It takes an imperfect God to create this many sci-fi writers obsessed with Gnosticism

Dig into almost any decent writing just a little and you’ll find traces of mythology. Ancient myths touch on universal truths, because the old-timey people used stories to explain the things about the world they didn’t understand. Kind of a no-brainer then, that the stuff still resonates with us even in the age when we know it’s not Apollo pulling a chariot across the sky with the sun, and we aren’t gonna literally believe Daedalus and Icarus biting it while flying on wax wings. Of course, there are a large number of people who believe varying degrees of literal interpretations of the Bible, which only proves the point further.

Somewhere in the shady lands between tales we see as truth and those we see as bedtime stories for old Greeks lies Gnosticism. Actually first posited by some cats from Greece as well, this heretical and mystical form of Christianity (there are spinoff non-Christian forms as well) puts a very different spin on the world-view that you might be familiar with. It’s sort of what Kabbalah is to Judaism, and the two connect in many places, but it’s far less widely accepted by the traditional set (did I call it heretical yet?)

Nag Hammadi

Here’s the shortened version of a few of the key Gnostic concepts filtered through the anime Ergo Proxy — any similarities are definitely not coincidental. Any Gnostics out there, gomen for my clumsy simplifications of your religion. Bullet lists and some possible spoilers follow. I tried really hard to keep them out, but then there wasn’t anything to talk about… ON with this.

Who’s who

Ergo Proxy doesn’t have a 1:1 correspondence of mythological figures to its own characters. You could say one of two things about this:

  1. Dai Sato, master of obscurity, and the writers of Ergo just pasted some Gnostic names onto their opus in an attempt to sound deep, after learning that “a flawed creator creating flawed creations” was a Gnostic theme. We could call this the Anno Method.
  2. They decided to let their own Creator — not to mention the Proxies, Re-L, and Vincent — fill numerous spots in mythology at once.

Ergo’s storyline is a complicated (some would say convoluted) and sometimes abstract one. Since it’s not always literal, that abstraction points me more toward #2. Plus, I like to give writers the benefit of the doubt.skepticism

Monad vs. Yaldabaoth the Demiurge

To Gnostics, the most fundamental belief is that the creator of this earth is not a true god, but a “demiurge.” This is Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah. That’s where the heresy comes in. This being’s very existence is basically a mistake, but it was powerful enough to create the material universe — and the little beings who populate it. Now, these folks aren’t bad, and in most Gnostic teachings Yaldabaoth isn’t either, but there are two truths here:

  1. A flawed creator can only create flawed things. The Statues actually tell Re-L that they’re all the flawed products of a flawed creator. This theme continues to trickle down to the AutoReivs, the flawed creations of humans.
  2. We, as fleshy beings, are prisoners of a material world. In this case Romdo is analogous to our own universe, in which we live perfectly happy lives until we acquire a glimpse of Gnosis (meaning knowledge, called “truth” in the anime). At the point where you know, your soul’s desire for more knowledge supplants your ability to be happy in slavery. All of its equivalent domes, represent potential similar planes of existence. Yes, both The Matrix and They Live are bigtime Gnostic flicks, according to some.

The one in Gnostic myth who brought Gnosis and saved us from this prison of slavery is Christ, but more on that in a second.

Some Gnostics break it down further, where the Demiurge was served by beings called Archons who did his laundry. In this case, I think there are two possible routes:

  1. The proxies are in fact Archons to The Creator, who is the primary Demiurge.
  2. The Creator is the real and truest God, known as Monad, while the Proxies are various Demiurges. Each domed city in this case would represent a material universe like our own.

Either is likely, but either way the central theme is what’s important: the Demiurge stands as gatekeeper to the realm of Light, and thus true God and Gnosis. I think that’s obvious in this case, since the Proxies rule over the false realities of the domed cities.

proxy

Sophia (Monad)

Monad is represented by numerous æons — emanations of God, also semi-analogous to traditional Christian angels — who come in pairs of descending importance. On the lower end of that, in the realm of Light, is Sophia and Christ.

From Wikipedia, paraphrased from the Gospel of Thomas (part of the Nag Hammadi), here’s what happens when the pairs operate independently of each other:

When an æon named Sophia emanates without her partner aeon, the result is the Demiurge, or half-creator, a creature that should never have come into existence. This creature does not belong to the pleroma, and the One emanates two savior æons, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to save humanity from the Demiurge. Christ then took the form of the human Jesus, in order to be able to teach humanity how to achieve gnosis; that is, return to the pleroma.

Well, that says a lot about the other Monad — the one in the anime — who is inexplicably tied to Ergo, and of course it says plenty about Vincent and Re-L as well. Vincent is the obvious Christ-figure of the story with his return to Romdo in earthly form, and when he and Re-L come back to Romdo again, they occupy the same body for a time.

vincent christ

When things start to both confuse and click simultaneously is when Monad Proxy herself returns to Romdo, but as Daedalus’s creation, a false Re-L. The names are obvious here, with the literal translation of her untimely end from the Icarus/Daedalus myth, although I think it’s only marginally related. But If Monad is Sophia to Vincent’s (Proxy) Christ, and Re-L is somehow also Sophia to Vincent’s (human) Christ, then that would tie them together fairly well.

What’s it mean?

big finish - More Re-L just causeThere’s far more to cover in Ergo Proxy besides these three loose Gnostic parallels — for instance, the cogito virus, whose purpose bears a funny resemblance to another semi-Gnostic cartoon’s Human Instrumentality Project.

