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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?


Propositional Religions 9 -
Mysticism (Part 3) - Gnosticism, Neoplatonism


Propositional Religions 1 - Deism, Pantheism, and Naturalism
Propositional Religions 2 - Intro, Hinduism, Buddhism
Propositional Religions 3 - Jainism, Taoism
Propositional Religions 4 - Shintoism, Confucianism
Propositional Religions 5 - Sikhism
Propositional Religions 6 - Babism and Baha'ism, Zoroastrianism
Propositional Religions 7 - Neopaganism, Mysticism (Syncretism)
Propositional Religions 8 - Mysticism
Propositional Religions 9 - Mysticism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism

Introduction
| Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3




Babism and Baha'ism

The degree to which Babism and Baha'ism are mystical and syncretistic is exhibited in two features. First, their acceptance and fusion of all religions into a single collective system despite their irreconcilable difference. Second, their belief that God is transcendent and unknowable.

"Baha'ism - religion founded by Baha Ullah (born Mirza Huseyn Ali Nuri) and promulgated by his eldest son, Abdul Baha (1844-1921). It is a doctrinal outgrowth of Babism, with Baha Allah as the Promised One of the earlier religion. Baha'ism holds that God can be made known to man through manifestations that have come at various stages of human progress; prophets include Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha Allah. Baha'ists believe in the unity of all religions, in universal education, in world peace, and in the equality of men and women. An international language and an international government are advocated. Emphasis is laid upon simplicity of living and upon service to the suffering." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Baha'i faith - religion founded in Iran in the mid-19th century by Mirza Hoseyn 'Ali Nuri, who is known as Baha' Ullah (Arabic: "Glory of God"). The cornerstone of Baha'i belief is the conviction that Baha' Ullah and his forerunner, who was known as the Bab, were manifestations of God, who in his essence is unknowable. The principal Baha'i tenets are the essential unity of all religions and the unity of humanity. Baha'is believe that all the founders of the world's great religions have been manifestations of God and agents of a progressive divine plan for the education of the human race. Despite their apparent differences, the world's great religions, according to the Baha'is, teach an identical truth. Baha' Ullah's peculiar function was to overcome the disunity of religions and establish a universal faith." - Britannica.com


Zoroastrianism

Mystical aspects of Zoroastrianism come by way of its connection to magical rites, dualistic features, and later forms, such as Manichaeism, which were highly mystical in nature. The syncretistic characteristics of Zoroastrianism are evidenced by its incorporation, like Hinduism, of the obscure religion of the Aryans.

"Zoroastrianism - The religion of Iran before the time of Zoroaster is not directly accessible, for there are no reliable sources more ancient than the prophet himself. It has to be studied indirectly on the basis of later documents and by a comparative approach. The language of Iran is closely akin to that of northern India, and hence the people of the two lands probably had common ancestors—the Indo-Iranians, or Aryans. The religion of the latter has been reconstructed by means of common elements contained in the sacred books of Iran and India: mainly the Avesta and the Vedas. Both collections exhibit the same kind of polytheism, with many of the same gods, notably the Indian Mitra (the Iranian Mithra), the cult of fire, sacrifice by means of a sacred liquor ( soma in India, in Iran haoma ), and other parallels. There is, moreover, a list of Aryan gods in a treaty concluded about 1380 BC between the Hittite emperor and the king of Mitanni. The list includes Mitra and Varuna, Indra, and the two Nasatyas. All of these gods also are found in the Vedas, but only the first one in the Avesta, except that Indra and NaĖhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons; Varuna may have survived under another name. Important changes, then, must have taken place on the Iranian side, not all of which can be attributed to the prophet." - Britannica.com

"Avesta - The extant Avesta is all that remains of a much larger body of scripture, apparently Zoroaster's transformation of a very ancient tradition." - Britannica.com

