Forbidden faith . . . in what? A look at the elusive legacy of Gnosticism and its mystical counterparts.
In his sometimes disjointed narrative, Smoley (Inner Christianity, 2002, etc.) launches from the Da Vinci Code platform to introduce Gnosticism to the general public. His first chapter does a capable job of depicting Gnosticism as it’s known from Christianity’s early history. The author describes it as a belief aimed at gnosis (spiritual enlightenment) rather than at salvation. Heavily influenced by Plato and Eastern philosophies, Gnostics painted a far different picture of the creation and of Jesus than that taught by what Smoley calls “proto-Catholics.” Hence, the creed was slowly but viciously beaten out of existence by the official church. Much of the rest of the book discusses people and systems of thought only tangentially connected to Gnosticism, including Manichaeism, Catharism and Rosicrucianism. The Kabbalah often seems to be more of a unifying thread in these pages than Gnosticism; indeed, Smoley admits that some of the connections he forms are “oblique.” Though much of it is interesting, the reader often tends to wonder what this actually has to do with the Gnostics. He returns more fully to his topic in the concluding paragraphs, which explore the historical and social implications of renewed interest in Gnosticism over the past several decades. Though it influenced a wide range of intellectuals, from William Blake to Karl Jung, Gnosticism did not enter modern popular consciousness until the 1970s. The archaeological recovery and publication of the Nag Hammadi texts, coincident with the emergence of New Age thought, feminism and similar movements, prepared the groundwork for a Gnostic resurgence. This has led, directly or indirectly, to such cultural expressions as The Matrix and The Da Vinci Code.
More an exploration of gnosis itself than of Gnosticism the religion.