Gnostic Despair

For the Jew or the Christian, this world and its logos, as creatures of the Good himself, are likewise fundamentally good, and so conformity to that logos can possibly be righteous. There is for them a Way of Heaven, a Tao, that pervades the Earth, forms and guides her and all her denizens as she moves in and with it; a Way to which they may, and indeed ought, to aspire. Such folks have a shot at holiness themselves. So we sometimes find them taking that shot, and trying to be good.

For the gnostic, no such luck. Having rejected the creator of this world, and classed him among the evil ones, there is no way that a gnostic can consistently understand the order of his world as intelligibly good. Nor therefore can he believe that agreement with this world’s corrupt order is somehow good or righteous, let alone holy.

The modern gnostic does not of course believe in the fantastic panoply of gods proposed by ancient gnosticism. He is an atheist. But this leaves him in the same basic predicament as the ancient gnostics, for if there is no God, then there is no divinely created or therefore sanctioned order out there to begin with.

For the gnostic, the order of this world is either evil or, in the case of the atheist, entirely adventitious, which is to say, random and meaningless. Holiness and righteousness are concepts that are simply inapposite to such a world, if so we may call it (as, properly speaking, we may not).

The gnostic cannot be holy, no matter what he does. Everything is dirty to a gnostic, and so he has no way of attaining purity. The only purity to be had for him is via the rejection of creation and its order, root and branch.

Further, any system of ordering and classifying reality that the modern gnostic encounters, he must reject as unfounded and therefore unjust. Any such system must impose upon him some obligation or other, more or less discomfiting. This is just in the nature of systematic models per se: they constrain thought, ergo action – or else, they are devoid of meaningful content. To the gnostic, such impositions, as unjustified, cannot but be outrageous. So he rejects his own patrimonial system of order and purity, and valorizes instead some Other. But then he rejects also any jot of influence upon him of that Other that goes any deeper than his vague gesture of distant nominal respect – for any such influence would be but another sort of unjust constraint. He cannot admit that any Others have any consequences for how he lives, or ought to.

So can he say that he tolerates all religions, for to him they must all be meaningless, except for his own gnosticism. And as soon as gnosticism becomes predominant in him, it must then turn and devour itself. For to the gnostic, who rejects all the orders of this world, no system of discrimination, no ukase that this may be tolerated but not that, can in the end be tolerated – not even that of gnosticism. When you reject the world and all that is in it, you reject that rejection in the bargain. If gnosticism is right in its insistence that the world is no good, then neither is that feature of the world known as gnosticism any good.

For the atheist gnostic, there is no safe harbor anywhere in life. Yet we are so made as to want purity and righteousness, and to feel their lack as a painful defect of existence. We cannot rest until we reach a place worthy of rest. But in a wholly bad or meaningless universe, there can be no such place.

This is why the Overton Window must always move. It cannot ever rest.

So gnosticism tends to nihilism, and to despair, and to hatred.

119 thoughts on “Gnostic Despair

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  3. When you write that the gnostic can never be holy, do you mean that he can never achieve a satisfactory sense of his own holiness, or that he denies the possibility of holiness altogether? I would agree with the first statement, but not the later. Christian writers in the early modern period pointed to two recent outbreaks of gnosticism, the Puritans and the Cathars (which meant “the pure”). Both groups seem to have believed that a man (or at least some men) could be “holy,” but then found that this holiness was a will-o-the-wisp that they could chase but never capture. As many writers have observed, this is why gnostics/puritans soon become “holier than Jesus” and “holier than God.” That’s what moves the Overton window, and that’s what leads to nihilism. The man who has decided he is holier than God is like the inch that has decided it is more accurate than the ruler.

    • I meant the former. Being human, the gnostic cannot stop wanting to be holy (holiness is just fullness of human being – purity is immaculate human being). But in practice his cosmogony rules out the possibility of ever scratching that itch. When holiness involves rejecting the world, it’s tough to complete the project except by committing suicide, as the West has lately been doing.

      And that is why the gnostic pursuit of purity is so desperate and intense. It is insatiable. Gnostics do often lead extraordinarily ascetic lives. E.g., vegans. And they can amass a lot of purity points that way. But it’s never enough.

      • Hence the rise in assisted suicide as a result of the depression caused by modernity in the face of an indifferent universe in many cases or just the autonomous decision to die.

        Personally I think when you say describing from a secular viewpoint it is incorrect to say that the universe was random. In fact the Atheist refrain is that there is order as the result of laws that order the planets according to how the natural forces usually work not by design or ordination however. In similar way biology in their view need not a creator but the ingredients of variation as a result of mutation and natural selection to bring forth organisms and facilitate evolution. The universe is indeed indifferent and just happened to be created due to the right conditions. But natural laws as a result of natural forces that just happen to exist is what creates the illusion of a creator.

  4. > To the gnostic, such impositions, as unjustified, cannot but be outrageous.

    I have a bit more hope for modern people here. I hope – and often do see – many modern people realize by at least some kind of pop-buddhism way that restrictions can be good for you not only because some external rule or truth demands conformity, but because it is simply not healthy for your well-being to be enslaved by your own ego, by your own desires.

    Do you seriously think that everybody today who does not believe in a divine order behind things thinks happiness and well-being equals the complete freedom to pursue and satisfy all our desires? Isn’t it a straw man?

    People are not _that_ liberal even today. For example I know young people who consider a military career because they “need more structure in their lives” i.e. they know they have problems with wrong desires like laziness and explicitly want their own freedom restricted and their impulses overridden. And yes, they are something like third generation atheists. These are precisely the kind of people you seem to predict that they don’t exist in the modern world.

    In other words, try to avoid too binary tribalism. Yes, there is an extreme liberal subset for which it is true. But it is not everybody.

    The same way, there are certain failure modes on your side as well i.e. it is possible to be religious in a way that actually increases and does not reduce the ego. This happens amongst the very neo-neo-protestants who are not rooted in much tradition and their pastors can often say what the people want to hear. Often, what a lot of people would like to hear is the idea of a kind God that does not impose anything, but yet supernaturally protects his faithful from the kind of natural consequences that an atheist must accept and take into account, because the atheist does nto expect anyone to override the laws of nature for his sake.

    • Let me formulate it differently, to be perhaps more precise:

      People who believe their personal happiness and well-being depends on the maximal satisfaction of their desires or the maximal liberty to pursue so will not accept even very well justified impositions – they will just “hamster” until they can rationalize it. E.g.

      The point is, the acceptance of impositions, no matter how well justified, requires a PRE-EXISTING ego-reduction attitude. It requires an attitude that you are at the very least unsure whether a lot of freedom is actually good for you, much like the guy I mentioned who considers a military career because he feels he is too lazy and needs externally imposed structure in his life. If a person at the very least feels that restricting his freedom can be good for him, he will accept well-justified impositions.

      And frankly this feeling, this basic instinct that maybe complete freedom is not so good for me because I will be eaten alive by my own ego, this is not exclusive to the religious. It is, I think, more like exclusive to the intelligent and self-critical.

      • “If we can’t know the nature of being as such then we have no basis for the assertion that we can’t know the nature of being as such.”

        Good catch. This kind of self-defeating argument is more commonplace than we today generally pick up on. Put in other terms, asserting that we can’t know the nature of being is self-defeating, thus nonsensical, because the assertion contains within itself the claim that we can know the nature of being – that it’s unintelligible.

        The person who engages in this kind of illogic – of which I am not aware of a single person not guilty – is saying that he *can* know a thing in the very statement asserting that he *can’t* know a thing.

      • @Nilakantha108 @Kristor the primary difference is the method. Christians or the West simply likes words too much. Theology, faith, belief, all reduces to words. The mystics stumble upon something that is beyond words but they don’t have consistent methods to reproduce this experience. Buddhists and Taoists don’t really like words, except the Gelugpa (Dalai Lama), those do 🙂 but in general focus far more on methodologically reproducing the mystical experience and then as much as possible living in it.

        I won’t even say liking words too much is a basic Christian feature. Humans never act or speak as if they would be creating something ex nihilo: humans always struggle with things that are already there, right? Humans _react_ to a pre-existing state of the universe or human society in order to achieve their goals and thus what they do is always partially determined by what was there before. To understand something is to understand its history: this at least did get Hegel right. So it is possible that Christian mystics or theologicans had to struggle with a Greco-Roman culture that _already_ liked words too much and plain simply they had to adapt to that – too much although I don’t know enough history to say it was so or was not so. Perhaps the Buddha was lucky to had the chance to preach to Hindus who already did not like words very much. Some Buddhist teachers say Jesus and Buddha were pretty similar but one preached to semi-illiterate fishermen for three years and the other to mystic philosophers for forty years, hence the different results.

        Still I would find it really wise if at least you high-brow guys here would try to learn to like words less. Practice Rationalist Taboo ( taboo an important word and all its synonyms, and try to explain your view without them i.e. try to focus more “visually” on the experience, not its “label”. You don’t really have to bound by a words-addicted history.

        @Nilakantha108 I am generally with you, but we need to be more fair here. In the West we usually get only the highest level of Buddhist and Taoism, while all, even the low levels of Christianity. This is not a truly fair perspective. In Asia, where you get also the lower levels of Buddhism and Taoism, things don’t really look that pretty. Low-level Dao is a health cult, low-level Tibetan Buddhism is far too scared of all kinds of demons everywhere because low-level practicioners haven’t a clue that in the texts demons merely symbolize our own disturbing emotions etc. of course we don’t import that kind of low-level stuff. Some guy who meditates in say London obviously does not want to perfectly emulate a semi-literate Tibetan peasant. So we don’t import that low-brow stuff. Similarly, if a non-Western country would import only top-level Scholastic Catholic theology and not import all the sweet but annoyingly superstitious Catholic grandmothers we all are far too used to, perhaps things would look different.

    • I think lots of people who think of themselves as atheists are actually theists. It’s almost impossible to live as if there is no God, no ultimate Logos or Tao, to which all beings are obliged to agree as the condition of their being. As so many atheists have clearly seen, the only way to do it is to kill yourself.

      • Yes, if you redefine atheism to be something nobody could possibly believe, then you will find few people believe it.

