Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Gnostic Party

HOT! The new sex symbol of Christian atheism, Elaine Pagels. HOT!

ANOTHER SWARTHMORON EPISTLE. Such great news. The educationally elect have at last noticed Christianity, and they are doing their very best to launch a belated rescue of all the fools who have been taken in by it over the past 2,000 years. The new offensive is being led -- with extraordinary tact -- by the magnificent intellectuals of academia with an assist from the educational television channels and the alphabet news networks.

Some of you may have tuned in last night to CBS's 48 Hours program called The Mystery of Christmas. It's a beautiful example of the intelligentsia's effort to lead lunkheaded Christians away from error toward a more acceptable kind of religion. The upside is that we're still apparently permitted to retain a kind of Christianity, a soupy, squishy faith in the possible goodness and wisdom of Jesus Christ. The downside is that we really do have to accept that the gospels are nothing more than lying propaganda written for the purpose of scoring political points against Rome and covering up the scandalous illegitimacy of Christ's birth. I mean, forget the immaculate conception and all that nonsense. Even the theologians don't believe in it anymore.

You say that's not true? Well, if you're CBS -- or TLC or the History Channel or the Discovery Nework -- it most certainly is true. Because the one theological scholar you simply cannot escape on these outlets is Elaine Pagels, who is always identified simply as a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. You're also more than likely to be hearing from FatherProfessor John Crossan, who has written many learned books about the real meaning of the New Testament. We are just so damned lucky that both of them happened to be available to share the truth with hard-hitting CBS reporter Maureen Maher, whose bio indicates that she received her own education from Loyola University in Chicago, a fine Catholic school that no doubt imparted to her the impeccable taste represented by the immaculate white jacket she wore in the cathedral segment of the show. We don't know if it was Loyola or CBS News that conferred upon her the scrupulous fairness she exhibited in her treatment of the crazed religious fantasies that surround the "story" of Christ's birth,  But, here, let her tell you the gist in her own words, courtesy of CBS video services.

I just love that little patronzing sing-song at the beginning -- "the baby Jesus, the manger, no room at the inn..." -- don't you? And her smooth definition of "what faith should be" as a paraphrase of Rodney King. Cool. Still, perhaps we can be forgiven by the Great Squishy God of Secular Peace and Getting Along if we point out that the "leading New Testament scholars" Maureen spent most of her time talking to (as opposed to sneering at) are chiefly known not as Christian scholars but as Christian apostates.

John Crossan's Wikipedia entry notes the following:

John Dominic Crossan (born Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, 1934) is an Irish American biblical scholar known for co-founding the Jesus Seminar. As a major figure in the fields of Biblical archaeology, anthropology and New Testament textual criticism, he is a popular lecturer, but is dismissed by those critical of his historical methodology. He has appeared in many television documentaries about Jesus and the Bible...

After a year at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, and a year at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Crossan chose to resign his priesthood. He cited as reasons both a desire for more academic freedom, and the freedom to be bound in matrimony. He married Margaret Dagenais, a professor at Loyola University (Chicago) in the summer of 1969, and joined the faculty of DePaul University that fall, where he remained until retiring from teaching in 1995. His first wife died of a heart attack in 1983. Crossan married Sarah Sexton, a social worker with two grown children, in 1986. Since his academic retirement, Crossan has lived in the Orlando, Florida area, remaining active in research, writing, and teaching seminars.

Regardless of his academic qualifications, a twice-married ex-priest should probably not be presented on network television as a mainstream Christian authority, particularly in the absence of any attempt to consult a theologian endorsed by the Roman Catholic faith. Yet none of the "many television documentaries about Jesus and the Bible" I've seen Crossan pontificating on has mentioned his controversial status.

All that we ever seem to hear from TV presenters about Elaine Pagels is that she's a Princeton professor. Most assuredly, we are not told about her provocative and activist role as a champion of heretical gnostic interpretations of Christian scripture and pseudo-scripture. Again, from Wikipedia:

Elaine Pagels (née Hiesey, born February 13, 1943), is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She was born in California, graduated from Stanford University (B.A. 1964, M.A. 1965) and, after briefly studying dance at Martha Graham's studio, began studying for her Ph.D. at Harvard University as a student of Helmut Koester. She married theoretical physicist Heinz Pagels in 1969.

At Harvard, she was part of a team studying the Nag Hammadi library manuscripts. Upon finishing her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1970, she joined the faculty at Barnard College, where she headed the department of religion from 1974. Her study of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts was the basis for The Gnostic Gospels (1979), a popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi library. The bestselling book won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. However, the conservative Christian Intercollegiate Studies Institute listed it as one of the 50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century.

In the book she argued that the Christian church was founded in a society espousing a number of contradictory viewpoints. Gnosticism as a movement was not very coherent and there were several areas of disagreement between different factions. Gnosticism attracted women in particular because of its egalitarian perspective which allowed their participation in sacred rites...

In 1987, Pagels' son Mark died after four years of illness, and the following year her husband Heinz Pagels died in a hiking accident. Partly due to these experiences, Pagels began working on the research leading to The Origin of Satan. This book purports to show the way that the figure Satan became a way for Christians to demonize their religious opponents, the Jews and the unorthodox Christians....

A smart, very well educated, and extremely interesting woman, but not one who should be introduced as a "leading New Testament scholar" without any further explanation. The tone of the CBS show and others like it in the world of educational TV is intended to make Christians believe that the real experts have abandoned traditional faith for a modern, politically correct, and far less religious view of Christianity as Old/New Age philosophy couched in feel-good platitudes about altruism, social equality, and world peace.

All that is fine and dandy as a cultural fad, but it's not Christianity, and the determination to substitute it in place of the religious faith that created the world we live in is sinister political hackery. Pagels is not the prophet of a religious renewal; she is merely another in a long line of secular opportunists who have sought to redefine Christianity in ways convenient to the political fashions of their time.

CBS's The Mystery of Christmas is not surprising in any way. In fact, it's so predictable that I could have written a lot of the pap Maureen Maher utters in passing myself. What I don't get is who it is exactly they're trying to convince. Do they think the Bible-thumping fundamentalists they scorn and fear so much will be changed by anything Pagels, Crossan, or Maher have to say? I doubt it. Do they seriously think that the better educated Christians aren't literate about the issues they claim to be "uncovering" like some crime mystery? Maybe. But to me, the whole enterprise smacks of self-indulgence, as if they don't have any clear objective at all, but only an inchoate desire to be seen considering religion, so that all the impotent unwashed can behold the half-smiles, tolerant condescension, and meticulous patience of the only surviving gods, the mighty idols of the mass media. In this context, the repeatedly expressed desire not to offend is a kind of threat: Can you imagine what damage we'd wreak if we covered this as ruthlessly as we cover those idiot Republicans? We're supposed to quiver in our boots or fall to our knees. Or both. Do so if you want.

The only thing the rest of us can take from it is a clue about what patrician liberals running for office mean when they claim to be Christians. Memorize the picture of Elaine Pagels above. She is their priest and the chair of the Gnostic Party, which believes in absolutely nothing but the divine right of Princeton and company to tell the ignorant masses how to behave and what to think. The word 'gnostic' means 'knowing' after all, and the thing the smart people know best is that knowing is much superior to believing.


Merry Christmas, everybody.

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