Part 2 of "The Code and Gnosticism" | Part One
Noted Scripture scholar N.T. Wright, in a 2005 talk, "Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy," discussed the popularity and appeal of neo-gnosticism:
Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says "I'm really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly" -- the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today's world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing ("finding out who I really am") which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions. It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus. It appears to legitimate precisely that sort of religion which a large swathe of America and a fair chunk of Europe yearns for: a free-for-all, do-it-yourself spirituality, with a strong though ineffective agenda of social protest against the powers that be, and an I'm-OK-you're-OK attitude on all matters religious and ethical. At least, with one exception: You can have any sort of spirituality you like (Zen, labyrinths, Tai Chi) as long as it isn't orthodox Christianity.
The "Gospel" of "Judas"
Secondly, the statement about our book fueling the controversy around "The Gospel of Judas" is silly and misinformed. For example, a search of Google News produces some 754 news articles about "The Gospel of Judas." A search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Hoax" produces one article: Kellmeyer's. Meanwhile, a search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Code" produces 163 articles, including this April 11 piece, which contains this quote: "'I think the massive media interest in the 'Gospel of Judas' is related to the whole 'Dan Brown phenomenon'," said Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, referring to the US author of the international bestseller, 'The Da Vinci Code'." That same connection has been made by many observers, most of whom are likely oblivious to our book.
The interest in "The Gospel of Judas" is due to a number of factors: 1) a very deliberate and successful marketing campaign by National Geographic, 2) the media's general enthusiasm for "secret gospels" and anything that undermines traditional, orthodox Christianity, and 3) a substantial interest in alternative, customized, flexible, amoral, and self-serving spiritualities.
The Popularity of Gnosticism
The point I want to focus on here is that gnosticism/neo-gnosticism has been of great interest to many academics/scholars, the media, and the general populace for quite some time -- long before Dan Brown and I began writing books. This fact is addressed in a recent document, which states:
An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the "return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practising gnosticism â€“ that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian". An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.
Since the publication of TDVC, sales for books such as The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief (about the gnostic "Gospel of Thomas"), both by Elaine Pagels, have increased. The latter book, published in May 2003, was a New York Times best-seller and was given all sorts of media attention (none of which, I should point out, mention me or The Da Vinci Hoax, possibly because our book wasn't published until June 2004). The jacket for Beyond Belief states that "the impulse to seek God overflows the narrow banks of a single tradition." Pagels, of course, is hardly on the fringe, but has a Ph.D. from Harvard, is a professor at Princeton, and has won numerous awards for her books espousing a feminist, neo-gnostic spirituality.
And what about Dan Burstein's Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The DaVinci [sic] Code, published in April 2004, and featuring essays by various authors, including some whose work was relied upon by Dan Brown? It has sold three million copiessince it was published! Included are numerous essays about gnosticism and the "Gnostic gospels" (one section is titled "The Lost Gospels"). Many other examples could be given, including the November 2003 ABC primetime special, "Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci," which prominently featured Pagels, Karen King (The Gospel of Mary of Magdala), and Margaret Starbird. In a revealing interview with Beliefnet.com, the host, Elizabeth Vargas (a Catholic), stated: "After I got the assignment, I began reading [many books]. There have been books around for decades talking about Mary Magdalene and theorizing about her importance--scholarly looks at aspects of Bible history, like Elaine Pagels' Gnostic Gospels. I didn't know that there were Gnostic gospels." Again, I must point out how little involvement I had with the special, with the exception of a review of it that I wrote for National Catholic Register.
A search for "gnostic" on amazon.com turns up over 250 titles. Numerous books have been written in the past forty years about gnosticism and the gnostic texts; some of them have sold very well. Evangelical author James A. Herrick, in his book The Making of the New Spirituality (IVP, 2003), provides a detailed history of modern gnosticism ("The Rebirth of Gnosticism," pp 177-203) from the Enlightenment era to 19th-century America to Carl Jung, Jean Houston, and various works of popular science fiction. And there have been several books in recent years detailing the decades-long relationship between radical feminism and neo-gnosticism, including God or Goddess?(Ignatius, 1995) by Manfred Hauke, The Feminist Question (Eerdmans, 1994) by Francis Martin, Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Ignatius, 1991) by Donna Steichen, and The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius, 1992), edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock. You can also read pages 89-98 of our book for an examination of how the gnostic Mary Magdalene, as appropriated (or created) by Brown and various radical feminists, is mixed with neo-gnosticism and neo-paganism.
