Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I Am So Interested in the Heresies

Why am I so interested in these obscure heretics like Marcion?  I think it is a very good question to ask.  I hope what I am about to write will speak for other people too.  There are many of us who aren't actively engaged in the Realpolitik of modern scholarship.  These people want to be on TV so badly.  It is something of a confession that the antiquated notion of 'truth seeking' is dead and gone by the wayside (since no one over in Biblioblog-land is crowing about the rating on the History Channel I imagine they were something of a disappointment). 

I am interested in the heresies because I don't believe that life always works out.  In fact I think things rarely go our way.  Indeed I will go so far as to say that this is what makes life so absolutely wonderful.  No one enjoys sex more than a monk on a spree.  The more you do something, the more the act of doing becomes parodistic.  I can't imagine any fate worse than always having work out for you - i.e. King Midas.  Endless success would leave us numb.  That's what makes love so amazing.  It can only work out once (though, according to Sinatra apparently, it's more comfortable the second time around). 

I think I got the idea here from the writings of a German-born Tibetan monk Lama Anagarika Govinda (née Ernst Lothar Hoffmann) which had a deep impression on me when I young.  Symbols only retain their significance for a limit period of time, indeed an incredibly short 'instant.'  After that the meaning is lost - forever.  They become mere superstitions.  This is like life.  This is like love.  You never walk through the same river. 

I still love my wife but only sometimes I get a glimmer of what it was like to meet for the first time.  Most of the time I am living a completely new paradigm that makes me completely forget what drew us together in the first place.  Things aren't meant to last, but that's a good thing.  No, let me rephrase that - it's a great thing.  If things lasted for ever all things that make life great would quickly disappear. 

I don't know if anyone has ever had a one night stand or one amazing night of passion (don't laugh, not everyone has).  There is nothing more perfect than being forced to leave the table when the meal tastes the best.  Of course none of us wanted only that night.  But if you ever get a second chance, it's never the same.  What's worse is running into someone who you remember as the most amazing, sexy person you've ever known and then seeing they gained like two hundred pounds.  You feel so disappointed because they robbed you of that living symbol of perfection floating around in your consciousness. 

That's why it was so good that Jimi Hendrix died at 27.  The idea of him doing a 'comeback album' with Clive Davis would be impossible to endure.  The same with Nietzsche.  If he hadn't went insane and lived as long as his sister and ended up being co-opted by Hitler, that would have ruined his entire life achievement (which we retain thanks to his untimely death). 

I have always said that religious scholars get stuck on the problem of God abandoning them.  This is why people like Mark Goodacre always have such problems with Q, the Gospel of Judas Thomas and of course Secret Mark.  I don't think he's homophobic.  He seems incapable of accepting the idea that God might have abandoned him, that all his efforts as a scholar are basically a waste of time, that the truth is like that beautiful woman with whom we had that one amazing night of passion only to disappear. 

As a quick segue - maybe I am different from most of you, but have you ever been with the person you've longed for and then had this heightened sense of awareness when it is actually happening?  I don't know how to describe it really but after weeks of active pursuit you just kind of - slip into cruise control and admire the unfolding of the moment?  There is something mystical about it all.  It is almost as if the entire situation was created for you to experience the act of unravelling. 

I never smell anything good in the world unless I am with a beautiful woman.  I never experience the touch of skin the same way unless I am in love.  It's this heightened sense of awareness; feeling the pulse in your neck beat the rhythm of your being.  Now everything in my life is so controlled.  I feel like a scholar because I am so fucking boring.

When I was a lover I always said that I believed in God because he was getting me laid.  I meant that quite sincerely.  Anyone who knew me at the time would tell you that this how I really felt.  Every night I would go out looking for love armed with only my wits and my looks (which certainly weren't movie star quality).  But the act of pursuit was so obviously metaphorical.  The nightclubs are always darkly lit.  It's so hard to hear what the other person is saying.  The longing so intense when you are young.  Life was so arousing. 