        But atheism does not mean disbelief in an order of the universe, it means disbelief that there is some PERSON doing the ordering.

      • Same thing. Atheists just don’t (yet) see that there is no order without ordering, and ergo an orderer.

        Put another way: an order that is purely adventitious is not an order at all, properly speaking. “Unintentional order” is an oxymoron.

      • An atheist is one who rejects objective Supremacy, ie., Perfection, thereby attempting to psychologically imprison all those within an earshot to a life of “infinite regress.”

      • Atheists are anti-Supremacists… Er, equalists… Believers in total redundancy… There is no transcending this paradigm and so the most virulent atheists are anti-white Supremacists for the simple fact that “whites” have a penchant for at least attempting to vigorously transcend The General Entropy. But, the most nasty and vicious of atheists are “white” anti-white Supremacists… It’s like Cain and Abel… And Cain is now going for the big kill, but didn’t notice Abel is still barely breathing. Internecine warfare is the way of the “white” atheist. In the “white” atheist, one will find the culprit for all white civil wars.

      • Using your terminology, either this orderer is ordered himself (in which case someone had to have ordered him and you have an infinite regress) or he is disordered, which would seem to be undesirable. Or he ordered himself, which is a neat trick, and maybe explains why it took a few billion years to get to the good stuff.

        Here, let me say something which you might even agree with. We can’t know the absolute nature of being, the best we have are imperfect metaphors for it. Theists like to use a human metaphor, atheists object to all the false implications people draw from that. Taoists at least put the unnameability of the Tao front and center, which makes it perhaps the least objectionable religion.

        Saying that an order must have an orderer, to me, seems to be applying human metaphors to areas that are vastly beyond their applicability. If a room appears ordered, we know someone must have ordered it. To metaphorically apply that to the whole universe seems naive at best.

        Theism, unlike taoism, purports to not only know the nature of order and the orderer but is sure that the Cosmic Orderer is a guy pretty much like us, with our own biases towards (eg) forms of sexual behavior. That is worse than naive, it is absurdly pretentious.

      • Thanks, a.morphous, that was a useful comment.

        In my last, I should have made clear that it is only any order *that is not itself necessary* that must have an exogenous orderer – an agency of some sort that ordered it.

        Necessary orders are ordered necessarily, meaning that there is no way they could possibly be otherwise than they are. Contingent orders must have an exogenous orderer: they cannot order themselves, because until they actually exist – until, i.e., they are ordered – they cannot do anything at all. This is (one of several reasons) why bootstrapping theories of the genesis of the cosmos can’t work: the boot can’t haul on its own straps.

        So, any order of a contingent world such as ours, or of any set of contingent worlds, had to have arisen in and derived from a necessary order. And that necessary order cannot have been passive. In order to cause the contingent orders that derive from it, it had to be active. That’s why it had to be an agent.

        What we have, then, is a necessary agent that is the source of all contingent order, and so of all worlds. That’s just what all men have called God.

        We can’t know the absolute nature of being, the best we have are imperfect metaphors for it.

        For most of my life I would indeed have agreed with this statement, but now I don’t. The reason is simple: if we can’t know the nature of being as such, then we can have no basis for the assertion that we can’t know the nature of being as such. Contrast that baseless assertion with the based assertion that whatever being as such might be, it must be expressed in all instances of being (just as both a.morphous and Kristor express the nature of man). It must then be expressed in our experience – the only evidence we can have of what it is like to exist.

        Theists like to use a human metaphor, atheists object to all the false implications people draw from that.

        People do indeed draw a lot of false implications from the revelation that God is personal. Lots of sloppy reasoning out there. That doesn’t mean he isn’t personal.

        Taoists at least put the unnameability of the Tao front and center, which makes it perhaps the least objectionable religion.

        The Western word for “tao” is “logos.” The Logos is to us the outward aspect of what St. Dionysius the Areopagite called the “Supra-Personal Godhead.” We have a lot of names for it and ideas about it, but in itself it is beyond all names and ideas – just as one would expect of the idea of ideas. NB: this does not mean that our names and ideas about it are false.

        Saying that an order must have an orderer, to me, seems to be applying human metaphors to areas that are vastly beyond their applicability. If a room appears ordered, we know someone must have ordered it. To metaphorically apply that to the whole universe seems naive at best.

        What is contingent must have a cause. This is not a metaphor. A metaphor would be a comparison of two particular things. “What is contingent must have a cause” is a perfectly general statement, applicable to all things that meet the criteria of contingency. I.e., not a metaphor. It’s a fact, a logical relation, implicit in the definition and etymology of “contingent.”

        Theism, unlike taoism, purports to not only know the nature of order and the orderer but is sure that the Cosmic Orderer is a guy pretty much like us …

        Not so, actually. Theism (at least in its classical Christian and Jewish version) insists that God is not at all like us. Check out Job or the Psalms for some strong language on that score. NB: that God is not at all like us does not mean that he cannot meet us where and as we are – cannot be incarnate, for example.

      • “We can’t know the absolute nature of being, the best we have are imperfect (my emphasis) metaphors for it.” — a.morphous

        That are obviously rooted in intuited notions of Perfection… “We” certainly can know a God with the will to do all right just as “we” can know such a man WHETHER real or conceptual… And Perfection is He who wills All Right.

        The atheist DENIES ALL THIS… Both as fact and possibility… Total mental shutdown and self-imposed intellectual stunting… But a diabolical way in which to enslave the less intelligent.

        At least one could admit that human beings are in-perfect?

      • Of course, then the atheist falls back to the problem of evil as rebuttal to Perfection as “operating paradigm,” but cannot acknowledge Perfect Evil thwarts this attempt as there is literally NO EQUAL experience of gratituous pain. There is a hierarchy of pain ultimately rooted in Perfection. And the Son not only experienced the perfect worldly and otherworldly pain, but clearly, stands as Answer to the “problem” of evil as no man will ever suffer greater gratituous pain than the perfect Son himself.

      • Now the atheist doubles down and denies the existence of Perfect Evil… In essence, showing his “problem” of evil to be mere postering… He doesn’t REALLY believe in Evil… Gratituous pain is purely subjective and has no objective legitimacy, the atheist must concede.

      • Necessary orders are ordered necessarily, meaning that there is no way they could possibly be otherwise than they are. Contingent orders must have an exogenous orderer

        When I read stuff like this alarm bells go off and I basically can՚t process it. It stinks of bad ideas. Sorry, that is not a counterargument, more like an expression of taste.

        But something about your way of thinking must appeal to me, or why would I be here? Maybe I can detect a certain beauty irrespective of whether or not it has any meaningful content – approximately how I feel visiting old churches in Europe.

        So let me try to engage:

        Necessary orders are ordered necessarily, meaning that there is no way they could possibly be otherwise than they are. Contingent orders must have an exogenous orderer: they cannot order themselves, because until they actually exist – until, i.e., they are ordered – they cannot do anything at all.

        The only necessary order (to use your terminology) that I՚m aware of is mathematics. And even it starts to look a little conditional around the gills, or at any rate, did so in the early 20th century. That was an interesting time, I think what happened is that the way in which people conceived of the relationship between mathematics and reality turned out to be simplistic, and a new one was eventually negotiated. It is odd, perhaps, that the foundations of mathematics were shaking at the time so many other foundations were crumbling.

        But I digress.

        This is (one of several reasons) why bootstrapping theories of the genesis of the cosmos can’t work: the boot can’t haul on its own straps.

        Yet here we are. I fail to see why God is allowed to bootstrap and the cosmos can՚t.

        So, any order of a contingent world such as ours, or of any set of contingent worlds, had to have arisen in and derived from a necessary order. And that necessary order cannot have been passive…… it had to be an agent.

        I don՚t see how any necessary (that is, eternal) order can be anything but passive. It can՚t change, it can՚t act, all it can do is Be. “Passive” may not be right, it is equally incapable of being acted upon as it is of acting.

        What we have, then, is a necessary agent that is the source of all contingent order, and so of all worlds. That’s just what all men have called God.

        Or how about: humans have very highly sensitive mental mechanisms for attributing agency to each other; which they also like to apply to inappropriate things like the universe.

        The Western word for “tao” is “logos.”

        Oh please. You can՚t get much more opposed than “in the beginning was the word” and “the name that can be named is not the eternal name”.

      • Thanks, a.morphous, for engaging with me so openly and politely on this topic. I really appreciate it. You raise good points, which might well have occurred to other readers in your religious predicament, to whom I hope my answers might be helpful.

        Mathematics is indeed a necessary order, but its necessity was not at all impeached by Gödel’s refutation of Hilbert’s grand project of unification of all maths into a single logistic calculus, so nobly essayed by Russell and Whitehead in their Principia Mathematica. That it is necessarily true – as Gödel demonstrated – that not all truths that can be expressed in a logistic calculus can be demonstrated in its terms does not mean that they are not true, or that they cannot be expressed in some logistic calculus. It means only that if there is to be even one logistic calculus that can express some truths – if, i.e., there is to be even one truth – then there must be an infinite stack of such logistic calculi. If there be any mathematical truth, then, there are infinitely many mathematical truths, all necessary. Only in virtue of the infinity of truth might the mutual implications of mathematical truths be procured.

        Gödel was a devout Lutheran, and kept a Bible on his nightstand.

        Why? Perhaps because truths – which is to say, ideas – can’t have themselves. Truths subsist only in the reflections of some mind. Throw Clerk Maxwell’s equations on a page: with no mind to interpret them, not only are they meaningless, referring to nothing, but they are *not even equations,* *not even math,* *not even signs,* but rather only spots on paper. If even that.

        I fail to see why God is allowed to bootstrap and the cosmos can’t.

        He isn’t. No state of affairs, nor any entity, can bootstrap itself into existence, because what does not yet exist can’t do anything at all.

        Furthermore, a necessary being is completely hauled from all eternity. For God, no hauling of bootstraps is needed, or possible.

        I don’t see how any necessary (that is, eternal) order can be anything but passive. It can’t change, it can’t act, all it can do is Be.

        To be *just is* to act. Note that “being” is a gerund.

        You can’t get much more opposed than “in the beginning was the Word” and “the name that can be named is not the eternal name.”

