My name is John MacDonald, and I am the President of Internet Infidels/Secular Web. I am one of the bloggers who will be posting here at the new Secular Frontier blog. So, some initial thoughts:
The God of the Bible is reported to have done such a poor job in creating mankind that not only did He have to wipe out evil humanity with the flood, the end result of the second attempt was God’s chosen Jewish people were inescapably under the Roman imperial thumb. In a world of pestilence, famine, natural disaster, etc, which is to say a world so obviously not the effect of a benevolent, wise creator, the Gnostic Christians proposed that the world was created by an evil or stupid demiurge, not the true God.
But there was hope. In Gnosticism, the Divine Spark is described as the fragmented portion of the divine that resides within each human being; it is the light contained in each individual, the potential of their illumination. Gnostics believe the purpose of life is to illuminate the spark through a process called “gnosis”, the Greek word for “knowledge”
The divine spark is a kind of gnosis or knowledge that Jesus was a catalyst to awaken. And so lacking knowledge, such as a dog with the intellect of a 2 year old or certain mentally challenged people, they can’t be held accountable for their actions. Similarly, the capacity for evil is our distinctly human freedom, since a dog can be bad, but not evil. As Schelling pointed out, only a human can sink below an animal in terms of depravity.
In Gnosticism, the divine spark is the portion of the true God that resides within each human being. The purpose of life is to enable the Divine Spark to be released from its captivity in matter and reestablish its connection with, or simply return to, God, who is perceived as being the source of the Divine Light. In the Gnostic Christian tradition, Christ is seen as a wholly divine being which has taken human form in order to lead humanity back to the Light.
Jesus was the truth, (a-letheia), the one who dis-closes. For instance, the disciples knew the Hebrew scripture, but Jesus un-hid or “opened up” the scripture for them to see it foreshadowed him:
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49).
Similarly, Jesus’ death awoke what Paul called the Law written on people’s hearts, the Divine Spark of the later Gnostics, by dis-closing their hidden vileness to them. Bart Ehrman comments
It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins. (Ehrman, 2017)
So, in Luke, as in Mark, we have the soldier at the cross claiming in realization “Truly this was God’s son / an innocent man.”
I don’t think any of this is real, just ancient superstition, but perhaps it is a new way to begin to think about Christian origins.
So, I hope you join us on this journey. If you’d like to read more by me, here are a couple of related peer reviewed essays that I wrote
The Justified Lie By The Johannine Jesus In It’s Greco-Roman-Context:
A Critique Of The Penal Substitution Interpretation Of The Cross of Christ:
Also, come visit us at Secular Web Kids where new material is being posted all the time:
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