More than once, my Google Reader has shot me a link to a conservative blogger who’s accused me of gnosticism. Here’s one from a few years ago that makes that claim, and there have been several more since.
Gnosticism is a long-standing religious predilection, popular in Jesus’ day, and popular in our own as well. While it can be its own religion, per se, it is more often manifested as a flavor within a particular religion. Kabbalah, for instance, is a gnostic Judaism.
The primary characteristic of gnosticism is that there is a secret, mystical knowledge about something — God, humankind, the universe — that is available only to particular individuals. In Zoroastrianism, it is available to those who good good works and stave off sadness with happiness. In Scientology, it’s done through a process of spiritual “auditing” and walking the “bridge to total freedom.” In Eckankar, “soul travel” opens new chapters of truth leading to further spiritual liberation.
In all cases, more “truth” is available to those who have progressed in the secret knowledge of that particular religion.
It seems to me that conservative Christians aren’t all that different. Some say that special things happen when a person prays with glossolalia or uses the phrase “In Jesus’ Name” almost like a magical incantation. Others say it comes via the rite of the Eucharist. Still others claim that it’s belief in a certain set of doctrines that ushers one into the special knowledge.
But orthodox Christianity has always shunned anything like gnosticism. In the earliest days of the church, Christians were often accused of being similar to the very popular cult of Mithra, a gnostic sect of the time. But even while Christians were being persecuted pre-Constantine, they did not hide what they knew or believed. (E.g., contrary to popular belief, early Christians did not hide and worship in the catacombs outside of Rome. They dug the catacombs so they could bury corpses, as opposed to cremating them, because they believed that the resurrection of the dead was just around the corner. They held their memorial meals for the dead above ground, just like everyone else of the day.) Early church fathers like Tertullian and Justin Martyr fought these accusations.
There’s nothing secret about Christianity. There never has been. Let’s make sure there never will be.