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Jul 14, 2006

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will spotts

Mike- This continues to be a thought provoking series. Forgive me for quibbling; I realize my perspective is indeed provincial, and my observations suffer from the tendency to treat items that fit my schemata as artefacts, and throw those that don't fit away.

I recognize the "gnostic" dualisms you mention in some instances. But most evangelicals and conservatives I know - even the (rare in my experience) full blown dispensationalists - don't accept a disembodied spirit in heaven concept. The resurrection of the body is a tenet to which they subscribe. The dualism that prevails is one that is far more biblically derrived between the "old man" and "new man" -- spirit and flesh, yes -- where flesh is fallen nature. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world . . . if any man loves the world the love of the Father is not in him," sounds pretty gnostic - but it defines the things in the world as lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. I'm not certain the gnostic parallel to this is so clear [Gnosticism not being the polar opposite of Christianity, but a pre-existing parasitic philosophy that warped Christian concepts to its purposes].

Similarly, the rejection of politics is partly based on the eschatology as you observe, but it is also largely based on an rejection of the false notion that politics provides meaning and answers. Even if human effort could make an ideal [classless was the traditional expression of this?] society, its inhabitants would be no better and have no more meaning than those in the current, far from ideal society.

Also, while there is considerable hubris in the evangelical camp, some of the anti-intellectualism was based on the preceived dangers certain ideas contained. Most notable among this -- and you mentioned it earlier - was eugenics. Eugenics is once again fashionable. People use different terms, but it still involves a few enlightened souls making decisions about who is worthy of life, and who is not -- generally based on assumptions about biology, quality of life, and potential contribution. That this is utterly loathesome to me is beside the point. More importantly, I equally reject the "intellectual" concept. Earlier Bill Gates was praised, but I'm not sure praise is due. One of his biggest philantrhopic causes has been zero population growth. Why not seek ways to include everyone? Why make decisions based on some notion of who, how many, and how qualified the members of the human race should be. The problem with eugenics was not that is was race based -- it was that any decisions of this type were being made by people about the worth of others.

Similarly, a rejection of the assumptions of deconstructionist readings of a text is not anti-intellectual for its own sake. It is, in fact, a rejection of the idea that there is no meaning or communication possible. (People would not say that was what they were doing, but when you transfigure a text to find what neither writer intends nor text contains, you are destroying all meaning. Communication is a delicate miracle -- and, luddite that I am, I resist pseudo-intellectual developments that threaten it.) Along the same lines, there are biases in the guild - in this case in academia, that prevent honest scholarship. (Meaning, I've spent a fair amount of time researching literary criticism. About 40% of it was solid, interesting, informative, and thoughtful. But the other 60% was either derrivative, tautological, trivial, or wrong.) The idea that these should be the gatekeepers of knowledge is farcical at best. The legal standard of peer review for scientific evidence is a case in point. The greatest scientists didn't have peers -- they were generally regarded as wrong by the academic community of the time, and if later proven right - most still never got the credit.

Are evangelicals anti-intellectual? Some are. Are progressives anti-intellectual? Some are. But some ideas ought to be resisted because they are just plain bad.

Michael Kruse

Very helpful input Will. Thanks!

I don’t think I have any major quibbles with your quibbles.

You wrote “…while there is considerable hubris in the evangelical camp, some of the anti-intellectualism was based on the preceived dangers certain ideas contained.”

I fully agree. I think the key to this sentence is the word “some.” It is the corresponding remainder (sum minus some *grin*) that I am trying to get a handle on. Intellectual positions can be rejected without being anti-intellectual. As anti-intellectual, on any given issue I can be in league with those who don’t share my anti-intellectualism but have rejected the idea I am rejecting because of the dangers they perceive from an intellectual analysis. However, I will reject a great many other issues that may have merit, simply because they seem intellectual. I would also go so far as to say that anti-intellectuals sometimes react as they do as a defense mechanism. It deflects challenges to their comfort zone by discrediting the messenger.

