Jeremy Lott

Are American Christians 'Gnostics' in disguise? Revisiting an odd old theory

Are American Christians 'Gnostics' in disguise? Revisiting an odd old theory

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

How do you feel about Professor Harold Bloom’s contention (1992 book) that all American religion is more Gnostic than Christian -- that Americans believe in “God and me,” which is not historic Christianity at all?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This question regards the American literary critic’s book “The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation.” When first published, many saw eccentric or crackpot thinking as Bloom contended that most Americans’ belief “masks itself as Protestant Christianity yet has ceased to be Christian,” floating into Gnosticism.

One might  immediately ask, Do Catholics count?

Two of his chief examples of a supposed indigenous “American Religion” were the Southern Baptist Convention and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. Mormonism). The two groups’ theologies are radically different from each other, and from the original “Gnostics” who were cast aside as heretics during Christianity’s early centuries.

Reactions were more favorable toward Bloom’s “The Shadow of a Great Book: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible,” published in 2011 (“a fascinating, intellectually nimble tour de force” -- Washington Post).

To begin, we should sketch what the Gnostics of ancient times actually believed, guided especially by Pheme Perkins of Boston College and the late Dutch expert Gilles Quispel. Gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge.” There were numerous varieties, but the typical form of the faith was radically dualistic, presenting an obscure or unknown deity sharply different from the familiar and well-defined God of the Bible.

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