April D. DeConick

 

On her book The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today

Cover Interview of May 16, 2017

The wide angle

The book focuses on religion and culture in America today, which has taken a gnostic turn beginning in the 1800s. It asks: “If Catholicism defeated gnostic religions in antiquity, how is it that gnostic currents have become so prevalent today?” Gnostics were prolific writers and their lost texts reemerged within modern culture starting in the 1800s. This rediscovery of ancient gnostic literature has resulted in the redistribution of gnostic ideas into American culture and has fed the growth of new religious movements like Theosophy, the psychological program of Carl Jung, and even the New Age movement.

There was a very a productive period in scholarship following the publication of the Nag Hammadi gnostic scriptures into English in 1978, making the gnostic gospels a household phrase. The gnostic gospels were heavily marketed in the 1980s and 1990s as an alternative form of Christianity for Americans disillusioned with traditional denominations, and as a critique of traditional Christianity with its judgmental Father God and concept of original sin.

Think about the hype around films like Stigmata that featured the Gospel of Thomas and the Di Vinci Code that told stories from the Gospel of Philip. This message about the recovery of a lost form of Christianity from antiquity hit home for a large number of Americans who were disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Christianity of their parents and churches that they felt had nothing spiritual to offer.

There is a synergy here, a real audience for gnosticism among Americans who view themselves as free thinkers and people who question authorities, from the church to the government. It was practically love at first sight, so that gnosticism impacted everything from traditional churches to novels to films like The Matrix and Avatar, which help us to think along transgressively gnostic lines about who we really are, where we are from, why we are here, and what our destiny might be. As long as gnostic writings are available for people to read and reflect upon, gnostic spirituality will never go away, but will continue to revolutionize religions of today and tomorrow.