Monday, July 27, 2015

Taking refuge in theology for a while

Harvesting some of the Gnostic materials I was working on in the first several years of the aughts.

Human religions can be usefully categorized as being centered in one of three traditions:

The Way of the Ancestors

This includes all the most ancient tribal forms of sacredness (and their modern revivals), as well as the polytheist paganisms of the great early civilizations, as well as Shinto and even the selfconsciously ancestor-oriented Confucianism.

The great virtue involved is reverence. The institution is the tribe (or post-tribal state). All, including the gods who emerge within it, is guided by Fate and subject to time.

The Way of the Prophets

This is a very influential but localized tradition, starting out in western Asia with Zoroaster and including the monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Bahai, an Islamic offshoot, participates as well.

The great virtue involved is justice. The institution is the post-tribal sacred community. All is guided by personal divine will ruling over a created world. Time is linear. Human life is a one-time affair, a prelude to an eternal outcome.

The Way of the Sages

An Indic and East Asian tradition of dharma, expressed in the many varieties of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, Taoism and most recently Sikhism.

The great virtue is wisdom. The institution is the symbiosis of the specialists and the worldlings. All is ruled by impersonal karma. Time is illusory but cyclical. Life is cyclical.

These categories are pretty clear but not watertight. Judaism, being originally tribal, shows marks of the ancestor style, as well as having a secondary wisdom-literature streak. Apostolic Christianity developed a kind of ancestor-worship in the cult of the saints as well as, given its Greek philosophical milieu, a taste for the sapiential. Sikhism, which emerged in the tectonic tension between Hindus and Muslims, shows elements of both prophetic and sage styles.

It should surprise no one that when introverted-thinking type Ex Cathedra both re-wrote and re-organized* the Bible back in those years, the heart and literal center of his Gnostic scripture was composed of an elaborated creation myth set inside a frame of wisdom literature: Solomon's sayings, the Song of Songs, the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, with elements from the Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian saga of Sheba and her son.

Re-reading it I can see how much my thinking was dominated by the image of the reconciliation of opposites.

Not much of that now.

*A textbook example of what brilliant but impenetrable anti-Gnostic Hibernian Catholic theologian Cyril O'Regan names as the heart of Gnosticism: metalepsis, which is "the phenomenon of a complex disfiguration-refiguration of biblical narrative, or any first-order interpretation of it." Which is exactly what I instinctively did.


-A said...

I thought for sure that you were going to say that Catholicism was all three. I can certainly see elements of all three in Catholicism.

We respect and revere our ancestors and realize that while our own lives are linear, the world around us works in cycles.

We honor the foresight of our prophets and of men like Jesus who try to instill discipline in the masses.

We have a church nurtured and developed by Sages who wrote a book worth 2,000 years of European Theology and created a now esoteric system of self awareness and mastery in meditation and prayer.


DrAndroSF said...

I chose the word "centered" on purpose. Some traditions are more tightly constrained within one family but there's a lot of leakage and connection among pathways, too.

Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) does have elements of the other two traditions, but its root is definitely withing the west Asian prophetic stream. At its best, it was wide and encompassing, as you note.

-A said...

Do you think that there could be some kind of consolidation between Catholicism and Taoism or as with Medici and his attempts with Humanism (haha) that it is doomed to failure? Was there much of a real Sagely element or is it just something that gets placed in there for fictionalizing Catholicism, like what the Japanese like to do for their anime?


DrAndroSF said...

Barring some miracle, Catholicism in its homeland is fading away. Buddhism, of Indian origin, eventually migrated out into the rest of Asia while practically disappearing in the culture that gave it birth. (I think the Islamic invasions had something to do with this.)

Catholicism's center of gravity has been heading South for decades and so it will be a Third World religion.

Given that shift continuing, the kind of intellectual melding you speak of seems unlikely.

-A said...



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