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Universal Gnostic Ministry & Study
Affirming Unity + Celebrating Diversity
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Taken literally, all religions and spiritual traditions are in fundamental, or rather fundamentalist, conflict. Taken "gnosticly", these religions and traditions can be appreciated as allegorical and symbolic (and partial) expressions of a common underlying Reality or Truth (that is ultimately beyond words and images to encompass). Literalism tends to divide people against one another with a "me right, you wrong" approach. Gnosticism (or Gnosis, spiritual knowledge) tends to unite people with a more open "live-and-let-live" philosophy. History bears this out.

Gnostics by and large interpret scripture and tradition as allegory and symbol. Literalists tend to intepret scripture and tradition as literally true or literally "the word of God". For Literalists, this means that when "God" supposedly commanded his chosen people to slaughter other nations (men, women, children, and animals without exception, except to enslave the virgins), or to turn his temple into a giant slaughterhouse, "He" literally said so and literally meant it.

"Primitive" Christianity was a departure from the Literalist approach, and began with a rejection, attributed to Jesus, of any literal dwelling place of God, any temple made by human hands, and of any practice of violence, including blood sacrifice. Early Jewish Christians, or Ebionites, rejected as forgeries (by the "lying pen of the scribes") those passages of scripture that portray "God" as violent, jealous, or fickle. The Ebionites were in turn condemned as Gnostic heretics by the "fathers" of the (Literalist) Roman Church for not accepting the doctrine that Jesus is the literal son of God.

The Hellenic Gnostics rejected the violent "God" images found in scripture by portraying this god as the deluded and false creator (or demiurge) of a world that is filled with violence and suffering. This creator of suffering, who goes on to demand war and blood sacrifice, could not be the true God. Instead, both Hellenic Gnostics and Ebionites followed the Epistle of James in revering a benevolent "Father of Lights" in Whom there is no shadow of change.

The gradual triumph of the Literalist Church (by fair means and foul) over the diverse schools of Gnosticism, contributed to the destruction of Hellenic culture and science, which set back Western civilization by a thousand years. Literalist violence reached a peak in the genocidal Crusade against the Gnostic Cathars, and the mass murder of women and witches, heretics and homosexuals, by the Inquisition.

It was "separation of church and state", a Gnostic Hermetic principle underlying the democratic movements of the 19th century, that put the brakes on theocratic tyranny, at least for a time. The current revival of Gnosticism offers a ray of hope in contrast to the current revival of Literalist oppression in the United States and around the world.

Copied below is a selection of quotes that bear some relevance to the authoritarian violence that springs from a Literalist approach to scripture and tradition, and/or the libertarian non-violence of a Gnostic allegorical and symbolic approach. This selection will be amended and expanded from time to time.

+ Mark Aelred, Circle of the Free Spirit


The traditional history of Christianity is that Literalism took the world by storm, whilst Christian Gnosticism remained a minor heritical fringe movement. This is nonsense, Christian Literalism was initially a minor school of Christianity which developed in Rome towards the end of the second century. By this time Christian Gnosticism was an international movement which had spread throughout much of the Meditteranean, flourishing in cosmopolitan cities such as Alexandria, Edessa, Antioch, Epheseus, and Rome. . . .As Literalists grew more powerful, so did their vitriolic attacks on all other Christian schools. In response, Christian Gnostics condemend Literalists for establishing an 'imitation Church' which no longer taught the secret Inner Mysteries.

- Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians (2001), pp. 41-2


The Bible is the most controversial book in print. It has done an immense amount of good. At the same time, it probably has caused more damage than any other book in human history. Thiat may seem like a shocking statement from a Franciscan, Catholic priest, but if you look at history, you can see how many Christians acted in oppressive, stupid and rigid ways in the name of Jesus and the gospel. That's because they didn't really understand what Jesus was up to.

- Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (1996), p. vii


Eusebius, the orthodox fourth-century church historian, expressly states that Jesus was hostile toward animal sacrifice:

He [Jesus] left no command that God should be honored with sacrifices of bulls or the slaughter of unreasoning animals, with flood, fire, or the incense of earthly things. He thought these mean and lowly, and in no way worthy of the immortal nature of God. (Proof of the Gospel 3.3; emphasis added)

Eusebius than proceeds to quote approvingly from Porphyry's On Abstinence from Animal Food and from the Theology of Apollonius of Tyana, two books by well-known ancient pagan authors, who also objected to animal sacrifice (and were vegetarian). Eusebius points out their opposition to animal sacrifice and their vegetarianism, and then rhetorically asks:

If there is agreement on these things among the outstanding philosophers and theologians of the Greeks, how could Christ be a deceiver? (Proof of the Gospel 3.3)

-Keith Akers, The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity (2000), p. 121


"The Ebionites ('the poor,' name of the Jewish Christians) of the 2nd and 3rd centuries have sharpened the Mosaic law considerably and made it more extreme with their principled vegetarianism, the command of poverty and the community of goods, as well as their rigorous cathartic -- they eliminated as being 'false pericopes' first the bloody animal sacrifices, then the institution of the Israeli kingship, then the false prophecies in scripture, those which had not occurred, and finally the anthropomorphic descriptions of God, which had been pushed in afterwards into the Torah of Moses." (Hans-Joachim Schoeps, "Die ebionitische Warheit des Chirstentums," Deutches Pfarrerblatt, 1, 2, 1953, p. 50.)

- Quoted in The Forgotten Beginnings of Creation and Christianity, by Carl Anders Skriver, (1990, Keith Akers translation of 1977 German edition), p. 147


Jesus was the son of Joseph and was exactly like all other human beings, though superior to the others insofar as his spirit, strong and pure, remembered what it had seen in the sphere of the uncreated God.

- Carpocrates of Alexandria (c. 130 CE) Beyond the accusations of the heresy-hunters, little is known about this Hellenic Gnostic with decidedly antinomian and libertine views. But it is known that Carpocrates, along with his son Ephipanes and their community, expounded a Christology that is surprisingly similar to the more puritanical Ebionites. This indicates that Carpocrates may have had access to the original apostolic tradition.

Ebionites, along with Carpocratians, rejected any literal or historic interpretation of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus (as the quote above indicates). This rejection does not prevent one from appreciating the traditional Christmas story as a powerful symbol of the virgin birth of Christ consciousness in the human heart. As such, it communicates truth in a mythic or Gnostic way.

Both Carpocratians and Ebionites believed that the spirit of Jesus reincarnated many times on the way to perfection. This Christology does not erect a wall between the actualized or conscious Christhood of Jesus and the potential or unconscious Christhood of all beings. As such, for the Ebionites, all beings are to be respected and revered -- not burned at the stake or upon the altar.

Carpocratians and Ebionites, like early Christians in general, rejected elitism, slavery, and absolute private property, which were Roman norms, and extolled the blessings of sharing wealth, resources, and land in common. This is further evidence that they shared a common apostolic tradition, one that perhaps goes centuries back, via the Essenes, to Pythagoras, the first self-described "Philosopher" or "Lover of Sophia" (Wisdom) who taught similar views.

While Carpocratians emphasized freedom and Ebionites emphasized non-violence, both ideals are part of early Christianity. And both emphasized the salvific role of spiritual "knowledge" or
Gnosis. Even today, the three go hand-in-hand.


Perceive the difference between religion and the cant of religion; piety and the pretence of piety; a humble reverence for the great truths of Scripture and an audacious and offensive obtrusion of its letter and not its spirit in the commonest dissensions and meanest affairs of life. The latter is here satirized as being, according to all experience, inconsistent with the former, impossible of union with it, and one of the most evil and mischievous falsehoods existent in society. ... It is never out of season to protest against that coarse familiarity with sacred things which is busy on the lip and idle in the heart, or the confounding of Christianity with any class of persons who ... have just enough religion to make them hate, and not enough to make them love, one another.