"Zoroastrianism - Zoroastrianism's scriptures are the Avesta or the Zend Avesta [Pahlavi avesta=law, zend=commentary]...it is written in old Iranian, a language similar to Vedic Sanskrit." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Zoroastrianism - Gradually certain practices that Zoroaster appears to have deplored, such as the use of haoma (a narcotic intoxicant) in prayer and the sacrifice of bulls in connection with the cult of the god Mithra (a lesser god in Zoroastrianism), became features of the religion. It is not surprising, however, that former customs should be thus revived, because Zoroaster appears to have incorporated in his religion the old Persian pantheon, although very much refined. Instead of tolerating the worship of all the deities, however, he divided them into those who were beneficent and truthful and those whose malevolence and falseness made them abhorrent." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Zoroastrianism - The ancient Greeks saw in Zoroastrianism the archetype of the dualistic view of the world and of man's destiny. Zoroaster was supposed to have instructed Pythagoras in Babylon and to have inspired the Chaldean doctrines of astrology and magic. It is likely that Zoroastrianism influenced the development of Judaism and the birth of Christianity . The Christians, following a Jewish tradition, identified Zoroaster with Ezekiel, Nimrod, Seth, Balaam, and Baruch, and even, through the latter, with Christ himself. On the other hand, Zoroaster, as the presumed founder of astrology and magic, could be considered the arch-heretic. In more recent times the study of Zoroastrianism has played a decisive part in reconstructing the religion and social structure of the Indo-European peoples." - Britannica.com

"Zoroaster - A major personality in the history of the religions of the world, Zoroaster has been the object of much attention for two reasons. On the one hand, he became a legendary figure believed to be connected with occult knowledge and magical practices in the Near Eastern and Mediterranean world in the Hellenistic Age (c. 300 BC-c. AD 300). On the other hand, his monotheistic concept of God has attracted the attention of modern historians of religion, who have speculated on theconnections between his teaching and Judaism and Christianity. Though extreme claims of pan-Iranianism (i.e., that Zoroastrian or Iranian ideas influenced Greek, Roman, and Jewish thought) may be disregarded, the pervasive influence of Zoroaster's religious thought must nevertheless be recognized." - Britannica.com

"Zoroastrianism - Founded by the Iranian prophet and reformer Zoroaster in the 6th century BC, the religion contains both monotheistic and dualistic features." - Britannica.com

"Zoroastrianism - It is not known when Zoroaster's doctrine reached western Iran, but it must have been before the time of Aristotle (384-322), who alludes to its dualism." - Britannica.com

"Zoroastrianism - Zoroastrianism should be regarded as quasi-dualistic, rather than (as sometimes described) wholly dualistic, since it predicts the ultimate triumph of Ahura Mazdah." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.


Gnosticism and Manichaeism

Now that we have demonstrated the mystical and syncretistic traits of the major and foundational Propositional religions, we should also take a brief look at two additional examples of Propositional Mysticism, which, like some of the others we have already seen, are a combination of several religions systems. Our particular interest in these two religions (Gnosticism and Manichaeism) is their ability to fuse the beliefs of these other religions together through an emphasis on mysticism. Since Manichaeism fuses Zoroastrianism with Gnosticism, we will start with Gnosticism.

"Gnosticism - the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis." - Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

"Gnosticism - dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.; they all promised salvation through an occult knowledge that they claimed was revealed to them alone. Scholars trace these salvation religions back to such diverse sources as Jewish mysticism, Hellenistic mystery cults, Iranian religious dualism (see Zoroastrianism), and Babylonian and Egyptian mythology. The definition of gnosis [knowledge] as concern with the Eternal was already present in earlier Greek philosophy, although its connection with the later Gnostic movement is distant at best. Christian ideas were quickly incorporated into these syncretistic systems, and by the 2d cent. the largest of them, organized by Valentinus and Basilides, were a significant rival to Christianity." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Gnosticism - philosophical and religious movement prominent in the Greco-Roman world in the 2nd century AD. While Gnosticism drew from and influenced in turn many traditional religions, its effect was most clearly felt on nascent Christianity, in which it led to the formation of the canon, creed, and episcopal organization." - Britannica.com

"Gnosticism - The origins of the Gnostic world view have been sought by scholars in the dualism of Iranian religion, the allegorical Idealism of the Middle Platonic philosophers, and the apocalypticism of certain Jewish mystics. There are analogies also with Egyptian and Mesopotamian thought. It was only with the rise of Christianity, however, that Gnostic syncretism came to full expression." - Britannica.com

From these quotes we can see that Gnosticism was a form of Greek mystery religion that flourished after the development of Christianity. Like other forms of mysticism, Gnosticism was formed through the fusion of other religious systems. Those upon which Gnosticism based itself include: Zoroastrianism (dualistic Iranian religions), Jewish mysticism, and Greek Platonic philosophy.

Also, like other forms of mysticism, Gnosticism focused on transcending our physical (or material) existence and being one with the divine fullness, which they simply called the plorema (the Greek word for fullness). And like all other forms of mysticism going all the way back to Hinduism, this escape from the physical existence to become one with the divine fullness occurred as a result of subjective inner knowledge. The following quotes also establish similarities between Gnosticism and the concept of God held by the other mystical religions that we've examined above.

