Tuesday 18 July 2023

What Gnosticism is Not...

This is a slightly-edited version of a comment at the Orthosphere, written in response to a post by Kristor. This, in turn, was based on my comment to a recent post by Francis Berger.

@ Kristor - Am I correct in assuming that you - and those you implicitly address in this post - are deriving your understanding of (what you term) "Gnosticism" from the US political philosopher Eric Voegelin? 

(Whether influenced directly - or via those who were, in turn, strongly-influenced by V. - such as Lawrence Auster.)

That, in other words, Voegelin's conceptualization came first, and set the template within-which your understanding of historical Gnosticism has developed?

If so; this may account for this "Gnosticism"'s bizarre irrelevance to actual historical Gnosticism! 

What you call Gnosticism here (and other Orthosphere authors, in other posts) is so different from what I derived from reading about the ancient Gnostics, that I find it impossible to get from one to the other.

Clearly there must be an unmentioned third factor at work, behind the scenes - which I guess to be Voegelin.

If your concept of Gnosticism derived from Voegelin, it is important to clarify that Voegelin was not a Christian, was not engaged in any kind of Christian discourse or project; and he was indeed one of those who (mistakenly!) regarded leftism as a Christian 'heresy'.

Most importantly; Voegelin cannot have known much about real-life historical Gnosticism, because the relevant Gnostic texts (Nag Hammadi library especially) had not been translated when he was writing.

So - Why should Voegelin's ideas of Gnosticism have any validity At All?

Some modern *individuals* have become fascinated by historical Gnosticism - especially through the 1960s as the texts were first made available in translation (e.g. Philip K Dick via his friend Bishop James Pike, who was involved in the translations) - but the most basic Gnostic idea that earth was created by 'the devil' and that all matter is evil - is not a part of any modern Christian *church* that I've ever come across.

The nearest equivalent would be the "perennial philosophers" (usually operating within New Age discourse nowadays) who have adopted the basic assumptions and methods of "Eastern Religions" and absorb into this bits of Christianity in an eclectic fashion.

These have retained the ultimate ideal of escaping the material altogether, and ascending into a realm of pure spirit (ie. rejecting bodily resurrection). And such people are often very interested by the actual Gnostic writings - especially the Gospel of Thomas (very Neo-Platonic), and of that of Mary Magdalene (for feminist reasons). But not many such people claim to be "Christians".

In sum... Surely it is Not legitimate to equate Voegelin's modern socio-political terminology with an actual ancient religion/s - especially an ancient religion that seems to have left no institutional descendent?

I find this kind of "Gnostic" discourse so vague and slippery that it seems like no more than shadow-boxing - generative of neither heat nor light - with a bit of passive-aggressive name-calling thrown in!


Note: I personally find near-zero appeal in the actual ancient Gnostics - who I regard (in a nutshell) as the result of maintaining the metaphysics and social structures of pagan, Neo-Platonic secret cults; and absorbing into these groups some of the Christian terminology and history.

I therefore find the Gnostics to be (merely) a more extreme version (more pagan/ Platonic, less Christian) of the same process that led to the mainstream orthodox Christian church (which I regard as a product of exactly the same errors and processes).

The actual historical Gnostic metaphysical assumptions are mostly in direct opposition to (and incompatible with) my own most important assumptions concerning reality.

I would also add that modern individualism/alienation of thinking was Not an aspect of Gnosticism - was indeed all-but impossible to Men of that era. The Gnostics were, it seems, a variety of groups - individual judgment was immersed in a secret and disciplined cult with graded initiations (and no doubt punishments for transgression).

A secret initiatory group-cult is pretty-much the opposite of that explicitly individual discernment and taking of personal responsibility for one's Christianity, which is meant by "Romantic" Christianity.


Jerome said...

That the world was created by the devil is part of all Augustinian churches but hidden, it is the Calvinistic split Trinity that makes the Father the devil and Christ the Good God who defeats him, and it is the doctrine of original sin that performs this, i.e. one is born a sinner by nature a child of Wrath, that is of the Father, and must be reborn as a child of the Son to be saved from him. This Calvinism is Gnosticism made sneaky.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - Never heard any of that before. I would explain all of those phenomena differently.