Diagnosis Of Gnosis

The memory of last night’s reunion with friends and relatives, one of whom I hadn’t seen for 43 years, still occupies my mind. We met at the Tang Restaurant, the name should have been a reminder to me to hold my tongue and avoid the discussion of sensitive topics such as religion and medicine. Knowledge that I do not possess, experiences in these fields, I absolutely lack. But, my dear friend was perhaps overcome by his emotions to finally reconnect with me. He was less restrained than me, eagerly wanting to share the gnosis of his religion with me. During his “sermon”, I noticed my chopsticks were busily picking on the delicious morsels of divine Tang cuisine whilst my friend was enthusiastically imparting his religious knowledge and experience of the divine, forgetting to use his chopsticks as the food disappeared from the lazy susan. Eat, eat, my dear friend, I attempted to drag him back to the real world from his Gnostic world.

Gnosis, an old Greek word for knowledge of Hellenistic religions and philosophy was later used by early Christians to mean personal knowledge of the divine.

My friend carried on almost breathlessly about how religions required the slaughter of animals as sacrifice to atone for one’s sins. It wasn’t until God sent his only son down to earth to die for our sins that animal sacrifice was no longer permitted. I bit my tongue on this one, and was proud not to point out that Hebrews 10:11-2 contradicted God’s intention. The ancients still permitted animal sacrifices except they were no longer any offerings for sin. Instead I blurted out that I was dismayed to learn that God saw the need to sacrifice his only son to atone for our sins. If it’s wrong to sacrifice the lives of animals, how can it be right to sacrifice the life of a human being, especially his only son? I was relieved my friend didn’t hear my remarks. Well, if he did, he didn’t show me any annoyance. He was already on to the next subject, why the Bible dictates that women cannot be pastors. In 1 Timothy 2:12-14, Paul did not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, she should remain silent. For God made Adam first, then Eve. Therefore, the woman must be subordinate to the man. “God designed men to lead”. The second reason Paul offered was that Adam was not deceived, Eve was and she became the “transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:14) Again, I was proud to bite my tongue and refrained from arguing that if man was designed to lead, why did Adam fail to control Eve from committing the first sin. After all, it was only an apple, not irresistible like the delicious slivers of steamed cod we were picking with our chopsticks.

Cardiognosis means knowledge of the heart, in Eastern Christianity and Roman Catholic theology, it is a view that only God knows the condition of one’s relationship with God. As we were being served the sinful dessert, our discussion was being hijacked by the more raucous friends at our table. They were clamouring over one another debating about cardiac arrests, strokes and statins. My ears pricked upon hearing the talk about bad LDL cholesterol. The bloke next to me was especially knowledgeable, he sounded like he would have been a great physician if he hadn’t chosen Industrial Engineering in university. He had been quiet all night until the discussion turned to the right or wrong of taking statins. Suddenly he’s on fire, blaring loudly about the dire consequences of not knowing our cholesterol levels. Hey mate, I interrupted him. Why do we conclude that cholesterol is bad simply because 70% of cardiac fatalities show a high presence of LDLs? If we say that in 70% of arson cases, we see the presence of firemen and fire engines, would we similarly conclude that firemen and their trucks are the cause of those fires? 60% of our brain is made of cholesterol. 90% of cellular cholesterol is found in our endothelial membrane. Our body makes cholesterol because it needs cholesterol. The fact that our body doesn’t waste cholesterol tells us it is a precious resource. Every LDL cholesterol sent to repair any inflammation in our body is returned to the liver by HDL cholesterol. Why do we therefore disrupt the efficient dispatch of cholesterol by our body? Why do we think we need to reduce our LDL with statins? Because studies supporting the use of statins from decades ago concluded that high levels of LDLs detected in cardiac patients point to cholesterol as the culprit? My mates laughed at my logic, they found my analogy ridiculous. Let me repeat: blaming LDLs simply because they are heavily present in cardiac patients is akin to blaming firemen at the scene of arson attacks as those causing those fires.

What wasn’t disputed is the need to change our lifestyle to reduce inflammation. Exercise, adopting a healthy diet, practising Intermittent Fasting to encourage autophagy and promote cell regeneration. What’s debatable is the sensibleness of taking statins let alone questioning their effectiveness. What’s also indisputable about statins is the many side effects. Muscle and joints pain, rash, muscle loss, Type 2 diabetes, liver poisoning, memory loss, leading to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Urghhling, I heard them call me, as we bid one another good night and promised we will not wait for another 43 years till we meet again.

To Voice A Sophie’s Choice

Sophie’s Choice, a 1982 movie starring my favourite Hollywood actress, Merryl Streep, was about the diabolical situation a mother was put in during the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Auschwitz. She must choose between the lives of her two children, only one is to survive, the other will be gassed. And if she can’t make the choice then both will die. Today, when we say we have a Sophie’s Choice to make, we mean we have to choose between two extreme outcomes of which neither is desirable.

I have a dear friend who holds a special place in my heart. To me, she is one of the greatest cello pedagogues Australia has ever produced. Sadly, she has succumbed to Alzheimer’s and can no longer recognise anyone, not even Sophie, her own daughter. Sophie is a wonderful mezzo soprano, fulfilling her lifelong quest to be a world class singer in Europe. Sophie is in town for a week, mainly to spend precious time with her mum. Whilst having dinner with her, the voice in my head told me it’s really a Sophie’s Choice Sophie has made. I confessed to her that my previous visit to her mum was really a selfish act, to soothe my own conscience rather than to please a special friend who may be as forgotten as she has forgotten. What is left of a person who has no memory left? Are we still who we are without our memories? I am comforted when I recall that Sophie’s mum still retains her personality even without her memory. She is still that extroverted Irish lady who readily puts on an American accent, dances and prances about the room upon hearing some familiar happy music.

There is an illusion about “self”. We wrongly assume that our soul or “self” is one continuous “me”. The “self” is similar but not the same forever. The Aniccam in Buddhism teaches us to see through the illusion of self. It is the idea of life being in an impermanent state, a continual change. Sophie’s mum is no longer her old self without her episodic memories but she is still Sophie’s mum. Much of her personality is intact. Similarly, our experiences also change us. The “self” changes over time as new memories are formed from new experiences and many older memories are lost. It is uncommon to find someone who remembers everything that has occurred during the past 1,000 hours! When “self” loses its memory, be it due to disease or death, what is “self” left with? Is there a “me” after that? Is there meaning in life therefore? No, such questions may lead to nihilistic conclusions. Sophie’s mum brought great music into my home and enriched all of us, and I will forever remember her wit, energy, lovely charm and unrivalled dedication to my sons. She reminds me to live a rich happy life, and be carefree and unburdened. For me, that is the meaning of life, to consciously, mindfully live it and at the end of each day, to appreciate it.

Sophie’s choice is to make a fulfilling life of her own as an opera singer. That means she bases herself in Europe, away from her ailing mum. Alternatively, she gives up on her lifelong dream as a mezzo soprano and returns to look after her mum. But, what benefit would that be for her mum who cannot recognise her now? A Sophie’s Choice which Sophie has made. I’m proud of her, it’s a choice even an urghhling would find difficult to make.

Seppeltsfield, memory of a cello recital concert firmly planted there.