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Monday, November 14, 2011

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

I am in word mode today. This happens occasionally when I come across a word I love and it leaps from the page begging for me to use it in a sentence. Today, it's gnosticism. Gothic to look at, difficult to spell and define. We all know (or at least use freely as if we did) agnosticism -- some sort of socially acceptable form of atheism  --  but what, pray tell, is a gnost? It doesn't sound good or look good, if you come from the gut-level response school of etymology. However, sounds and appearances are sometimes deceiving. (Enervate, for example, sounds like it should mean "stimulate." Doesn't, though. Just look it up.)

The root gnos derives from the Greek to know. This is actually where the English word know comes from, but for fun, we changed the the g to an k, though we retain it in prognosticate, ignorance and diagnose.  OK. But gnostic? Gnosticism? The ic and  ism of knowing? That seems a little all-encompassing --- and it should: Gnosticism seems to be not just knowing, but beyond knowing: the essential, the essence, the esoteric nature of spirit and spirituality. Gnosticism, in many of its incarnations, rejects the material world and in some cases, most notably A Course in Miracles, suggests that the material world and all of our supposed experiences are the soul's nightmare. Pain, greed and evil didn't arise out of sin -- we made them ourselves out of fear. The Course, its followers claim, is the word of a disappointed Jesus revealed to a pair of transcribing physicians at Columbia University.

Gnosticism isn't new. We can find traces of it all the way back to Zoroastrianism. Interestingly, for a term that seems -- to me at least -- quite innocent, gnosticism has a lot of detractors. It even has its own heresies led by "false teachers." Christians as far back as St. Paul are spooked by it ("knowledge falsely so-called" in 1 Timothy 6:20). You have to ask, what is so scary about gnosticism, this intuitive understanding of spirituality? Too much independent thinking outside the Book? Not enough rules? No support for Bingo nights or collection plates? It's certainly tempting to think so.

So, gnosticism. My word of the day. Maybe next time we'll do silhouette. I love how it's spelled, the little whisper of h, how it looks on the page, how ...

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. Very nice. I like silhouette, too, but it always takes me a few tries to spell it correctly. ;)