Three sorts of God.


In an essay published in 1973, Jacques Lacarrière violently attacked Christianity, that of the first centuries, and that of our time. « Christians, with their compensatory and castrating mythology, have totally evaded the daily problems of their time and perpetuated to this day the acceptance of all social injustices and submission to established powers.»i

This harsh judgment does not accurately reflect the history of Christianity, but the intention is elsewhere. Lacarrière’s real aim is to give strong praise to Gnosticism, in contrast. « The Gnostics, on the other hand, have consistently advocated insubordination towards all powers, Christian or pagan, » he explains.

By taking up the cause of the Gnostics, he poses himself as a « reincarnated Gnostic, two thousand years later », and emphatically adopts their fundamental thesis: « All institutions, all laws, all religions, all churches, all powers are only jokes, traps and the perpetuation of a millennial deception. In short: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, the proletarians of the executioner-demiurgist, slaves exiled in a world viscerally subjected to violence.»ii

For the Gnostics, the world is a « prison », a « cloaca », a « quagmire », a « desert ». In the same vein, the human body is a « tomb », a « vampire ».

The world we live in was not created by the true God. It is the work of the Demiurge, a god who ‘simulates’ the true God. The Gnostics reject both this ‘evil’ world and the ‘false God’ who created it — a God that they call ‘Jehovah’.

Where and when did the Gnosis appear?

According to Lacarrière, it was in Alexandria in the 2nd century. This town was then « a crucible, an hearth, amortar, a blast furnace, where all the skies, all the gods, all the dreams are mixed, distilled, infused and transfused (…) All the races, all the continents (Africa, Asia, Europe), all the centuries (those of ancient Egypt which keeps its sanctuaries there, those of Athens and Rome, those of Judea, Palestine and Babylonia) are discovered there. »iii

In theory, such a place of encounter and memory would have been ideal for generating an inclusive and globalizing civilization. But the Gnostics had no use for these utopias. They deny the very reality of this world, which is from the beginning entirely dedicated to evil.

All signs are reversed. The Serpent, Cain, Set, symbols of evil and misfortune in the Jewish Bible, are for the Gnostics « the first revolts in the history of the world », and they make them « the founders of their sects and the authors of their secret books ».

The Gnostic sects, listed by Epiphanus, are very diverse. There are Nicolaitans, Phibionites, Stratiotics, Euchites, Leviticus, Borborites, Coddians, Zachaeans, Barbelites, etc. These terms had an immediate meaning for Greek-speaking populations. The Stratiotics meant « the Soldiers », the Phibionites are the « Humbles », the Eucharists are the « Prayers », the Zachaeans are the « Initiates ».

Lacarrière is fascinated by the Gnostics, but he also admits having great difficulty in discovering their « secrets », in finding « their veiled paths », in understanding « their hermetic revelations ».

There is in particular the question of ecstatic ceremonies, with their frenetic music, using the Phrygian mode (flutes and tambourines), their orgiastic dances, the consumption of drinks causing phenomena of transes and collective possession, and « horrible bacchanals where men and women mixed », as reported by Theodoret de Cyr.

The Gnostics, according to Lacarrière, had understood that the world was « a world of injustice, violence, massacres, slavery, misery, famine, horrors ». This world had to be rejected, contrary to what Christianity advocates. « It takes all the impudent hypocrisy of Christian morality to make the dispossessed, exploited, hungry masses believe that their trials were enriching and opened the doors of another world to them. »

Lacarrière concludes by claiming the need for a « new Gnosticism ». The Gnostic of today must be a « man turned towards the present and the future, with the intuitive certainty that he possesses above all in himself the keys to this future, a certainty that he must oppose all reassuring mythologies. »

These martial and hammered sentences are half a century old, but they certainly appear outdated. Today, the thousand-year-old debate between Christianity and Gnosticism seems to have lost its meaning. Current events seem to be more interested in the relationship between religion and fundamentalism, and in the issue of terrorism.

In the Bardo Museum of Tunis, where the memory of ancient Carthage still lives, in ancient Palmyra, on the shores of the Bosporus and the Gulf of Sirte, and in so many other places, blood has abundantly been shed.

Fanatics willing to give their lives to destroy a world order they consider vitiated to the very roots now occupy the headlines.

Can democratic states defend themselves against determined men or women who despise life, the lives of others like themselves?

The radicality of the Gnostics of the past, the war they had waged against the pagans, Jews and Christians at the beginning of our era, has found a successor. The jihadists embody it today vis-à-vis the Western world, the world of democracies and their allies.