        These two statements profoundly agree. In the beginning was the Word, the eternal Tao; as being before all thought, whatever we think of it is not it.

        NB: this does not mean that what we think of the Tao is necessarily wrong. If it did, then Taoism would be necessarily and totally wrong. We can think about the Tao – we can name him – and we can understand truths about him. If we could not, then we could not understand that we could not understand. But we ought not err to think that we can pin him down or encompass him with our thoughts. He’s not a tame lion.

        The Word is YHWH. We don’t even know how it’s pronounced, let alone what it really means. Only he can know that, because only he is infinite. All we know is what he told us that it should mean to us: “I AM.” We can call him by that name, which is what he means to us, and that name is not inaccurate – i.e., it doesn’t refer to something other than the eternal Word – but no name covers the Word himself. It rather only points, and at the very most, limns.

        What map has ever denoted every feature of the territory? What saying has ever exhaustively specified its denotations? A fortiori, then, how could any name we might use be itself the eternal Tao? To think it might be would be to engage in a titanic category error. The name is not the thing named; the concept is not the thing conceived.

        For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

        – Isaiah 55:8-9

        We can however also say this: when he spoke with us, one of the things he said about himself is that he is the Tao (John 14:6).

        I urge you, a.morphous, to ponder this question in your heart: can it really be true that the beauty you apprehend in metaphysical truth and in the Cathedrals dedicated to it is nothing but noise?

      • As Dr. Charlton has reiterated at his blog, one starts with a default assumption to which no absolute certainty can exist, yet, one must work from there nonetheless…

        The default assumption of the atheist is that Perfection IS NOT man’s “operating paradigm.” But, this is merely a passive assumption. The aggressive default assumption is that man’s “operating paradigm” is “nothing.”

        So man is not just rootless, but aimless as well. Is it any wonder that he then self-destructs?

      • “Yet here we are. I fail to see why God is allowed to bootstrap and the cosmos can’t.”

        I know you’re familiar with the logical arguments for God’s existence, so granting that a necessary being exists, would you agree with the logical implications of His existence in that He IS being, whereas all non-necessary being merely has it (being)?

        I don’t know about “bootstrapping, ” it just seems to me that the (necessary) nature of a necessary being must be that He is eternal and perfect in His Being; such that He cannot need an orderer. Indeed, I don’t think it’s proper to speak of necessary being as ordered; order, it seems to me, implies complexity (e.g. human beings; the cosmos), and we know that if necessary being exists He must necessarily be simple BEing as well. Am I thinking rightly, Kristor?

      • Being neither a theist nor an atheist (I’m a Buddhist), I accept the order of the universe, but I deny the instrumental causality of the Absolute. This being so, my fundamental conceptual problem lies in understanding the logic of how the realm of Being comes from the One beyond Being. This first act of proodos that is intelligible being keeps me awake at night (good thing I’m not married) and is one of the main reasons that I reject theism.

      • I too worry about the Many and the One, Nilakantha. It’s one of the reasons I am a theist! How does the Absolute become One, and then Many?

        The best I have been able to do so far is to tell myself that it is not as though the proodos took place in time (or in some other Many) – time rather takes place in it (as does every Many). So, the Godhead and God are both eternal; if God is eternal, then there is no problem explaining how he emerged from the Godhead, because he didn’t: he just is eternally the actuality of the One. Nor therefore does he derive from the Godhead somehow, or depend on it; he rather just is it – he is the is-ing of the Godhead.

        The Absolute then is to God rather as prime matter is to actual material things: an abstraction. There is no such thing as matter that has no form. Likewise, there is no such thing as an Absolute that is not God.

        Thus the Absolute *does not* become God, because the Absolute *just is* God. Neither in God nor in the Absolute is there any becoming.

        Of course, this still leaves the problem of the generation of the Many. I’ll tackle that … some other time.

      • @Terry I know you’re familiar with the logical arguments for God’s existence, so granting that a necessary being exists, would you agree with the logical implications of His existence in that He IS being, whereas all non-necessary being merely has it (being)?

        See my earlier reply. I am suspicious of that sort of language, but even if you accept it, it proves there is a necessary -something-, not that it is a He with person-like attributes. Also to say that that something “exists” or does not exist also is questionable, because it is importing concepts appropriate to everyday individual objects (my cup of coffee exists, until I drink it and it doesn’t) to ultimate things, which are not even things.

        That is to say, if “God” means anything at all it refers to something that is beyond existence or non-existence. And is not a thing, or a person. And can’t act or have emotions or judgements, except metaphorically, or in stories suitable for children who can’t grasp difficult abstractions.

        Kristor says that the Tao and the Logos are the same; I submit that whereas they may point to the same thing, they generate very different attitudes towards it. Christians seem to be very sure they know the mind of god and want to force everyone to conform to His will, Taoists, for the most part, are humble before the unknowability of the ultimate (and yes, that is a vast oversimplification).

      • … if “God” means anything at all it refers to something that is beyond existence or non-existence. And is not a thing, or a person. And can’t act or have emotions or judgements, except metaphorically, or in stories suitable for children who can’t grasp difficult abstractions.

        This is very well said. Indeed, it is exactly what Terry was getting at. A.morphous, have you been reading Orthodox theologians recently? Or, perhaps, Meister Eckhart, or Jacob Boehme? You here succinctly recapitulate the whole of the vast Christian and Jewish literature on religious language.

        Christian doctrine does not, nota bene, suggest that God is a person. Neither does it suggest that he is merely a thing, among other things. Rather, he is thingness as such. “Thing” derives ultimately from the PIE root “ten-,” stretch. I.e., extension, in time or space. God is not an extension in time or space, for he is eternal, and infinite (ergo, incomprehensible except to himself); as such, he is the forecondition and matrix of any such extensions.

        Christians seem to be very sure they know the mind of god and want to force everyone to conform to His will, Taoists, for the most part, are humble before the unknowability of the ultimate …

        Perhaps you have been reading Christian mystics and theologians – sets that almost completely intersect – not so much after all. No other sets of people are more aware of the incomprehensibility of God to man. Christian arguments about morality are founded, not upon some special insight into the mind of God, but upon the Natural Law on the one hand, and revelation (mostly in scripture) on the other – i.e., on apprehensions of Divine effects, rather than comprehension of Divine essence. And no Christian is interested in forcing anyone to be good. We are, however, insistent that the good is really good, and that what is not good, is not. If a man choose to do evil and go to Hell, we are in no ontological position to stop him. The Christian response to the convicted sinner or atheist is, “we sure wish you would reconsider, but … have it your way.”

      • The question of equating the Dao and the Logos is worthy of a little more discussion. Livia Kohn clearly points out:

        The Daode jing begins with the words: “The Dao that can be told is not eternal Dao.” Still, it is possible to create a working definition. Benjamin Schwartz describes it as “organic order,” organic in the sense that—unlike its later personification in Lord Lao—it is not willful, not a conscious, active creator or personal entity but an organic process that just moves along. But beyond this, Dao is also order— clearly manifest in the rhythmic changes and patterned processes of the natural world. As such it is predictable in its developments and can be discerned and described. Its patterns are what the Chinese call “self-so” or “nature,” the spontaneous and observable way things are naturally.

        Yet, while Dao is nature, it is also more than nature—its deepest essence, the inner quality that makes things what they are. It is governed by laws of nature, yet it is also these laws itself.

        In other words, it is possible to explain the nature of Dao in terms of a twofold structure. “Eternal Dao” and “the Dao that can be told.” One is the mysterious, ineffable Dao at the center of the cosmos; the other is Dao at the periphery, visible and tangible in the natural cycles of the known world.

        As for the Logos, JD Hatley sees that:

        For Plotinus, Logos (Word) names the formative force proceeding from a higher principle which expresses or represents that principle in a lower plane of Being. Thus Logos holds the key to the unity and continuity of the various levels of Being emanating from The One.
        Since both the Dao and the Logos function as the power of the set of the Formal Causes of the universe, it would not be outrageous to use them as basically equivalent terms.

        On the knowability of the Dao or the Nous/Logos, both can be known only by a fundamental change in the being of the human subject. As Kohn further notes:

        The eternal Dao is described in the Daode jing as invisible, inaudible, and subtle. “Infinite and boundless, it cannot be named; it belongs to where there are no beings; . . . it is altogether vague and obscure” (ch. 14). This Dao, although the ground and inherent power of the human being, is entirely beyond ordinary perception. Beyond all knowing and analysis, it cannot be grasped. The human body, senses, and intellect are not equipped to deal with it. The only way a person can ever get in touch with it is by forgetting and transcending ordinary human faculties, by becoming subtler and finer and more potent, more like Dao itself.

        And we certainly know that the Nous/Logos can be known only by the purification of the fallen self:

        It is not possible to be familiar with a god – not even with one of the particular gods, let alone the god who singly is above all and higher than incorporeal nature – by following just any lifestyle, especially flesh-eating; one can hardly, even with all kinds of purifications of soul and body, become worthy of awareness of the god, that is if one has a fine nature and lives a pure and holy life. — Porphyry

      • Natural Law lays both positive and negative duties upon us; good must be fostered and evil combatted. I look at the eighth and ninth vows made by Queen Śrīmālā before the Lord as a reminder of my dual duty. (They’re also a convenient way to start out an examination of conscience, just in case one is feeling particularly righteous.)

        (8) “Lord, from now on, and until I attain enlightenment, I hold to this eighth vow, that when in the future I observe sentient beings who are friendless, trapped and bound, diseased, troubled, poor and miserable, I shall not forsake them for a single moment until they are restored. Lord, seeing them afflicted by suffering, I shall liberate them from each of those sufferings; having conferred goods upon them, I shall leave them.

        (9) “Lord, from now on, and until I attain enlightenment, I hold to this ninth vow, that when I see persons with sinful occupations such as dealing in pigs, and those who violate the Doctrine and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata, I shall not take it lightly; and wherever my residence in towns, villages, cities, districts, and capitals, I shall destroy what should be destroyed and shall foster what should be fostered. Why so? Lord, by destroying and by fostering, the Illustrious Doctrine will long remain in the world, the bodies of gods and men will thrive, and evil destinies will fade. And the Lord, having turned the Wheel of the Doctrine, will continue to turn the Wheel of the Doctrine.”