My point isn’t that the varieties of Gnosticism are absolutely monolithic. However, they don’t need to be to be paralyzing. It isn’t that there are not individuals or groups who are relatively uncompromised by the Gnostic problems. The problem is that any momentum to holistic Christianity is severely restricted if not actually squelched by this Gnostic ethos. The problems are clearly far more complex than I am describing but my intention is to capture the gist of how I think this Gnostic virus has penetrated multiple avenues of the church and made it unhealthy.

You wrote “Gnosticism not being the polar opposite of Christianity, but a pre-existing parasitic philosophy that warped Christian concepts to its purposes.” Very well said. “Parasitic” is precisely they metaphor I am aiming at. I agree with the biblical allusions you mentioned and I think part of the reason Gnosticism is so resilient is the NT writers were writing in Greek to Greek speaking cultures where Gnostic dualities were alive and well. Thus, the writers tried to enter into their audience’s culture and explain realities using conceptualizations that they were familiar with. And, as any missionary can tell you, the real danger of infusing cultural concepts with the gospel is that you can get a backwash that infuses culture into the gospel. I think the Church has been struggling with this through its entire history.

Your critique is very helpful and I don’t disagree with most of your qualifications. My point is that there is a parasite alive and well in the body and it is debilitating. These posts have been my attempts to describe the symptoms. I have never tried to write this up quite the way I have here and I am still reflecting on what I have written here. If I try to re-write this for other purposes your critique will be quite helpful.

will spotts

"sum minus some" - lol.

I recognize the intent of speaking generally -- and the vast majority of your observations have an uncomfortable degree of accuracy.

I 100% agree with you about the paralyzing effects of Gnostic ideas on Christianity. You raise an interesting point about the culture into which the NT writers were speaking. This might be an earlier (albeit reverse) example of the Constantinian problem - e.g. in gaining cultural currency, the early church runs the risk of losing itself.

For me, the danger posed by Gnostic concepts (both ancient and modern) is similar to CO. While some are harmful in themselves, the greatest harm comes when they crowd out authentic Christianity. After a certain threshold, O2 is no longer available to cells. For me, the Gospel is compelling, unlooked for, in some senses difficult to fully comprehend its implications. The richness in this is lost when the Gnostic senses of words are used instead.

Of course, I might just be reacting to the elitist nature of Gnosticism -- and the fact that I always tend to identify with the outsider (meaning I'm not among those trusted with the esoteric meanings of the secret mysteries . . .).

I'm interested to see where you go with "holistic" Christianity.

will spotts

BTW, if you're considering it, I think you should re-write this in a different form for other audiences. It covers a wealth of ideas.

Michael Kruse

Thanks Will. More helpful observations.

"I'm interested to see where you go with "holistic" Christianity."

So am I! *grin*

I suspect I will revisit this topic and work it some more. I was listening to a presentation recently by Robert Sirico when he made this passing observation about Gnostic influences and the light bulb came on over my head. It tied together a number of things that seemed to "hang together" for me but I couldn't quite express. I still need to do more processing.

Dana Ames

I second Will about you shaping this up for a larger audience- maybe in actual print/book form. I've often thought while reading this series that it really should be a book.

Re the afterlife, most "bible believing" Christians I know expect to "go to Heaven" when they die, no small number without bodies. Nearly all expect this world to "burn up", and the ones who anticipate a return to earth see it as entirely re-created ("New heavens and New earth"). The dualism runs very deep. Interestingly, it is these folks who have trouble reconciling dualities, the "both/and" aspects of so much.

Dana

Michael Kruse

Thanks Dana. I have been following a general outline thinking there might be a book in here somewhere. Eventually I will have to go back and read it all to see if it makes any sense (and correct what I am sure are oodles and oodles of typos.) The comments you all give are a big help!

Your experience is similar to mine, especially among charismatics and Evangelicals in conserviative denominations and independent churches.

Master Peace

Always keep to hand the five fingers of Fraudulism

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