Derick Varn: how you would like to introduce yourself?
Rev. Troy Pierce: Greetings, my name is Troy Pierce and I serve as Parish Priest of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Salt Lake City, Utah. This August will be the fourth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which means that I have been involved with the EG for over a decade (about how much I feel like I’ve aged in the past few weeks). Currently experiencing the joys of ‘over-qualification,’ I work in various aspects of ministry full-time, while designing and selling Gnostic Calendars, Candles, and such, to try to be able to continue doing this, spread the sanity-inducing influence of the Gnostic perspective, and build a Chapel.
D.V.: Father Troy, what about the gnostic approach is essentially sanity-spreading?
T.P.: The more you learn, the more you realize your own ignorance. When you have Gnosis you realize how little you really do know. This is a reality-oriented experience-rooted epistemology (system/theory of knowledge). And since you must attain Gnosis for yourself, it requires personal/spiritual development/maturation instead of dependence. It is the opposite of fundamentalism, which has a very simplistic epistemology in which there is complete certainty in beliefs, and personal/spiritual dependence is required. Lately, I have come to wonder if a Gnostic approach (in a general sense) is the only viable ‘vaccine’ for fundamentalism.
D.V.: How is the Gnostic lectionary used by the Ecclesia Gnostica and the Johannite church similiar to the lectionary used by more “mainline” (perhaps read, pistic) Christians and but what marks it as essentially rooted in gnosis?
T.P.: The Lectionary of the EG is similar in that the shape of the liturgical year is the same. The cycle of the year is something with roots that stretch back into pre-history, and has arisen from collective experience and long tradition. Since it reflects this collective experience of moving through the year, it is surprisingly dead-on with what is occurring in our lives on a given week. The Gnostic difference is in the content and the nature of the intent for each day. In most traditions the readings are taken only from the bible, while ours includes biblical sources, they are mainly from Gnostic scriptures.
One example: for Easter the Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Matthew, and the lesson reading is taken from the Acts of John, which are quite different/contradictory in how they approach Easter. The intent is also “the Inner Resurrection” as opposed to an outward historic event. So, there are the Gnostic teaching elements of turning the traditional focus upside-down or inside-out, as well as, the Koan-like method of presenting multiple or contradictory perspectives on the same stories and symbols.
A Gnostic lectionary entry is an art not a science. In the few I have attempted, the ones that “worked” just seemed to ‘click’ into place.
- V. : On Fundamentalism: Why is that many in the mainline of pistic Christianity see Fundamentalists of certain stripes (such as say, hardline Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons) as “gnostics”? What leads to this essential misunderstanding?
T.P.: There are a few related explanations: from the heresiological notion of “Gnostics” as possessors of secret information, a misunderstanding of the nature of Gnosis as being a protected refuge against refutation, and lastly, that these movements seem to have originated in mystical experiences. While I am less familiar with Jehovah Witnesses, I have described Mormonism as a failed Gnosticism—there are elements familiar to Gnostics and scholars of Gnosticism, but they are all seen as being very literal and are used in the service of maintaining authority. So that, they end up being the opposites of Gnosticism in practice.
Another way to look at it is that the same personal spiritual experience can be integrated personally and become Gnosis, or it can be integrated externally and become a new dogma.
D.V.: I am interested in your views about Gnostic religion being partially related to a sort of mythic epistemology–in what way is epistemology limited by the fact its concerned with episteme and scientia (sorry if I transliterate poorly here) instead of say an mythic and internally symbolic understanding of “knowledge”?
T.P.: There are two aspects, the nature of knowledge itself, and the approach to attaining and expressing knowledge. We are familiar with the type of knowledge that in Classical Greek is called episteme: facts, abstract knowledge, information. “Knowing a fact or system.” Gnosis is not abstract, it is acquaintance with or recognition. “Knowing a person or a landscape.” In English usage we use it to mean a knowing that is spiritual, or inner, or ultimate reality.
When you think of what a major enterprise education is, and that it is almost entirely concerned with the episteme side of knowledge, it is pretty clear that something that is not abstract and that can’t be expressed in a purely objective form would be very difficult to express. Indeed it cannot be expressed directly, and so the forms are poetic and symbolic as opposed to, say, procedural and illustrative. You must engage and experience to attain Gnosis, and you really need to have integrated some amount of your own experience for these texts and stories to open up to you, as well as, be open to experiencing and engaging in them. So, it doesn’t fit nicely into any system, it is of a different order.
Even answers to questions like, “is this art?” and “is this good art?” don’t fit into systems. That is “gnosis” in the Greek, or general acquaintance/recognition, sense. So, yes, by its nature of being a system an epistemology will not be able to integrate Gnosis, but a sophisticated one can make room for it, as it were.
D.V.: What do you think is the key to a Gnostic approach to the sacraments?
T.P.: Experiencing and participating in them as deeply as possible is the key. It is through experience that Gnosis can be attained. Unfortunately, there is a large barrier and filter of religious ideas that usually stand in the way of actually being able to experience them. There is also a consumer/audience mentality that prevents people from even trying. And that is all once someone has gone a very long way already, to actually seek out the sacraments.
The EG approach is to convey the sacraments as fully as possible, in as complete a form as possible, to provide the greatest opportunity for individuals to experience the mysteries that lie behind/beyond the form. It is a mystical notion of sacrament/mystery, and indeed of ecclesia/church. They are vast and deep, and we cannot exhaust the experiences that are possible. However, if you sit back as an audience member you can miss all of that and just see the same thing every week. In conversation with some Episcopalians, I tried to make the point that: the Eucharist was not something you change, but something that changes you—and failed miserably.
