The Soul-Crushing Tyranny Of Desire

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For Gnostic Christians, the salvation of humanity lies in freeing ourselves from the materialistic world and joining our personal divine spark to the Father Of Light, the highest god. To do this, however, we must free ourselves from desiring after worldly things, for this keeps our gaze focused downward toward the darkness of Earthly shadows instead upward of toward the light of the heavens.

In the Gnostic text The Book Of Thomas The Contender, Jesus tells his listener that “your mind is deranged on account of the burning that is in you.”  One thing that this means to me is that when we are caught in the clutches of desire, we don’t analyze the world correctly;  we allow the possibility of current pleasures to become incorrectly magnified and consequent future pains made to seem smaller than they actually will be.  In the Gnostic The Acts Of Thomas, Thomas the apostle warns that “insatiate desire brings the soul into fear and shame.”  I take the “fear” here to mean especially the fear of losing (or of not obtaining at all) what you desire.  And perhaps the “shame” is that of being found weak; or the shame could be caused by the realization that, instead of helping others to satisfy their needs, we choose instead to selfishly satisfy our own insatiate desires.

Jesus, again in The Book Of Thomas The Contender, tells us that when we allow lust to control us, we surrender our “freedom for servitude.”  In other words, throwing aside the constraints of custom or caution and following the dictates of desire may feel like being free, but in actuality, you are allowing yourself to be enslaved by your own lust, greed, and gluttony.

Jesus tells Thomas that when desire causes men to rush toward “things that are from the truth, that which guides them, the fire, will give them an illusion of truth, and will shine on them with a perishable beauty, and it will imprison them in a dark sweetness and captivate them with fragrant pleasure.”  But in reality, people with a desire lodged within their breast suffer from “a stake stuck in their heart.”

Jesus tries to make Thomas see how silly it is that an immortal soul would chase around material forms and “lust for those visible things that will decay and change,” for “that which changes will decay and perish.”  To be pulled forward by desire is to be “attracted downwards.”

When a man understands the fleeting nature of this world, his perspective will alter drastically.  “Be not fond of this beauty that perishes in all its varieties […] it falls and melts as snow in sunshine,” states the Angad Roshna, a Gnostic Manichaean text.  In The Gospel Of Thomas, Jesus says that “whoever has come to understand the world has found only a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is superior to the world.”  It is “only a little time until that which is visible dissolves,” warns Jesus, “then shapeless shades will emerge and in the midst of tombs they will forever dwell upon the corpses in pain and corruption of soul.”

In The Acts Of Thomas, Thomas singles out three desires as especially noxious: Sex, Greed, and Gluttony.  “Abstain from fornication and avarice and the service of the belly,” instructs the apostle, “for in these three heads all lawlessness is comprised.” … Gluttonies, he says, serve to plunge “the soul into cares and anxieties and sorrows, since it becomes anxious lest it come to be in want, and reaches out for what is far from it.”

In the Gnostic scripture, The Acts Of John, John warns that there are “unseen springs” in the human body which we perceive as lusts and which drive us toward our doom.

Several Gnostic scriptures speak of desire for Earthly things acting to perpetuate the cycle of reincarnation, with the series of different bodies we inhabit compared to the occupancy of a succession of dungeons by pitiable prisoner.

The Savior offers to free us from this endless struggle if we but follow him… “From each dungeon shall I release you,” he says in the Manichaean text, the Angad Roshnan, “bearing you afar from all wounds and afflictions. I shall lead you forth from this torture where you shall no more fear each encounter.”

For the Gnostics, Earth is “the prison of creation” and “the house of affliction.”  The human life is a “path of stumbling” and is full of “deeds of dread, and much sickness.”  It is only by following the way of the Savior, by the renouncement of worldly desires, that one can free one’s self from “the pits and prisons” into which the transmigrating soul plummets during each reincarnation.

Salvation for Gnostic Christians occurs when we stop grasping after fleeting Earthly things and instead embrace the eternal. Then, and only then, can we finally abandon the “husk” of our bodies and fly upward toward the Light.


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