History is on the lookout, and no one knows how things will turn out. The fact that the extreme right is now growing so much in countries that were vomiting it just yesterday is perhaps a sign of future disasters in preparation.

And what about God in all this? Is He even aware of all the misery, proliferating down this world?

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote in her Œuvre au noir: « Suffering and consequently joy and consequently good and what we call evil, justice and what is for us injustice and finally, in one form or another, the understanding that serves to distinguish these opposites, exist only in the world of blood and perhaps sap… Everything else, I mean the mineral kingdom and that of the spirits if it exists, is perhaps insensitive and quiet, beyond our joys and sorrows or below them. Our tribulations are possibly only a tiny exception in the universal factory and this could explain the indifference of this immutable substance that we devoutly call God. »

Blood flows, seemingly in God’s indifference.

But which God? The God of the Book? The One God? The God of Jihad? The « universal », « Catholic » God, or the God of the « Chosen Few », whether they are Calvinists, Gnostics or fundamentalists?

The heart beats, the sap and blood flows. God stays silent. Why?

It may be that this indifference comes from what God does not exist.

It may also be that God being immutable, his indifference follows from it, as Yourcenar suggests.

There is a third possibility. God’s mutity may only be apparent. It is possible that He speaks with a very low voice, that he whispers, like an uncertain zephyr. To perceive and hear, one must be a poet or a seer, an initiate or a mystagogue, a shaman or an ishrâqiyun.

So we are left today with tree options to choose from:

A non-existent God, an indifferent (or absent) God, or a very discreet God, speaking with an extremely weak voice?

What’s your bet?

iJacques Lacarrière, Les gnostiques. 1973

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Christ’s Laughter on the Cross : Caricature and Religion


In his book Christ‘s Laughter (2006), Guy Stroumsa recalls that the Gnostics of the first centuries of our era represented Christ « laughing » on the cross. What was he laughing at? « At the stupidity of the world, » they said.

In the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal text composed in the 2nd century, Jesus also laughs.

Another Gnostic text, found in 1978 in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the 2nd Treatise of the Great Seth, gives this explanation: « It was another, the one who carried the cross on his shoulder, it was Simon. It was another one who received the crown of thorns. As for me, I rejoiced in the height, above all the domain that belongs to the archons and above the seed of their error, their vain glory, and I mocked their ignorance. »

This explanation is based on the thesis of heresy called docetism. According to this thesis, Jesus would not have really suffered on the cross. His nature being divine and spiritual, his physical body was detached from him, simple appearance, simple clothing. He would have remained « impassive » (impassibilis), nailed to the cross.

The fact that God could laugh at men, kings, peoples and nations was not absolutely new. There is this verse from David’s Psalms: « He who sits in heaven amuses himself, YHVH makes fun of them » (Ps. 2:4): Yochev ba-chammayim yitzhaq.

Yitzhaq. « He laughs. » Abraham gave this very name to Isaac. For Christians, Isaac is a prefiguration of Christ. Isaac, led by his father Abraham who intended to slit his throat, carried the wood necessary for the sacrifice himself, just as Christ carried the wood of his cross.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish and Neo-Platonic philosopher born in 25 B.C., evokes the history of Isaac’s miraculous conception, in order to draw, as he often does, an anagogical lesson. His thesis is that Isaac was miraculously born of God himself and Sarah, then a very old woman. Sarah says: « The Lord has made laughter for me » (Gen. 21:6).

Philo comments: « Open your ears, O mysteries, and welcome the most holy initiations: « Laughter » is joy, and the word « he has done » is equivalent to « he will beget » so that these words mean this: the Lord will beget Isaac; for he is the Father of perfect nature, who in souls sows and generates happiness. « Legum Allegoriae III, 219

Christ nailed to the cross laughs, – while derided and ridiculed by the soldiers.

Sara affirms at Isaac’s birth, the birth of « He laughs », that it is the Lord who generated the laughter in her.

Christ dying and laughing, Sarah conceiving « laughter » through the divine operation.

Humanity’s closeness to the divinity can be sensed in nakedness, death, conception.

This is one of the fundamental problems faced by religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. How can we reconcile divine transcendence with historical, material, immanent reality?

If God is absolutely transcendent, how can He generate Isaac in the womb of an old woman?

Isn’t the simple fact of asking the question, based on the letter of the Scriptures, already a « caricature »?