– Charles Dickens, Preface to The First Cheap Edition, The Pickwick Papers, 1847


Today, it is often claimed that in the past the Bible was "misused" or "misinterpreted" to support slavery. But... both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament contain passages that explicitly approve of slavery, while there is no passage that condemns slavery or says that it ought to be abolished.... Therefore, anyone who believes that animal exploitation is ethically acceptable because the Bible approves of it should, if they are to be consistent in their use of the Bible, also believe that human slavery is ethically acceptable -- not to mention ethnic cleansing, genocide, and rape.

- Norm Phelps, The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible (2002) pp. 21-2

The author, however, is writing a book that reveals another tradition found in the Bible, a

... message of universal love and compassion, that led the crusade against human slavery until it was abolished in the nineteenth century... That same Word of God can also inspire us to challenge the prejudice born in the corrupt pleasure we take in our power over nonhuman animals. Our synagogues and churches can, and should, lead the crusade against animal slavery and slaughter just as they once led the crusade against human slavery and segregation. (p. 22).

Approaching scripture selectively -- picking and choosing -- was practiced by the first Christians, both Jewish and Gentile -- by the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Gnostics, and others. In a world torn by religous and material strife, by competing forms of literalism, intolerance, and fanaticism, such an approach is needed now more than ever. Not just for our sake, but for the sake of Mother Earth and all her children.


Mortal thought will always crucify Truth, so when an individual appears who catches the vision of this Truth, this Christ, and is identified with It, the way for his crucifixion is being paved. Probably no one caught the vision of oneness more than did Jesus, and because he was identified with it, the ecclesiasticism of that day thought that in crucifiying him, it would be rid of the troublesome truth he caught. I do not see that the Cruficifixion was necessary for the world, any more than were the later persecutions of saints an mystics. The commonly accepted teaching in the orthodox churches today that Jesus had to die that we might be saved is only a carry-over from the old Hebrew teaching that sacrifices of unblemished animals were required by God. Such a teaching would make of God a tyrant.

- Joel S. Goldsmith, God, the Substance of All Form (1962), pp. 92-3.

In other words, don't take the scriptures literally, unless you want a bloodthirtsy tyrant for a God.


Religious image and scripture are metaphorical not literal; they need to be perceived wisely as poetic allegory, not as concrete fact. All religions, without exception, are time-fettered attempts to communicate with (and label) the inexpressible. Once you grasp this, you automatically move into a stance where you look for what you have in common with other religious expressions. If, however, you read your own religion as "prose" instead of as poetry, you automatically demonize others whose religious images conflict with your own deeply held beliefs.

- David Goddard, Tree of Sapphires: The Enlightened Qabalah (2004), p. 1


Most of the atrocities committed by the Church and its more rabid followers down through the ages have been directly inspired by literalist thinking. The lies, for example, behind all the anti-Jewish bigotry and hatred that has so tragically marked the history of Christianity almost from its inception, and that culminated in the Holocaust. The Church did not kill six million Jews, obviously. But centuries of a literal reading of the Passion narratives -- expecially the words, in Matthew, "His blood be upon us and our children" -- and the anti-Jewish teachings of a continuous train of Christian theologians down to and including Martin Luther himself, made it possible for the Holocaust to occur. Even at present, hatred toward Jews, homosexuals, Muslims, and others is still being encouraged in some quarters by extreme biblical literalists. . . We will never have peace on earth as long as literalism controls religions.

- Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light (2004), p. 186


The historical violence of Christianity towards non-Christians is also due, in part, to the example of ancient Judaism. The Old Testament notoriously sanctions violence against worshippers of other gods, and the books of the Old Testament form part of the Christian Bible. There were, however, some early Christians who believed that there was so great a discrepancy betweeen the religious and moral teaching of the Old Testament and that of the New that they could not have issued from the same divine source. One such Christian was Marcion, the founder of Marcionism, who lived and taught in Rome in the middle of the second century and whose teachings spread to many parts of the Roman empire. . . .

