Back when I first started investigating early Christianity sometime around 2000 I stumbled upon Christian Gnosticism. “Stumbled” is the wrong word though; anyone who investigates early Christianity is going to come across that word. While I admired the fact that this was a branch of Christianity that was interested in “knowledge” (gnosis::γνωση), their theology seemed pretty “out there”.
Archons? Yaldabathoth (sic)? Demiurge? Plemora? Sophia?
None of that highly anthropomorphic theology appealed to me. So I kinda brushed it off and continued my studies. However, later on in life I discovered Buddhism. The message of Buddhism is that “salvation” comes from knowledge of self, and following the “Middle Way”. The Middle Way is basically a philosophy of non-extremism. So hyper-asceticism leads to Suffering just as much as hyper-hedonism. Though, at the same time, none of the theology of Buddhism appealed to me, either. It’s almost as convoluted as the various Gnostics. But the thing about Buddhism was that the theology was irrelevant to soteriology. The message is the same whether the Devas are real or not… and the message is still the same whether the Buddha lived or not.
Then I had sort of an “unveiling” (απόκαλυψις): Buddhism and Gnosticism essentially have the same soteriology; that is, the same framework of salvation. If I could do away with the wacky [anthropomorphic] theology of Buddhism and the message would still be the same, why not do the same thing with with Christian Gnosticism?
Jesus said: If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Father’s kingdom is
within you and it is outside you. If you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty; and you are the poverty
– Gospel of Thomas, pericope 3
That is totally Buddhism and totally Gnosticism. Which still fits within a Naturalistic Pantheism theology. Even moreso, if the “Father’s” kingdom is inside of us, then not only should I seek to find the True inner “me”, but I should try to get to know others as well… since we are all made up of “the same stuff”. This necessarily leads to empathy. I think I’ll coin this extension of Gnosticism the “Gospel of Empathy”, since all morality comes from empathy.
So I guess from now on I’ll call myself a “Christian Gnostic”. Hopefully, I’ll be the change that I want to see in the world. A world where knowledge is seen as a virtue instead of faith.