"Gnosticism - In the Gnostic view, the unconscious self of man is consubstantial with the Godhead, but because of a tragic fall it is thrown into a world that is completely alien to its real being. Through revelation from above, man becomes conscious of his origin, essence, and transcedent destiny. Gnostic revelation is to be distinguished both from philosophical enlightenment, because it cannot be acquired by the forces of reason, and from Christian revelation, because it is not rooted in history and transmitted by Scripture. It is rather the intuition of the mystery of the self." - Britannica.com

"Gnosticism - The world, produced from evil matter and possessed by evil demons, cannot be a creation of a good God; it is mostly conceived of as an illusion, or an abortion, dominated by Yahweh, the Jewish demiurge, whose creation and history are depreciated. This world is therefore alien to God, who is for the Gnostics depth and silence, beyond any name or predicate, the absolute, the source of good spirits who together form the pleroma, or realm of light." - Britannica.com

"Gnosticism - These conceptions are expressed in various myths, which employ material from many traditional religions but serve to express a basic experience that is new, the discovery of the unconscious self or spirit in man which sleeps in him until awakened by the Saviour. The Gnostic sects of the 2nd century made use of Hebrew and Christian religious writings, employing the allegorical method to extricate Gnostic meanings from them." - Britannica.com

From these quotes we can see the many similarities Gnosticism borrows from its predecessors. Its dualistic aspects are derived from those of Zoroastrianism. Both religions present the idea of a god who is expressed in emanations.

"Gnosticism - The dualistic phase was reached after the expansion of Gnosticism into the Hellenistic world and under the influence of Platonic philosophy, from which was borrowed the doctrine that a lower demiurge was responsible for the creation of this world. This teaching is to be found in the Apocryphon of John (early 2nd century) and other documents of popular gnosis discovered near Naj' Hammadi in upper Egypt in the 1940s and in the Pistis Sophia, a 3rd-century Gnostic work in Coptic belonging to the same school. The learned gnosis of Valentinus, Basilides (qq.v.), and their schools presupposes this popular gnosis, which, however, has been thoroughly Hellenized and Christianized and sometimes comes very near to the views of Middle Platonism." - Britannica.com

"Gnosticism - Some Gnostics taught that the world is ruled by evil archons, among them the deity of the Old Testament, who hold captive the spirit of humanity. The heavenly pleroma was the center of the divine life, and Jesus was interpreted as an intermediary eternal being, or aeon, sent from the pleroma to restore the lost knowledge of humanity's divine origin. Gnostics held secret formulas, which they believed would free them at death from the evil archons and restore them to their heavenly abode. See Valentinus for typical Gnostic teaching on the pleroma Christianity." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Additionally, as we would expect by now, the Gnostics placed a great deal of emphasis on subjective, personal experience as opposed to objectively verifiable evidence.

"Gnosticism - The designation Gnosticism, derived from the Greek gnostikos (one who has gnosis, or 'secret knowledge'), is a term of modern scholarship. Evidence for the Gnostic phenomenon, found in the Church Fathers who opposed Gnostic teachings (Irenaeus, c. 185; Hippolytus, c. 230; Epiphanius, c. 375) and in the Gnostic writings themselves, reveals a diversity in theology, ethics, and ritual that defies strict classification. Yet Gnostic sects appear to have shared an emphasis on the redemptive power of esoteric knowledge, acquired not by learning or empirical observation but by divine revelation." - Britannica.com

The only modern group with acknowledged Gnostic roots are the Mandaeans, whose belief system is derived from Gnosticism and Parsis (Zoroastrianism).

"Mandaeans - or Mandeans, a small religious sect in Iran and S Iraq, who maintain an ancient belief resembling that of Gnosticism and that of the Parsis. They are also known as Christians of St. John, Nasoraeans, Sabians, and Subbi. A few Mandaeans survive, some near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, others in the area of Shushtar, Iran, and in cities of Asia Minor. Their customs and writings indicate early Christian, perhaps pre-Christian, origin. Their system of astrology resembles those of ancient Babylonia and the cults of the Magi in the last centuries B.C. heir emanation system and their dualism suggest a Gnostic origin, but unlike the Gnostics, they abhor asceticism and emphasize fertility. Although some of their practices were influenced by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, they reject all three. The Mandaeans respect St. John the Baptist because of his baptizing, since their principal concern is ritual cleanliness and their chief rite is frequent baptism. The custom, which antedated the baptisms of St. John, stems from the belief that living water is the principle of life. They have a communion sacrament, which is offered for the remembrance of the dead and resembles Parsi ritual meals. The origin of the Mandaeans is not known; it is conjectured that they came from a mountainous region N of Babylonia and Persia, where they settled in ancient times; however, more recent scholarship places their origin in Palestine or Syria. Their chief holy book, the Ginza Rba, like their other books, is a compendium of cosmology, cosmogony, prayers, legends, and rituals, written at various times and often contradictory. The sect is diminishing because younger members tend to apostatize." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

