the believer transcends those limits. But is this tactic of transcendence really as valid as it seems?
In fact, this kind of faith allows the individual to abandon reason and forgo interpretation. In the belief that some matters simply cannot be understood by the human mind out of its own capacities, many people rely on faith; in doing so, they do not consider that their belief about the limits of human knowledge may be fallacious. In other words, they believe that faith is necessary where our powers of explanation fail. The assumption here is, that faced with our limits, our powers of explanation fail absolutely. The idea that our limits are not fixed and absolute but subject to expand as we develop the capacities inherent to human potential, never enters into the equation of conventional faith. In short, conventional faith is a flat refusal to accept and explore human potential.
The issue of faith is extremely problematic, because attaching this term to the act of belief makes it almost impossible to conceive of another kind of faith, one that does not rely on belief. However, in metahistorical perspective, faith in the human species — that is, faith in human potential— is just that other kind. Gnostics had a special term for faith in human potential. They called it Pistis Sophia, "confidence in indwelling wisdom."
In the Afterword of The Seeker's Handbook (1991) I tried to distinguish faith from belief in this statement: "Faith is the commitment to achieve what can be imagined, while belief is reliance on nonverifiable systems of description." With this language I drew on a Gnostic cue concerning the aspect of our divine endowment called epinoia, or "the luminous epinoia." In essence, the Sophianic endowment is nous, "divine intellect," but Gnostics, in their discipline as masters of noetic science, were able to discern how nous unfolds in one direction toward reason and in another beyond it, toward revelation. They called the reasoning faculty dianoia, "through intelligence," and the imaginative faculty, epinoia, "hyper-intelligence." With dianoia, we reason through (dia) experiences. With epinoia, we enter directly into a visionary mode of awareness, an altered state of knowledge. In the concept of the Pistis Sophia, Gnostics affirmed their faith in the complementary operation of these powers.
Fallen Goddess Scenario The
creation myth of the Gnostics, describing how a goddess from
the Pleroma came to be embodied in the planet earth. Also called
the Sophia Mythos, this is not, technically speaking, a creation
myth in the sense of the Biblical account of creation in Genesis:
rather, it is a mythopoetic rendition of emanation
2, The Pleromic projection of the Anthropos, the human species.
3, The plunge of the Aeon Sophia from the Pleroma
4, The emergence of the Archons, an inorganic species
5, The formation of the Mother Star
6, The intervention of the Aeon Christos to assist Sophia
7, The full metamorphosis of Sophia into Gaia, the planet earth
8, The correction of Sophia, involving humanity
Of these eight features, 1 through 5 are entirely pre-terrestrial. These features concern events that occur before Sophia becomes embodied in the earth, events that prove to be preparatory to the conditions of terrestrial life - for instance, the capture of the organic earth in the inorganic planetary system. Features 6 and 7 concern the formation of the planetary body, the biosphere, and the appearance of all species, including humanity, the outgrowth of the Anthropos, or divine template (feature 2). Feature 8 concerns current and future events in the biosphere and the prospect of co-evolution of our species with Gaia-Sophia.
(In the synopsis of the Gaia Mythos, four Parts are indicated. Part One, "Fallen Goddess," comprises features 1 through 6 in the above summary. Part Two, "Gaia Awakening," comprises features 6 (tied over to Part One) and 7. The remaining two Parts of the Gaia Mythos are entirely concerned with feature 8.)
The task of piecing together the FGS relies on longish passages and isolated clues in the Nag Hammadi Codices and in paraphrases of Gnostic cosmology found in the polemics of the Church Fathers. The NHC materials are widly inconsistent in how they present the full-scale cosmological narrative. The most consistent, near- complete versions of the FGS occur in four documents, the longest in the NHC.
Basic Cosmology (Pages refer to leaves in the codices, each leaf or sheaf being written on both sides: hence 31 pages = 16 leaves.):
The Apocryphon of John. 31 pages. Found in three versions of various lengths in the NHC and in one fragmentary version in a non-NHC text. This is most comprehensive text on the Sophia mythos, giving a relatively coherent overview of all eight features.
