Gnosticism is a very old and complicated spiritual tradition, and I don't claim to be well-versed in it. But as I understand it, the essence of the Gnostic position is that our universe was not created by the one true God, but by a lower-level deity, the demiurge, who messed things up. This explains the imperfections of earthly life. It also casts doubt on the beliefs of most mainstream religious persons, who, according to Gnosticism, worship a mere imposter.
Now, I don’t buy the idea that some inept, delusional godling created the space-time cosmos. But even if the idea lacks metaphysical validity, it may hold some psychological and even historical truth.
At least as far as the Christian tradition is concerned, the Gnostic position seems to be, in part, in response to the willful and capricious God of the Hebrew Bible, who is always smiting his enemies, prescribing arbitrary rules, and blustering belligerently. Yes, there’s a more positive side to job, especially in the writings of prophets like Amos and Isaiah, but the negatives are all too clear. And some of those negatives carried over to the New Testament, as well.
If we see the God of the Old Testament as the supreme ruler of the universe, we may find him baffling and inexplicable. But suppose we view him in another way - as a projection or expression of the human ego. Suddenly he becomes a lot more understandable - even "relatable," in the parlance of scriptwriters today.
In this respect, the Gnostic viewpoint may actually make sense. It's not God who is childish, dishonest, destructive, and delusional; it's the ego. The Biblical God displays these qualities only because he is drawn in the image of the ego.
This notion raises a further possibility, at least to those who are open to the idea of channeling and even materialization or direct-voice mediumship. It has sometimes been observed that descriptions of early “face-to-face” encounters with God (notably, Moses’ experiences in the Tabernacle) match standard accounts of séance phenomena – a dark, enclosed space; a mysterious disembodied voice; a particular individual with inborn intuitive talent, who is indispensable to the phenomena.
It is at least possible that such experiences were part of an unbroken line of shamanistic traditions extending back into prehistory, and that such communions with the spirit world were originally understood as encounters with spirit guides (one’s ancestors, a departed chieftain or teacher, or some legendary figure), not with an all-powerful God. After all, it seems likely that the earliest religions recognized a multiplicity of spiritual authorities and were not monotheistic. Some residue of this tradition is found in the Bible itself – for instance, in the word Elohim, translated today as God, but literally meaning gods or spirits. It is also found in the plethora of Catholic saints with their various functions and intercessory formulas. The idea of a single transcendent God may have been a relatively late development, while the original tradition (still preserved to some extent in folk beliefs, spiritualism, and New Age ideas) may have grown out of séances in which discarnate spirits were channeled or manifested.
In this scenario, the utterances of “God” would actually have been the words of discarnate entities who were not necessarily any more intellectually, morally, or spiritually advanced than the flesh-and-blood audience they addressed. It is also possible, of course, that the medium’s own ego got mixed up in the communications, and that the messages were adjusted to suit the propagandistic needs of the ruling authorities.
So when the Gnostics dismissed Yahweh as a childish, delusional sub-deity, they may have been on to something – not because the actual Mind behind the cosmos fits that unflattering description, but because the all-too-human mentalities of lower-level spirits may have been misinterpreted as the word of God. The Gnostics, with their sophisticated Platonic understanding, may have seen through this historic error – and ticked off a lot of orthodox believers in the process.
Finally, there’s another way of looking at the Gnostic position – a way that’s even more speculative than the foregoing.
Suppose we accept the Kantian idea that the human mind is, in a sense, a co-creator of space-time reality – that “true” reality exists in a nonphysical realm (of pure information?) and the consciousness imposes the properties of space and time on this spaceless, timeless source. From this perspective, consciousness could be seen as the demiurge – the being that participates in creating the universe, and imagines itself (in its egotism) to be uniquely powerful and productive.
In other words, the childish, delusional pseudo-God of the gnostics is … us.
If there’s any truth to this, then the imperfections of earthly life can perhaps be traced to errors (or suboptimal choices) that we ourselves make in “rendering” the source code into the physical environment we navigate. Conceivably a better understanding of our rendering capabilities would lead to better results – as is perhaps the case with spiritual masters who are said to be able to cure illness, manipulate matter and energy, and transcend ordinary physical limits. Perhaps if we really understood and mastered our deepest capabilities, we would finally have eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree and “become as gods, knowing good and evil.”
And knowing (gnosis) is what Gnosticism is all about.