One ancient Gnostic group that deserves some attention is Manichaeism, which like Mandaeanism is derived from Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism. Like many of the other forms of Gnosticism it began during the early Christian era, specifically in the 3rd century A.D.

"Manichaeism - dualistic religious movement founded in Persia in the 3rd century AD by Mani (q.v.), who was known as the 'Apostle of Light' and supreme 'Illuminator.'" - Britannica.com

Manichaeism effectively demonstrates the confluence of Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism in its belief that the physical world resulted from interaction between good and evil, or respectively, of spirit and matter.

"Mani - born April 14, 216, southern Babylonia died 274?, Gundeshapur, also called Manes, or Manichaeus Iranian founder of the Manichaean religion, a church advocating a dualistic doctrine that viewed the world as a fusion of spirit and matter, the original contrary principles of good and evil, respectively." - Britannica.com

Mani, the founder of Manichaeanism, held the essential syncretistic view of religion. As a result his religious ideology (Manichaeanism) completely originates from syncretistic processes. More specifically, Manichaeanism is the attempted combination of three essential religious schools, Buddhism (the Hindu tradition), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.

"Manichaeism - Mani (called Manes by the Greeks and Romans) was born near Baghdad, probably of Persian parents; his father may have been a member of the Mandaeans. After wandering for several years as a meditative ascetic he came forward (c.240) as the inspired prophet of a new religion. He went to Bactria in NW India, where he came in contact with Buddhism." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Manichaeism - Mani viewed himself as the final successor in a long line of prophets, beginning with Adam and including Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus. He viewed earlier revelations of the true religion as being limited in effectiveness because they were local, taught in one language to one people. Moreover, later adherents lost sight of the original truth. Mani regarded himself as the carrier of a universal message destined to replace all other religions. Hoping to avoid corruption and to ensure doctrinal unity, he recorded his teachings in writing and gave those writings canonical status during his lifetime." - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - Mani sought to found a truly ecumenical and universal religion that would integrate into itself all the partial truths of previous revelations, especially those of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. However, beyond mere syncretism, it sought the proclamation of a truth that could be translated into diverse forms in accordance with the different cultures into which it spread. Thus, Manichaeism, depending on the context, resembles Iranian and Indian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism." - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - He returned to Persia after the coronation (241) of Shapur I, who was tolerant of new religious movements; at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon he began preaching (c.242) the doctrine that was to become Manichaeism, a great synthesis of elements from Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, other Persian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as from the teachings of Marcion. Rejecting all of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament, Mani claimed Buddha, Zoroaster, Hermes, and Plato as his predecessors. He always called himself 'Mani, Apostle of Jesus Christ' and held that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus." - Britannica.com

As a combination derived from Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism takes a dualist view of the divine and views the material world as an evil place, a prison, which we must transcend or escape from by acquiring secret or esoteric knowledge. Of note also is its acceptance of the process or death and rebirth borrowed from Hinduism through Buddhism.

