My Best Friend is a Corpse… Thoughts on the Gospel of Thomas, Vol 2, #3
Those who make knowledge of the cosmos their specialty have made friends with a corpse, but the cosmos is not worthy of those who know it to be so. Logion 56, GT
Yes. I confess. I have lost my friend. It's hard to face up to this. It's a bitter disappointment, after all these years of intimate acquaintance. I determined early on to know all about him. I wanted so much to believe in his future. I spent a lifetime researching his past history, his religions and philosophies, his art and literature, even his geography. Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Vasco de Gama. Homer and Hesiod, Plato and Plotinus, Aristotle and Aquinas, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Krishnamurti, Hesse and Hemingway. The Buddha, Galileo, the music of Mozart—on and on. I couldn't get enough. I related to him: he was my twin. I traced his progress, rooted for him, wanted so badly to see him succeed. Replete with burning, blade and battle, chaos and confusion, blood, sweat and tears, his story was an epic drama, a steady and protracted struggle upward from a doubtful birth, after which and fighting against impossible odds, he managed to survive innumerable mistakes and miracles, endless dead-end ideologies and religions (always his own worst enemy) and in time contrived to arrive at a sort of truncated and feeble state of enlightenment—and then, for me at least, it all flickered and died. It suddenly seemed such a sorry saga. Did his own death instinct finally do him in, or was he doomed from the start, and I just didn't see it coming?
It's hard to gag it down, but now I know he's dead. I'm just not sure he knows it yet…
Let me introduce my friend, the Cosmos. You know him too; you just haven't known him by this name. Don't think Carl Sagan, or your old astronomy textbook. It means this stuff all right—the 'universe'---but so much more. In the ancient world, the Greek world of the GT, the word signified something like world-system, or the 'civilized world.' Everything all around us, the physical world, yes stars and planets, but also the culture we soak up, the ideas, the ideals, the accumulated and accepted wisdom-content of the human experiment as it currently stands. All of us absorb this still, willy-nilly. Don't try to nail me for a further definition. You don't ask a fish what water is. He hasn't a clue. He just lives in it. It's all he 'knows, without knowing it at all.' He doesn't think about it or question it. It's his world.
What? he'd say, if he could talk. Water? What are you talking about? There's no such thing.
But now imagine a philosopher-fish who gets wise to 'water,' what it is he's living in. Early on, he falls in love with it, and, fascinated, he commits himself, as a kind of gnostic fish, to knowing all he can about it, spends a lifetime studying it. He comes to think his whole existence is identical with its destiny. It becomes in fact his best friend. However, his nature as a gnostic fish takes him in time to the awareness that there's a whole new and expanded reality outside water. What's the future of water? he asks himself. Can water survive, ultimately? He clings to it. After all, he knows nothing else, and he has fallen in love with it. He wants so badly for it to be Ultimate Reality! And then he reads a text (suspend disbelief, please) that says Those fish who make knowledge of water their specialty have made friends with a corpse…
As gnostic fish and humanist, I've been passionately concerned with the future of my best friend--the human race--on this planet. I must depart this scene, and sooner rather than later (hey man, I'm eighty-seven years old; did you know, can you handle it?). What will happen to humanity down the line? Will the human experiment succeed, or will we go the way of the dinosaurs? I rather think that someday I will likely be unaware of the human drama on Planet Earth, its politics, its religion, its culture in general, its foibles and its follies—or if in fact I do know what's going on 'down here' I can't imagine I'll be very passionate about it… In this sense alone, it's already 'dead' for me… Or will be soon.
