BLOOM, Harold, Omens of the Millenium. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996. Paperback, 353 pages, without an index or bibliography.

by Robert Brow   (

When I read this book five years ago I did not bother to review it. But I have suddenly realized that it helps to explain the theological disarray of our day.

The author (who taught Humanities at Yale) is not be confused with Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987. From different angles both of them have much to say about American Religion. Harold Bloom calls it "a syncretic and prevalent faith . . . whose quasi-official high priest is the Reverend Billy Graham" (3). But the underlying mindset is a "gnostic amalgam" (31) including the "New Age "contemporary debasement of Gnosticism" (17) which is mixed in with ideas about "angels, telepathic and prophetic dreams, alien abductions, etc." (226). In all this religiosity "a great many people are Gnostics without knowing it" (27, 233). But genuine Gnosticism must be distinguished from its "New Age parodies" (31).

Bloom gives us comments about a variety of items that do not seem to be his main concern He is interested in Zoroaster (6-10). There is a whole chapter about angels, both good and bad (37-81); another on dreams (83-124) including a helpful section on Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams . He also discusses Near-Death Experiences, Shamanism, the Astral Body, Sufism, and the Kaballah. His Gnostic hero is Valentinus (c.100 to 175 C.E.) who was viewed as the first great heretic by the Church Fathers (187-189, 252-253).

Bloom was writing with "the approach of the Millenium" in mind, "even as we move towards what may be the end of our time" (2, 11). Y2K fizzled out, but his rejection of Theism continues in many academic circles. "A God who tolerated the Holocaust . . . must be either crazy or irresponsible" (23). Having opted for a form of Gnosticism as his alternative, his focus becomes unashamedly evangelistic.

He begins by admitting that "in some sense all of this book is a kind of Gnostic sermon" (2). And the book concludes with an actual sermon that begins with Emerson's "It is by yourself without ambassador that God speaks to you" (254). Bloom is sure "that what makes us free is Gnosis" (235). And this is defined as " the Gnosis of what we have become", "the Gnosis of where we were," "the Gnosis of wherein we have been thrown" (241), "the Gnosis of whereto we are hastening" (239-243).

How does Bloom's model of God and the world differ from our model of Trinitarian Theism? As opposed to a world created by a loving God, "Gnosis grants you acquaintance with a God unknown to, and remote from this world, a God in exile from a false creation, that itself, constituted a fall" (183). Like Marcion (died c.160 C.E), he thinks "The God of this world, worshipped (as Blake said) by the names of Jesus and Jehovah, is only a bungler, an archangel-artisan who botched the False Creation that we know as the Fall" (27). Instead of being created in the image of God, "we are cast out, at once from God and from our true selves" (242). The return to the pleroma (perfect state, 226) from which we came is by the Gnosis of knowing who we are and where we came from. And that resurrection must take place, as Valentinus, taught (188, 251-252) before we die. It is therefore nothing to do with Jesus' death and resurrection

Bloom recognizes that there were "so far as we can ascertain, few, perhaps no Gnostic churches or temples in the ancient world" (24). The reason is that "mere Gnosticism does not lend itself to communal worship" (17). Then he makes an astonishing statement which could never be true of genuine Christian faith. "Ancient Gnosticism, like Romantic and modern varieties, was a religion of the elite only, almost a literary religion. A purified Gnosticism, then and now, is truly for a relative handful only" (33).

That suggests that in the first centuries of the church there was a confused popular Gnosticism, as in our day, which had a common rejection of God as a loving Creator. What the early Church Fathers attacked was the explanatory models of Valentinus , Basilides, Marcion and others in the second century. We are not likely to meet many genuine Gnostics as the author defines that way of attaining illumination and freedom. But the confused religiosity surrounds us on every side, including our seminaries and universities, and anything is acceptable as long as no one suggests that God is a loving Trinity.

Our task is to present the good news of the one that common people heard "with delight" (Mark 12:37). But kerugma (proclamation) of Jesus as Savior also needs didache (teaching). No one is saved by understanding the elegant logic of our model of Trinitarian Theism (as set out in the Nicene Creed), but without it people are confused and a prey to every kind of religion that is peddled in our world. And the heart of our preaching and teaching is the resurrection (which all Gnostics deny) on this Easter Sunday. HAPPY EASTER.

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