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The Gnostic Paul; heresy, secrecy, Christ myth, entheogens, fatedness

Book: The Gnostic Paul.  Elaine Pagels.  1975.

This is a key book to provide a different view than the dominant one.

A great principle for discernment is this negative technique: look at the theology that the "Church Fathers" insisted on, and list all the ideas they are most concerned with rejecting as heresy.  The points the Church Fathers insist on are the core principles of all that is false, deluded, and a lie.  The heresies they hate, or the heresy, is the truth.  This book makes it clear what the Church Fathers affirmed and rejected, and what the Valentinian gnostics asserted and rejected.

The great news The Gnostic Paul represents to me is that all the theological ideas divide very cleanly into two groups, which matches what the holy spirit revealed directly to me the day I reached the fork in the road, where I saw a choice bifurcate in vision-logic space: either I could hang onto certain premises and remain in a magic muddle, or firmly reject those premises and have everything fall into simple clarity and integrated sense.

The book The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels has a lot to offer for the Christ-myth theory.  The book explains the Valentinian gnostic reading of Paul's early epistles.  "Jews" means literalists, the uninitiated, lower Christians.  "Greeks" means spiritualists, the initiated, higher Christians.  Paul encouraged the higher Christians to feel united or married with the lower Christians.

The book would greatly benefit from a 2-column listing of the ideas the Valentinians associated with the higher and lower Christians.  As a philosopher and theorist of ego death who is looking for a rational reading of the Christian scriptures, I agree with everything that falls into the group of ideas the Valentinians associated with higher Christians, and I disagree with all the ideas that fall into the group of ideas the Valentinians associated with lower Christians.

The two sets of doctrines -- the book The Gnostic Paul divides the religious ideas as follows, from the Valentinian reading of Paul's early writings:


Higher Christians

Lower Christians


The religion of Heresy

Early Paul

The Truth, wisdom, enlightenment

The initiated, adults

A secret mystery is revealed to some apostles, but not to other apostles

The sacrament of apolytrosis (apo- can mean after-, post-, and separate redemption) in addition to common eucharist


Spiritual freedom from moral codes -- but metaphysical determinism/fatedness, predestined election

Reject idea of responsible moral agency and idea of our culpability of sin/guilt

The apple was a gift of gnosis

All blame is placed on the Ground, not us

No death on the Cross (it was mythic and could be seen as a pseudo-death)

Sacrifice is mythic, mental, conceptual, a mental experience

No bodily resurrection

Mythic Christ

Belief in higher and lower Christians (with a principled respect for the lower)

No point in moral-reward heaven or moral-punishment hell

We are spirits, controlled by God


The Orthodox religion

Peter, The Church Fathers and their forged later Paul

The Lie, error, darkness, foolishness

The uninitiated, children

No secret mystery; all apostles have authority through simple ordinary seeing of miraculous resurrection

The common eucharist, only

Salvation, baptism

Spiritual enslavement to morality -- with delusion of free will and choosing faith oneself

Belief in responsible moral agency and our culpability for sin/guilt

All blame is placed on us

The apple was bad

Jesus died on the Cross

Sacrifice is bodily, bloody, magically effective, physical

Bodily resurrection

Supernaturalist Jesus

Disbelief in higher level of Christianity -- to obtain unity and harmony of the Church

Moral-reward heaven and moral-punishment hell exist, for the responsible agent/soul

We are souls, controlled by ourselves


Each point I listed above should have page references to Pagel's book to prove that the ideas break out this way in her book.

An important reason why Christ-myth scholars should read this book is that Pagels shows how to read the scriptures in a 2-valued ambiguous way, where the meaning deliberately toggles between two distinct readings.  It's not just that Paul was misinterpreted; Paul deliberately wrote in an encoded, ambiguous way that flips between the two conceptual systems.  If people were confused, it is because Paul meant for them to be confused and carefully chose his words so that they could support both readings: literal and spiritual.  The epistles were written as encoded mysteries and should be read as such.

I suspect that Paul deliberately wanted to withhold the higher view from the uninitiated, to protect and preserve the delusion of the ego just as we protect children and just as the Greek mystery religions forbade, by punishment of death, publically revealing the things shown in the mysteries.  So he wrote in a way that would be read in a supernatural, Literalist way but could be read as a non-supernatural, mystery-religion, mystic allegory.

Associating truth and error with Biblical characters

This book, supported by others I've read, clearly divides theological doctrines and philosophies into two distinct camps: that of Peter, and that of the authentic Pauline and the Johannine (without the later-added ending of John, possibly moved from Mark).  I understand "John" as possibly an epithet for Mary Magdalene.  I'm not sure where James fits -- does he have full understanding of the truth?  So the characters are clearly falling into this division:

Those who understand truth:

Early Paul


Mary Magdalene


Those who do not understand truth:


Later "Paul"


(Pagels in this book does not discuss John or Mary.)

