Last modified: 2012-12-15 (finished). Epistemic state: log.

Today’s log is a religious log.


Deal with it.

I’ve begun some serious work on my own Christian canon.

I started collecting Sayings about 2 years ago, and while I keep on adding to them, they were never meant to be the real meat. As a Post-Marcionite, I’ve always looked up to the curator of scripture, Marcion himself, and work only in his shadow.

While Marcion did not write the first scripture himself, he was the first to notice its corruption and hijacking by the growing Catholic Church. He attempted to reconstruct what he thought was the real message before it was twisted to fit into Jewish scripture. Marcion’s Apostolicon consists of ten letters by Paul, plus one - the - gospel, also thought to have been written by the Tarsian. Since I first learned of Marcion’s work, I instantly recognized myself as his direct intellectual descendant, working from a similar position and with the same goal and interpretation.

I already wrote the first half of a complete gospel in March, but it’s more of a cute harmonization of the Christian and Jewish account of Jesus, one that shows that taking all the texts into account and thinking outside the Jewish box can yield a coherent narrative without any holes or mysteries left over. (No more details until it is finished.) Still, it focuses primarily not on the Savior, and while potentially a good apocryphal work, it doesn’t contain the essential message or should be taken too seriously. Mistaking the allegorical framework for the content is precisely the mistake I want to exorcise from the Catholic text.

Initially I thought I could skip the Apostle for now while I was still struggling with his impact and focus first on the one person I thought I did know - the Savior. The more I read, however, the more I realized that those two cannot be disentangled and that the well-known Gnostic identity of the Apostle as Simon Magus must be taken into account, not just while reading Catholic letters that try to minimize his impact, but even in the gospel itself. There is no Savior apart from Simon.

If one were to take a fictionalist approach to the scripture, that is to assume that, excluding maybe a few historical allusions here and there, they are works of fiction (and this is the approach that most atheist scholars take (and which, in turn, must make them mythicists, if they actually thought about it for a few minutes)), then it follows that the original scripture is forever lost to us. We may be able to reconstruct roughly back to Marcion’s work around 130AD, but no further. The evidence has simply been lost to time. One may speculate, as RMP and others frequently do, and all kinds of plausible explanations might be found, but closure is impossible.

But if one were to take Marcion at his word - and I always, maybe irrationally, felt the same whenever I look at the text - that is an allegorical path to the Father, then one ought to be able to repair it. I do not know if this is in fact true - I am deeply ambiguous about it - but that need not stop me from doing it anyway!

Marcion correctly observed that the existing Catholic scripture had been heavily judaized and that the message of the original text, whatever it may have been, is entirely incompatible with this Demiurge and his insane laws, and so scripture must be stripped of all Jewish content. Unfortunately, Marcion did not see that Paul himself is a judaized interpolation and must be equally reconstructed. This is no easy task.

The Gospel of Mark is the most famous Marcionite attempt to do just that (it is in fact, Post-Marcionite, as it was likely written by his followers and he did not originally know it1), but in a very subversive way. It does not just present in allegorical form the meaning of the Apostle and Savior (who, as I said, can’t be separated), but it uses the OT as raw material for it. This means however that we must not make the mistake of assuming Mark as anywhere close to the original text. It is a new allegory, meant for a very different audience.

Like Marcion, we could try to stick to the Gospel of Luke, or rather the earlier forms still directly available to him then before Polycarp wrote our current version. But then we would, in a sense, make the same mistake as with Mark: the original text was already an allegory about Simon! If we just revert past Paul and reconstruct the Simonian narrative, we’d still deal with an allegorically obfuscated text!

It is quite clear that there was a man who called himself Simon and who talked about the Father. The Simonians, postmodernists that they were, used his life as an allegorical account of the path. They included unrelated aspects too - inside jokes and subtle trolls -, but we can write our own. We need not chain ourselves further to the Samarian (or Tarsian, or Nazarene); we can start anew.