"Manichaeism - dualistic religious movement founded in Persia in the 3rd century AD by Mani (q.v.), who was known as the 'Apostle of Light' and supreme 'Illuminator.'" - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - At its core, Manichaeism was a type of Gnosticism—a dualistic religion that offered salvation through special knowledge (gnosis) of spiritual truth. Like all forms of Gnosticism, Manichaeism taught that life in this world is unbearably painful and radically evil. Inner illumination or gnosis reveals that the soul which shares in the nature of God has fallen into the evil world of matter and must be saved by means of the spirit or intelligence (nous).To know one's self is to recover one's true self, which was previously clouded by ignorance and lack of self-consciousness because of its mingling with the body and with matter. In Manichaeism, to know one's self is to see one's soul as sharing in the very nature of God and as coming from a transcendent world. Knowledge enables a person to realize that, despite his abject present condition in the material world, he does not cease to remain united to the transcendent world by eternal and immanent bonds with it. Thus, knowledge is the only way to salvation." - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - The saving knowledge of the true nature and destiny of humanity, God, and the universe is expressed in Manichaeism in a complex mythology. Whatever its details, the essential theme of this mythology remains constant: the soul is fallen, entangled with evil matter, and then liberated by the spirit or nous. The myth unfolds in three stages: a past period in which there was a separation of the two radically opposed substances—Spirit and Matter, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness; a middle period (corresponding to the present) during which the two substances are mixed; and a future period in which the original duality will be reestablished. At death the soul of the righteous person returns to Paradise. The soul of the person who persisted in things of the flesh—fornication, procreation, possessions, cultivation, harvesting, eating of meat, drinking of wine—is condemned to rebirth in a succession of bodies." - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - Basic to the religion's doctrine was the conflicting dualism between the realm of God, represented by light and by spiritual enlightenment, and the realm of Satan, symbolized by darkness and by the world of material things. To account for the existence of evil in a world created by God, Mani posited a primal struggle in which the forces of Satan separated from God; humanity, composed of matter, that which belongs to Satan, but infused with a modicum of godly light, was a product of this struggle, and was a paradigm of the eternal war between the forces of light and those of darkness. Christ, the ideal, light-clad soul, could redeem for each person that portion of light God had allotted. Light and dark were seen to be commingled in our present age as good and evil, but in the last days each would return to its proper, separate realm, as they were in the beginning. The Christian notion of the Fall and of personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees; they felt that the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. Evil was a physical, not a moral, thing; a person's misfortunes were miseries, not sins." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Manichaeism - Believing in metempsychosis (see transmigration of souls), the auditors hoped to be reborn as elect. All other were sinners, doomed to hell." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

After spreading his religion Mani died while in prison at the age of 60. Over time his religion gradually came to extinction in both the West and the East, where it finally disappeared during the 13th century (A.D.)

"Manichaeism - During the long reign of Shapur I (d. 272), Mani was free to travel about the realm making converts. However, the accession of Bahram I brought a reaction against the Manichaeans (or Manichees) from orthodox Zoroastrian religious circles, and, after 272, Mani and his followers met with increasing persecution. He died while imprisoned (c.276) in SW Persia." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Manichaeism - The Manichaean Church from the beginning was dedicated to vigorous missionary activity in an attempt to convert the world. Mani encouraged the translation of his writings into other languages and organized an extensive mission program. Manichaeism rapidly spread west into the Roman Empire. From Egypt it moved across northern Africa (where the young Augustine temporarily became a convert) and reached Rome in the early 4th century. The 4th century marked the height of Manichaean expansion in the West, with churches established in southern Gaul and Spain. Vigorously attacked by both the Christian Church and the Roman state, it disappeared almost entirely from Western Europe by the end of the 5th century, and, during the course of the 6th century, from the eastern portion of the Empire." - Britannica.com

"Manichaeism - Several Christian emperors, including Justinian, published edicts against the Manichees. St. Augustine, in his youth a Manichee, describes in his Confessions his conversion to Christianity. Little is heard of the Manichees in the West after the 6th cent., but their doctrines reappear in the medieval heresies of the Cathari, Albigenses, and Bogomils. It was the practice in the Middle Ages to call by the name of Manichaeism any dualist Christian heresy. The young religion of Islam was also challenged by the Manichean sect in Africa and Asia. The sect survived in the East, notably in Chinese Turkistan (Xinjiang), until about the 13th cent." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

The purpose of our discussion of Gnosticism and Manichaeanism is not to examine why they must be rejected as we have spent so much time doing with previous religions. We can easily dismiss their claims for all the same reasons that we have dismissed their parent religions.

The purpose of looking at Gnosticism and Manichaeanism was threefold. First, to cover an additional religion, which bridges some of the gaps that existed between the religions we have previously covered. Second, to demonstrate how the mystical and syncretistic characteristics of Propositional religions can fit so neatly together into a single theological system. And third, to demonstrate that while Gnosticism blends mysticism with Judeo-Christian concepts to some extent, its essentially mystical and propositional character distinguish it clearly from the Judeo-Christian theology expressed in the Old and New Testaments of scripture. (This final goal will be examined in a bit more detail after we have covered the historicity of New Testament documents later in this study.)