The Hypostasis of the Archons. 11 pages. Omits features 1 and 2, presents crucial details on the activity of the Archons and Sophia's correction (feature 8).
On the Origin of the World. 30 pages. Found in two
versions in the NHC. Omits features 1 and 2, presents a detailed
treatment of features 4 and 5, including the Gnostic narrative
of Adam and Eve. Ends with a rare apocalyptic passage referring
to feature 8.
The Tripartate Tractate. 78 pages, longest in the NHC.
Describes the Sophia Mythos without using the name of Sophia.
For instance, Sophia's plunge (feature 3) is called "The
Imperfect Begetting of the Logos." Refers to the chief Archon
as the Demiurge, a term found in Plato and the Hermetica.
Contains important details on episodes 4 through 8, with an emphasis
on the salvific action of the Aeon Christos. This text presents
the Demiurge as an artisan assisting the Pleromic gods, rather
than as an aberration and adversary to them and, by extension,
to humanity. In this and other elements, Tri Trac is
not genuinely Gnostic. Rather, it more closely resembles Hermetic
texts that develop a favorable view of the Demiurge (i.;e., the
Archons) as an "artificer" who assists the Pleromic
gods in engineering the world-process.
Other cosmological texts:
Trimorphic Protennoia. 15 pages. A revelation discourse presenting the descent of the Aeon Sophia in obscure mystical language. Rich with allusion, although it contains almost no concete elements of cosmology. For an extended discussion of this text, see Sophia's Passion in Coco de Mer, Part One.
The Paraphrase of Shem (41 pages), like The Tripartate Tractate, presents the FGS in abstract language, but even more vaguely. This text is allegorical rather than mythological. Sophia is named, but not as a main character. Paraph Shem features Darkness, Spirit and Nature as the three principal actors in the cosmic drama. In allusion to feature 4, the emergence of the Archons, it refers to an "afterbirth" rather than an "abortion." It is difficult to extract anything relevant to the FGS from this material.
A Valentinian Exposition (8 pages, very fragmentary) describes the Pleroma and paired Aeons (feature 1), omits 2, the projection of the Anthropos, and treats 4 in a manner specific to the Valentinian School, contrasted to the Sethian School, whose version I follow in reconstructing the mythos. This text refers to feature 6 by the phrase, "Jesus and Sophia revealed the creature," and other obscure clues relating to the mysterious co-action of these Aeons in the formation of all species. It uniquely describes Sophia laughing despite Her unexpected exile from the Pleroma; in short, amusing Herself as She can. Val Exp contains the memorable, almost taunting line: "Indeed, the Devil is one of the divinities." This refers to the Gnostic view that Ialdabaoth, the chief Archon, is a diabolic entity, but still entitled to divine status, of a kind.
In A Valentinian Exposition, feature 6, the intervention
of the Aeon Christos in behalf of Sophia, tends to be treated
separately from the evolutionary narrative. The precise manner
in which Christos assists Sophia, and the ongoing effects of
this intervention for humanity, are deeply problematic issues
in Gnostic study. Some texts make Christos and Sophia the paired
Aeons who project the Anthropos, the template for the human species
(feature 2) - hence, presenting them as the divine parents of
humanity. This action occurs within the Pleroma, before Sophia
falls. There follows an intervention of Christos into Sophia's
evolving world - this is feature 6, the least developed episode
in the FGS. Some clues on this feature of the scenario occur
in the parallel texts The Sophia of Jesus Christ and Eugnostos
Other texts in the NHC that do not present cosmological elements nevertheless contain key passages on the motives and methods of the Archons, their effect upon humanity, ways in which they can be detected and resisted, and more. In these passages we encounter the cognitive psychology unique to Gnosticism, and so closely linked to its cosmology. The Archons arise from the unilateral action of Sophia, an action that produces bizarre side-effects for humanity, and so everything concerning them is of crucial importance to our species' co-evolution with the Goddess. In Gnostic terms, knowing ourselves as a species depends on understanding the actions and effects of the Archons in the cosmic perspective and, simultaneously, in the depths of our experience. Gnosis leads ultimately to a startling encounter with the shadow functions of our own minds.