      • Given that our whole historical, traditional culture is based on theism, it is indeed very rare to be truly atheist down to one’s bones. Especially for people who are a bit conservative. People who are political radicals, feminists, communists manage to have a radical break with the past but their ideology is all too obviously a pseudoreligion.

        To be a normal, moderalte traditional, conservative atheist, like a Michael Oakeshott type or John Kekes type, it is not really about not believing in god so much as not believing in highly anthropomorphized human descriptions of him.

        I must say I have two hats here and I think it is fairly common today.

        When I look at the human world, history, sociology, economics, politics, things look indeed quite lawful and in a fairly anthropomorphic way lawful. If one’s entire interest would be in these soft science, theism would be really obvious and glaring.

        But when I see that our human world and planet is just a dust speck in a huge, lifeless, cold, and entirely not human-friendly universe… I really don’t see that was in any way made or caused by an even remotely anthropomorphic Father.

        I mean the first thing you would expect from an anthropomorphic god is to not make like 99,99999…% (many nines) of the universe uninhabitable for the “pinnacle of creation” humans. Show me an alien species, let’s call them foobar, who can live in vacuum and eat asteroids, and they believe in an foobaromorphic god, and they consider themselves the pinnacle of creation, and I will say such a god is far, far more likely.

        I know some astronomers have faith, one even regularly writes here… but for me it is really the cosmology that is the dealbreaker. This universe was not made for humans and not made by anyone who would shape humans after himself. Lawful it may seem, or be, but it is an incredibly misanthropic universe that entirely lacks love for us humans who don’t like breathing vacuum.

      • Show me an alien species, let’s call them foobar, who can live in vacuum and eat asteroids, and they believe in an foobaromorphic god, and they consider themselves the pinnacle of creation, and I will say such a god is far, far more likely.
        … This universe was not made for humans and not made by anyone who would shape humans after himself. Lawful it may seem, or be, but it is an incredibly misanthropic universe that entirely lacks love for us humans who don’t like breathing vacuum.

        If the universe was not made for humans, there wouldn’t be any. Whatever there is in the universe, the universe is so made as to accommodate it.

        Every morphe has its archetype and origin in God; so is each thing acquainted with him in terms that it can comprehend, for these are the terms in virtue of which it is made.

      • “Atheists seem very sure they know there is no supreme being, and therefore want to force everyone to conform to the Humanist will.”

        *That* seems to me like a wholly more accurate statement than a.morphous’s formulation above. Hence we must accept inordinate sexual behaviorisms and all of its baggage as normal and good and so on and so forth, else suffer the heavy-handed consequences for our insolence and disobedience as unbelievers.

        Hence, it’s really just a matter of perspective which of us wants to force his will on the other. For my part, if the God of the Bible is who he says he is (and I certainly believe he is, obviously) then, yes, I readily admit that I would that the society I am relegated to living and operating in recognized His sovereignty and authority in matters of morality.

        So in a sense one can say I want to “force” His divine will on others. And in that sense a.morphous gets it right. But what I really want is for them to embrace and obey it cheerfully for the better good of the whole society, not just for myself. In the meantime, shall we then say the moral law is evil? By no means! The law is our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ.

  5. What you think is a dilemma for gnostics is not seen that way by gnostics. For them, the lack of intelligible order in the universe is not a bug, it’s a feature.

    “Life may have no meaning. Or even worse, it may have a meaning of which I disapprove.” — Ashleigh Brilliant

    What you identify as the downsides to the gnostic view of the world are, to these people, well worth the cost. And cheap at the price.

    • Do you think that Brilliant’s statement makes sense? If I disapprove of a meaning, aren’t I really saying that it is a false meaning passing itself off as true? And so, don’t I affirm that there is a real meaning?

      Brilliant is speaking as a gnostic because the real meaning, which allows her to “disapprove” the alleged meaning, is the meaning of the Hidden God. It’s her special knowledge of the Hidden God that allows her to rise above the world as a gnostic.

      • If Brilliant’s first statement is true, then it can’t mean anything at all. It can mean something only if it is false. Ergo, the universe has a meaning, whether she likes that meaning or not.

        The second statement can make sense, but only if we take her to be saying, in effect, that she’d rather the universe was other than it is. Who doesn’t?

      • If I disapprove of a meaning, aren’t I really saying that it is a false meaning passing itself off as true?

        St James the Just: “Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.”

        Milton: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.”

        When I look back on the days when I believed roughly what Brilliant is saying, trembling is definitely what I feel like doing. That’s gonna be a fine day, Judgement Day, when all the martyrs and saints get to see what a fine piece of work I was/am.

    • Gentlemen, let’s not overthink this. You are approaching this from a stance of making sense of things as a coherent whole. Our enemies approach things from a stance of liberating the individual from all influences not having their origin in the self. In other words, they view things through the prism of power.

      Think of Paul Krugman’s advice that we should so organize society that, were any of us assigned the social status of a random individual, none of us would be severely disadvantaged relative to anyone else. To our enemies, this is so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning. Note that this principle makes no necessary reference to virtue or other personal excellence. You can talk about it if it “floats your boat,” as they say, but it can’t have any effect on others that would disturb the equal satisfaction of desire.

      Of course it’s incoherent. Back in the nineteenth-century, counter-revolutionary thinkers noted that liberals could not say a word that was not incoherent, given their own definitions. That has not stopped them, nor will it.

      God willing, when the Left is defeated, and we establish a just order, or something that, at least, approaches a just order, the liberals would go mad with rage. The ennui of existential meaninglessness does not insult their identities nearly as much as the obligations of a life not centered around the satisfaction of desire (which they call freedom).

      This is not a debate; this is a fight.

      • Luxanctus, if we stop trying to make sense of things as a coherent whole, we’ll have become like our enemies in this fight. To ask whether we might be overthinking this is itself a characteristic move of thinkers who are trying to make sense of things as a coherent whole.

        Not that I disagree that we are in a fight. But if we can’t win the debate, why try to win the fight? Why, in that case, would we deserve to win it?

      • Also from influences that originate in the self, see “fat acceptance” and destroying bathroom scales, basically a liberation from causality, from natural consequences of choices.

        It reduces to basically having a really big ego. Christians interpret it as an Adam-ian vanity, Buddhists as the ego-illusion running large, the closest thing to a naturalistic explanation is teenager rebellion never outgrown.

        I mean, I was something like a liberal at 15 years old. When my dad told me to be at home by 22:00 I was furious, and not because I really wanted to stay out longer or the consequences would have been dire or not any sort of a practical reason. Practical-minded people find ways to bend such rules… Rather I was furious because it had hurt my vanity / pride / ego to be commanded around that way, every barrier, every limitation felt like an insult, felt being demeaned.

        I’ve outgrown it, not 100% sure how, I think it was partially by doing body-building, I realized me taking limitations as insults was coming from my own lacking self-respect and this fixed it, and also from having a really difficult first job and realizing getting things done is more important than feelings or something similar.

        At any rate today many liberals simply look like not having outgrown that phase, still taking it an insult that Big Daddy in the form of government or nature is imposing limitations.

        I am not very good at writing aphorisms, but if I was, my “first law” would be that there is nothing in politics that somehow does not come from parenting, childhood and teenagerhood experiences. We all replay it in politics, playing the role of the strict dad or nurturing mom or rebellious teen or good little boy who takes out the thrash or a brave little knight defeating mean bullies or something.

        Also, I must tell you this fight you cannot win, but nature can. Fighting with words is not fight, it is a debate by another name. Reactionaries and SJWs trading insults is not a real fight because the insults lack the power to seriously incapacitate and thus enforce surrender, it merely feels like a fight, makes the hair on the back stand up all right and the heart rate quicker, but in reality it is not truly a fight as there is nothing to compel surrender. Fighting with violence, well, the state is on their side, so no luck there. So my point is, this is not a fight, this is waiting for collapse. Nature is fighting on your side, but you cannot really do more than wait – and prepare for the consequences, for the collapse will be hard on everybody, even the rational and the virtuous. You may believe in Jesus’ second coming but the way things actually look like from life and history, it is Gnon coming (the god of nature or nature) and his comings tend to be highly destructive on all, there is no elect saved…

  6. Gnosticism is a version of Neoplatonism in which the corruption of the body becomes the model for the cosmos as we experience it. The fantastic cosmologies invented by the early Gnostics were merely ways of trying to make sense of the fact that everything decays. But how weird is it to claim to know something about the pleroma when the gnostic creator of this flawed world is ignorant of that fabulous region?

      • The problem of evil sounds like a highly anthropomorphic one. On a cosmic scale, events that cannot possibly be called evil or good, like supernova explosions, really dwarf anything that happens with humans, the only known species who know good and evil.

        The root issue of both Christianity and Gnosticism is whether you want to base your whole cosmology on something so closely hugging humanity and its one rather insignificant planet.

        I must say it would be tempting to believe in a lesser god whose job description ends at the stratosphere, for the universe out there and our society here seems to play by really, really different rules.

      • The notion of the cosmic scale that knows neither good nor evil is an anthropomorphic idea, too. Whether man says that the universe is a mix of good and evil, or neither good nor evil, it is still man who is doing the saying. All these ideas are human (NB: that does not mean that they are nothing more). In other words, the fact that the notion that the universe is a mix of good and evil is anthropocentric does not vitiate it in the least.

        Even if it were true that good and evil from the human perspective were pertinent only to humans, that would still mean that the universe was a mix of good and evil … if for no other reason than that humans with their notions of good and evil are aspects of the cosmos. The Natural Law of man is implicit in the logos of the galaxies in their courses. And the cosmos is a seamless web. When humans reach out to each other in anger or charity, the entire massive structure of the cosmos responds accordingly (so that their hands can actually reach out).

        In one of his weakest arguments, Bertrand Russell suggested that the vastness of the universe would mean that God would have no cognitive resources to spare on petty human concerns. But God is *infinite*. He has an *infinite* amount of time, computational resources, power, love, you name it. So not a sparrow falls but without his loving attention.

      • At heart is the rebellion that says if the Father isn’t going to be perfect all of the time then He should have never brought *me* into this world.