Neoplatonism

One final belief system that must be mentioned in closing is Neoplatonism. Neoplatonism is significant to our discussion of Propositional and Mystical religions for several reasons. First, it is at once a syncretistic blend of ancient Platonic thought, Greek philosophy, Gnosticism, and Mysticism. Second, it is the final collected form of the pagan mystical traditions and has become the dominant and underlying expression of mystical thought since it's founding in the 3rd century A.D.

"Neoplatonism - the last school of Greek philosophy, given its definitive shape in the 3rd century Ad by the one great philosophical and religious genius of the school, Plotinus. The ancient philosophers who are generally classified as Neoplatonists called themselves simple 'Platonists,' as did the philosophers of the Renaissance and the 17th century whose ideas derive from ancient Neoplatonism. See Platonism." - Britannica.com

"Platonism - Neoplatonism is the modern name given to the form of Platonism developed by Plotinus in the 3rd century AD and modified by his successors. It came to dominate the Greek philosophical schools and remained predominant until the teaching of philosophy by pagans ended in the second half of the 6th century AD. It represents the final form of pagan Greek philosophy. It was not a mere syncretism (or combination of diverse beliefs) but a genuine, if one-sided, development of ideas to be found in Plato and earlier Platonism—though it incorporated important Aristotelian and Stoic elements as well. There is no real evidence for Oriental influence. A certain Gnostic (relating to intuitive knowledge acquired by privileged individuals and immune to empirical verification) tone or colouring sometimes may be discerned in the thought of Plotinus. But he was consciously a passionate opponent of Gnosticism, and in any case there was often a large element of popular Platonism in the Gnostic systems then current. Moreover, the theosophical works of the late 2nd century AD known as the Chaldean Oracles, which were taken as inspired authorities by the later Neoplatonists, seem to have been a hodgepodge of popular Greek religious philosophy." - Britannica.com

"Neoplatonism - ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of Plato." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Neoplatonism - Considered the last of the great pagan philosophies, it was developed by Plotinus (3d cent. A.D.). It has had a lasting influence on Western metaphysics and mysticism, although its original form was much altered by the followers of Plotinus. Neoplatonism was a viable force from the middle of the 3d cent. to 529, when Justinian closed the Academy at Athens. Although Plotinus is the central figure of Neoplatonism, his teacher, Ammonius Saccus (175-242), a self-taught laborer of Alexandria, may have been the actual founder; however, no writings of Ammonius have survived. Plotinus left Egypt, settled in Rome in 244, and founded a school there." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

As we can see 3rd century Neoplatonism is really rooted in a more ancient Greek philosophical and mystical traditions. The quotes below will confirm the mystical relationship between Neoplatonism as the ultimate form of purified mystical beliefs and the many other mystical traditions that we have already discussed.

Britannica.com identifies seven major characteristics of Neoplatonic thought. All of which can be found in the various mystical traditions that we have already studied.

"Platonism - Neoplatonism began as a complex (and in some ways ambiguous) philosophy and grew vigorously in a variety of forms over a long period; it is therefore not easy to generalize about it. But the leading ideas in the thought of philosophers who can properly be described as Neoplatonists seem always to have included the following: 1. There is a plurality of levels of being, arranged in hierarchical descending order, the last and lowest comprising the physical universe, which exists in time and space and is perceptible to the senses. 2. Each level of being is derived from its superior, a derivation that is not a process in time or space. 3. Each derived being is established in its own reality by turning back toward its superior in a movement of contemplative desire, which is implicit in the original creative impulse of outgoing that it receives from its superior; thus the Neoplatonic universe is characterized by a double movement of outgoing and return. 4. Each level of being is an image or expression on a lower level of the one above it. The relation of archetype and image runs through all Neoplatonic schemes. 5. Degrees of being are also degrees of unity; as one goes down the scale of being there is greater multiplicity, more separateness, and increasing limitation—until the atomic individualization of the spatiotemporal world is reached. 6. The highest level of being, and through it all of what in any sense exists, derives from the ultimate principle, which is absolutely free from determinations and limitations and utterly transcends any conceivable reality, so that it may be said to be 'beyond being.' Because it has no limitations, it has no division, attributes, or qualifications; it cannot really be named, or even properly described as being, but may be called 'the One' to designate its complete simplicity. It may also be called 'the Good' as the source of all perfections and the ultimate goal of return, for the impulse of outgoing and return that constitutes the hierarchy of derived reality comes from and leads back to the Good. 7. Since this supreme principle is absolutely simple and undetermined (or devoid of specific traits), man's knowledge of it must be radically different from any other kind of knowledge. It is not an object (a separate, determined, limited thing) and no predicates can be applied to it; hence it can be known only if it raises the mind to an immediate union with itself, which cannot be imagined or described." - Britannica.com