Some of my logs and tweets already included little pieces of this reconstructed gospel and the first iteration was supposed to include them all. Yet whenever I attempted to weave them together, or even just to start with an existing gospel and rewrite it, it always felt impoverished and disjunct, compared to the beautiful mess in our NT. I cannot help but see the Trolly Spirit directly at work, preserving to this day just enough of this glorious discord to make all those layers and intricate battles apparent, and that any attempt to remove them is to sin against it.

If anything, we must overcome Marcion, embrace the true Apostle and make the text even less clear! We must seek out obfuscation, contradict ourselves and add subtext upon subtext. When there are enough fingers attached to wise men and moons they’re pointing to, maybe for once someone will look at the process that motivated the wise men in the first place. He who has ears, let him hear!

Crucially, we must not repeat Marcion’s fundamental theological mistake: just because the message has a simple target does not mean the message itself has to be simple! When you get it, it is easy to see the text as a mere pointer to an alien God, but to then conclude that this God ought to be taught in the most simple and straightforward way is to usurp His Holy Throne! The Father is the only being that can honestly make the Tzeentchian boast that Everything Is Going According To Plan.

And so I realized, I needed not a new proclamation of the message, but an entirely different work, one capable of reflecting the true author of confusion. I considered merging all traditions into one gospel, or using elaborate annotation (even footnotes to footnotes), but then I thought, ideally the text would be a dialog between all those strands, would give the Marcionite, the Simonian and the Gnostic their first fair hearing, and so we really need more gospels written from these perspectives, including the Devil’s own version that they read down in Hell, but even that would not be sufficient, not even to replicate the delightful state of interwoven connections I see in the text, for nothing short of all of the tradition would be capable of representing the tradition.

Yet, I am hesitant to add anything to the text. I suspect it works so well because it has (owing to its past) a huge variety of ideas and references buried in it, but all so short and seemingly isolated that all the explanatory work has to be done outside of it. If one were to add more material, one would be bound to elaborate on some already existing idea, making it too explicit, pushing it too much into the foreground; it would become too hard to see all the other ideas and hermeneutics would become impossible. In a sense, one ought to enact a policy of “take an idea, leave an idea” - for every interpretation that makes the text clearer, one must also leave a new connection that makes it more complicated. I’m unsure if this even can be done, given what the text has gone through.

But can the text be made simpler, without breaking it? After all, the canonical NT is already reduced, lacking several gospels, epistles and so on. Yet, it seems to me that these reductions don’t necessarily simplify the content of the text. All ideas are still present, they just aren’t as close to the surface. And this does not have to interfere with the interpretation of scripture. After all, the 19th century Dutch and German radicals managed to reconstruct many aspects before most of these alternative text had been found! They predicted the Gnostic texts in great detail and were entirely right.

I know I don’t have the necessary stubborn trollishness to complicate the text by adding to it. So instead, I began working on a further reduction, to see if there are any redundancies left, both on the level of whole texts and just individual sentences, and I experimented with a few forms of presenting this reduction, inspired by the Rambling Taoist.

…what? No, it’s not done or anything. This is a practice log. Scripture wasn’t falsified in a day either. Come back in a decade!

I noticed that my old log about how the Catholic Church is a containment procedure gets referenced occasionally, so I tried to spin it out into an actual SCP post, but I couldn’t make it feel right. It’s too forced, both too explicit about what it’s doing and too hidden for someone not already familiar with the “it’s about containing Christ” line of thought. It’s a bit of a pity because it really began to make sense. The Catholic Church has Jesus for the same reason the Adeptus Mechanicus has the Omnissiah 2.

Drawing takes more effort than I wanted and I’m kinda pre-occupied with other stuff, so I halved the rate for now and failed the Beeminder goals. Next drawing in a week or so.

This isn’t really a troll argument, but it’s still… well, you know that move by Young Earth Creationists when you point out, yes ok, they’re a proper literalist inerrantist, but what about the entirety of physics, and they’re like, ok the sky sure looks old, but that’s because God created the universe with light already in motion, and you’re just, ok that’s still technically consistent with the bible account, but come on!, we both know you’re kinda cheating here?

