Thursday, May 28, 2009

Questions: Gnostic Theodicy

I have a question about the Gnostic explanation for the evil in the world. If the Demiurge is responsible for this flawed creation, why would the true God create the Demiurge? If this true God is perfect, why would it allow lesser deities to emanate from it? Why does it emanate in the first place? It seems to me that the Gnostic explanation for the problem of evil comes back to the same dilemma as the other explanations.
That your formulation of it comes down to the same problem is to be expected. The 'problem of evil' (aka, theodicy, justness of God) is a result of a particular theological definition of God as: all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing. Since it is a definitional problem and not a situational one, any situation in which you place that definition will result in that same problem. The reverse is also true, if you do not have that definition then you do not have that problem. Gnosticism doesn't have that theology and so doesn't have that problem.

Mythology is not theology, and the Gnostic approach is mythological rather than theological. Also, using the term "evil" invokes a larger dualistic frame that isn't necessarily any relation to the ancient thought on the subject. The Greek word is kakos, which means: bad, ugly, ill-born, unskilled, unlucky, foul, pernicious, wretched, etc. We get 'cacophony' from kako-phonos meaning "bad/ugly sound."

The explanation for endemic kakos in Valentinian Gnostic mythology is that the half-maker (demiurge) was created apart from the emanation of the ultimate divine source, and was then hidden in a fog and so was ignorant of the divine. The half-maker as a kakon (unskilled) creator then begins to create the powers (archons) and the cosmos. This story gives an explanation for the kakos (badness, ugliness, wretchedness) that is an endemic aspect of the cosmos and also the ignorance of the powers that are a part of it--it is separated from the divine and ignorant of it. This also shows the remedy, which is the reason for, point of, the myth.

The word "perfect" is another translation that invokes an anachronistic meaning frame. The two applications of telos are "without blemish," and "end, completed." In contrast, we combine and amplify the two in our use of "perfect." However, the ultimate divinity can be without blemish and still undergo a process such as emanation.

As far as the 'why' of emanations in the myth, it is also probably best understood as descriptive of the many ways in which we experience the divine (with ourselves being an aspect of such experience), and so as showing the way back to the divine. It can also be viewed as the original divine unity going through a process of realizing its different aspects through emanating (hypostasizing) those aspects.

2 comments:

Echo said...

"Gnosticism doesn't have that theology and so doesn't have that problem."

I would say Gnostics still have the problem of theology in the sense that this type of question is never fully satisfied. We bring our theology into our Gnosticism (that ain't chocolate in your peanut butter!) the same way other archonic forces exist well within and as a part of us. Deny those internal (infernal!) forces at one's own peril.

For me, this type of question in its many guises is itself archetypal and, thus, recurring. Rightly so, homeostasis is not static. But, the abstract nature of the question, similar to existentialists' notion of "meaning" does not well disclose the urgency, intimacy and proximity of the origin of these types of questions.

Gnosis relieves the urgency but The Fool is ever ready to take another step. My intellect is well satisfied in Gnostic pursuits but the desire for an intellectual insight is a siren's song. The answer for these inquiries is not within reason itself.

However, it seems reasonable this topic would periodically get discussed and celebrated like a church holy day. Uncertainty ebbs and flows for me as I grow and expand. Failure to rinse and repeat every once in a while on this topic may be a sign of spiritual impasse. Hopefully, Gnosticism will always be blessed with (heretical?) theological thinking. This adds value to Gnosis itself and challenges materialistic thinking along the lines that Gnosis can be acquired and prevented from fleeing the scene.

Also, the myth of an imperfect creator god detached from divinity cleared away a lot of my own personal fog. What a wonderful shining light these stories are. I suggest that the intellect would completely miss the truth if presented in strictly non-mythological terms (too boring).

On a more pragmatic note, I have answered this question many times now by relying on a framework of personal history and the framework of Gnosticism itself. I consider the question a prayer bead on my life's rosary, and it is less worn now than ever. Divinity in some form has always been especially close and present in my darkest hours. However, I continue to be the least reliable witness to my own life, and do not have answers for many things I still resent. I do, however, know that something divine continues to affirm and be present with me, especially when I am conscious in dark times.

Troy W. Pierce said...

"We bring our theology into our Gnosticism..." Nicely said. That is the point. We need to see what we are bringing in, in order to see ourselves more clearly, and also to make better use of the tradition that has been passed down to us.