Explaining Gnosticism through the DC Universe

So this week, I watched a 6-year old movie (it was basically black and white, well I guess it was like Technicolor, I could see reds but pretty much everything else was yellowish.) It was Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. It was a decent, animated comic book movie (there are some great ones out there, but this one is just ok.) So on a parallel earth all the bad guys are good guys, and all the good guys are bad guys. Ultraman is the evil Superman. Johnny Quick is the evil Flash. Superwoman is the evil Wonder Woman and so on. The most interesting opposite character though was Batman’s. Owlman is his name (voiced by the always great James Woods.) I think they chose “Owl” because some owls eat bats I guess. But Batman is already kind of messed up. He’s not like Superman. Batman has done some dark stuff. He will do whatever it takes to defeat evil and he teeters on the edge of becoming evil himself. So what would the evil doppelganger of Batman be like? Well, they made him out to be a total nihilist. Instead of doing whatever it takes to stop evil. Owlman will do whatever it takes to stop anything. He’s going to destroy not only his own world, but all possible worlds in the multi-verse. Batman of course has to stop such an evil plan. But Owlman doesn’t see his plan as evil. It cannot be morally judged because nothing would exist when he’s done. Then Batman in all his Batman-ness delivers this iconic line: “There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the Abyss, but when it looked back at us… you blinked.” He teleports Owlman into another dimension and his machine blows-up killing him, but Owlman has time to say, “doesn’t matter” before he’s incinerated. Phew. Heavy stuff for a cartoon my 5-year old daughter watched with me. Before you say anything, she picked the movie out. She wants to be Wonder Woman when she grows-up because, in her words, “she beats up the bad guys and makes them tell the truth.” There are worse role models on television today.

I’m going somewhere with this (at least loosely). One of the early destructive heresies that plagued the church in the first century was a crazy messed-up belief called Gnosticism. But because we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it. One thought I had on why Owlman said, “doesn’t matter” was that he knew there would be another Owlman on another earth that would defeat Batman instead of the other way around. So will Gnosticism reign again? Well, no, because it’s crazier than Harley Quinn on nitrous oxide.   But I do think some elements of Gnosticism are creeping in.

I could give a really detailed account of Gnosticism, but it ends up sounding like the origin story of the Joker. There are too many stories, and too many of them contradict each other, and you’ll just be too disturbed to think clearly. But Gnosticism is like the evil parallel world in the DC Comics. The Creator is bad. Demons are good. And Lex Luther is just an innocent small business owner trying to protect mankind from extraterrestrial threats. Think I’m kidding? These are really some actual highlights of crazy old Gnosticism.

Crazy #1) The Material World Is Evil

Rocks are evil. Trees are evil. Chairs are evil. Our flesh is evil. Everything that can be touched, felt, or smelt is evil. (And of course the one who smelt it dealt it or is it the one who said the rhyme that did the crime???) On the flip side, the spirit world is good. Anything without matter is good. Dreams, hopes, spirits, and ghosts are all good because they are free from earthly bounds. So we saw this regurgitated in the movie 2014 slasher/horror film Noah. The Spirits-beings, let’s call them Demons, actually tried to help human beings and were thus cast down and made into giant rock creatures making them part of the material world. Once they were freed from their earthy bondage they were good again and allowed to return to their heavenly home. Gnosticism. Gnosticism. Gnosticism.

Crazy #2) Jehovah in the Old Testament was the Devil

He created the World. Thus He is evil. He then created an actual nation of humans, Israel. That was evil. Then He did lots of punishing and destroying. Such emotions are evil. This evil God wants you stay a human and not return to the One True Source. So this heresy also popped-up again 2,000 years later in the form of a book series titled His Dark Materials and a terrible children’s movie called The Golden Compass. In this pop-culture gem, Luke (just a fun little nickname for Lucifer) is the hero that is trying to rescue poor innocent children from the nefarious plans of “God.” God is really evil and wants to enslave mankind instead of freeing their spirits. Only Luke and a group of strangely good-looking teenagers can stop Him. Gnosticism. Gnosticism. Gnosticism.

Crazy #3) All this Knowledge must remain Secret and Hidden

So, as the legend goes. The One True Source created a god, and it created another god, and it another until the 17th god decided to create a lowly material Universe instead of creating a god. So our world was created. This god took the name of Jehovah (or as those with the secret knowledge know, it’s really the Devil!) Well the other gods from the One True Source felt bummed because all the humans living on earth had souls and would forever wonder the universe lost once our body died (heresy.) So these gods created more gods until one was brave enough to come to our world, posses a human vessel and show the rest of human souls how to get back to the One True Source. So the god “Christ” possessed a human named Jesus when he was getting baptized (heresy.) Once Jesus died on the cross, the Christ left his body and began traveling around and showing human souls how to get back to their true home (double heresy.) All this is secretly held knowledge for only the special few who hold on to the truth. That’s why I hate anything that claims to have secret knowledge lost to history, or anything that unlocks some magic code in Scripture. No. Scripture is straightforward communication. God wants to be known. Jesus is completely God and completely human.

How come these heresies keep creeping up again? Well it’s because the real Devil is a Great Deceiver. If you make Superman an evil crime boss, everyone knows it’s a jacked up world. If you see the Flash in a yellow suit, you know no man would willingly choose yellow for an outfit. Unless they were evil! We know Wonder Woman wouldn’t snap the necks of people who are disobedient to her (or have male henchmen, come on! She’s an Ambassador to the UN for Feminism [uh, that’s a real story, Google it.]) But what’s truly insidious about these deceptions is that they make some logical sense, and only slightly tweak the story. It’s like when you looked at the new Superman suit in Man of Steel. You knew something was different but couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Then it hit you. Where’s the red underwear?!? But then you think to yourself. Does he really need the red underwear? It obviously doesn’t serve a practical purpose. Maybe he doesn’t need it? (Heresy!) It defines who he is! He’s the strongest man in the galaxy! How are we going to know that unless he wears the attire of an early twentieth century strongman?!? Multiply that by a billion when you start tweaking the divinity or humanity of Christ. Even a subtle change like “flesh is bad” (and you can twist scripture into saying that) can change the biblical narrative significantly.  The problem is, a lie at the foundation can totally destabilize the whole belief system. Before you know it, God’s the bad guy and Lucifer is the good guy. But the favorite tactic is always the most wiley to pin down – secret knowledge. (btw, Gnosticism just means “knowledge” in Greek.  I want no secrets between us.) When opinions and ideas get thrown on top of the Bible, you can rearrange that mess to mean whatever you want. It’s just meant to confuse everyone. Maybe some people really buy into it ( i.e. a cult.) But more people just throw their hands up and think all this stuff is stupid (i.e. agnostics.) The truth is: The Bible has been under scrutiny for thousands of years now, and it’s holding up to the best that the world can throw at it. Read it. Know what it says. The Word and your faith are the best defenses against all the crazy schemes of the Devil, this world, and your weird uncle.

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