Regardless, I think I may have, despite many unexplored details, if not in full rigor but at least in its broad strokes, solved soteriology to my satisfaction.3

So I was thinking about Molinism lately. To quickly recap, Molinism was originally developed to reconcile God’s omniscience with free will, so that the universe can still be pre-planned, deterministic and everyone has actual free will in it. The idea is, God first figures out how you would freely act in all possible situations. He doesn’t need to create you for that, He can just think about you. Then if He likes what He sees, He creates you under the circumstances He needs to get whatever result He wants. Simple and elegant.

(Note that while this idea originated in a Christian framework, it doesn’t have to stay there. You can easily generalize a kind of weak Molinism to all kinds of game-theoretic scenarios with a powerful creator/selector. You also don’t have to think of God as an agent (even though many Molinists do); you can just as well use a Platonist interpretation, for example.)

Thing is, you do exist. So if Molinism is right, you know that God is fine with your entire existence. And because God is good, you already know that at the very least on net your existence is good. So you can now start blackmailing and hacking God Himself - He can’t unmake you, after all. (Details omitted for brevity. Offer not valid in the Fortress of Regrets.)

Trying to apply Molinism this way has the problem that you don’t know what good is. You know God approves of you, but not why specifically. That situation isn’t new to me - all moral realist arguments I take seriously tell you fairly little about the content of morality. At best, they tend to rule stuff out. So I wondered, can I combine these criteria with Molinism to exclude some possible Wills of God?

Sure can! For one, you can’t be good because of some extended consequences your existence brings to the world - that violates decision-theoretic locality; you must be good as an end in yourself. (You may still have positive side-effects, of course.) What about being good on net, so you’d have to be careful about running out of good karma, so to speak, before God kills you off? That violates temporal locality; you must be entirely non-evil4. (That makes hacking God a lot easier.)

So why would we even care about the content now? We are already exemplifying it! As utilitarians have observed, any morality must be demanding, meaning it accepts only optimal outcomes as good and treats all sub-optimal actions as evil. But Molinism tells us we aren’t evil.

I say, you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.5

This presents an interesting solution to moral realism. Instead of appealing to, say, categorical imperatives, we say that moral realism is only normative in a practical sense for God. Everyone (besides God) is still under normative obligations, and agents could freely violate them, technically speaking, but because God created the world elegant enough, this violation never happens. So we don’t have to worry about what the content of morality is - everyone who exists embodies it, and everyone who doesn’t embody it, doesn’t exist! God did all the work for us.

This argument has many theological virtues.

For one, it’s entirely local. God, as (uniquely) omniscient being, has the capacity to actually solve non-local problems, and everyone else who exists is entirely non-evil already, so they can just do what they’d freely do anyway and never be (too) wrong. In other words, God, by pre-selecting the world, provided everyone with a non-local morality oracle (as Yangming taught6).

This gives us all the good aspects of Calvinism without any of the disadvantages. Agents are still totally depraved in the sense that without God’s help, we couldn’t solve morality in general. His grace is irresistible because it was provided before we existed. Whoever is saved, is eternally saved because, well, you can’t un-exist. Best of all, we avoid universal salvation. If every possible agent would get saved, there would be no evil and morality would not exist, so it’s fortunate that some are damned to nothingness. Yet we keep complete salvation - everyone who exists is saved; none are forgotten. In a sense, this is a form of the annihilationist interpretation of Hell, but elegantly enough, it places Hell before Creation.

It has no Problem of Evil - because evil doesn’t actually exist, only potentially. You’d still have to take apart the evidential problem of evil, but I never found it convincing to begin with. (It is just question-begging, after all.7)

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it gives us a real sense in which God took on the sins of the world. All other salvation theories are either forced to severely limit God’s power (e.g. Satan took the world hostage and needs to be tricked) or make His actions seem awfully arbitrary (If Jesus heals original sin, why didn’t God prevent the Fall in the first place?). In the Molinist interpretation, salvation is achieved by the combination of grace and works, and so as God freely saved the world before it was created, He did necessarily save it only through creation.