The Gospel of Truth. 26 pages. Found in two versions in the NHC. Gives a generalized view of episodes 2 through 4, referring exclusively to "the Father" (the Originator in the Gaia Mythos) and not naming Sophia. Nevertheless, this text contains important material on deviated beliefs, the main effect of the Archons. The analysis of ignorance and the description of the Archons as "empty fictions" recall the teaching of Buddhism on avidya and the apparitional nature of phenomena. This text illustrates the close parallelism of Buddhist thought with Gnosticism.
The Gospel of Philip. 34 pages. Contains vivid material on the Archons and their game of deception, and alludes to secret sexual rites for producing immunity to Archontic intrusion. This text presents some anti-Christian agrument, protesting the ideology of salvation by faith, etc. Also describes how the Archons work in our mental syntax by false attribution of meaning. Gos Phil contains the famous line, "The world came about through a mistake." (For a close analysis of this line, see Coco de Mer.)
The First Apocalypse of James. 6 pages, fragmentary. Contains important material on the intrusion of the Archons and how to resist it. This and The Second Apocalypse of James (5 pages, also fragmentary) contain passages that link the NHC to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the figure of James, the brother of Jesus. Jerusalem is described as "the dwelling place of many Archons." This material emphasizes the Gnostic view that Jewish religion centered on Jehovah was the entry point for the intrusion of the Archons.
The Second Treatise of the Great Seth. 17 pages. Contains
a scathing critique of Jewish and Christian doctrines. Uniquely
important for its description of the plan of the Archons to deviate
humanity from its proper course of evolution. Openly ridicules
the Biblical Patriarchs from Adam down the line. Contains a unique
reference to "the Mesotes
of Jesus," a mystical function of the Christos Aeon
related to feature 6 of the FGS. An enormous piece of the Fallen
Goddess scenario must reconstructed from this singular cue.
In the Valentinian version of the Sophia mythos, the Aeon Sophia does not really depart from the Pleroma, only Her enthymesis (desire) does. This version is closely paraphrased by the Church Fathers who took a particular interest in it because Valentinian teachings tend to fit Christian salvationist ideology in some respects. Hence Valentinian Lego pieces are often found in the pile labelled Christian Gnosticism. Before Nag Hammadi appeared in English (1979), Hans Jonas wrote The Gnostic Religion, published in 1958. It contains (in Ch. 8) an important paraphrase of the Valentinian system. Jonas explains how "the Intention or Desire of the Sophia, hypostasized in its separation from her, is now a new personal being: the lower Sophia or Achamoth." (p. 186) His description of the suffering of Sophia and the origination of matter is helpful in understanding my version of the scenario, even though Jonas relies largely on Valentinian ideas, which I generally do not follow.
My imaginal reworking of the FGS emphasizes Sethian Gnosticism which is not only non-Christian but also anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. In the Sethian version, Sophia really does depart from the Pleroma. By its own definition, Sethian Gnosticism presents the teaching of Illuminators, Buddha-like teachers who appear periodically in the world to bring the message of enlightenment. The illuminators cannot be confounded with Christ-like saviors who intervene in history. They are messengers, not messiahs. The Gnostic Christos is not the Christ of Saint Paul. Sethian Gnosticism represents the non-messianic expression of an illuminist message, direct pointing to the truth that frees us. The contrast between salvationism and illuminism is central to the treatment of Gnosticism in Metahistory.org.
The message of Gnosis for today comes in two parts: the imaginal reworking of the Fallen Goddess Scenario, and the protest against Judeo-Christian-Islamic ideology. Because scholars get lost in sorting through the Lego pieces of surviving materials, they do not arrive at a fair presentation of either of these components. On the one hand, their specialist restrictions prevent them from acquiring a general overview of the mythos. On the other hand, they are daunted by the Archon thesis and even perhaps shocked by the identification of Ialdabaoth, the chief Archon, with Jehovah, the father god of the Old Testament. Yet the Archon thesis cannot be ignored, for it provides the crucial hinge between the mythic cosmology of the Gnostics and their critique of religious ideology. My treatment of the materials contributing to the FGS is intended both to highlight and to correlate these two components.
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