D.V.: What do you think is the present state of Gnostic “ecumenism” (sort of a bizzare term to apply to Gnostics when you consider its original meaning)?
T.P.: Currently, there is a growing spirit of ecumenism, but it is still very early on in many ways.
The natural psychological/sociological tendency among small movements is to in-fight, to have a scarcity mentality and so view other groups as competitors. While Gnostics are, I think, naturally ecumenical, we are small, scattered, and are only at the beginning of developing ways to think about and discuss these things from a Gnostic perspective instead of adopting existing models. When there are issues they usually stem from unconsciously adopting models or bringing assumptions from our religious/cultural past into our Gnostic paths that don’t fit. This is the biggest barrier I see to being able to “be ourselves, together” which is the model that I’ve been putting forward.
There are only “reasons” not to support one another on our paths to Gnosis and in our ministries, including the non-religious sort. Gnosis is non-denominational. There are few enough Gnostics in the world; to then make a bunch of “thems” out of each other is the sad and silly domain of the ego. Gnosis must be the focus. We know what happens when that is lost.
D.V.: How does one deal with Philip K. Dick as a Gnostic?
T.P.: Philip K. Dick is a great example of how to look at Gnosticism—from the point of view of a Gnostic. Rather than trying to understand Gnosticism as something abstract, which will never work in any satisfactory way that still has any direct connection to Gnosis (the error many scholars fall into) in looking at Philip K. Dick you can enter into the experience to some degree. Phil had some very powerful experiences that led him to Gnosis—but where an abstract/theoretical tale might end there, that’s just the beginning of the story.
The shallow modern anti-Gnostic view is that being a Gnostic is not just a choice, but the easy choice, and that what we call Gnosis is just whatever we want to believe in because it is convenient or self-aggrandizing. However, since Phil was so generous as to share his exploration with us, particularly in VALIS, we have a very human account of a modern Gnostic grappling with his experiences, and almost being destroyed by them.
In my ‘out there’ position as a Gnostic Priest many people confide in me their unusual/mystical experiences. The first tendency is to ask, “what does this mean?” seeking an explanation. The difference between Gnostics and those who remain comfortable in a more orthodox environment seems to be the ability to disassociate from the experience through an explanation. In trans-personal psychology this is called spiritual bypassing, since you bypass the experience rather than deal with it. For the Gnostic, the experience remains more real than the explanation. You don’t see this any more clearly than in Phil’s work, he wants desperately to find an explanation, and being who he is, he can come up with a lot more than one (also a recurring Gnostic theme), but they don’t satisfy him, he remains connected to the experience.
His story also clearly shows the value that the Gnostic tradition can have, as fragmented as it is. In VALIS he tells of an interview with a Dr. (Philosopher’s?) Stone who gives him a page from the Nag Hammadi texts that finally identifies for him this larger context. And when he asks the Doctor what it means, he replies, “you’re the expert.” That completes a metanoia, a mental shift that heals him of his despair.
D.V. What do you say to all the gnostically inclined who are hiding out in mainline churches?
T.P.: You are in good company, but could be in better.
There are far more Gnostics than realize it, because they have been told what Gnosticism is and that account doesn’t fit their Gnosis, being merely anti-Gnostic propaganda either ancient or modern.
Many Gnostics get some of their needs met in mainline churches. The danger is in getting caught in, and serving, the system. In a church where the question is “what dogmas and doctrines will we impose and on whom?” it is natural to try to fight for a loosening or liberalizing of that tendency. However, that is a trap in that it can trap you within that framework fighting in that system, and that is where your energy and resources go.
The other side of the issue are those who shift to a mainline denomination because we are too small to have all of the programs and resources, or don’t support them in some closely held belief or prejudice. That does disturb me as it seems like selling out. It is an indication of our culture’s very un-Gnostic consumer attitude towards religion.
The question we see often is, “where is the Gnostic church in my area?” If you don’t build it, or help build it, or help it to become something that serves your essential needs, it may never exist or be of more service to you. Also, if current endeavors don’t receive support, how can new ones grow from them? If all of our energy goes towards simply being able to continue to merely survive as providers of services, and often having to choose between the one and the other, then there will be little growth in services offered or populations served.
The second most asked question is something like “where/what is the Gnostic version of, or approach towards, _________?” If you don’t rise to the task yourself, or support individuals and organizations that are working in this area: resources, services, materials, and education to aid you to liberation may never be produced or made available. Resources for Gnostics will only come from Gnostics, with the support of Gnostics.
The Gnosis Institute has been founded to facilitate this. A non-denominational non-profit corporation the Institute will serve as a nexus to build the future of Gnosticism, and by extension, help reshape our culture’s understanding of spirituality, religion, and knowledge. The Gnosis Institute coordinates work on a number of projects in areas vital for individual Gnostics and the Gnostic community, and provides a presence, as well as, outreach and services to the larger community. And while it will not be involved in providing direct spiritual services or ministry, it will be involved in supporting such work through research and providing resources—a ‘serving the servers ‘ model.
So, even if you don’t feel comfortable aiding those providing religious services and support directly to other Gnostics, the Gnosis Institute is a way to support Gnosis in the world. Consider becoming a member and supporting the Institute and its projects. On line atwww.gnosisinst.org
I hope this was of use to you. I found the process to be valuable.
D.V.: I did as well. Thank you very much for your time.