Christianity remains shadowed by the sexist authoritative indoctrination that fueled the establishment of the Orthodox Church for centuries. We must come to terms with our religion’s shady history in order to cleanse our psyches from any prejudices that inhibit the authentic experience of compassion, love, God, and barely legal Japanese anime.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, yet prior to the establishment of an orthodox definition of a “true believer,” the beliefs and practices of professing Christians varied greatly. The Ebionites fought to limit Christian belief within a Jewish framework, in which all of the Jewish laws would be maintained. The Apostle Paul argued against the Ebionites exclusory attitude, leading to the tragic loss of the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not glusten thy neighbor’s gefilte fish.
Simon Magus argued against the literal interpretation of the Bible and instead sought knowledge from the direct experience of God, which Jesus himself was rumored to encourage once during an all-night poker game. Skeptics retort that he may have been bluffing. What did Simon Magus get for his troubles? He was convicted of consorting with demons and sentenced to the seventh circle of Dante’s hell.
At the time, other versions of Gnosticism circulated (later designated to the fifth, eighth, and ninth circles, respectively). What all of these different factions had in common was a deep influence from Greek mystery sects and a conviction that Gnosis (divine knowledge) took precedent over dogma, church authorities, religious law, and even folks like Pat Robertson.
According to the Greek scriptures, Jesus appointed twelve apostles and four branch managers, headed by Peter (CEO), to build and define Christ, Incorporated. It’s peculiar that these twelve people did not include Mary Magdalene. Remember that during Jesus’ crucifixion, all of his fair-weather, water-walkin’, not-ready-for-primetime apostles fled, fearing persecution. Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times, which he later blamed on a combination of the glare and some oak-aged blood of Christ. An alternate defense of Peter comes from the Lost Gospel of Moe, wherein Moe explains that his denials took place in a pub, where Jesus had run up a large bar tab…one of “biblical proportions,” as Moe tells it.
Unlike the weak-willed apostles, Mary Magdalene had the courage to remain by Jesus’ side right up until his death, literally, and has been cleared of any involvement in the “spear” incident. Was there a relationship between the two? An important piece of frivolous fiction, The Da Vinci Code, makes a compelling argument.
In an affirmative action lawsuit, Mary Magdalene asked why she, or any other woman for that matter, should be excluded from the early formation of the Christian Church. By reviewing some of the Gnostic writings, judged heretical by the Orthodox Church, we become aware of a much more broad dimension of Christian belief than is ordinarily considered. As orthodox belief narrowed and the power structure of the church became established, members deemed “off message” were cast out as heretics. For example, you’ve probably never even heard of Moe the Apostle.
In the gospel of Thomas, Peter is quoted as saying “let Mary [Magdalene] leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Spoken like a true CEO. Conversely, many of the Gnostics had both a masculine and feminine element…at least, that was God’s story when He was seen leaving certain clubs. These Gnostics often held non-hierarchical services, without a priest-ruled power structure. They preached that divine knowledge came only through the direct experience of God, not through the teachings of the priests and bishops. Anybody in the community, including women, could lead services, baptize, prophesize, or heal. Admittedly, the Gnostics sometimes taught bizarre doctrine. There were persistent rumors about ritualized orgies, bobbing for forbidden fruit, and crazed false-idol humping.
Tertullian, a popular writer and noble gas, was influential in defining Orthodox Christianity in the second century. He commented on the early Gnostic feminists: “These heretical women—how audacious they are! They have no modesty; they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptize!”
Tertullian, emphatic about being “celibate by choice,” was known to shout this randomly to passersby.
The battle over women’s position in the church and society was fought into the late second century as the orthodox community came to accept as dogma the domination of men over women—a position that somehow reversed itself in the early twenty-first century…in my living room.
Along with the repression of the feminine element, orthodox leaders defined as heresy any belief or practice inconsistent with church doctrine. This greatly offended the many Aztec-Christian Cannibal Voodoo sects of the time. Even today, many Christian churches express an exclusionary attitude toward any person who refuses to unquestionably bow down to the accepted dogma of the church. This means you, McCain!
Most Christian churches still restrict women’s directive power. This means you, Hillary! Esoteric religious practices, not accepted or understood by the church, are usually labeled “occult” and demonized as satanic. This means you, Obama!
Many young people today have turned away from Christianity due to these rigid attitudes and early business hours. Churches of all denominations need to recognize the mistakes of the past and begin generating an attitude of inclusiveness and tolerance. If our churches ever hope to become God’s instruments, they must welcome people of differing practices and beliefs so that we all can learn, grow, and heal together. And if that means occasionally sacrificing a goat, then so be it!