But regardless of whether I ever tie it all together, the point is the same as why Gnosticism still has an appeal as a religion (though please don’t consider this as anything other than and endorsement of an anime):

It values knowledge, thought, interpretation, and freedom of intellect over the material, the easy, and enslavement. it eschews easy answers in favor of learning for ones’ self.

But unlike this material existence, at least I’m able to do it a second time in hopes that it’ll make more sense.

Fuck these (9) Comments.

  1. OGT says:

    I just thought I’d point out that the entire selling point of Gnosticism is that it’s basically “make your own religion”–there were as many Gnostic sects as there were Gnostics. So if you got it wrong, you’re actually right.

    • caitiegirl says:

      Interesting. It was also a huge point in Ergo Proxy that truth is derived from yourself, thus, you provide your own truth, your own “raison d’etre”.

  2. I have the show, and am interested to watch it now. Here’s something interesting I want to remark on in your post:

    A flawed creator can only create flawed things. The Statues actually tell Re-L that they’re all the flawed products of a flawed creator. This theme continues to trickle down to the AutoReivs, the flawed creations of humans.

    I forgot if it was Leibniz who asserted that perfection is a unique attribute to God. There is no other possible perfection – perhaps following a logic of ‘if one is inferior to something else, that is a lack of something (the number one spot) — an inferiority, therefore not perfect.’

    Following this, anything other than God, including creation can never be perfect.

    This was used by theist apologists to justify the existence of suffering in creation. God is good and created ‘the best of all possible worlds’ and even such a world can never be perfect.

  3. Muse says:

    You know… I think I actually kinda understand Ergo Proxy now. Originally by the end of the series I was just kinda staring at my screen going “WTF?!”, but when it’s related to gnosticism it makes a bit more sense.

    … and now I’m actually quite curious about gnosticism because it bothers me how little I know on the topic XP

    really interesting post dude 😀

  4. otou-san says:

    @OGT
    Let’s not talk about Unitarianism. 😛 Almost all flavors of Gnosticism share basic things, and at least for the purpose of the post let’s assume I’m talking Christian-based Gnosticism as confirmed/made up/whatever (depending on your viewpoint) by the Nag Hammadi. The crap in the book of Thomas, basically.

    @ghostlightning
    The “even a perfect God’s creation can’t be perfect” thing, I dunno, I don’t think I buy it myself.

    This was used by theist apologists to justify the existence of suffering in creation. God is good and created ‘the best of all possible worlds’ and even such a world can never be perfect.

    The Gnostics on the other hand, nipped that in the bud a thousand years ago by declaring God flawed, and kind of an asshole to boot. And in the context of Ergo… well, I don’t think anyone will argue that the Proxies are perfect.

    @Muse
    Thanks for the good word, I appreciate you stopping by. And I’m glad I could help your understanding, although my understanding of both Gnosticism and Ergo Proxy is far from solid. gnosis.org is a great source of info on the former, though.

  5. animekritik says:

    @outou-san

    Great post, I love theology!! Anyway, in Gnosticism there is a higher god behind the Demiurge. Sure the Demiurge is flawed, but the higher god isn’t, and he’s the one that sent Jesus to Earth to tell the people about the true god BEHIND THE DEMIURGE’S BACK!! Pretty good plot right there.

    Anyway, I’ve always been very curious about the fascination with Gnosticism in semi-brow (as in between high and low-brow) pop culture. I think OGT’s point about the DIY friendliness of Gnosticism is spot on. But I’m still curious, because at heart Gnosticism is about despising matter and glorifying spirit, which is not exactly what pop culture goes for…

  6. I can’t really say much lol but it is an elusive concept to a modern audience, so there is really something really appealing in utilizing such elements.

  7. OGT says:

    @otou-san

    Well, yes, there ARE certain conventions, but there were a quadrillion Gnostic sects (and a quadrillion other sects–anyone who says that Christianity, at one time, was a unified whole, is utterly insane and also wrong), and they each had their own beliefs. The only thing I am pretty sure was agreed upon was the Demiurge/True God deal. Everything else might have had widespread, but Gnosticism was pretty much “this world is a lie and created by an inferior being, and Jesus was sent by the True God”. As animekritik said.

    I avoided Ergo Proxy (invocation of Manglobe Clause and also the trailer caused me to roll my eyes in dismay all those years ago) so I’ll just shut up now.

  8. otou-san says:

    @animekritik
    Right on, those were the really key concepts I hoped to convey, just couldn’t quite grasp who the Creator (in Ergo) was, since he may not actually be the perfect God that the Gnostics would call the True God or Monad. For the sake of argument, I say yes, especially since Vincent fits so nicely as Christ.

    I like your point about “semi-brow” culture and Gnosticism, can’t say I ever examined the “why” myself. I suppose for the creative types who write these things, the knowledge- and self-oriented teachings of the Gnostic Christ have plenty of appeal.

    @The Sojourner
    It’s true too that just creating a little mystery and the hint of a reality/factual/theological basis for your story is enough to intrigue people, especially if it’s one they’re not super familiar with.

    @OGT
    The whole “this world is a lie and created by an inferior being, and Jesus was sent by the True God” was pretty much the central concept I felt was expressed by the show and hopefully I conveyed that in the post somewhat. Anyway, it was much more Gnostic than the Matrix and people cite that shit all the time.

    As for the Manglobe Clause, I’m well of aware that it exists for you but it doesn’t make me understand it. I’ll never try to convince you otherwise because if Bebop can’t do it then Ergo certainly will not.