From what I know so far, I'd prefer calling these two positions "Mary Magdalene" and "Peter".  But since I'm just coming down from having read this book, I'll call the positions "Early Paul vs. Peter".  I could also call them "Early Paul vs. Later Paul", understanding the first as authentic and the later as a Church Fathers' attempt to refute the earlier wisdom.

The strongest feeling I have -- the rock of certainty -- is that Peter represents everything that is false in Christianity.  Peter is the foundation of the Church of Error and The Lie.  Peter is a very simple story: he is all fallacy, all error.  The book The Unfinished Gospel explains that the book of John was originally entirely anti-Peter.  Mark was pro-Peter.  To make the book of John seem pro-Peter, the Church Fathers moved the pro-Peter ending from Mark to John, where it artificially sits while leaving Mark without an ending (our oldest Mark manuscripts lack any mention of the Resurrection).

Also, I can read early Paul as implying that only the mind is real; the physical world is an illusion projected by the mind.  That's a principle I'm considering for core inclusion in my Theory of transcendent mental phenomena, though I think ideas about the material realm are less important than ideas of time and agency.

Why Keep Mysteries Secret?

The greatest question raised by The Gnostic Paul is, why did Paul not initiate everyone?  Why did Paul keep higher knowledge secret; why did he, like the other Greeks, refrain from publically revealing the mystery? 

My hypothesis, compatible with this book, is the agape theory: the Greeks had profoundly mixed feelings about awakening to the tyranny of fatedness, to the preset and even preexistent future (so to speak).  Just as today's American culture refrains from teaching children about sex, and protects them in a bubble of a special childhood innocence, so also, I think, Greeks valued the innocent delusion of the uninitiated who were so unrefined as to actually believe in metaphysical free will.  It was painfully obvious and terrifyingly vivid to the Greeks that they lacked metaphysical free will, that their futures were fixed, predetermined, closed, and preexistent, like a jail.

3 key points defining my Theory or The Heresy:  The Christ Myth, Entheogens, and Fatedness

It is crucial for me to distinguish my views from those of other thinkers.  I found 3 concepts that immediately place protective distance between my theory and others' theories of spiritual enlightenment.

I could provide citations to support the following, including Pagels' book (Romans 9:18, page 38, a main controvery between heretics and orthodox was the question of free will; the heretics say salvation is not in our power.)    Reading this book, I learned to distinguish my favored ideas from others' by asking, "What theological ideas would utterly go against the religion created by the Church Fathers?"  Radical determinism would utterly undermine their religion of guilt, bloody punishment, and repeated bodily killing, and infinitely extended reward and punishment for the moral agent.  I agree with Calvinism insofar as it moves away from the Catholic assertion of our personal moral agency -- I part with Calvinism by taking it all the way: because our moral power is utterly null and our salvation or damnation is predetermined by God's omnipotence, there is no reason to retain (as Calvin does) belief in moral-reward heaven or moral-punishment hell.  I unabashedly do the unthinkable and blame God/Ground/Self for evil -- we're just vehicles that were timelessly steered and driven by his power at the moment all spacetime was created.  The Church insists on moral agency and sin, against the heretics -- therefore I, with the Valentinians, reject moral agency and being culpable of guilt.


The dark ages must have been so dark that when Calvinism awoke and rebelled against the Catholic doctrine of egoic moral agency, Calvinism illogically or habitually retained heaven and hell, which are the places of eternal moral punishment and reward, though it rejected all possibility of meriting such reward or punishment, having denied works as moral achievement and having rejected our ability to generate our belief in Jesus by our own effort.



I propose that the one thing the Greek civilization wished for the most was the impossible: metaphysical free will -- genuine personal responsible moral agency, sovereignty, authorship over one's own will.  All the educated Greeks had the direct experience of being killed as egos by time and Fate.  The Greeks honored and cherished the foolish, childish belief in moral agency and sovereign free will just as we now cherish the innocent fantasies of childhood.  I suppose the idea love in Greek culture was not between man and man, but rather, between the initiated and the uninitiated.


Early Paul talks about the relation of the initiated and the uninitiated in terms of the metaphorical relation between man and woman.  The one thing the Greeks longed for the most was metaphysical free will, moral agency, personal sovereignty, and an open future -- logically garbled and impossible fantasies that only the uninitiated were able to believe in.


