John Lamb Lash. Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2006. Paperback, xix + 441 pp.
Inspired in his youth by Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, Lash eagerly left behind the narrow fundamentalist Advent Christianity inherited from his parents and went in quest of a more convincing worldview. He found it in pre-Christian Paganism, the Mystery schools, or Gnosis, celebrating the goddess of wisdom, Sophia. He sees pathology at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition of salvation and at least in this regard attempts to “complete Nietzsche’s critique,” though “continue” or, as he puts it elsewhere in the book, “extend” that critique might have been a more modest claim.
He pointedly and rightly rejects the victim-perpetrator ideology he detects at the heart of Christianity, as it has been transmitted down the ages. He rejects the idea that someone outside oneself could ever serve as our savor. He rejects the concomitant Christian notion that suffering is good and redemptive.
He argues that the teachings of the Gnostics, for which he projects a Neolithic beginning, are highly relevant to our contemporary crisis, because they herald modern ecology. There are naturally many elements in Gnostic traditions, East and West, which are more Earth-friendly than mainstream Christianity. Lash does a good job of ferreting out ecologically pertinent teachings.
As with any large-scale interpretation of history, there are points with which one may want to disagree, such as the author’s adoption of Riane Eisler’s concept of gylanic societies; or his conflation of Gaia with Sophia, which seems central to his work; or his belief that we live in the last days of the kali-yuga (which, according to Hindu sources is actually said to last for another 129 million years); or his seeing evidence for extraterrestrial visitors in several of the Dead Sea Scrolls or that extrahuman predation is even a problem. (A minor point but one that I as an Indologist could not fail to notice is the author’s consistent misspelling of Sir John Woodroffe’s name.)
One may also want to differ with the author in his claim that “[t]he greatest difference between Buddhism and Gnosis is that Gnosis provides a guiding narrative, a directive script for assisting humanity to find its niche in the natural world, and Buddhism does not” (p. 213). Many “engaged” Buddhists would object. Let it be said, however, that there are plenty of arguments and statements in Not in His Image with which at least the present reviewer can wholeheartedly agree. Certainly, this passionate book is a vigorous re-telling of the historical play between so-called Paganism and Christianity, containing any number of striking insights and felicitous formulations.
Lash reminds his readers that the Greek word heraisthai, from which stems the English term “heresy,” means “to choose.” His book represents his own conscious choice: a reclaimed Gnosis, or “Sophianic vision.” The Sophia mythos is indeed complex and fascinating. But it is a mythos, after all, a narrative that can inspire but that cannot be a substitute for experienced reality, especially the realization of Gnostic vision, which, as the author rightly notes, depends on the transcendence of the ego and the conceptualizing mind.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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