Is not the fact that Jesus is a naked God, who died on the cross, in humiliation and derision, not in itself susceptible to being caricatured in a thousand ways?

The prohibition of the representation of the Prophet Muhammad testifies to the same problem. How can we reconcile the prophet’s humanity with his divine mission? The difficulty of the question seems unrelated to the simplicity of the answer: the outright prohibition of any representation.

Let’s take a step back. Isn’t any critical, distanced, and sometimes even a little ironic question a form of caricature – for those who don’t ask questions, and don’t ask themselves them, either?

When it comes to religion, it is so easy to fall into caricature, or to be accused of it.

Is the (real) Tradition the Talmud, the Kabbalah or the Zohar?


Alphonse-Louis Constant was a French clergyman and a controversial figure of occultism in the 19th century. As the author of an abundant work, he took the pen name Eliphas Levi, or Eliphas-Levi Zahed, which is a translation of his name into Hebrew. In 1862, he published Fables and Symbols, a work in which he analyzed the symbols of Pythagoras, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the Talmud. Here is one of these fables, « The Fakir and the Bramin », and its commentary, which are not unrelated to a certain topicality:

THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

Carrying an axe in his hand,

A fakir meets a bramin:

– Cursed son of Brama, I can still find you!

I love Eswara!

Confess before me that the master of heaven

Is the best of the gods,

And that I am his prophet,

Or I’ll split your head open!

– Strike, » replied the bramin,

I don’t love a god who makes you inhuman.

The gods do not murder anyone.

Believe or not that mine

Is more forgiving than yours:

But in his name, I forgive you.

SYMBOL – THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

« When the opposing forces do not balance each other, they destroy each other.

Unfair enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, causes the opposite enthusiasm through its excess.

That is why a famous diplomat was right when he said: ‘Never be zealous’.

That is why the great Master said: ‘Do good to your enemies and you will build fire on their heads’. It was not revenge by occult means that Christ wanted to teach, but the means to resist evil by learned and self-defense. Here is indicated and even revealed one of the greatest secrets of occult philosophy. »

Eliphas Lévi also made an interesting statement on the veil, a difficult subject admittedly, not unrelated to current events.

« Absconde faciem tuam et ora. Veil your face to pray.

This is the use of the Jews, who, in order to pray with more contemplation, wrap their heads in a veil which they call thalith. This veil originates from Egypt and resembles that of Isis. It means

that holy things must be hidden from the profane, and that everyone must only count on God for the secret thoughts of his heart. »

Finally, here is an extract from a small dialogue, quite lively, between an Israelite and Eliphas Levi.

Israelite: I am pleased to see that you are making cheap of the mistakes of Christianity.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, I suppose so, but it’s to defend the truths with more energy.

Israelite: What are the truths of Christianity?

Eliphas Levi: The same as those of the religion of Moses, plus the effective sacraments with faith, hope and charity.

Israelite: Plus idolatry, that is, worship that is due to God alone, given to a man and even to a piece of bread. The priest put in the place of God himself, and condemning the Israelites to hell, that is, the only worshippers of the true God and the heirs of his promise.

Eliphas Levi: No, children of your fathers ! we do not put anything in the place of God himself. Like you, we believe that his divinity is unique, immutable, spiritual and we do not confuse God with his creatures. We worship God in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not this humanity in the place of God.

There is a misunderstanding between you and us that has lasted for centuries and has caused much blood and tears to flow. The so-called Christians who persecuted you were fanatics and unholy people unworthy of the spirit of this Jesus who forgave by dying to those who crucified him and said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (…)

Israelite: I arrest you here and tell you that for us the Kabbalah is not authoritative. We no longer recognize her because she was desecrated and disfigured by the Samaritans and the Eastern Gnostics. Maimonides, one of the greatest lights of the synagogue, sees the Kabbalah as useless and dangerous; he does not want us to deal with it and wants us to stick to the symbol of which he himself formulated the thirteen articles, from the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, but the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud are unintelligible without the Kabbalah. I will say more: these sacred books are the Kabbalah itself, written in hieroglyphics, that is, in allegorical images. The Scripture is a closed book without the tradition that explains it and the tradition is the Kabbalah.

Israelite: That’s what I deny, the tradition is the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Say that the Talmud is the veil of tradition, the tradition is the Zohar.

Israelite: Could you prove it?

Eliphas Levi: Yes, if you want to have the patience to hear me, because it would take a long time to reason.