Is there a Gnostic church somewhere, I wonder? I think that would be just up my alley. I mentioned Elaine Pagels’ Beyond Belief the other day, and reading that led me to start reading The Gnostic Gospels again. She has to be one of the finest minds in comparative religion today. It’s not just that she comes up with solidly researched ideas about the origins of Christianity, it’s that her simplicity of language makes it accessible to anyone. I actually saw her speak here in St. Paul a few years ago, and she’s not only brilliant but adorable. The way she spoke reflects the way she writes: simple, humble, learned, and engaged. Also, you just want to pick her up and hug her.
If you haven’t read her, you really should. I imagine some Christians would find her ideas disturbing, but they’re not ideas so much as they are observations from reading ancient texts from the early days of Christianity in their original languages and getting the best sense of what Christianity was really like in its early years. It may not fit with the usual idea of Christianity, but you can’t claim she’s made stuff up.
Her work is comforting to me, because it suggests that any religion can change and still survive. She shows how the Christianity of the first few centuries after Christ is actually quite different from the Christianity of today, and how the changes in Christianity arose from the political situation then extant in the Roman Empire and other parts of the Christian diaspora.
I know there are a lot of people who think their faith can’t be allowed to change. But Pagels shows that faiths can change and survive, even flourish as a result of the changes, but not abandon core beliefs. Hey, maybe Islam could become a little more liberal toward women. Maybe Christians who make homophobia an article of faith could let go of their fear of gay and lesbian people. Maybe the world wouldn’t end. Just a thought. 🙂