Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
The Serpent's Gift:
Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion
By Jeffrey J. Kripal
University of Chicago Press,
224 pages, Trade paperback, $28
Available from amazon.com
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
Jeffrey J. Kripal is a wonderful, engaging writer with a sense of humor and a talent for telling stories--and retelling stories--so they take on so much more meaning.
The central hypothesis of this book--which is a collection of four major essays--is that the study of Comparative Religion almost necessarily forces the student's mind beyond the superficial facts of the various religions studied into a kind of mystical view of an elusive "truth" beyond all religion. This is "gnosis," and it's been an theme in religion, mysticism and heresy since before the time of Jesus.
I REALLY resonated with this book. That central hypothesis is something that I personally experienced in my own study of religion, first as a Catholic seminarian and monk and then as a student and friend of the renowned religions scholar Joseph Campbell. In a book I wrote about my experience of knowing Campbell, titled The Myth of the Great Secret, I argued almost exactly the same thing as Kripal. I used Campbell's elusive, but pregnant phrase "The New Myth" for this vision of religion beyond religion. Kripal uses the historical term "Gnosticism."
What is certainly true is that looking at the great religions from the viewpoint of an external observer, over and above any particular belief, makes you see that all the elements of religion are metaphors and practices for transforming consciousness and bestowing vision. Understanding the nature of religion totally transforms what religion seems to be. Myth is not falsehood, it is wisdom and poetry, but it is not fact either. This certainly changes how one thinks about the Western religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity with all their insistence on historicity. The whole world is starting to wake up. Science transforms what "fact" means. Religious truths just aren't facts. They are something else; they are secrets the universe is revealing to itself in us, as us. "Gnosis" means getting the Secrets.
The Serpent's Gift is a heady book; it takes paying attention to (which, incidentally, is one of the major spiritual techniques for transforming consciousness), but it is just packed with brilliant insights and interesting and sometimes surprising ideas.
The chapter on the homoerotics of the story of Jesus alone makes so much sense, it calls out to the reader to pick up this book. I read the book at a snail's pace, so I could savor each new idea, but it all holds together well. Having read this book, I immediately ordered another of Kripal's books: Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. It too is a gem. And those words in that subtitle also apply to this current book: The Religion of No Religion. That's the gnosis.
If you've got a mystical bone in your body--or soul (Am I mixing metaphors?), you'll likely respond to this book with joy and delight and maybe vision beyond the everyday world.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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