Having read The Gnostic Paul and glanced at some pop Gnostic sites, I can now identify a few principles that immediately distance me from everyone else, to distinguish the truth and reject the common lies of pop spirituality:


o  There is no historical Jesus, and the story of him tells of a swoon, a pseudo-death comparable with the aborted sacrifice of Isaac.

o  We do not have metaphysical free will; we are helpless puppets, or frozen worldlines with essentially a preset, closed, preexistent future.

o  Entheogens are the primary path to gnosis; other approaches are secondary; Christ's flesh is the entheogenic plant.


I could add: there is no supernatural -- but that's implicit and so many people already agree, it doesn't distinguish me beyond the above.  If there is no Jesus and no genuine moral agency, the orthodox story of moral-reward heaven and moral-punishment hell collapses as irrelevant nonsense designed to prop up the lie of egoic agency.  I could also specify that my concept of fatedness is distinct from conventional reductionist, atomic-level determinism.


Those 3 principles together distinguish me from 99% of all theorists of the transcendent.  Few Christians have heard of the Christ myth theory, few people know of the entheogenic theory of the origin of religions, and everyone assumes that enlightenment provides freedom rather than an awakening into metaphysical enslavement.


The last point above leads to the problem of recovering our effective, virtual, apparent personal power after it has been humbled and sacrificed.  The religious myths celebrate such a resurrection that can't originate in our own egoic effort but can only be given to us as a gift by God or the Ground of Being.  We find a scepter handed to us and a crown placed on our heads after the great ego crash and reboot, but our new rulership is now understood as only virtual, apparent, partial or shared rulership.  Before, I thought I was sole sovereign ruler.  Know I know I am co-ruler with the Ground or the God of the Ground, the God who controls Fate or is ruler of Fate, and ruler over time.



Mistakes made by theorists in various groups:


o  The Christ-myth theorists reject all supernatural aspects of Christianity, but are left with no entheogen and no explanation of many difficulties, and no awareness of all the controversies and Mystery-related questions.


o  The entheogen theorists make the mistake of assuming the Historical Jesus view (Jesus existed, and was a fantastically amazing moral and mystical teacher, though not supernatural).  They stop there and lack the full shocking and stunning revelation of fatedness and its ramifications.  Some may philosophically accept determinism, but not in the relevant way for grasping the ramifications.

You need all the main pieces to form the distinct Theory I am defining: Jesus didn't exist, Christ exists in the entheogen, and the entheogen presents a certain Christ rescuer as a solution for the problem of ego death and fatedness.  We have to get rid of the supernatural *and* the irrelevant/distracting bodily Jesus, *and* adopt the entheogen, *and* consider the entheogen to be the vehicle for the holy spirit -- part of God -- *and* include the philosophy of ego death and rebirth, *including* the mythic/mystic/philosophical concept of Christ as mental sacrifice of ego to rescue and practically restabilize the ego. 

This list of requirements explains why *none* of the previous scholars has hit upon the potent complete core set of ideas yet.  Those theorists either lack the entheogen, or the philosophical insight, or the critical distinction between the vulgar, bodily "Jesus" idea and the higher, profound "Christ" idea.

Because Pagels so clearly divides the contested theological concepts into the Peter group and the Early Paul group, I could see that all the ideas I reject are on Peter's side, along with the Church Fathers, whom I despise as prohibitionists, and that all the ideas I embrace are on Early Paul's side, which is to say, Valentinius' side.  An enemy of the Church Fathers is an enemy of mine. 

I agree wonderfully with the Valentinian gnostic views -- but why keep the Mystery secret?

The point that most mystifies me about these Valentinian Gnostics is, why would you ever want to vow to not reveal the mystery to the uninitiated?  James Arthur in Mushrooms and Mankind has clearly condemned inner circle mysteries as being associated with the evil power-mongers who seek to gather all power to themselves through abusive and oppressive means. 

Assuming Early Paul and the Valentinians and the Greeks (whom we so worship in dumb awe for their mysteries) were all fully enlightened... why then did they declare the death penalty for revealing the mysteries to the uninitiated?  That's the only point at which I balk from joining these mystery groups -- and I have a reasonable theory supported by Wilber's agape idea, that God (the Self) *loves* and cherishes separation, and separation is necessarily delusion.  To protect the beloved woman or child that is the fantasy of free will and personal moral agency held by the innocent and naive, the fully mature mind must be like the mind of God, who *chose* to lose himself in the apparent separateness of separate selves -- this is the love held by the One for the Many; the central fire loves the sparks. 

