Thursday, November 01, 2007

Kneejerk Argument

The opposite of being awake and present in my life is falling back into the same old arguments.

I just took part in a minor verbal skirmish in my writing group. My friend Christina, the other actively religious person in the group, and I got into a polite but insistent conversation about how much of the belief of the Gnostics was based on doctrine and how much on the experience of the believer.

Now, that's likely to be a large yawn for most readers.

Not for Christina and me. We marshalled our facts and a hefty dictionary, and neither of us budged in our position.

It ended fine, with both of us where we began. We moved on to tea at the neighborhood Whole Foods, and to subjects of more general interest.

But now I'm annoyed with myself for heating up the burners under that subject once again.

I do know what it's about: I have a still-belligerent preference for personal experience over received wisdom. Which is to say that I fall into the category of "cain't tell that girl nuthin'." Or want to, anyway.

Apparently I'd also like to believe that others in history have felt the same way.

I'm fine with that. What bugs me is the feeling I got during the conversation that I was starting to behave in a preset manner, that I'd yielded in-the-moment responsiveness to a pointless old routine.

I find it damned hard to stop that reflexive feistiness once it starts, and it's such a waste of steam.


Sarah Peters | Spiritually Engaged said...


Being prone to it myself, I'm not sure what to do about the reflexive feistiness, but it thrills me to read that people have actual conversations about Gnosticism. I've been drawn to Gnostic spirituality and worldview of late, and it seems so obscure and esoteric (even with the recent influx of scholarship on the Gnostic Gospels/Nag Hammadi Library). Just that you and your friend are talking about it is wonderful, no matter if the debate spins in the same ol' circle!


Debra Whaley said...

Have your ever read Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd? If I recall correctly, she discusses some of her feelings about Gnosticism in that book.

I agree with you about personal experience taking precedent over received wisdom. Sounds like you were talking to someone who also is prone to reflexive feistiness, and that is always a battle that is difficult to win.

mohadoha said...

This happened in my house, on two different occassions, but on a different subject - H.Clinton, her votes for the Iraq war, a future war with Iran. In both cases one particular friend exploded; this was a cause for concern, as I explained to him later. Tolerating dissent is a vital part of a democratic society. Then I was surprised when the same friend was able to have a stimulating conversation about evolution versus creationism. Perhaps because of the strength of our friendship or the decreased emotional investmetn of the second topic? In any case, I agree with you that unless people are willing to listen, or give a little, these conversations can be a waste of time.

Peggy said...

Hi Sarah and Debra and welcome to you Mohadoha, Reading your comments is clarifying to me: I'm not open to being persuaded. And the point of a debate for me is not to persuade but to air and sharpen my own argument.

I enjoy that exercise as long as I don't hit an area where I have strong emotional investment. At that point there's something intoxicating about the exchange that is suspicious. I start seeing myself as a lone hero on horseback holding off the Huns with my wits and a small-gauge peashooter.

Which has nothing to do with Gnosticism or the relationship with the friend, who BTW conducted herself very well in the conversation.

Mike Lindsay said...

Hi Peggy,

I'm with you and the Gnostics. The Devine is not a head game of information and doctrine.

God, Reality, Conciousness (whatever we care to call it) is a first-person experience. No one can tell us about it. We have to experience it for ourselves.

That is why it can be said, "God has no grandchildren."

Peggy said...

I love the "god has no grandchildren" idea. Is that a line from your poetry, Mike?

I do prefer my own experience to doctrine. What we were debating yesterday was not which way is better, but whether the Gnostics relied on one over the other. If so, it certainly wasn't their only method. They were quite into the mystery-school idea.

And as much as I'm nervous about handed-down wisdom, I do love that phrase: mystery school. I'm pretty fond of libraries as well.

I hope you'll stay in the conversation here.

Mike Lindsay said...

Hi Peggy and company,

The statement "God has no grandchildren" did not come from my poetry. I am not sure where it came from. If I read it, heard it or thought it. Where ever it came from, I beleive it to be true.

"Mystery school and libraries" sounds like a conflict; but I don't think so. Spiritual truth lies in paradox. Which when encountered; if we let it move us, takes us beyond our own mind.

So doctrine and mysticism might be two sides of the same coin. And maybe that coin is our ticket to Reality.

Peggy said...

I agree. It's a combo. And if Protestant churches positioned prayer as independent exploration, I think there would be a better balance of doctrine vs. mysticism.

Mike Lindsay said...

Hi Peggy and Company,

"Doctrine vs. mysticism" reminds me of my journey from belief towards being. Religions, or belief systems, can be analyzed and debated. And accept or rejected by our rational minds. Making it somewhat easy to become a fundamentalist or atheist. Being is something deeper and greater than belief.

And it’s hard to put Being into words! Words are abstractions that can only point to what is real. Our languages allow us to efficiently communicate with each other; but they also restrict our minds. We become prisoners of abstractions; removed many times from Reality. Our minds become a sharp tool for dealing with the finite; but a dull tool for understanding the Infinite.

Yet, I need wonderful words from others to help move me along. There’s that paradox again. So I guess it is a combo. I need to listen to other's thoughts inorder to escape from my own restricting thoughts.

Peggy said...

Your ending note of "restrictive thoughts" is the idea that jumped out at me.

I find that I get rather tired of myself sometimes. This has nothing to do with being with people or alone. It's the patterns of my habitual thoughts, for one thing.

The way we have our characteristic ways of dancing, I think we have our characteristic mental motions.

Great to find ways to break out of that some.