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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

God’s Kid Brother: Punk Rock and Gnostic Theology

I have a great many, varied interests. Sometimes people say that I am “well read,” more often they just say I’m “weird.” There are times when having a broad spectrum of interest provides an interesting overlap–like when you find first century gnostic theology bouncing around inside the music of a satirical punk band from the late 80s/early 90s.

Weird, I know.

The Dead Milkmen, a punk band from Philadelphia, has been a favorite of mine ever since I heard the song “Punk Rock Girl” from their 1988 album Beelzebubba (a title that STILL delights me) on a late night college radio program when I was in junior high. They were irreverent. They were funny. Maybe they weren’t the greatest musicians; maybe Joe Genearo’s singing was nasally and often out of key. So what? They were loud and goofy. 

In 1992 I bought their album Soul Rotation (on cassette) and discovered the song “God’s Kid Brother.” I didn’t know it then, and I don’t know if the members of The Dead Milkmen knew it–maybe they thought of it as I did then, as a humorously mild sort of blasphemy, a rejection of the standard biblical creation story in search of an explanation for the apparent dysfunctions of the universe–but the lyrics of the song are very much in line with some of the theology of first century Gnostics.

I've looked for the reason why we're here
I've kept on searching until it was clear
I've looked for excuses - can't find no other
We must be the product of God's kid brother

It’s difficult to describe Gnostic theology, because really it’s more like Gnostic theologies-plural; there were lots of variations, but most of the various gnostic groups believed that that physical world was created by the Demiurge–a sort of lesser deity. In some of the stories the Demiurge is described as cruel and malicious. In these accounts the physical world was created as a sort of trap or prison for pure spiritual beings. In other gnostic writings, the Demiurge is described not as demonic, but foolish and weak. 

Maybe there are two Gods
A perfect God who made all those perfect people
And another God who made the rest of us
And maybe, just maybe, somewhere there's a Heavenly choir
That sings off key.

It’s not exactly spot on. In Gnostic teaching the physical world was not created by God (not even the creation of “all those perfect people.” The perfect God was pure spirit, unsullied by physical matter. And the Demiurge wasn’t “God’s kid brother”–the exact relationship is difficult to describe. But for an irreverent, satirical punk rock song, it’s pretty close.

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