Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Problem of Evil and the Gnostic UU Part 2

I ended my last post about how a Gnostic mythology solves the “Problem of Evil” with a few questions: If the solution is that the God “above God” – the God of Love – is not all powerful in the sense that it does not have power and dominion over the material universe – can that be a God worthy of worship? And if you’re UU (Unitarian-Universalist) who doesn’t believe in supernatural spiritual beings anyway, what good does any of this do? What is the point?
The first question, for me, has a pretty simple answer: yes.
Okay I guess more explanation is needed than that. But I ask myself, do you worship something or honor it because it is powerful? Why would anyone do that? I mean, in Marvel movie nerd terms (which I sort of consider myself) would anyone really think that worshiping Thanos was a good moral thing to do? Sure he was very powerful, but so what? I think that something is worthy of worship because it is good and admirable rather than because it is strong or powerful.
This question I’ll come back to next time, but let me get to the second question because I think it will make the answer to the first question make more sense.
So what about the UU who doesn’t believe in the existence of supernatural spirit beings? I pretty much include myself in that number. So what is the point to this mythology about Demiurges and Archons that rule the world and a God above the Demiurge that is the epitome of all that is good?
For most UUs these kind of stories and mythologies are metaphors. And you know what? Metaphors are important. They help shape the way we view the world. In fact there are cognitive psychologists who argue that metaphor is fundamental to the way our minds work and how we model the world. For example, one of the first things we experience as babies is a sense of up and down. We strive to stand up and when we lose our balance we fall down (which hurts and is bad). So for the rest of our lives if we are happy we are feeling “up” and if we are sad or depressed we are feeling “down.” Okay, another oversimplification, but you get the idea.
I think that mythological or philosophical stories we hear and internalize have a powerful effect on us all. No matter how much I don’t believe that there is a physical place known as the Garden of Eden, when references are made to a return to Eden I know and feel what that means. I can talk literally about repetitive tasks that are useless in the end, I feel it when I think about the myth of Sisyphus. Of course I know there was no such person, but it doesn’t matter to the power of the metaphor.
Metaphors help us (or at least me) shape our conceptions of the world. No one understands reality as a whole – we all have little pseudo-environments (Lippman’s old term) or cognitive frames (modern psychological term) that help us simplify the world so we can navigate our way through it both physically and morally. The more different stories we have, the more choices we have for how to shape our personal realities.
So what is the metaphor offered by Gnostic stories? The God above God represents (to me) an ultimate concern, or an ideal spiritual Love, an abstract undefinable experience. The Demiurge and the Archons represent the physical material world. I prefer the stories in which the Demiurge is ignorant rather than malicious. I choose that because it fits (in my mind) with the cognitive framework that makes up my world better. I don’t think hurricanes, tornados, or viruses are out to get us. They happen and if they make life difficult (or impossible) for us it is nothing personal. Such stories have the ability to frame our world for us in ways that make sense (to me) and are beneficial compared to the more orthodox stories I grew up with. I’ll write about how that works for me in the next installment.

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