I finished Elaine Pagels' The Origin of Satan. This will be somewhat of a rambling post. It will have a degree of structure, but it will also take tangents.
refers to a statement by Tertullian that Christians asking questions is
dangerous, for that can lead to heresy. Questions that Tertullian did
not care for pertained to the origin of evil, why God allows evil, and
the origin of human beings. Tertullian knew that detractors would
object that Jesus encouraged people to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew
7:7), but Tertullian's response was that the purpose of seeking is to
find, namely, to believe in Christianity. So why not accept
Christianity at the outset, he wondered, rather than continuing to ask
questions, which displays dissatisfaction with the answers that the
Tertullian's stance will probably shock a lot of
my readers, as it shocked me, a person who likes to question and who
does not care for the authoritarianism of conservative Christianity.
But I can see a degree of value in Tertullian's sentiment, not because I
am concerned about "heresy", but rather because I think that there is
something to be said for settling down with a belief system, rather than
continuing to search.
At the same time, even when settling down,
I'd like to learn and to grow, otherwise I'd be bored. And, according
to Pagels, Gnostic Christians sought something deeper and more profound
within Christianity than the forgiveness of sins, for they held that it
was also about finding the divine within. I can see the attraction in
that. It would be nice to believe in more than "I'm a sinner and I need
forgiveness", to think that I have some hidden value or am on an
adventure of discovering who I truly am.
Now for a couple of
tangents. First of all, using as a launch-pad Tertullian's concern that
people will ask questions about the origins of evil, I'd like to note
that Pagels a couple of times in this book refers to early Christian
views on providence and the source of evil. Justin Martyr did not
believe that God caused affliction but rather that Satan did so.
Tatian, according to Pagels, "allows for accident in the natural world,
including disasters, for which, he says, God offers solace but seldom
miraculous intervention" (page xv1). And Origen also shied away from
attributing the suffering of innocent people to God's will. Some
problems he believed were "accidental byproducts" of providence (page
141); other problems were due to the free choice of people and
supernatural beings. Origen held, for instance, that demons and evil
angels often instigated human evil and natural disasters. But Pagels
says that later Christians had a stronger view of God's providence.
my impression of Pagels' discussion of Gnostic Christianity is that she
treats it as a reaction to mainstream Christianity----that some were
seeking deeper things in Christian writings. This is particularly true
in her discussion of Valentinus. At the same time, she also appears to
believe that Christianity was quite diverse early on, and she says that
an edition of the Gospel of Thomas predated what became the canonical
Gospels (though she agrees that there were additions to the Gospel of
Thomas that came later). But does she truly believe that the historical
Jesus could have been a proponent of finding the divine within?