  7. Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Jews, Taoists, Christians, and some others whom it escapes me to mention, believe in God or the equivalent. That is to say, they leave it as a well-established phenomenon (a necessity) that God is – from which, as Kristor explains, everything else follows. Gnostics cannot leave the being of God in its status as a well-established phenomenon: They want God to exist, in the way some atomic element exists that can be isolated in a chemistry experiment. Theists have in common with rigorous atheists the conviction that God does not exist although the atheists cannot give a coherent account of God’s non-existence whereas theists can because they grasp that God is. Non-rigorous atheists, who tend to be casual Gnostics, are so fanatically fixated on proving God’s non-existence that God becomes for them an existent, which, of course, he is not. In pity over the anxiety of the non-rigorous atheists and casual Gnostics, God invented 101 Chemistry Experiments You Can Do at Home – so that these desperate people might be diverted and, if possible, amused. He invented modern politics for the same reason.

    A shot was heard in a large apartment house in Schenectady. The police arrived and a detective followed the scent of gunpowder to an open door, through which he passed into a modest apartment. There, a middle-aged woman stood over a dead body holding in her hand the proverbial smoking gun. “Explain yourself, Madam,” the detective said. “My husband was an atheist,” she replied, pointing to the body, “and he had purchased a ticket to California.” The detective shook his head sadly and said: “My dear woman, no one has ever prevented an atheist from going to California merely by killing him.”

    • OK, Tom, I know a lot about theism, atheism, and California, and a fair bit about women – just enough to get me in trouble – and I’ve been to Schenectady, but you are still going to have to explain that one to me. It’ll ruin the joke, but I can’t be the only one who doesn’t get it.

      Oh wait, wait! California is a department of Hell, right? Very funny, Mr. Guy from New York.

      • Kristor, I live in New York State, but am a true son of the Bear Republic, in Santa Monica born. “Schenectady” is a purely arbitrary element of the joke (which was first told in a somewhat different form by Ambrose Bierce), but California (there being no need for quotation marks) is fully motivated. Other elements are transferable. For example:

        “My husband was a Gnostic who planned to run off with a Kardashian”; or

        “My wife was a Kardashian who had recently been accepted in Women’s Studies at Central Michigan University.”

        It works either way.

        PS: Central Michigan University really is Hell. I met any number of imps and demons there, all of them disguised, as is usually the case, under the images of deans, assistant deans, associate professors, and a department chair who invariably spoke with a forked fly-swisher in his mouth.

        PPS: And then there was the Buddhist who told the hot-dog salesman, “Make me one with everything.”

      • @Thomas

        … and then he paid $10 and the salesman gave no change. “Where is my change”, he asked, and the hot-dog salesman replied “Change comes from within.”

  8. @Kristor (and Tom) – As you know, I find this kind of discussion of Gnosticism unclear/ confusing and unhelpful/ counter-productive – but I have only recently begun to understand why.

    I think Gnosticism is a problem from the perspective of an established Christian, or mostly Christian, society – but from where we are *now* in The West, we have moved much further into actively anti-Christian moral inversion (indeed into a society devoted to inversion of the Good – sin as virtue, destruction of Good – virtue as wicked, Love as hatred, beauty as ugliness etc).

    From where we are *now* (and not where we were in the 1950s or 60s) Gnosticism would be a step in the right direction! – because it is a partial-Good, which accepts as premises much of that which is necessary.

    If it is agreed that this, now is the most evil society ever – not because of mass evil acts, but because we officially, by law, by regulation, by truly-massive propaganda, in schools – teach and promote moral inversion and delsuional psychosis… then it is (I think) reasonable to conclude that Gonosticism is preferable.

    (Likewise, a serious interest in ‘occult’ matters is quite likely to be ‘a good thing’ under modern conditions- *even when* it is intended as an evil thing. After all, demons are not infallible, they make mistakes, and sometimes serve Good ends by accident as has often been seen through history…)

    Especially because it is relatively easy to convert Gnostics to Christianity – there is some basis for achieving common assumptions, and rational discourse.

    So, picking fights with historical Gnosticism, or explaining current bad trends and ideas in terms of their parallels with (or derivation from) ancient Gnosticism is – or could well be – counter-productive (when such discourse is not simply too esoteric – and, dare I say, small ‘g’ gnostic! – to make any impact).

    • Bruce, I plan to post again in a few days on the topic. You will discover that I have addressed your point.

    • But isn’t this something like saying we shouldn’t attack Socialism because Socialism contains some truth and is founded on a (perceived) good; or that we shouldn’t attack abortion because “a woman’s right” to determine what happens to her own body is founded on a moral position, namely that it is wrong, therefore immoral, to deny her this right?

      How can we defend Truth if we’re unwilling to attack falsehood?

    • Bruce, our wicked society is triumphantly, thoroughly gnostic. The wickedness you apprehend in it is peculiarly gnostic. Whenever it crops up, Gnosticism inverts morality, preaching that the patrimonial moral order is evil, that immorality or amorality and license to flout sexual constraint are concomitant benefits of spiritual liberation, that traditionally moral people are deluded fools and untermenschen, and so forth.

      An interest in the occult can I grant function as an opening to Truth, if only because it may lead to a conviction that demons are real, and really dangerous. This can get the religious gears in motion as a sheer matter of psychic self defense. Demons make sense only if there are anti-demons, so belief in demons generally results in belief in angels – and, among the sane, a preference for them.

      Dabbling in the occult is nevertheless horribly dangerous. Demons are real, and come when called.

      • Seconding Kristor, the modern mentality has no doubts about anything. It knows what it knows savagely, implacably. Gnostic is the accurate word for describing it.

      • >Dabbling in the occult is nevertheless horribly dangerous. Demons are real, and come when called.

        I was really surprised when I learned the Catholic Church believes in magic – in the sense of prohibiting its practice, but precisely for the reason they believe it actually does something, and generally what it does is bad.

        Do you have any sort of a hypothesis what its actual mechanism can be? Sounds like yet another “irreducibly mental things” hypothesis:

      • Same as prayer: one thing tells its tale to another, minds reckon the acts of other minds and are informed by them. Thus are things stitched together in a seamless and coherent causal net. I.e., it’s all signals and signal processing. Physical transactions are a special case of signal processing. Perhaps most signals and signal processes are effected immaterially.

        But all this is just to say that influence as such is deeply mysterious. When you move your hand, how do you do it? Nobody knows. Perhaps nobody can. The method by which it happens is as mysterious as the method by which causation happens, or prayer.

    • >I think Gnosticism is a problem from the perspective of an established Christian

      No. Gnosticism is primarily a problem from the perspective of the “naturalist”. I don’t really know a better word for that. From the perspective of the essential pagan who accepts the harsh reality of nature as it is. How to put it… a naturalist is someone who accepts the same things what Christians call the consequences of original sin, just not its supernatural cause and not the chance of salvation from it. To be a naturalist is to see ourselves as software running on corrupted or hostile hardware.

      Christianity is something that is built upon that naturalism and this inherits the perspective from it.

      But primarily Gnosticism denies nature. For example time in nature is always cyclical, there is always winter after the summer, while in Gnosticism time is linear.

  9. @Kristor – What I find frustrating about this is the innate imprecision/ muddle of the usage of gnosticism – in its use as an archetype – gnosticism as an archetype of human behaviour, of perennial significance.

    It is such a weird idea to use, as a major analytic term! — something referenced to an obscure, hardly known, bunch of short-lived Christian heretics! then to use this analytically to discredit other groups over the next multiple centuries (during which nothing was known of this group, and they were never discussed!) — as if this loosely-defined bunch of obscure heretics was somehow definitive of a core human tendency – it’s bizarre!

    I think the usage of gnosticism can only really be analyzed in terms of the intention of the people who deploy the term – what function does ‘gnosticism’ serve in rhetoric.

    My sense is that gnosticism is used as a ‘booh term’ by Christians who regard themselves as in the main line of Theology based on Classical Philosophy (such Christians can be Catholic or Protestant) and to lump together self-identified Christian groups to whom they are opposed (or who they regard as hazardous) with agnostics, atheists, actively-self-consciously evil people etc.

    And gnosticism is used as a ‘hooray term’ by non-Christians (or perennial philosophy, eclectic types) to define a counter-cultural, often Leftist, and especially sexual revolutionary kind of spirituality.

    But there is another group who regard Gnostics as simply a Christian variant, or groups of variants, without regarding them as terrible different from others, without regarding them as any kind of ‘archetype’.

    But I am sure, really sure!, that anybody who relies upon, especially one who explicitly uses, gnosticism in public discourse is (whatever their intentions!) *alienating* many or most of the people who they would want to attract to their perspective – and the more they explain (or try to explain) the worse the situation becomes!

    This is exactly the kind of off-putting (and rightly off-putting!) pretentious elite discourse which people of common sense most viscerally reject – it is very modern, very culturally contextual (ie conservative USA post Voegelin), very professional academic metropolitan…

    OK we are all prone to this sort of thing – I am prone to it! I have developed a usage of Leftism which is wide ranging and distinctive and could no doubt be criticism in a somewhat similar way… but it is a snare – and I worry when people *converge* on the ‘gnosticism discourse’ as if it was ‘the answer’, as if it was a significant step in understanding, as if it was a vital key to a better future, as if it would be helpful to ordinary plain people in their spiritual struggles… Aaargh!

    I presume all this comes from Voegelin, and the high regard in which he is held by the US conservative movement – but I would regard this kind of ‘high theory’ approach to the culture wars as counter-productive, indeed a delusion – more akin to the discourse of neoreactionaries than Christians.

    Insofar as there is validity in gnosticism focused discourse it needs to be detchaed from discussion of ‘the gnostics’ and made plain and general – as Chesterton or CS Lewis would have done it – the term itself is not merely unhelpful but actively harmful.
    and then the term hoovers up all sorts of things of very different types and lineages

    • I would go even further and say that “Gnosticism” and “Marxism” (the other throw-about label) are a boon to the “intellectual elite” by way of selling to the degenerate masses a “spiritual” and “intellectual” rationalization for what amounts to a base desire for radical sexual autonomy. In other words, the “intellectual right” (and left) PROVIDES the “spiritual” and “intellectual” cover for what is no more than a desire for the de facto homo lifestyle… No spouse, no children, total pleasure seeking, radical autonomy… This is the true desire of the enemy and “our” side roots it in “Gnosticism” and “cultural Marxism.” Nonsense!

