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Spandrel: Teaching God to Behave Itself


…Christian Gnosticism is interesting to me because it posits that the world was not created by a perfect being with perfect omniscience and omnibenevolence, but rather (in some versions of the story) by Yaldabaoth, the misbegotten creation of Sophia, one of the Emanations of God furthest from the perfect Pleroma where God him(it?)self dwells. Yaldabaoth, also called the Demiurge, is the first mis-creation in this world, and therefore fancies himself a God over all the parts of creation that come after him. [From a Buddhist perspective, this makes him the most deluded being in the universe given that he not only fails to realize that he too is marked by impermanence, but in fact claims to be the only being not subject to birth and death.]

Since, from the Gnostic perspective, the world contains evil because it was created by an imperfect being, the answer to “why does God let bad things happen to good people” is (partially!) resolved: God lets bad things happen to good people because 1. the being we’re calling God isn’t really God, and 2. that being is partially himself evil. Or, at least, deluded or ignorant and so not omnibenevolent since not omniscient.

This also means that in some instances Gnostic thought posited that spirit, since it ultimately still does come from God (the real one, not Yaldabaoth) is good, and the material world created by the Demiurge is therefore entirely bad. Here I part ways with the Gnostics.

Some positions in Gnosticism also posit that the Demiurge (Yaldabaoth) is actively evil or antagonistic. I think this is too simple. It’s a much more interesting situation if the Demiurge isn’t good or evil but maybe blind, ignorant, impaired or deluded somehow. Then, I think, we can do something about it by engaging with the world.

Nietzsche argued that in his attempt to “make room for faith,” Kant assassinated God without having the guts to declare himself the killer. (See also Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment – the “pale criminal,” indeed). When Nietzsche’s Zarathustra comes down to the Spotted Cow and wonders that the townsfolk fail to realize that God is dead, the ramifications of Kant’s wordy stiletto-thrust have yet to make themselves fully felt. No one seems to get it, no one seems to care that something momentous has happened. Instead, the last men “blink.”

What if God is not dead – if he was ever alive at all – but rather, blind, groping, maybe crippled or confused? What if Nietzsche mistook the death of an image of God – the late-Medieval perfect and omniscient God of a rationally ordered cosmos with a hierarchical chain of being built in to it – for the end of the possibility of God as a kind of structural point, like the “it” in “it is raining;” an asymptote, or a singularity that allows for the possibility of relations with it, but is not itself a real object?

The job, if God is not dead but ignorant or deluded, would be to teach him how to behave through our own actions and example. If humans have free will despite the cosmos having been mis-made, then we can freely choose to look back at God and say, “pay attention. I’ll show you how it’s done.”