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Know nothings

Popular fiction, feminist scholarship, and even Christians' false piety have helped revive the ancient Gnostic heresy -- perfect timing for a new manual for worldview thinking

Know nothings
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THE DA VINCI CODE BY DAN BROWN has sold more than 7 million copies in a little over a year. That sets a record for sales within a one-year period, so that its publisher can claim that the book is the biggest-selling adult novel of all time.

The book is indeed a thriller, hard to put down, with its exciting action, twists and turns, and unfolding puzzles. But this work of fiction puts forward certain ideas as true, and a good number of readers are accepting them as true: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and their bloodline continues to this day. His true teachings had to do with the worship of "the sacred feminine." The church suppressed His message with its patriarchal institutions and dogmatic theology, twisting the teachings of Jesus into an oppressive, life-denying system of harsh moral rules, the subjugation of women, the repression of sexual freedom, and sinister conspiracies to control society. Traces of the true Christian goddess worship can be found throughout the history of Western art, literature, and architecture, because the true faith has been preserved by an elite secret society.

All of these assertions are just false. They are ably refuted in works like Cracking the Da Vinci Code by James L. Garlon and Peter Jones and Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock. Even secular historians know these claims are nonsense. (No, Jesus did not get married; His bride is the Church. No, there were not 80 other gospels written earlier than those that made it into the New Testament. No, the Emperor Constantine did not compile the Bible. No, the Priory of Zion is not an ancient society; it was started in the 1800s. You can say a confident "No" to just about every claim made by Mr. Brown.)

But this novel, with its enormous popularity, is just one attempt, in the words of postmodernist jargon, to deconstruct Christianity and to reconstruct it into a completely different religion.

The Da Vinci Code draws on mythology that has been current in occult and New Age circles for years, but they all draw on the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. As Mr. Garlon and Mr. Jones show in their exposé of the novel, The Da Vinci Code draws very specifically on Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.

Gnostic myths reject the objective, created order in favor of an inner-directed secret knowledge. Since the creation is evil, so is the Creator, so the Gnostics turn the Old Testament upside down: God is attacked as a cruel, oppressive deity, while the serpent in the garden and Satan himself are seen as the good guys. Christ is not God in the flesh who died on the Cross but a mystical avatar who gives knowledge to the spiritual elite. Since the physical body doesn't matter, sexual immorality is not problematic, and gender distinctions are illusions.

Today, feminist theologians are trying to bring back Gnosticism, thinking that it makes possible a higher view of women. In doing so, they are putting out seemingly scholarly works that repeat the howlers of Dan Brown's fiction. According to Elaine Pagels, a theologian at Princeton University, the Gnostics were an authentic expression of early Christianity. They were suppressed by the early church because of their enlightened treatment of women, and the church fathers constructed the creeds of orthodoxy in order to silence the Gnostics and keep women in line. Like Mr. Brown, Ms. Pagels believes Christianity is simply a construction to keep a patriarchal, oppressive system in power, and they both advocate a revival of Gnosticism to take Christianity's place.

Another contemporary apologist for Gnosticism, the literary critic Harold Bloom, says that Gnosticism has already taken Christianity's place. Mr. Bloom wrote a book titled The American Religion. That religion, according to him, is not Christianity but Gnosticism. He makes the point that the religions and denominations that grew up on American soil tend to be experiential, nondoctrinal, and highly individualistic -- marks, he says, of Gnosticism. In his historical survey of American religious figures, he finds other specific marks of Gnostic mythology. The heroes of his book, those who are most Gnostic according to his analysis, are Mormons and liberal Southern Baptists.

Whether or not Mr. Bloom is right, it is certainly true that we are experiencing a Gnostic revival today. The current postmodernist worldview, which rejects objective truth in favor of the notion that truth is nothing more than a construction of the mind, is itself intrinsically Gnostic. This ideology lies behind Ms. Pagels's scholarship: Historic Christianity, she assumes, is a construction. Following the tenets of feminist post-Marxism, she further believes that such constructions and their imposition on others are what they are simply to give power to one group (such as white, heterosexual males) and to keep other groups (such as minorities, women, and homosexuals) under their control.

These ideas are also explicitly maintained in The Da Vinci Code, which also explains why Mr. Brown and Ms. Pagels feel so free to make things up, in defiance of all objective evidence. If you are a Gnostic who does not believe the objective world really exists and that all truths are mere constructions, you can construct "truths" of your own to advance your power agenda. There really is no difference between fact and fiction. It is all fiction.

And if Christians have unwittingly succumbed to the Gnostic heresy, it is more urgent than ever that they learn what the biblical worldview really is and the difference that worldview makes as Christians live in the world.

Thus, a new book by Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway), comes at the perfect time.

Christians have been learning to attend to "worldviews" -- both the non-Christian ones that surround them (lest their thinking be distorted by the culture), and the Christian one (so they can apply biblical truth to all of life and be a positive influence on that culture). Exactly what this entails, though, and how to apply worldview thinking in practical terms have not always been clear. Total Truth makes this clear. On one level, this book is a lucid, easy-to-understand manual for worldview thinking. But it also breaks new ground in worldview analysis.

Ms. Pearcey, who studied under Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri in Switzerland, applies his thinking in some insightful new ways. She demonstrates how and why the artificial distinctions between "facts and values," "public and private," have driven Christianity out of the external, objective world of "real life." To the point that today, Christianity is seen both by opponents and adherents as nothing more than a personal, interior preference, something that exists only inside a person's head.

She shows how Christians themselves cooperated in their own marginalization with a false piety centered in personal experience rather than objective truth. She shows how it is, for instance, that faculty members in a Christian college can say that they believe in the doctrine of Creation while, at the same time, teaching evolution in their classrooms. They affirm creation as a "value," an inner conviction that gives them a sense of private meaning. They affirm evolution as a "fact," an objective, scientific explanation. The two realms are completely separate. Their acceptance of scientific materialism makes no dent in their personal faith. And their personal faith has nothing to say about the objective world.

Ms. Pearcey ranges far and wide, from the history of ideas to contemporary issues faced by Christians today. She has an extensive section on Intelligent Design, the critique of Darwinism with which she has particular expertise. She shows how nearly every non-Christian worldview can be untangled by simply applying the Christian paradigm of Creation (what does this worldview think is the origin of the world?), the Fall (what does this worldview think is the source of human problems?), and Redemption (what does this worldview think is the solution that would put things right?).

She deals with gender issues. (Men have been consigned to the public sphere of brutal but meaningless facts; women have been seen as the source of inner, humanizing values. Trying to go from one realm to the other, without the biblical wholeness, gives us the feminization of the church, feminists who try to be masculine, and men who are alternatively macho and wimpy.)

She deals with apologetics and the culture wars, evangelism, and genuine Christian spirituality. She also shows how Christianity can be brought back into the external world once again. And for all of its intellectual and theological sophistication, Total Truth is written in a way that the average layperson will understand and appreciate.

The total truth of Christianity is far superior in every way to the total fabrications of postmodern Gnosticism.

Gene Edward Veith Gene is a former WORLD culture editor.


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