      • The degenerate masses very likely haven’t the first inkling of an idea what the terms “Gnosticism” or “cultural Marxism” mean, so I’m confused by your charge that “our side” provides them spiritual and intellectual cover in using these terms.

        What you’re describing is cultural hedonism, which is a fine term for defining the radical pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Problem is it has its limitations, especially when you’re describing the actions and motivations of sentient rational beings. If people have a reason for what they do, or if they can somehow rationalize their inordinate behaviorisms such as the pursuit of radical sexual autonomy, then it behooves us to use terms that more accurately describe the mindset or philosophy behind their behavior. If terms like Gnosticism and Marxism help us to understand the “why ” behind their actions, and not just the “what” of their actions, then I can hardly see what your objection to their usage really is unless you believe human beings are classified among brute beasts who act purely out of instinct, in which case what would be your objection to the use of any meaningful terms to describe them?

        I’m not trying to be a wise ass here, I just really don’t see the basis of your objection. Help me out.

      • Mr. Morris…

        The question is what exactly is at the root of white self-annihilation? And not just the self-immolation of the radical liberal, but also the debasement of the “salvation through self-annihilation” “Christian?” And the pop-culture answer to this question usually invokes Gnosticism and/or cultural Marxism. These are the “operating paradigms” that the self-annihilating white masses supposedly operate under and it doesn’t even matter of they understand their meanings for they are simply appropriating the terms of the “intellectual elite.”

        Can there not just be simple desire for mass white self-annihilation AS Final Liberation?

        Why, or better yet, HOW can there be a “spiritual” or “intellectual” origin to a DESIRE for total annihilation?

      • Thordaddy, thanks.

        I guess our disagreement lies in our understanding of human beings and human nature. To me the root of self-destructive human behavior lies in a deep misunderstanding of what it is and means to be “free.” From my perspective, therefore, it is both spiritual and intellectual, and that is why terms like Gnosticism seem to me perfectly appropriated to describe the condition. Well, that and the fact that such people are so sure of themselves even against their own better judgment or common sense.

      • Mr. Morris…

        Actually, you and I do not disagree about the root of self-annihilation lying in a perverted/inverted understanding of “freedom.” There, we are in exact agreement. Where we seem to disagree is whether there is true misunderstanding or sheer desire when explaining those who embrace radical (sexual) autonomy? You take the perspective that there is a spiritual and intellectual causation/explanation. I say there is just raw physical desire for radical sexual autonomy… De facto homo lifestyle. And the “metaphysics” of those that desire this radical liberation MANDATES the physical origin of the phenomenon itself. And Gnosticism and Marxism are manufactured covers for this raw desire PROVIDED and distributed by the “intellectual elite.”

      • This notion that Marxism and Gnosticism are covers for self-annihilation could conceivably make sense to me if they provided any cover. But they don’t.

      • Kristor…

        These ideologies don’t provide cover for *you,” but they do provide “spiritual” and “intellectual” cover for the ignorant AND purposely driven self-annihilator… The debate over the origin of Liberalism ALWAYS reverts back to Gnosticism, Enlightenment or Marxism AND NEVER JUST the homo-sexual “nature.” In others words, the practitioners of self-annihilation are given a “spiritual” and/or “intellectual” creation myth to rationalize and justify what is merely raw desire for radical sexual autonomy with an origin that is strictly material per the “metaphysics” of the self-annihilators.

      • Ah. I see what you meant. They gussy up their simple addiction to the pleasure of the sins of the flesh with fancy schmancy “philosophical” window dressing, as of Marxism, or scientism, or whatever. And this enables them to pretend that their perversions are based in reality, rather than its contravention. Granted. But I don’t see them doing that with Gnosticism – except, perhaps, insofar as we on the Right understand scientism and Marxism and other materialist metaphysics as essentially Gnostic. I would agree that they are, in effect if not perhaps in intent. Indeed, that was one of the points of the post: to deny that there is a Creator at all has the same vicious practical effect on life and morals as to assert that he is evil.

        It all goes back to Romans 1:21-32, no?

        21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

        24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

        26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

        28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

    • Bruce, what’s the use of pursuing an endless contest over these words? I can’t see any use in it. Obviously the terms “gnosis” and “gnostic” lack meaning in your assessment. Equally obviously, Kristor and I find the same terms powerfully meaningful. I won’t speak for Kristor, but only for myself. I intend to continue discussing the Gnostic character of modernity, but, at the same time, although without agreeing with you, I grasp the reasons for your position, which you have outlined plainly enough. Perhaps the next time you see my byline under an essay with any of the suspect words in the title, you should simply skip it. That strikes me as the most congenial course for all parties to follow especially considering how otherwise convergent so much of our thinking is.

    • Gnosticism is a standard term in Christian heresiology. It denotes a bundle of associated ideas that have recurrently sprouted up in Christian societies. These include an esoteric reading of Christian symbolics (the gnosis), a corresponding rise of a spiritual elite (the gnostics), and corresponding repudiation of plain reading, common sense, and reality generally (I think Voegelin called this the “dreamworld”).

      I agree that we use the term too loosely, but I think there is much to be said for this type of term. Heresies always present themselves as new and exciting. The point of Christian heresiology, as I see it, was to puncture this pretension by calling the heresy by its old name. So, we find some wild man preaching against original sin, and the Christian heresiologist yawns and says, “Hello Pelagianism, are you back again.”

      In the seventeenth century orthodox Christians called the Quakers gnostics. They had a gnosis (the inner light), a spiritual elite (the “friends” or the “family”), and a belief that the the common sense of society was a dreamworld that ought to be smashed. I believe that there were and are many genuine Christians in the Society of Friends, but that the orthodox were also correct in seeing that the general trend of “New Light” or gnostic movements was away from Christianity.

      I agree that it is counterproductive for reactionaries to point and sputter gnosticism every time the modern world dishes up some new outrage against common sense and reality, but I also think the old heresiologists were right to deny perennial heresies the advantage of apparent novelty.

    • Had I not read Voegelin it would have never occured to me to consider Gnosticism as anything but a quirk of ancient history. I was not even aware how medieval heretics tended to be G. Gnosticism is Voegelin-talk, the word is simply not used outside the circles of people who read books like his.

  10. @Kristor and Tom – Yes, I agree that it is pointless for us to continue slugging away, punching past each other at different targets – since I am (I acknowledge) refusing to engage in debate on the grounds you have established. Hence I will indeed refrain from making any future comments.

    The only reason I have commented at all on this subject (probably only about four times, in total) is that I am trying to clarify my grounds for objection – which I have only gradually become clear about.

    I only came across this type of usage of the term a few years ago, and mostly on View From the Right, and somewhat earlier in discussion with an offline friend.

    I realized retrospectively that this topic was what I had already come across – but with a positive spin, and almost unrecognizable – in Joseph Campbell passim, and Harold Bloom’s ‘American Religion’ – also in some histories of modern spirituality. In my mind the Gnosticism discourse is associated – by analogy – with discourses on the likes of Leo Strauss, Saul Alinsky, The Frankfurt Group, Heidegger (to be topical!)…

    As a Brit who was brought-up in the tradition of socialism, I find the US understanding of Leftism to be excessively abstract, parochial and distorted! This stuff has a much longer and less elite history here, since we were the first nation to be industrialized, the first to have abolition, pacifism and much else – things started sooner, and went further than elsewhere – most of the bad trends began here!

    So, I think I understand G. as just one element in an ongoing Britain versus US dispute about what is important in intellectual history, and what kind of a subject it is.

    The above is not to justify – merely to explain.

    For me this is a matter of smell, gut-feeling, intuition and the like – but since all these are personal evaluations, there isn’t really much more to say about it. So I won’t!

    • You know what’s funny, Bruce? The OP above germinated in my mind as a result of reading one of your recent posts on the unprecedented evil of our society. I forget which one it was – there have been quite a few! All of a sudden it occurred to me that our society is the only one in which gnosticism has definitively triumphed, and become the predominant cult and state religion. That cult does not of course understand itself as gnostic, or even as a cult, and nor for that matter do most of its adversaries understand it in those terms. Still, that’s what it is.

      Gnosticism is indeed a recondite notion, unfamiliar to most, and so sometimes a bit of a stumbling block. But the same goes for all jargon, in every field; that does not mean jargon is no good.

      Whether analysis of modernism as gnostic helps us defeat it or not is a different question. My guess is that it won’t, and that discussions of its gnostic character, like our other critiques of modernism, are mostly for our own benefit as social critics. They help us understand and resist our enemy, but probably will not help us win the war (except insofar as we do successfully resist, and raise children able to do so). Reality will win the war for us. But they might help our successors avoid the repetition of some errors that seem to bedevil human society, cropping up again and again.

      • We should remember this: The analysis of Gnosticism in antiquity as a destructive error helped to defeat it then. As Voegelin averred, Gnosticism was defeated in the first go-around. Why then should we omit to analyze it now?

      • Hah! Good point. Especially since at its second great florescence with the Cathars it took a Crusade to defeat it. This time around, it looks as though nothing less than a collapse of civilized order will do the trick.

        If we can’t win the philosophical and moral argument with Gnosticism, recondite though it be, then why should we imagine that we deserve to win the war with Gnosticism for men’s minds and hearts and lives, and for our civilization, our people, and our culture?

    • Abolition of slavery is a “bad trend”? I guess that is not surprising given the views here, just is rare to see it stated so baldly.

      • a.morphous…

        Trying to abolish that which cannot be abolished is highly destructive. Some could persuasively argue that there is more slavery in America TODAY than ever before and this is directly attributable to attempting to abolish slavery.

      • Slavery exists today, just in a different form. Slavery will always be with us, it will just adapt to the needs of the times. Today, your needs are not cotton production by hand, but cheap sexual gratification with no strings attached. Hence, why sex slavery is an explosive trade across the world.

