Modern Gnosticism in American Churches
Most people know too much about academic explanations of Gnosticism and seem to miss the point entirely.
A little history. I’ve often made much of the Hellenism which invaded Judean religion during the time of the Greek Empire. The rabbis slowly came to embrace Hellenism and lost contact with their Ancient Hebrew Mysticism. That’s all easily traced through academic reviews of the rabbinical literature from that period. That this is two entirely different epistemologies is also too easy to prove academically. The rabbinical grasp of the Ancient Hebrew mindset was already rather weak by the time of the Return from Exile, and Alexander’s evangelism was the final stake in its heart. Most modern rabbis say this is all good, but I find it wholly and utterly wrong.
The resulting tectonic shift in rabbinical intellectual outlook left the door open for a wide range of problems. Some portion of the rabbis began drifting farther and farther afield from the Ancient Hebrew roots. As the official crackdown on the sect of Jesus’ followers became both stronger and more subtle, a favorite tactic early on was to simply trick the Gentile converts to Christianity. The rabbis who conducted this campaign in the early churches across the northern Mediterranean Basin were called “Judaizers” because the primary issue was bringing them back under the yoke of Judaism, as it were. Only Jews could be Christians, was the basic claim. The core of teaching used to bring this about drifted into more and more Aristotelian directions. No one can say how much official support this drifting had from the rabbinical colleges, but it became a characteristic. Eventually, the Judaizers were more Gnostic.
It works like this. First, the Judaizers asserted Jesus could not have been the Son of God. This assertion was based on Hellenized Talmudic teachings. Jesus was notoriously Ancient Hebrew in His basic assumptions, and by His time, such made Him actually foreign to the mindset of the rabbis and His nation’s government. So they started out saying how Jesus did such great things, but slowly led their listeners, by whatever logical paths they could get them to swallow, to the conclusion Jesus made some mistakes. He could not have been divine. Since so many people believed in His miracles, and some eyewitnesses were still around, there had to be answers for that. Eventually you end up with assertions Jesus was either a mere human or a divine phantom, sort of a logical dichotomy. Such is the two primary schools of Gnosticism, which seem to have arisen among Gentiles, but surely connects to the Judaizers’ teachings.
The necessity of obeying the rule of Aristotelian logic comes out of this period, and was the death knell of spiritual Christianity. It raised the necessity of focusing on this world, and shoved the Spirit Realm of out into the area of Agnosticism. Lip service was paid to the afterlife, but all the Ancient Hebrew Mysticism was gone, so no one really understood it’s fundamentals. There might as well not be a Spirit Realm.
All the various shifts in church theology and teaching built on this base. This confuses Law and Grace. Law covers this realm and symbolizes what Grace does in the Other Realm. Instead, we have some very confused teachings reaching far back into Church History which asserts we must build His Kingdom here in this realm. So we have a very highly organized church polity, which is simply nothing at all like the organizational structure of the First Century churches. All the New Testament is read through Aristotelian goggles, and the mystical understanding is missing altogether. Try to bring it back, and you get open hostility — that’s from the ones who take you seriously.
Today, virtually the whole of American Christian religion is nothing more than good psychology at best, a vast reserve of teaching which tries to make the best of this life as it is. What the Laws of God actually require, even in part, is only by accident included in this teaching. But the whole thing is mostly an attempt to nail down some kind of Postmodern Western Christian Law, as it were. It overlaps biblical law, but it’s not the same by any means. Wherever you see the term “being spiritual” it’s all about some kind of legalism in disguise, because it’s all about living in this world. Joel Osteen and the other Prosperity Gospel guys are simply offering the logical conclusion of this long drift. Sin? If they discuss at all, what comes out is defining it as inefficient or unsuccessful living, nothing more. It’s all colored with the traditional Western style of Germanic Post-Enlightement morality.
In essence, Modern American Christianity is a reworking of the old Gnosticism.