Confession: I am a recovering Gnostic.
I am not much of a philosopher, and this Gnostic word is rather new to me.
At the time of the early church, Gnosticism was a philosophy that tried to mesh Christianity with important Greek ideas. Gnostics taught that the physical world was tainted. More than tainted, perhaps evil. They believed that a Christian’s best route through life was by way of as little contact with it as possible. They thought the holiest path was one of celibacy, of much fasting, of prayerful solitude, of silence, of denying oneself at every turn. And, by a natural though somewhat jarring cause-and-effect, they taught that Jesus did not really come in the flesh—He only appeared to. He could not have come in the flesh, they argued, because flesh (matter, substance) is impure.
The early church considered Gnostics to be heretics.
Now, I hardly want to get into all the ramifications of believing in a Gnostic worldview. I just want to say that I grew up with it deep inside me. All except Jesus not coming in the flesh.
I thought all this humanity stuff obscured the true, which was entirely spirit. The physical was a hindrance, a distraction from the real. Hence I was bound and determined to be a missionary to Africa, to pour my life on the flaming altars of selfless sacrifice… or something. I felt contemptuous (piously contemptuous, of course) of any lesser call. Only the most spiritual of paths was worth treading.
Do you identify? Did you grow up believing as I did?
Please know—Being a missionary to a foreign country is a wonderful thing. But the only way? The holy of holies way? If so, 95% of Christians are wasting their time.
Incidentally, I would hazard that missionaries who embark on their quest armed with my old philosophy will soon find themselves frustrated by how much physical stuff goes on in Africa. I mean, you still have to sleep for so many hours. And walk to the market for your food, and spend all that time cooking it, and combing your hair, and running after cockroaches, and tying the kids’ shoes. Didn’t we come here to do the spiritual?
Anyhoo. Fortunately I had an idyllic childhood to balance my innocent Gnosticism—so much joy, wholesome fun, and delight mixed into my ways that I was almost entirely happy. I loved kittens and play houses and fresh things from the garden; fairy tales and holidays and new snow and old books.
In short—I really, really liked living.
My philosophies didn’t get me in trouble until I grew up. Next time I’ll tell you how.