I don't think scholars understand this reality even though this is life.  They only understand death - i.e. when all the possibilities are drained out of a carcass and it lies there motionless on the floor.  When you play the part of the lover you know how fleeting everything is.  You know how easily your mind is swayed by the senses.  The idea that the scholarly world of books is somehow more real than this natural universe that lies dormant in every one of these deadbeats is simply ridiculous. 

Nietzsche warned against all systematizers.  He said the will to a system is a lack of integrity. It is certainly also always a sign of dishonesty.  To argue that life isn't full of possibilities, that Christianity didn't take 'wrong turns,' that texts didn't 'bounce around' and collect moss and mud is simply anti-naturalism at its worst. 

I embrace what is, because by embracing life's imperfections I say yes to life.  I don't think God 'made sure' that all the holy books were preserved down to our age.  Only an idiot would think that.  I am quite sure that all of the most invaluable texts disappeared.  Why so?  Because this is the nature of existence.  I am as sure of the loss of all the earliest books of Christianity in the same way that I am that the Pentateuch wasn't written by Moses.  God establishes our isolation in order to give the ultimate meaning to the act of union. 

For me, trying to piece together Marcion is like trying to reconstruct a great night of passion.  Marcion was the truth because he disappeared.  His occultation preserved his significance.  It had to occur in order for truth to be preserved.

When I read the scholarly books, I have a lot of admiration for the effort and the skill that it took to develop a coherent argument on any subject.  But once you know the original sources they are drawing from it all seems so hopelessly subjective - akin to watching a magician sawing a woman in half knowing how it's done.  

Imagine what we would find if we allowed in all the ghosts from our collective cultural past.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like to have more Clement of Alexandria, more Julius Cassian, more Theodotus, more Ptolemy, more Valentinus and of course more Marcion.  Do people like Mark Goodacre really believe that if we had access to more information - even 'some' of the vast material that once existed in earliest Christianity, that their inherited prejudices would survive that encounter with first through third century texts?  Of course they wouldn't just in the same way he couldn't be certain about anything in his life if he was swept off his feet by passion. 

The quaternion given to us by Irenaeus has locked us in an arranged marriage.  It might be possible to make such a relationship work.  I am not even arguing against the idea that the world at large might be better off venerating these false scriptures.  Nevertheless to argue that we can extrapolate from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and develop an accurate picture of Jesus and earliest Christianity is simply laughable.  It is not a reasonable position to take because we know that many early heretics like Marcion developed very different understandings about Jesus from their 'alternative gospels.'

Mark Goodacre accepts the essential correctness of the existing canon.  What I mean by that is that he doesn't just argue against Q, the Gospel of Judas Thomas and Secret Mark.  At the same time argues for the existing canon.  Whether there really was a Q, whether Judas Thomas was developed from the canonical texts or whether or not Goodacre has the magical ability to see past the very arguments that so convinced him in Carlson's book that have now been proven to be 'oversights'?  Where does this certainty come from?  Clearly it comes from Goodacre's belief in the God hovering over the canon from the very beginning.  I can't possibly see why he would waste his time associating himself with such stupid theories as those contained in the Gospel Hoax.   

I don't see that God wants us to defend and protect what we already have.  That's selfish human interest.  If we want to know the truth we have to come into acquaintance with becoming.  Truth blooms like a flower and then it quickly goes away.  Marcion was like that but Irenaeus and his canon lives on.  Like Mark Goodacre I believe in a god but my God was there with me when I was chasing harlots and floozies, he was there arranging all things for me to catch a glimpse of the eternal becoming of truth.  Marcion may have disappeared.  But that is hardly surprise.  Truth never lasts for long in a single material form. 

Isn't this the point of the Coptic understanding of the Incarnation?  Isn't this also why the brevity of Jesus's ministry confounded Irenaeus?  In the same way Jesus passes through hostile crowds untouched I think we are all meant to sojourn in this world.  I will never defend a living text because only corrupt things survive in this world.  The ineffable truth can only be embodied for so long in this world.  I am not an idolater.  I could never worship a book.  Moses breaking the tablets was a symbol for all holy writings - don't mistake stone for spirit. 

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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