Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Here's a new one: Gnosticism and "Incarnophobia"

Regular readers of this blog will know our propensity to label so much of left-liberal-progressive political ideology as one or another kind of "gnosticism": broadly, the belief that there is something wrong with the creation or the world as it has been given to us, that the true creation, or some possible better world, is unnecessarily obscured from our present view, and that through some kind of heroic, intellectual, perhaps magical, operation in the here and now we can avoid further decline and disaster by transforming the world. The gnostic thus implies that we can transform the traditional Judeo-Christian faith in a salvation that is only to come in a transcendent or divine world, into faith in salvation through a commitment to a progressive cause and history in this immanent, worldly, existence.

I like to argue that while the gnostic faith has had its hand in some real worldly progress, historically - it is hard to imagine the rise of modern science without it - the faith has now had its day, as is evident in the present bankruptcy (moral and ethical) of "progressive" politics. I believe that the expansion of human freedom in future will require a return to certain orthodoxies, to disciplines that allow the human soul to have a sound grasp of our uncertain existential reality - avoiding the desire to control or transform our given reality - not that I know exactly what these will be for any given person or group.

I tend to contrast gnosticism with the patient faith of those who can wait endlessly for the return of the Messiah, those who also have faith that our worldly future is open-ended and so unknowable, that mundane history is not progressing in any linear sense, nor that there is any reason to hope it could progress in any consistent or knowable, i.e. controllable, sense, under the management of experts. Rather, I believe that human cultural evolution - i.e. the ways in which the human scene may be represented and organized - is inexhaustible, and that no final apocalypse, or great revelation, is presently unfolding. We will expand freedom by doing away with the gnostic experts who presently rule too much of our public opinion, by building nations in which anyone can have a healthy say and role in ruling themselves together through covenants (which will require its own kinds of expertise). But to do this we must first relearn our faith in ourselves, in the ultimate goodness and open-endedness of our shared humanity.

It is useful to have very general categories, like "gnosticism", that can tie together a wide range of phenomena we can then further differentiate. It is important to recognize that there are certain basic, recurring, patterns to human experience, and that our study of these may serve as starting points for our analysis of the historical particulars of our place and time. Still, to the inevitably somewhat gnostic mind (I doubt any of us can entirely free ourselves from the gnostic faith that has been so central to modern life) that is always looking for that special key to understanding and/or transforming our fallen nature, or our less-than-perfect social/cultural history, it can seem pointless to label every progressive or utopian ideologue who promises worldly salvation as a "gnostic". Let's have a little more precision here, people say.

Well I, for one, am certainly not against an ongoing differentiation of our consciousness in such matters, even as I hold to the usefulness of the broad category. So in this spirit, though knowing this will be contentious for some of our readers (but I hope useful for us to discuss), allow me to present for our ongoing consideration of gnosticism, Mark Gordon, of the blog, Suicide of the West and his Catholic convert's reflection on what he sees as the protestant-cum-gnostic (or perhaps, gnostic-cum-protestant) struggle to control time, or to control people through a "levelling" (making uniform and worldly) of our understanding of time, in such a way that man's worldly pursuits, the valuing of acts before faith, become the foundation of our experience of time and how we symbolize this experience and its promise of salvation:
it has been a tremendous grace for me to learn to live within the metronomic rhythm of the Church’s liturgical year. It took me a few cycles, but eventully the movement from Advent through the Feast of Christ the King became second nature. I don’t know when or why the Christians in my native tradition did away with the liturgical calendar. I can understand their dismissal of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (I guess), but Pentecost? The Transfiguration? Even the Annunciation? The wholesale levelling of time in the Evangelical tradition is a sign of the essentially gnostic and Manichean assumptions that inform so much of Evangelical theology and practice, assumptions which themselves spring from what I would call Incarnophobia: a fear of the Incarnation and its implications.

1 comment:

dag said...

This requires a point-by-point response. I'm hugely impressed, as usual. Will do whatever I can tomorrrow.