But I'm not sorry. I'd do it all over again, make friends with humanity. Can't help it, I care about mankind. I want so badly to see him succeed, whether I'm here or not. But it's by no means certain that he will. I know my friend so well by now, his ego-self, his pain-body, his death instinct, his incredible stupidity. He's a slow learner, but I'll say this, I do admire his pluck, his staying power. He hangs in there, keeps coming back. He doesn't give up, against all odds. For every step forward, it seems he has slipped back two or three. The wheels for him grind slowly: first there was fire. Eons ago, he got onto that, after he fell out of the trees and learned to walk upright. Incalculable centuries went by, but he never gave up. Eons later came the wheel. He learned to plant things in the ground, and domesticate animals. He fashioned weapons to bash in the heads of those around him. The enormous energy required for that task exhausted him, drained him, decimated his ranks. He invented false gods, fake news to destroy his past and describe his plight. It took him hundreds of thousands of years to learn that blood circulated inside his body, and only yesterday he finally learned to fly. And now he knows how to blow up his world. All the while, he lived with fear and foreboding. His future was always in doubt. Death was always his constant companion; his distant dream was to conquer even that, his last enemy. Someday… he would do just that.
But now at last it's over. The dream is dead. There he lies, staring up at me, stretched out in his coffin.
How can you say such a thing? Some humanist you are! What made you come to such a conclusion? Dead, you say? Who told you so?
The Gospel of Thomas… That's who. It tells me I'm obsessed with something that's dying—in fact is already dead.
I don't want to believe it. I still fight it.
C'mon, get up, crawl out of that coffin and get back in the struggle. Have another election, organize anew, back to the drawing board. You can't die now, not after you've come this far.
Straight-line American fundamentalists have no problem with all this. For them, there's The Blessed Hope: according to what they want to call the Biblical view, the future of the Earth and mankind is already settled. We know the outcome. The Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory and set up his Throne in Jerusalem. There will be a new heaven and a new Earth. God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, sorrow and death shall be no more. BUT… let's be straight on this: even if this scenario should come true, my best friend will stay dead. The Cosmos, as described above, will remain irrelevant, as it is for those same fundamentalists even now… Who needs this liberal nonsense that kept my friend going for all those ages and ages? The 'Liberal Arts' will be no more! Not in this Kingdom. And now you know how they can vote for Trump…
But they have killed my best friend… What about that? Is the Gospel of Thomas on their side, does it too want him dead? Is this logion warning me about identifying with the Cosmos, telling me not to be 'friends with the world,' in the same sense the fundamentalists advise this, say they got it from the Bible?
I think not.
How do I know? Read the verse again. The second part.
The world is not worthy of those who know it to be a corpse. Or, the world cannot contain those who know it to be so. Or better yet, the world is not ready for the man who has found the body... (all are possible translations)
That's what it says, but what can it mean? Is it suggesting that those who have awakened enough to see the real nature of our present exile on this doomed planet, this time-bound world of form, matter and death, created by the old demi-urge and designed to deceive and defeat us, do indeed hold the only hope for re-birth and restoration? One of many gnostic flavorings to be found in the Gospel of Thomas, this can be seen as no less than a touch of ancient humanism, perhaps even an incipient endorsement of the liberal agenda. It certainly is for me...
The outcome is far from certain. How will it all turn out? It's up to us, in the end. "God" has not determined the outcome in advance. It is the relative few who have managed to come alive and stand up in the cosmos who hold the key to this question. Of these "the world is not worthy."
We may have to start all over, discover Jesus for the first time, read for ourselves his real words, recorded for us in the GT.
I stood to my feet
in the midst of the cosmos,
appearing outwardly in flesh.
I discovered that all were drunk
and none were thirsty,
and my soul ached for
the children of humanity.
For their hearts are blind
and they cannot see from within.
They have come into the cosmos empty, and they are leaving it empty. logion 28
Jesus stands up in the cosmos, looks around and all he sees are seeming corpses, people passed out all around, lying there dead drunk, unconscious. But then
I shall choose you, one from a thousand, two from ten thousand, and you will stand to your own feet
having become single and whole. logion 23
This Jesus had a project in mind, nothing less than a whole new race of men and women who would stand up vertically in the cosmos with the taste of life, having arisen from a position of horizontal death.
Resurrection acquires a new meaning.