I’m reading the Complete Idiots Guide to The Gnostic Gospels, by J. Michael Matkin. It’s exciting stuff — kinda like from Indiana Jones. The book reveals how contingent orthodox Christianity is. The early Catholic Church relentlessly suppressed alternative sects, some of which were close to winning out. For example, the second century gnostic Valentius came within a few votes of becoming bishop of Rome. After he lost, he started his own movement, which was later suppressed by the Catholic Church. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, competing sects were violently put down and many of their writings were destroyed. In the early 13th century, the Catholic Church launched a twenty year crusade to crush Cartharism, a gnostic-inspired movement in Southern France. In short, the teachings that came to win out represent a narrow view of what was then available. The Jesus of the Gnostic Bible is more similar to a New Age teacher, with less emphasis on sin and more emphasis on inner spiritual growth. The gnostic Gospel of Mary has Jesus teaching that he will not return and that salvation is available right here now if we but wake up. Admittedly, gnosticism still contains lots of superstitious theology, and The DaVinci Code is a crude popularization. These revisionist ideas about early Christianity represent a threat to right wing Christianity. So, it’s a good thing.