Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Last Book


Adam Gopnik reviews Elaine Pagels' eye-opening (wide!) dissertation on the last book of the Holy Bible.  Is it really accurate to say "The truth is that punitive, hysterical religions thrive, while soft, mystical ones must hide their scriptures somewhere in the hot sand."  ? 

preceded by observing that even Buddhists have a heavy handed theocracy to keep temple-goers in line:
"You can’t help feeling, along with Pagels, a pang that the Gnostic poems, so much more affecting in their mystical, pantheistic rapture, got interred while Revelation lives on.
But you also have to wonder if there ever was a likely alternative. Don’t squishy doctrines of transformation through personal illumination always get marginalized in mass movements? As Stephen Batchelor has recently shown, the open-minded, non-authoritarian side of Buddhism, too, quickly succumbed to its theocratic side, gasping under the weight of those heavy statues. The histories of faiths are all essentially the same: a vague and ambiguous millennial doctrine preached by a charismatic founder, Marx or Jesus; mystical variants held by the first generations of followers; and a militant consensus put firmly in place by the power-achieving generation. Bakunin, like the Essenes, never really had a chance."

Don't miss the "Thunder, Perfect Mind" extract of poetry in the article.

Of course, the author is not related to the other people named John.

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