This long quote from Britannica.com exhibits the main traits of all mystical thought and gives evidence that they ultimately found acceptance within Neoplatonism. We have the hierarchical levels of being ranging from the inconceivable, unknowable "One," which transcends reality and being down to the physical or material world that mankind inhabits. Each level of being emanates and reflects the preceding level. And mankind must seek through contemplation to transcend our crude material existence and return to unity with the "One." This process of transcendent reunification with ultimate reality is entirely subjective and cannot be accomplished through objective means.

Additional quotes from the Columbia Encyclopedia confirm these facts.

"Neoplatonism - At the center of the order is the One, an incomprehensible, all-sufficient unity. By the process of emanation the One gives rise to the Divine Mind or Logos [word], which contains all the forms, or living intelligences, of individuals. The content of the Divine Mind, therefore, constitutes a multiple reflection of the unitary perfection of the One. Below the divine mind is the World Soul, which links the intellectual and material worlds. These three transcendent realities, or hypostases (the One, the Divine Mind, and the World Soul) support the finite and visible world, which includes individuals and matter. Plotinus sometimes compared the One to a fountain, from which overflowed the lower levels of reality." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Neoplatonism - The Neoplatonic cosmology also had religious overtones, for Plotinus believed that people potentially sought a life in which the individual soul would rise through contemplation to the level of intelligence (the Divine Mind) and then through mystic union would be absorbed in the One itself. Conversely, a privation of being or lack of desire toward the One was the cause of sin, which was held to be a negative quality (i.e., nonparticipation in the perfection of the One). There are thus two reciprocal movements in Neoplatonism: the metaphysical movement of emanation from the One, and the ethical or religious movement of reflective return to the One through contemplation of the forms of the Divine Mind." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Neoplatonism - While Plotinus' thought was mystical (i.e., concerned with the infinite and invisible within the finite and visible world), his method was thoroughly rational, stemming from the logical and humanistic traditions of Greece. Many of his philosophical elements came from earlier philosophies; the existence of the One and the attendant theory of ideas were aspects of the later writings of Plato, particularly the Timaeus, and Stoicism had identified the World Soul with transcendent universal reason. What was distinctive in Plotinus' system was the unified, hierarchical structuring of these elements and the theory of emanation." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Neoplatonism - The followers of Plotinus took divergent paths. Porphyry, who remained in Rome, made extensive use of allegory in expounding Plotinus' rationalistic thought and attacked Christianity in the name of Hellenic paganism. Lamblichus taught in Rome for a time and then returned to Chalcis in Syria to found a Neoplatonic center there. At this center, and also at others in Athens and Alexandria, the mystical trends of the East, including divination, demonology, and astrology, were grafted onto the body of Neoplatonism." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

So, we see that Neoplatonism becomes the ultimate collection of the ancient mystical schools, both influencing and drawing from other later traditions like Gnosticism. In essence, Neoplatonism contains Gnosticism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. in a purified syncretistic whole, devoid of the specific identities that were supplied and employed by these other systems.

Neoplatonism's assembly of these other mystical thoughts into a final nameless format has enabled it to become widely influential after is formal emergeance in the 3rd century. As such it has become the means by which ancient mystical thought has infiltrated and continued to affect a wide range of religious thought (especially in the West) ever since.

"Neoplatonism - In the Middle Ages, elements of Plotinus' thought can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas and John Scotus Erigena, particularly in the identification of the One with God and the Divine Mind with the angels The system influenced medieval Jewish and Arab philosophy, and G. W. F. Hegel's metaphysics had Neoplatonic ingredients. Neoplatonic metaphysics and aesthetics also influenced the German Romantics (see romanticism), the 17th-century English metaphysical poets, William Blake, and the Cambridge Platonists. Many mystical movements in the West, including those of Meister Eckhardt and Jacob Boehme, owe something to the Neoplatonists." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Because of its all-encompassing syncretistic nature and dominance as final, basic, and purified mystical thought it would not be inaccurate to view Neoplatonism as synonymous with or at least closely related to all forms of mysticism and Propositional religion. For this reason it may be accurate to also identify Propositional Mysticism with Neoplatonism in as much as the views expressed in Neoplatonic thought serve as the structural skeleton, which for the most part forms the foundations of all propositional and mystical thought. Or put another way, Neoplatonism, both openly and subconsciously, has been the dominant, underlying force in the Propositional Mysticism of the West, which has been a dominant force in the development of world civilization for several millennia and counting.