    • British and American Leftism is indeed very different but not simply due to the length of time. The American one has narcissism, solipsism etc. written all over it, it is the libertarian pursuit-of-happiness putting on a collectivist garb. The British one is, how to put, more class based and actually represents the respectable aspects of working class people as well. When I was invited to a 1 May celebration to the Black Country Living Museum, it was a solemn, respectable event, with unions marching with old looking flags and singing solemn, almost religious-sounding hymns. Then they ruined the respectable mood by having Chumbawamba play on a stage so at that point we left, but before that I did not really pick up any unhealthy vibes. I think the event was dedicated to the remembrance of woman chainmakers in the 19th century who striked for higher wages, I thought if mothers must work so hard to make ends meet they may as well be paid enough so that their sons are educated enough that their daughters won’t need to, and found the story thus quite reasonable.

  11. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/07/12) | The Reactivity Place

  12. I take issue with the assumption that all modern gnostics are atheist. Check out There you will find the website for a practicing gnostic church headed by a bishop claiming apostolic succession. According to the catechism of these gnostics the true god who sent Christ to earth was not the Demiurge who created the earth.

    • Wow, interesting. I suppose I should have softened my statement with a “generally.” After all, the Mandaeans are still active, and I have heard of some groups claiming to be Cathars. And there seem always to be gnostic tendencies grinding away somewhere within the ostensibly orthodox Christian world. Many people who profess Christianity, after all – who believe in God and put their whole trust in Jesus – do not understand that it teaches the resurrection of the body, even though it’s right there in the creeds.

      • Kristor – if you have the time check out some of Steffan Hoeller’s web lectures available on the website. I’d be really interested to hear your take on him.

      • I have just read the two essays he features most prominently at his site. The man is clearly quite intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken. As you indicate, he advocates an ancient variety of Gnosticism, not any of the modern sorts. Nor I think would he agree with my assessment that modern atheists, as implicitly nihilist, are instances of gnosticism. He ridicules Voegelin’s idea that the utopian fantasies of the modern era are at all like the ancient Gnostic attempt to escape this world altogether. How, he asks, can any attempt at reform of this world be at all like the utter repudiation thereof advocated by Gnostics such as himself? It’s a good question, but it is easy to answer: they are alike because they both consist in a rejection of the order of being.

        The practical upshot of both modern and ancient gnosticism is the same; quoting his quotation of Clark Emery, a scholar of ancient Gnosticism describing the ultimate endpoint common to all gnostic systems: “Since the effort is to restore the wholeness and unity of the Godhead, active rebellion against the moral law of the Old Testament is enjoined upon every man.”

        Get that: men are going to restore the wholeness and unity of the Godhead. Hubris much? And, of course, this is to be accomplished via rebellion against *everything of life.* How nihilist can you get?

      • I don’t think it is hubris from the gnostic perspective as I understand it. According to my understanding of Gnosticism we are all fragments of the Godhead trapped in the material world. As such, we are all trying to free ourselves and return to our true home. This (I think) is what is meant by restoring the wholeness of the Godhead.

      • I’m sure that gnostics don’t think of it as hubris. But think about it for a moment. First, how can the Eternal One be fractured in the first place? That they think this is even possible betrays a profound metaphysical confusion. Second, how could a gnostic, by his own doctrine himself profoundly corrupted, repair any bit of the fracture *in God* – even his own little bit? The idea would make Pelagius blush.

      • I think the fracturing is tied up with the myth of the fall. There was once a perfect unity that was somehow corrupted. We see this all the time in myths. We see it in physics with the Big Bang. Does it match perfectly with orthodox Christian theology? No, but the idea is written deep in the psychological dreamscape of man.

      • Absolutely. But a creaturely Fall is quite a different thing than a fracture in God’s Fullness – his pleroma. The idea makes no sense.

      • Well the Eternal One – all the religions know of him – is necessary. There is no possible state of affairs in which he is other than he always is, necessarily. Thus the notion that he could be damaged somehow by what happens is a fundamental category error.

      • In Lurianic Kabbalah Adam’s fall symbolizes the primordial Breaking of the Vessels by which God is damaged. The repair of God, Tikkun, is accomplished through the practice of the Mitzvot (the 613 commandments of the Torah). When all Jews keep the commandments, the Messianic age will begin.

      • But the vessels are creatures created in the void within the infinite – the ain sof – by the tzimtzum. The tzimtzum opens up a Receptacle wherein finite beings might exist that are not themselves wholly aspects of ain sof – which is to say, that are truly existent.

        The vessels break because no finite volume can accommodate the infinite light of ain sof. In Eden, man breaks when he tries.

        The tikkun olam is the restoration of the vessels: of creatures and their worlds.

        So, at least given what (very) little I have read, ain sof is not touched by any of this.

      • Winston, no. Think about the implications of what Kristor said – no possible scenario. It’s connected with his Be-ing as a necessary existence. A necessary being cannot get better or worse, only complex beings can do that. Certain things are actually impossible with God; he cannot lie, nor just decide one day, “I’ve had enough, I’m going to go out of existence.” His nature is what it is – I AM, nothing can change that (no possible scenario), not even Himself. Else he wouldn’t be God.

  13. I take the shattering of the Vessels as a form of the mytheme of creation by sacrifice. I was watching Altar of Fire, a documentary on the Agnihotra Atiratra, in which Prajapati, who created the world by the sacrifice of Himself, is reassembled, a Vedic tikkun olam. I see the sacrifice of Christ in much the same way. I have been tossing it around in my head that if we think of Christ as the anti-type of the Tower of Babel, some interesting patterns begin to form. I know it’s usual to assign this role to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but His descent is literally the anti-type of Shavuot. Sorry to go on; welcome to the wonderful world of someone trained in the History of Religions.

    Nothing I have said should be taken as suggesting that the One undergoes any change. My interests lie in the Imaginal and Intelligible realms where the truths of religion reside. It’s only by understanding the objective structures of religion that I believe we can come to a knowledge of the Real.

    • Pentecost as the redemption of the confusion of tongues at Babel: a wonderful idea.

      There is no need to substitute Christ for the Holy Spirit at either occasion. At Babel, news of the Logos among men was confused; at Pentecost, that gospel was suffused among them. “Spell” is word, saying, incantation. By that Spell were the Heavens made. The Ghost is the breath of that Word, its completion in the Trinity. By that completion the Godhead has outward effects like worlds. So the descent of the Dove is the descent of the Trinity.

      If the sacrifice is not to encumber the polis with yet another sin – that of killing the victim – the victim must in that sacrifice be translated to divine status – reconstituted to new and unending life – in virtue of his consent to his martyrdom. So great store was laid on flaying the victim so that the hide was whole and unbroken, the better to be reconstituted above. The same thing happened to the seamless garment at Golgotha.

  14. I came across this website which offers a gnostic interpretation of National Socialism, and it is utterly fascinating (even if quite bewildering):

    “National Socialism perceives injustice perpetrated against all. At the most fundamental level, just by being born, every one of us is automatically and for the entire duration of our lives a perpetual and constant victim of injustice, because none of us chose to be born. The courage to acknowledge this plainly obvious and utterly irrefutable fact (“The whole of life is one perpetual hazard, and birth is the greatest hazard of them all.” – Adolf Hitler) distinguishes National Socialism from every other form of socialism, for whereas every other form of socialism sooner or later tends towards utopianism, National Socialism repudiates utopianism (a False Left idea) from the outset by this acknowledgement and hence elevates itself to a genuinely eschatological ideology on a par with the ancient (True Left) pan-Gnostic religions. Every other form of injustice is thus understood in context as a sub-injustice occurring between fellow victims of this principal injustice, which places it in a thoroughly different light than viewing it as an injustice occurring between people who have no oppressor in common. As fellow prisoners in one prison, we all start out on the same side; our only valid enemies among one another are those who choose to “sell out” and side with our imprisoner by losing empathy for other prisoners, and who thus degrade themselves from prisoners to slaves (for which they may well be rewarded by the imprisoner with mastery over other slaves)… (cont.)

  15. Such a perspective – often smeared as “pessimistic” by its detractors – is in fact unprecedently positive, as it not only makes fresh rapport possible among people each previously accustomed to viewing every other as a rival against oneself, but also logically demands that the political problem of sub-injustices be tackled by an approach that simultaneously addresses the principal injustice, in other words by the approach of state control over reproduction – in classic socialist terms, adding rules derived with the promotion of merit in mind, in this case concerning genetics. In this most radical sense, National Socialism does not merely mean ”nationalism plus socialism”, but more gramatically accurately means “socialism as pertains to nation”, which ultimately means “socialism as pertains to being born” (see later section). Where National Socialism achieves parity with the pan-Gnostic religions by its recognition of the exact same principal injustice as they all independently recognized, it excels beyond them all by being the only ideology to propose a realistic strategy for universal salvation. Where the Gnostic offers vision, the National Socialist offers action. Where the Gnostic escapes, the National Socialist counterattacks. Where the Gnostic terminates his own bloodline, the National Socialist is prepared to terminate all bloodlines which refuse to terminate themselves.”

    • Gnosticism is therefore a religiously formulated pessimistic empathy (a la Schopenhauer, though preceding him, obviously). Corruption begins with birth, since birth entails entry into a world stock-full of un-redeemed suffering and injustice. Not all anti-natalists are Gnostcs but all Gnostics are de facto anti-natalists. Birth is enslavement, the Natural Order is enslavement and enslavement who have to be the Gnostic’s main issue of contention with the world. For this reason, the Gnostic sees you as either opposed to temporal enslavement under the Demiurge or as suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

      The Gnostics’ only solution upon attaining his Gnosis is transcendence, to deprive the Demiurge of his minions. The only solution is the transcendence/inversion of Birth/Genesis itself, however that may be achieved.

  16. In Gnostic terms purity remains THE ideal, though never to be reached, only approximated. Whereby the Christian can be purified through sainthood and entrance into heaven, the Gnostic is stuck in a realm of misery.

    The issue of redemption is crucial here; it is the most basest thing that separates the denominational Christian from the Gnostic, in my understanding. Both belief systems recognize the fall and the original corruption of mankind but while the Christian can comfort himself with the idea of redemption and judgment, for the Gnostic no such comfort is available, hence his fundamental a-theism. Hence, also, his fundamental bitterness and despair, as Kristor notes; for his beliefs cannot every be satisfied, his ideal can never be reached par complete/cosmic transcendence or complete/cosmic extermination, which would entail God-like knowledge and power. It is, ultimately, a self-annihilating perspective. I wouldn’t make the argument that this would entail Gnosticism’s fundamental wrongness, though I suspect many here would be willing to.

