If we attend closely to the Jacques Lacarriere quotation [in the longer essay] — which suggests that a cosmic deception extends to “all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers” –we can begin to understand the way in which mythical / metaphysical gnosticism morphs (or might tend to morph) into unconventional / licentious gnosticism, as well. For if the dominant culture is deceptive, the way to to find deliverance from the prison of this world– the way to find out who you really are –might be to intentionally live in a way that runs very much counter and contrary to the dominant culture.
NOTE: Be forewarned, this can get rather ugly, at times, and is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart…
Unconventional/Licentious Gnosticism (the ugly)
Ehrman devotes about 4 minutes of the second YouTube video on The Gospel of Judas to that which I am referring to as the ugly gnosticism. Fielding a question on the possibility of a romantic or sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, he relates Epiphanius‘ account of the Phibionites in a 4 minute segment which I have cued to begin at the 24:45 minute point:
Jacques Lacarriere also appeals to Epiphanius‘ account as he, too, documents in some detail their very unconventional lifestyles (including the putatively licentious sexual practices attributed the 4th century Carpocratians and the Phibionites — see chapters 7 and 8 of The Gnostics). Note: As Lacarriere indicates, it is also worth comparing and contrasting those groups to the Cathar communities which thrived in southern Europe about 10 centuries later. It seems clear that if their alternative mythology and metaphysics was not enough, the alternative social and sexual practices of these groups almost guaranteed that they would be marginalized and ultimately condemned by the institutional church. It is also worth noting, however, that The Gospel of Judas characterizes the mainstream church as similarly immoral (albeit, one assumes, in a metaphorical way — see segment 35:15 – 36:55).
In any event (whatever the details), just as we may learn from bad gnosticism, construed as a philosophical exercise or thought experiment, so per chance we may also learn from ugly gnosticism–i.e. by immersing ourselves in a very unconventional, counter-culture lifestyle, for a time (not unlike the prodigal son, perhaps, who does seem to have ended up wiser than his elder brother). Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that the main-stream, institutional church condemned and continues to condemn such seemingly far-out, unconventional beliefs and behaviors.
What both Bart Ehrman and his more conservative colleagues (seemingly) fail to understand, however– something that, no doubt, has been overlooked many self-described Gnostics over the centuries, as well –is that one does not necessarily come to know who or what they really are (much less really find deliverance from the human predicament) simply by adopting an alternative metaphysics, mythology, and/or lifestyle. Indeed, so doing, one may merely exchange one egoic delusion for another. What is needed, instead, is an altogether different kind of vision. An alternative metaphysics, mythology, and lifestyle are, at best, preparatory, whereas the seeing itself is unitive or nondual.