So the mystery is preserved and kept from the uninitiated for their own good and health as deluded egos -- why do we tell children about Santa Clause as a literal person instead of a mythic tradition from Siberia?  Why do we enjoy and love the innocent limited and bounded world of the child, and work so hard to protect their innocence that we sometimes seem to run our whole culture, even stunting the adult freedoms, claiming we do it "for the good of the children"?  Paul, with the rest of the civilized Greek culture except perhaps for Socrates, chose to protect the deluded feeling of free will by keeping the fact of puppethood hidden, occluded, obscured, covered up.  This is next on my list of research: why did Greek culture treat possession of initiation like possession of a loaded weapon that was a grave threat to society?

Society is based on a lie that every educated person admits is a lie: the lie of moral responsible agency, as though we author our own future and can simply be held accountable for what the Fates have already woven for us like a vein in a rock -- as though we can come out of and thus be born out of the rock of the spacetime block, becoming free and independent lords over it.  Publically admitting and revealing the truth that we are helpless fate-puppets would threaten the legal fabric of civilization -- *that* is what is so preciously delicate about civilization.  The Moral Law and moral agency that the Jews took as legitimate strengthens the delusion of egoic power and metaphysical freedom.  (Ref: Mystery Religions - Angus; Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece, The Mysteries [ed. Campbell].)

But then the lie of the Law, the delusion of the physicalist, literalist worshippers of the Moral Law, took over and ran rampant and roughshod over culture, in the form of the Christian Church - worshipper of egoic moral agency, suppresser of the entheogenic source of ego death and weary wise knowledge of fate's tyranny.  That is the choice we have: the ego delusion (the lie, error), versus fate's tyranny (the closed future, the reduction to puppet or slave status, as mere controlled controllers, authored authors, and programmed programmers).

For several years, I struggled to conquer the problem of re-understanding Christianity in terms of entheogen-triggered ego death and related phenomena and philosophical insights about mental phenomena.  What could the Jesus story really mean, given these philosophical revelations about the mind, revealed by the entheogenic holy spirit?  Finally, with books such as Strange Fruit, Apples of Apollo, The Christ Myth, and The Gnostic Paul, the pieces have come together and I now have essentially a complete entheogenic theory and theology of the Christ myth, combined with an unusually simple, stark, yet unimpeachable theory of spacetime, determinism, and control agency.

These revelations about the Early versus Later Paul, and the way they perfectly lined up with the points of my theory as against the supernaturalist scheme, theology, and value system of the Church Fathers, act as the final major piece of the puzzle, the puzzle of making entheogenic *and* philosophical sense out of the earliest forms of Christianity.  I can account for the origin of Christianity and the debates and the rewritings of scripture to force it from simple metaphysical coherence as a rational Mystery into a supernaturalist fantasy propping up the impossible lie of moral responsibility and metaphysical freedom.

I'm just in time to publish before the U.S. economy weakens, psychoactive drugs are legalized (prohibition is just too expensive, at $20 billion a year only to exacerbate the problems), and there is to be no more Mystery.  Do I really want to swing the metaphysical sword, deliver the Bad News, that there is no metaphysical freedom, that the future is closed, and undermine the legal lie of egoic responsibility upon which our false civilization is constructed?  Well, this responsibility-destroying conceptual system is just a Theory, but when combined with the entheogen, it does lead to the most phenomenal experience of all, ego death -- and some acedia and despair that disturbed the wise but Fate-weary Greeks, from which they needed the catharsis of the dramatizations such as Oedipus trying to elude his ineluctable fate.

Don't say I'm being too subtle and profound.  The theory I expound is based on the principle of radical simplicity and least effort, finding the least complicated view to defend.  The Greeks considered ego death so obvious, keeping it a secret (to preserve the civilized lie of responsible egoic agency) was a constant challenge and was strictly enforced in the courts: if you reveal our conventional, legal lie in public, we'll eliminate you like we did Socrates.  (The theory of Socrates' crime being revealing the mysteries is so fitting, it hardly matters whether it happens to be true.)

I bring maturity and ego death, and people don't entirely like that new status, an abrupt but halting revolution.  Shall we retreat back down into the lie of Moral Law and egoic sovereign power?  Can we have a civilization, with a legal system of responsibility, with a clear theory that denies metaphysical responsible agency, with access to entheogens to drive that point home via direct experience of ego-killing block-universe Unity?

Ken Wilber has written some innovative comments on altered states recently (Integral Psychology, A Theory of Everything).  A peak experience is interpreted through and thus limited by the current level of psyche development.  He's right in saying that the psychedelics community is predominantly regressive or magic-level, and is in that way alienated from the mainstream -- but Wilber's tremendous mistake is ignoring drug policy reform, which is a major cause of the present limited range of psychedelics theorizing.


-- Michael Hoffman, March 28, 2001

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