Conclusions about Propositional Mysticism

Our study of Propositional religions has involved a tedious and exhaustive look at several religions systems. In each case, we poured over historical details in an attempt to understand the origin of the religious claims. We sought after any evidence, which we might use to verify the accuracy of each religion's claims. And, though this process was long and perhaps tiresome, it was necessary in order to evaluate each religion upon its own merits.

The final result of this study was that we have no reason to accept that the claims of Propositional religions are reliable or accurate views of God. In each case, we found that there was either a total lack of objectively verifiable evidence to support the theological claims, that the evidence contradicted the claims, or that evidence was available, but was not sufficient to substantiate the theological claims or did not have a corroborating relationship to the theological claims.

In our search to understand how we should view God, we want to be careful and not indiscriminately or hastily disregard a religious view without good reason. We do not want to simply or conveniently categorically dismissing an entire group of religions without any genuine assessment having been done. To that end we have sought to examine each religion on its own, assess its origins, evidences, beliefs, and relationships with other religions so that we can truly determine whether a particular religious view should be accepted or discarded. We have now completed this task with regard to Propositional religions.

Having now finished our in-depth look at all of these individual Propositional relgions, it is now possible, with good reason, to view these various religions, no longer as separate and distinct views of God and the universe, but as a single, composite theological system. Two things permit us to fuse these systems together into a single whole, which we will appropriately refer to as Propositional Mysticism. The first is their shared beliefs, practices, and approaches to spiritually. The second is the syncretistic nature by which all Propositional religions originate and develop through a process of incorporating and adapting previously existing religious views, mostly without substantiation.

The super-religion, Propositional Mysticism, is named for and defined by its fundamental characteristics, which we have seen repeatedly exhibited by its member sub-religions. These fundamental characteristics are:

1. The propositional nature of the religious claims. This is identified by each religion's failure to produce or even offer any objective or verifiable evidence by which its claims can be substantiated or accepted. Instead of being supported by evidence the claims of such religions are merely proposed and the potential follower is expected to accept the accuracy of the these claims soley upon presumption, circular reasoning, and subjective, personal experience.

2. The mystical view of God, the universe, and human spirituality. Mysticism is identified as any religious system, which incorporates the idea that the believer can transcend material existence and become one with God through subjective, personal, or intuitive experience by participation in mysteries or initiation rites.

Beyond these two foundation traits have seen that Propositional Mysticism is also defined by:

3. Syncretism. The incorporation, combination, acceptance, or fusion of different concepts and different belief systems into a single, comprehensive whole. (These incorporations do not first require that the adopted belief be substantiated.)

4. Obscurity of Origins (or lack of historicity). Many of the foundational religions, from which Propositional Mysticism is derived do not have historically identifiable origins or founders.

Common beliefs which are held by Propositional Mysticism also include, but may not be limited to: reincarnation, karma, a path of steps to achieve enlightenment, a dualistic view of the God or the divine, the "unknowability" or "inexpressible nature" of the supreme being, polytheism (possibly taking the form of emanations of the supreme God), practice of magical arts, mystical rites, and meditation, etc.

One last note, while not all of the religions, which we have studied, that we might place into this overarching category share all of these beliefs, and some may even disagree with one another, we feel it is still fair to place them into the same composite theological system. The disagreements that may exist between various Propositional religions over concepts and practices do not seem to be any more significant than the variation that exists between the many Christian denominations of the modern era. These Christian denominations often disagree with one another in what at times are contradictory and irreconcilable ways over very fundamental Christian issues including the nature of God, freewill, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, etc. Yet, despite these crucial differences they are close enough to all be placed within the single category of Christian religions. In like fashion, the many religions that we have covered in our Propositional religions section have as much in common in terms of origin and unifying, fundamental concepts on God, the universe, salvation, and the spirituality of man, to be identified collectively as Propositional Mysticism despite their relative differences on some issues.

Having at last completed our survey of Propositional religion, we will now, finally move on to the next section of this study, our analysis of Evidentiary religions. Since the purpose of this entire study is to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity, we will begin with an examination of Islam. After demonstrating the reasons why Islam must be rejected we will proceed to take a look at Judaism and Christianity.


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Ancient Mesopotamian Timeline & Figures Chart




World Religions
Origins Chart