We can finally understand the Good Book when it explains:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” [What is the content of morality?] “Why do you ask me about what is good?”, Jesus replied. [You are already living it.] “There is only One who is good. [God, our oracle.] If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” [You exist if and only if you are moral.] “Which ones?”, the man inquired. [Can I still derive the content?] Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.’” [i.e. don’t be a douche]

“All these I have kept”, the young man said, “what do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” [He is trolling the man to transform his guilt into something useful.] When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. [Hard for everyone, in fact.] Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”8

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Because God is non-local and solved the problem for us.] Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” [We have passed the selection process, can we now shape reality?9] Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things [Creation; Jesus speaks outside time], when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [As God exists, we exist.] And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. [Under the B-Theory of time, the most natural interpretation, all of existence is eternal, so you already have eternal life!] But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. [This hints at the a-temporal perspective Jesus takes, and the counterintuitive nature of embodying moral content without knowing moral content.]”

Or more beautifully:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas Thomas said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”

Jesus is what being investigated by God prior to Creation feels like from the inside. The Kingdom is this world now that it exists, the Advocate is the Oracle (the innate knowledge of morality), the Second Coming is the act of creation that makes the pre-selection actually play out. Jesus was there twice, but we - only once.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

  1. To be specific, to the best of my (still very immature) knowledge, it went something like this:

    People surrounding Simon Magus (not his real name; none of those are), who was simultaneously an influential mystic (think Crowley) and self-similar fractal of the Son, collected allegories, sayings and juicy stories by and about him. (You heard the one about the whore he rescued, right?) They were sympathetic to him, but it’s not clear to me if they were followers or just people he hang out with. (Again, think Crowley.)

    These stories eventually leaked, how I do not know, and became popular among Gnostics. Eventually they were co-opted by the early form of the Catholic Church, who also sought to appease various Jewish (and similar) groups and so re-wrote them through an OT lens. Letters were written and attributed to “Paul”. It’s unclear if Paul is a sanitized version of Simon entirely (although the name suggests as much), or a real dude who may have written prototypes of these letters and just absorbed / stole these ideas and later their narratives (and so becomes more like Simon over time).

    Some of these narratives are collected into what is called Ur-Lukas, i.e. proto-Luke, a much shorter version of our Luke. It contains mostly of two parts: a collection of parables by Simon and primarily about the Father, later modified to be about Yahweh, and an allegory about Simon’s life and mystical role in the form of the Passion narrative. (With several inside jokes and layers I won’t go into here.) It is possible that they were originally explicitly about Simon/Paul instead of Jesus and that this was changed by the Catholics, or that they always used an additional layer of “the Savior” / “the Healer” (Jesus/Joshua) and it was clear to Simonians that this meant Simon. Regardless, all of this happened some time around 70-120 AD.

    Around 120-130, Marcion joins the Church (or just becomes active) and decides to get serious. He studies the text, but likely due to contact with a Simonian source (possibly a close friend), he soon realizes the interpolation. He takes Ur-Lukas and restores much of the original meaning. Together with the most trustworthy 10 letters, he publishes the Apostolikon, the first Christian canon.

    Shit hits the fan. Polycarp edits Marcion’s gospel, restores all the Catholic interpolations and downplays Paul by contrasting him with Peter (who the Jews prefer anyway). He publishes his trollogy of Luke/Acts/Pastorals largely as we know it today. Later an unknown author uses these texts to write Matthew, mostly as an even more pro-Jewish side and to counter various anti-Catholic heresies and conspiracy theories. (For example, it explicitly rebukes the story in the Toledot Yeshu about how Jesus’ body was stolen.) It’s possible that Matthew predates Polycarp instead, but that does not significantly affect the outcome. They were probably written in parallel and went through several (internal and external) iterations anyway. (Polycarp definitely published a big new edition later in his life, and Luke/Acts to this day has two major source traditions, reflecting those two editions.)

