22 October 2009

The Alien Life

The concept of the “alien God” is an important element of Gnostic Christianity. The following extract from Hans Jonas provides an introduction to the idea.

The fact that this concept occurred in many of the various forms of Gnosticism which spread around the Mediterranean for several centuries after the supposed life of Christ suggests that it may have arisen from the views and outlook of an original philosopher/psychologist who lived at approximately that time. The concept of alienness could be seen as associated with a kind of open-ended scepticism or agnosticism towards the existential situation, antithetical to the dogmatic materialism and reductionism characteristic of present day ideology, as expressed by Richard Dawkins and others.

"In the name of the great first alien Life from the worlds of light, the sublime that stands above all works"

This is the standard opening of Mandaean compositions ... The concept of the alien Life is one of the great impressive word-symbols which we encounter in gnostic speech, and it is new in the history of human speech in general. It has equivalents throughout gnostic literature, for example Marcion's concept of the "alien God" or just the "Alien," "the Other," "the Unknown," "the Nameless," "the Hidden,"; or the "unknown Father" in many Christian-gnostic writings. Its philosophic counterpart is the "absolute transcendence" of Neoplatonic thought. ...

The alien is that which stems from elsewhere and does not belong here. To those who do belong here it is thus the strange, the unfamiliar and incomprehensible; but their world on its part is just as incomprehensible to the alien that comes to dwell here, and like a foreign land where it is far from home. Then it suffers the lot of the stranger who is lonely, unprotected, uncomprehended, and uncomprehending in a situation full of danger. Anguish and homesickness are a part of the stranger's lot. The stranger who does not know the ways of the foreign land wanders about lost; if he learns its ways too well, he forgets that he is a stranger and gets lost in a different sense by succumbing to the lure of the alien world and becoming estranged from his own origin. ...

In his alienation from himself the distress has gone, but this very fact is the culmination of the stranger's tragedy. The recollection of his own alienness, the recognition of his place of exile for what it is, is the first step back; the awakened homesickness is the beginning of the return.
(Hans Jonas. The Gnostic Religion. Beacon Press: Boston, 2001, pp. 49-50)
’We appeal for £1m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussions in the philosophy of religion.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil