I grew up vaguely Christian. I say vaguely Christian not because I didn’t grow up going to church or getting baptized or hearing Bible stories…I had all that. I say I grew up vaguely Christian to differentiate myself from the many, many people I have met over the years who were either figuratively or literally beaten over the head with the Christian religion of their families and communities.
Our house was unique in that my mother fully identified, and continues to identify as a Christian, while my father has danced throughout the years somewhere between agnostic and full blown atheist. Perhaps the only thing that really keeps my father from being fully atheist is that he has such an anger against God…for Vietnam, for the early loss of his own father, for a hard childhood…and I just can’t believe that someone could have so much anger for a being that they do not truly believe in.
So I grew up in a house in which I was never really forced to go to church. I grew up in a house that allowed questioning of authority…both temporal and spiritual. And this did not just exist in my house but stretched out across my family. Over the years my very Christian grandmother and great aunt supported me in my searchings in Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, my Christian grandmother paid the entry fees for more than one of my Buddhist retreats and came to visit me while I was living in a Buddhist temple.
I know that this was not, and is not the case for many people. Over the past couple of years, as I have made a gnostic return to Christianity many of my friends have been astounded and more than one has turned away from me because I have embraced the religious tradition of my family and ancestors. More and more I understand this as I hear the horror stories of people who have grown up in supposedly Christian households. I have been amazed at some of the things people have been taught in the name of the religion of the Holy Logos. I have met too many people who were taught from a young age that their bodies were sinful, that women are some how less than men, that sex is dirty and that it is sinful. Too many people have been taught that they are fundamentally flawed in the eyes of God…and perhaps even worse, that God is just waiting for them to fuck up so He can punish them for eternity.
When I explained my experience and understanding of Christianity to my lovely fiancé for the first time she said in stunned amazement, “You do know that what you are talking about is NOT what most people experience as Christianity.” Sadly she is right. But I do not think this has to be the case and it definitely has not always been the case.
If you study the history of early Christianity, before the solidification that happened through the various theological and political councils that gave rise to what the average person tends to think of when they think of Christianity, you will get the sense that early Christianity was a bit of a theological Wild West. There were many different streams of thought, many of them quite openly mystical and magical. Broadly there was a stream of Christians who defined themselves as Gnostic. The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis which means something like: knowledge of the Transcendent through inner experience. In other words we could say that a Gnostic (broadly speaking) is a Christian who arrives at her understanding of the Most High through an inner revelation and a direct relationship with God and does overly rely or get caught up in legalistic, literalist interpretations and theologies.
I think we are poised for a revival of the Gnostic flavors of Christianity. I think the fundamental message of Christianity, the heart of the Mythos of Christianity, is that God became man in order for man to have a direct, unmitigated connection to God. This is a connection of Life, Liberty and Love…and it is our birth right as human beings created in the image of the Most High.
Father Brian Stanford has been a seeker of the Mysteries for the better part of the last 30 years. He lives with his fiancé in Ashville North Carolina where he heads up Gnostic AVL, a local group studying Gnosticism and esoteric Christianity. Brian affiliates with the Liberal Catholic Union, a church in the Independent Sacramental Movement. He writes a blog at https://seekthemysteries.blog You can find him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and he welcomes folks to reach out.