    At the same time, Marcionites publish their own counter-troll in the form of the proto-gospel of Mark. (Even the name is a pun on Marcion.) It accepts the OT framing, but subverts it deeply, pushing a Marcionite agenda. Soon an independent apocalypse is added following the Bar Kokhba revolt and something very close to our gospel of Mark is complete around 130-140. The troll is so subtle that to this day official canon includes a Marcionite gospel with Simonian subtexts and most people don’t notice. (Just as most don’t notice that at least half the time, “Paul” sounds an awful lot like a Gnostic. Uuh… look behind you, a three-personed godhead!)

    Lots of people “discover” new Pauline letters and other texts, including gospels, poems and childhood narratives, some of which make it into the canon. At least a decade or two later, a bunch of cranky Gnostics in a land far, far away violently throw text at each other until it results in one of the most confusing and beautiful works in all of history - the gospel of John. Jewish scribes write Revelation as a fairly explicit allegory about various church conflicts and Roman politics, and every time a new faction gains power in the Catholic Church, they slightly edit or select the texts in their favor.

    Finally, non-Christian Jews, puzzled by this mess, collect their own version in what later becomes the Toledot Yeshu and general Jewish tradition, which is very fascinating because it uses a completely different historical narrative a whole century earlier and it’s the only version the Babylonian tradition ever knew. Additionally, it has some very juicy alternative takes on the whole synoptic narrative. I like to imagine a Simonian or Marcionite insider “explained” all of this to some confused Jewish scribes, using every opportunity to troll Matthew and Catholic doctrine.

    Thus, Jesus.

    (For what it’s worth, and I’ve only just barely skimmed the existing literature, but the development of the Buddhist canon looks pretty similar. A good case can be made, if you’re sympathetic to the instrumental goals of the orthodox elites, to not ever let anyone actually, you know, read your scripture, especially not your own priests and monks. It never ends well, and soon you have to deal with those troublesome Gnostics and their troll forum accounts.)

  2. muflax, lost in the Catholic section of Etsy, asking only one question: why can’t I get even more ornamentation?

  3. Standard disclaimers and warnings about theological hipsterdom apply. But still, if I were to roleplay a Christian now, this is what they would believe. It is, I think, the most formidable construction of Christian theology I know, not just less broken, but actually satisfying (to people who are muflax). To use a kind of Hegelian language, it no longer carries within itself its own contradiction: it is fully healed.

    That doesn’t tell us much about whether it is true. But I’m not in the metaphysical truths business; I just fix broken things.

    One can be confident in the truth of Molinism even if one doubts the existence of God, just as one can accept a proof of the Banach-Tarski theorem even though one is skeptical about the Axiom of Choice.

  4. Note that this does not strictly imply that you’re non-evil in all possible contexts, but just in the actual world(s).

  5. I am aware of the context of the quote. I invoke Gnostic hermeneutics.

  6. What else is innate knowledge but an oracle? It need not be reliable in general (compare Plantinga’s “warrant”), just in those particular instances that it is actually used in. That this sensus moralis is chaotic - that it is highly sensitive to context - is something in its favor, as it increases the range of moral guidance God can select for.

    Therefore Molinist theism provides a coherent way to ground Neo-Confucianism and harmonize liangzhi with empirical findings supposedly supporting moral contextualism. The moral subjectivist cannot meaningfully distinguish biases from values, but the Molinist moral realist can even turn inconsistencies into virtues!

  7. You must still be careful that at no point this assumes that the world as it appears to you is actually what exists, so don’t jump to conclusions like “Molinism implies no evil exists, X is clearly evil, so Molinism is false” - X may be an illusion, there might be more layers which mislead your judgment, you might be mistaken about the content of evil and so on. It’s a bit like maintaining that the bible is inerrant, but that it can be interpreted as an arbitrarily complex allegory. The argument is not particularly informative on the object-level.

  8. Alternative crackpot interpretation: Why are there so many poor in the world? Because the poor are more moral! A Molinist liberation theologian must for purely anthropic reasons accept strong inequality as inevitable. And so the Lord trolled the Christian Marxist.

  9. Note, that even though this is not a proper argument, it is still suggestive:

    Verily I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

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