This essay is my first response to Kellmeyer's assorted
comments, so I'm not sure why he says I couldn't give him a response --
especially since he allowed all of 24 hours to do so (that is, before
he claimed I wasn't able to provide an answer).
The argument is apparently quite sophisticated -- so sophisticated, that it is not something Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press, or Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax, are willing to actually enunciate to the rest of us.
Judeo-Christianity destroyed goddess worship: "Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess" (p 238). The goddess was "banished" (p 239) and the old pagan religions were destroyed by Christianity. Or, as Brown wrote in his witness statement: "My reading convinced me that there was a great case to be put forward that woman had been unfairly treated in the eyes of society for hundreds of years if not longer, and that religion had played a big part in this" (par 112).
Women have "been banished from the temples of the world" and have been demonized by conservative religious groups (p 125). The goddess has been "obliterated" from "modern religion forever" (p 124).
Enlightenment comes from a perfect balance of male and female elements -- Â an androgynous ideal captured by Leonardo da Vinci in "Mona Lisa" (p 120). Balance, harmony, peace and respect for "Mother Earth" will be restored only when women are restored to their proper place (p 126)
Jesus was 'the original feminist" (p 248) who "intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."
Peter and the other apostles ruined that plan (p 248). Mary Magdalene's reputation was attacked (pp 249, 254, 261) and her "name was forbidden by the Church" (p 254).
"History is always written by the winners" (p 256), so the "truth" about Jesus and Mary Magdalene has been largely hidden for centuries. The Church has used violent and dark means to keep people in the dark (cf., p 407). But some, such as Teabing and Langdon, know the truth.
The Holy Grail involves discovering/recovering the "sacred feminine", as well as knowing "secret history" and "lost documents" and finding a "glorious, unattainable treasure" in a "world of chaos" (p 444).
So, in the end, the hero (Langdon), who helps Sophie (Sophia!) find her family and her true heritage (descendent of Jesus) is finally initiated in full into the mystery of the "sacred feminine," marking some sort of ascension into a state of higher spiritual awareness/knowledge -- a thoroughly neo-gnostic idea.
"The Da Vinci Code is important as an expression of a desire for a spirituality that cannot be had within the confines of the institutionalized church. More simply yet, it is the popular expression of a desire for a kind of meaningfulness to life that is missing for most of us. And certainly, it is the scandalous expression of a willingness to be disobedient to achieve the heretical end of a salvation outside the confines of the church."
Finally, from Kellmeyer's April 14th column about the "Gospel of Judas":
And now Christian apologists are complaining about the MSM's attention to the newest unveiling of a Gnostic Gospel. No wonder the world laughs at Christians. If these people had only bothered to learn a bit about Gnosticism first, or - better yet - had bought copies of Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code...
Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D (Thomas Nelson, 2004). Bock is a research professor of NT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a well-regarded and well-published scholar specializing in NT studies, the historical Jesus and Gospels studies.
The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci by Ben Witherington III (IVP, 2004). Witherington is professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books on the NT and the historical Jesus.
The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code by Richard Abanes (Harvest House, 2004). Abanes is a noted Evangelical authority on cults and religions and the author of a dozen books on related topics.
Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford, 2004). Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.
De-Coding Da Vinci by Amy Welborn (OSV, 2004).
The Da Vinci Deception by Mark Shea and Edward Sri (Ascension Press, 2006).
Readers may also be interested in these online articles about TDVC and/or neo-gnosticism:
"How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars" by Philip Jenkins.
"Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy" by N.T. Wright
"The New Gnosticism and the 'Scandal of Particularity'" by Christopher Brown
"As One Who Serves" by N.T. Wright, in which he discusses the "Gospel of Judas"
"Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life -- A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'" by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
It's possible, of course, that the authors of these books and articles addressing TDVC "don't know history or Gnostic theology." Or it could be that Kellmeyer is mistaken in his criticisms and that it is he who has failed to read and think about what Dan Brown, fans of TDVC, and many in the mainstream media have written and said about gnosticism, the gnostic "gospels," and related topics. Although I have no problem arguing over those issues, I do hope our discussion can avoid the sort of polemics and rudeness that not only distract from the topics addressed, but may also cause scandal among readers. All of us who have criticized TDVC agree that it is an assault on orthodox Christianity, especially Catholicism, and I hope and pray we can continue to fight together to defend Truth and to make a defense to those asking us to give an account for the hope within us (1 Pet 3:15).
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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