Had other Christians cut themselves loose from the Old Testament, as Marcion and his followers did, or had Constantine patronized the Marcionites instead of the Catholics (an unlikely event in view of the kind of church for which he was looking) the history of Christianity, and with it the history of Europe, may well have been different. As it was, the Old Testament was accepted along with the New, and its sanctioning of violence in the interests of religion helped reinforce Christianity's intolerance of religious difference. This has led me, as a Buddhist, to reflect that the history of Buddhism, and with it the history of Asia, would have been very different had the Vedic literature been bound up in a single volume, so to speak, with the Dialogues of the Buddha, so that Buddhists had a choice between performing animal sacrifices, as enjoined by the Vedas, and developing goodwill (metta) towards all living beings, as taught by the Buddha. Fortunately, this never happened, and rarely in the history of Buddhism has theology been allowed to subvert ethics or dogma to disrupt the natural solidarity between one human being and another.

- Sangharakshita, From Genesis to the Diamond Sutra (2005), pp. 117-8


Just as "you are what you eat" so too "you are what you worship." Ideas have consequences. Ideas have psychological consequences, societal consequences, and spiritual consequences. If the god you and your sect worship is a petty, angry, egotistical, mercurial, raging, murdering, irrational despot that is what you and the members of your sect will eventually become. . . . If the god you worship shifts the blame for the woeful condition of the kosmos it fashioned onto your narrow shoulders, and tells you that you are born sinful, wicked, and fit only for hellfire and damnation, your inner self will be fragmented and burdened with terrible guilt and self-loathing. Psychoanalysis (modern psychiatry) was born in the midst of the Christian civilization for this very reason.

- Nathaniel J. Merritt, Jehovah Unmasked! The True Identity of the Bible-God Revealed (2005), p. 132

However, Christian civilization does not have a monopoly on this god of wrath and damnation.


The temple [in Jerusalem] is the central symbol in the Gospel of Mark because it is the focul point of the passion. All the action leading up to the death of Jesus (chaps. 11-15) takes place either in relation to the temple or in the temple precinct itself. The account of the passion begins with the "cleansing" of the temple (chap. 11), pivots on the prophecy of its destruction (chap. 13), and summarizes the false accusations against Jesus at his "trial" before the Sanhedrin in the claim that he threatened to destroy the temple (14:58). Jesus dies as a result of a conflict with the temple.

The driving out of the money changers and victim mongers, usually referred to as the "cleansing" of the temple (11:15-19), seals his fate. It is an act of prophetic symbolism that declares the end of the sacrificial system, and it is the most fruitful point of departure for an understanding of Mark's Gospel.

The Gospel of Mark was probably written in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 C. E. It sees that destruction as a judgement on the kind of religion represented by the temple. Traditional anthropology designates this kind of religion as the manifestation and service of the "Sacred." This is the sense in which I use the term Sacred, and I see it as the source of the ordering powers of society. The place of the Sacred is the place of sacrifice and it provides the center of a topology of significance because it is the pivot of sacred space around which the community is topographically and psychologically organized. The "cleansing" of the temple is a symbol of the rejection of the Sacred and the denial of its place at the center of significance. Significance from now on is eccentric; there is to be no holy city, no holy land, and, by implication, no chosen people. In Christ all are chosen for salvation and so no one is especially chosen.

- Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark (1994),
pp. 1-2.

The distinction between sacred and secular is maintained by violence (blood sacrifice). It is also a false dualism. A similar insight into this false dualism was expressed by Swami Vivekananda:

If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realization. No distinction henceforth between sacred and secular. . . . Life is itself religion.

May I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls -- and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, of all species, is the special object of my worship.

- Swami Vivekananda, quoted in Meditation on Swami Vivekananda by Swami Tathagatananda (1994), p. 47 & 50

And quoted here on July 4, 2008, in honor of Swami Vivekananda (January 12, 1863 - July 4, 1902)

First Posting: October 20, 2006

Updated: July 4, 2008