  17. This discussion has prompted to me to think very deeply on the nature of suffering and the gnostic ‘solution’ as the antithesis of the ‘reactionary/traditional’ ‘solution’. I will try to sketch out some of my thoughts below. I would appreciate any and all feedback. Also, I do realize this is sort of an exhausted comment section but I was unsure where else to post this. Take it as you will. Onwards:

    Let us start at the beginning.

    One of if not *the* first disturbing realization(s) that comes to a self-reflecting being such as man is undeniably the overabundant negative tension of existence, both external (pain, death) and internal (emotional states of turmoil such as fear, angst, agony etc.), that remains seemingly unredeemed in temporal, observable terms.

    Through this realization man is faced with his first significant existential choice: to affirm or reject this tension.

    If he/she chooses to affirm – let us call this the reactionary/traditionalist position – he becomes a preserver and his goal the preservation of existence in whatever he/she deems to be its optimal state.

    If he rejects – let us call this the gnostic position – he becomes an existential ‘mutineer’. His sensitivity forces him to employ ’empathy’ as an existential pillar, and his goal becomes the reduction of suffering in the world to the utmost minimum (Negative Utilitarianism). However, this line of thinking properly extended entails anti-life, since the perpetuation of existence without a condition of suffering is impossible; each birth of a sentient being entails new suffering entering the world, suffering which, theoretically, the gnostic thinks, could have been prevented. By rejecting suffering, the revolutionary gnostic rejects the very perpetuation of life.

    The gnostic is indeed a seeker for peace and his war a ‘war that would end all wars’. Yet by peace we would have to mean the opposite of war, where war = violence = tension. Life is tension*. Therefore the gnostic seeks permanent peace for all through nothing other than total Death. A life-affirming gnostic is ultimately insincere.

    But where does this leave the reactionary/traditionalist? If he/she rejects peace as such is he an advocate of war? Some, like those favorable to the concept of Dark Enlightnment, definitely believe so. Nick Land writes: “[Reaction] can offer nothing other than an Eternity in Hell”. Mind you not Hell necessarily in the Christian sense but Hell in the mind of the Gnostic: Life in Darwinian terms, i.e. eternal war and struggle. We must remind ourselves here that Darwinism is the closest thing that a secular scientifically-minded man has to the will of Life/God/Nature (hence the strong positive sentiments shown to concepts such as Social Darwinism as a sort of Morbid Realism among neo-reactionaries).

    Whereas the ‘enlightened’ gnostic laments the natural order, the reactionary feels thoroughly obliged to defend it. Whereas the revolutionary seeks universalism as symbolic of his defiance to the natural geographical, cultural, and hierarchical boundaries that separate groups of men, the reactionary must be a defender of tribalism.

    In the end, however, the natural order always reinstates itself in time and crushes gnostic/utopian dreams. The left is thus always left on the losing side, yet remains a resurgent underdog, ready to show its face whenever fragile circumstances allow.

    The modern secular progressive West sits very awkwardly amidst this conundrum. Though it naturally desires the perpetuation of sentient existence and the preservation of habitat, it at the same time wants to champion empathy and peace. How else could this situation resolve itself other than through the West’s implosion?

    This is, and remains, in my view, one of the most central dualistic struggles in the heart of man.

    Now some points in need of clarification and for prompting discussion (I hope):

    The pillar of the reactionary then is not empathy, but what? Order? Honour? Individualistic Will to Power/Might as Right? Intelligence Maximization or some other Landian concept? This point remains unclear to me, still. Especially, unclear, I should say, I remain with regards to the position of Traditional Christianity in all this. Isn’t empathy and charity central to a virtuous Christian existence? Does the aforementioned moral uncertainty of the West mirror a discord also at the heart of Christianity?

    Furthermore, could we equate ‘gnostic’ with ‘revolutionary’, ‘progressive’, or ‘leftist’ and the ‘traditionalist/reactionary’ with ‘rightist’ or ‘conservative’ in this context ? is the equation of reaction with traditionalism misguided?

    Lastly, is it possible that the gnostic gets his way in the end? I’ll clarify: Among many modern intellectuals, including the likes of Land and Ray Brassier, the ultimate enlightened or rational realization is that the universe, nature or whatever, as predicted by cosmology, is stretching itself thinner and thinner throughout the cosmos as its lights die out, and matter begins to be pushed further and further apart, faster and faster toward a final frozen state of universal death, of a completed negation where Nihil – the heart of the Absolute – actually achieves its own self-overcoming and dies. What shape must this dualist conflict take in light of this realization? What can a Christian make out of it?

    *given the acceptance of this equation once can appreciate the saying ‘Only the dead see the end of war’ in a completely new light

    • As one who followed the Gnostic path (unknowingly as a youth) to its end–and not the utopian end but the Nihilist end that you discuss–I take comfort in the simple knowledge that I am saved and that God has a plan for me and the world, and that I am among Christian brothers and sisters while I am here. This is something that a child, a mute, a cripple, a mental handicap can understand. My understanding has brought me back to a simpler mind. (Not to say that I am all that bright- but the madness that famously comes from understanding too much has been checked. I think. I hope.) I have faith like a child. I sleep better at night. I fight less. I fight right. I care more. I care less.

      I do not know how to respond to your comments other than that. And that you give me good ideas for writing characters and plots in fiction novels!

      • @Earl
        My reading is contrary to yours and Kristor’s. In my understanding Gnosticism is NOT Nihilism, at least not in the academic sense.
        Nihilism, in criminally simple terms, means believing that there is no good and evil, ergo that Truth is a thin-air concept. This was the conclusion of Nietzsche, as it is of the eliminative materialist’s and of other scientistic types.
        Gnosticism puts forward that there is good and evil but inverses the traditional Christian understanding. Whereas for the latter the world is fundamentally good but with the capacity for evil, for the Gnostic the world is fundamentally evil but with the capacity for good. This was also the conclusion of Schopenhauer, as it was of the Buddha’s.
        The good of the world in the Gnostic is contained in our capacity for empathy, enlightenment and resistance; our ability to reach the Godhead thusly and be saved. The Demiurge however wastes no time in suppressing this inborn capacity of man through material temptations and other physical/psychological calamities.
        The only way that I can understand Gnosticism as Nihilism is if we approach the issue poetically. If we follow my reasoning in the above post, then the Gnostic’s idea of a ‘universal solution’ is through a complete inversion of Genesis, i.e. a material universe without life and without the capacity for life, i.e. Nothingness, i.e. Nihil. Therefore, in this sense, the Gnostic is a Nihil-ist.

      • To clarify, I did not say that Gnosticism *just is* nihilism, but rather that as a practical matter it *tends* to nihilism in its adherents. I read Earl to be saying much the same thing.

      • Lacarrière’s The Gnostics gave clarity to my fundamental attitude to the world when I was a young man:

        Let us sum up: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, we are the proletariat of the demiurge-executioner, slaves exiled into a world that is viscerally subjected to violence; we are the dregs and sediment of a lost heaven, strangers on our own planet.

        As a Buddhist, I differ a bit from the Gnostics. The world was not created by some mad demiurge, and I was not condemned to it by the powers of the Archons. But, being the creation of our collective evil and ignorance, this is the worst of all possible worlds and I am condemned to live in it by my own Karma. Were I not to have faith in a transcendent saving power, I wouldn’t be a nihilist, I would be dead, having taken gnostic nihilism to its most sensible conclusion—think Cioran, another important influence in my life.

        I now believe, according to the Lotus Sutra, that in this world “creatures are burnt, tormented, vexed, distressed by birth, old age, disease, death, grief, wailing, pain, melancholy, despondency; … for the sake of enjoyments, and prompted by sensual desires, they severally suffer various pains. In consequence both of what in this world they are seeking and what they have acquired, they will in a future state suffer various pains, in hell, in the brute creation, in the realm of Yama; suffer such pains as poverty in the world of gods or men, union with hateful persons or things, and separation from the beloved ones. And whilst incessantly whirling in [this] mass of evils they are sporting, playing, diverting themselves; they do not fear, nor dread, nor are they seized with terror; they do not know, nor mind; they are not startled, do not try to escape, but are enjoying themselves in that triple world which is like unto a burning house, and run hither and thither. Though overwhelmed by that mass of evil, they do not conceive the idea that they must beware of it.” I also, however, have faith that the Lord has said, “Verily, I am the father of these beings; I must save them from this mass of evil,” and that He has appeared in the world to teach us, in short, “[that] beings who have become wise have faith in the Tathāgata [Buddha], the father of the world, and consequently apply themselves to his commandments.”

      • @ The Arrogant Prig

        A fascinating perspective, thanks for sharing.

        One question: within your cosmological-metaphysical scheme is willful procreation justifiable? How does this position not entail a strict opposition (either militant or passive) to sentient reproduction? I realize these queries might seem absurd to you but note that I am considerably ignorant over the peculiarities of Buddhist morality.

      • Seraphim, since Buddhism takes transmigration literally, the only good that can come from sex is the giving of new bodies to the recently departed. Life as a human being is most conducive to religious practice, so the gift of a human life is a good thing. No new life is produced.

      • The distribution of beings is heirarchical. There are a miilion beings in the hells for every human in this world, not to mention the animals and lower spirits. As the karma in the lower realms is used up, beings become able to be born human.

        Or as the scholar Edward Conze famously answered your question, “What do you think happened to the buffalo?”

    • I noticed a small blunder in my use of verbiage here. Obviously the traditionalist position cannot ‘affirm’ suffering (negative tension), but affirm *existence* *despite* of the troubling sensation that suffering (either felt or observed) creates. So, in the final analysis, the issue is over whether one accepts or rejects life (and its perpetuation) on its own terms.

      Note to self: I should probably start using less parentheses…

    • Ask me about any point found in that rambling mess (I admit it, though I still think my thoughts are of some value to this discussion) and I will attempt to clarify.


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