10 Defining Traits of Gnosticism

Here’s a clue to interpret the heretical world around you.

Readership: All; Christians;
Author’s Note: This series received some input from Ed Hurst at Radix Fidem.
Reader’s Note: This post is the third in a series on Gnosticism.
Length: 1,250 words
Reading Time: 4.5 minutes

As we learned from the history and religious philosophy, the essence of Gnosticism is basically the denial or rejection of Christ and the exaltation of the self through logical self-determinism.

In practice and on a case-by-case basis, however, it can be difficult to identify the spiritual constitution of the modern vestiges of Gnosticism, short of any tell-tale information or special discernment.

So here, I’ll ask readers to (1) absorb what we’ve covered about this topic so far, (2) consider the general traits listed below, (3) try to perceive the essence of what Gnosticism is and does in general, and (4) learn to discern the spiritual characteristics of Gnosticism whenever it may come to the reader’s attention.

So here is the list of 10 general traits of Gnostic spiritualism.

  1. Gnostic philosophy adopts a Platonic approach to systematizing metaphysical phenomenon, but it uses a spiritualized vocabulary which is not that hard to penetrate if one devotes any length of time to read it regularly. They just arrive at their ideals without blatant rationalism because this would be deemed too nerdy or tediously burdensome to the rational mind.
  2. One foundational tenet of Gnosticism rests on the idea that the intellect is not fallen, and that it can be perfected with practice and study and then used as a reliable moral and/or spiritual guide. As such, having “correct thinking” is often emphasized. “Political correctness” is one ostentatious example of this.
  3. The underlying “hope” of Gnosticism aspires to achieve an idealized human condition (apart from Christ). It is not anti-fleshly in the spiritual sense, but anti-fleshly in the idealist sense, because it fails to take into account the failings of the fleshly nature. NovaSeeker pointed out that one popular Gnostic approach to dealing with the counter-ideals arising from the fallen nature of the flesh is to call what is natural good, including sin. In addition to the inane logic of this approach, it only glosses over the ugliness of sin with a veneer of vain philosophizing and does not fully take the daily effects of sin into consideration. (viz. “whitewashed sepulchers”, as Jesus described in Matthew 23:27)
  4. Modern Gnosticism appears in the form of people generally deciding for themselves what truth is, based on their own values, beliefs, moods, preferences, prerogatives and purposes, and working out a philosophical framework in support of that, similar to what the originating Pharisees did in antiquity. Hence, the “post truth” era. For example, a person who says, “I am spiritual, but not religious” is (most likely*) a gnostic because they are placing their own subjective spiritual experience over Christian fellowship, the gospel, and God’s directives for living.
  5. A Gnostic view comprehends spiritual reality not as a sublime eternal state, but as a subjective experience, and one’s spiritual vitality as a state of well-being, often in relation to specific people or objects in the material world. An explicit example would be, “The love of a woman is the love of God.” or “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!”
  6. Gnosticism has governing focus on maintaining one’s overall mood, usually (but not limited to) dietary and fitness regimes and materialistic indulgences. For example, “Portland SB’s pumpkin spice latte will set your heart at ease.” This is often extended to enhance one’s aesthetic image.
  7. One’s spirituality is associated with sensuality. This usually appears in two contrasting forms. The Hedonic approach emphatically embraces sensual pleasures (anything about sex, traveling, spas, fashion, entertainment, etc.) and social popularity (celebrities, scandals, status, image, etc.) as being the central sources of joy in life. For example, “Popularity breeds contentment.” The Ascetic approach carries the idea that denying one’s self all sensual pleasures and comforts will somehow enhance one’s spiritual state. “If it’s delicious, then it can’t be healthy.” (or vice versa) Manichaeism takes the ascetic approach concerning sex.
  8. It has a preference for casting God, Jesus, and various demiurges as purely a spirit being or force, not mortal. For example, “Jesus left no footprints in the sand.”
  9. It posits mythical or superstitious beliefs that have no foundation in a mystical experience. For example, “I’ve worn my mother’s mood ring all throughout college, and it has given me good luck and kept me out of trouble.” or “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
  10. An austere reverence for ancestry, nostalgia, heirlooms, and formal traditions. For example, “I am descended from French nobility (and that makes me good, or better than so and so).” Another example can be found in the western political tradition. For the past century (or longer) conservatives have had a staunch habit of doing nothing else than preserving the progressivism of the previous generation.**

To a large extent, Gnosticism is a subjective way of viewing the world that is accepted on faith through exposure to the mythos of Gnostic culture, especially for those who idolize the glorified elitist culture of Gnostics and who lack the mental faculties and intuition necessary to come up with their own Gnostic-ish ideologies.

The specific arguments are often presented as esoteric, or at least giving off a mysterious vibe, but actually, it’s just confusing to lazy minds and to those who lack such intuition. The tone often comes across as one of moral or intellectual superiority, and this enhances the semblance of being elite. The way this is expressed often implies that one’s thinking must align with that of the most influential Gnostic sages of the in-group. Within a social context having low social capital, those who have independent, unorthodox (according to them), or sociopathic thoughts are considered to be, at best, lower on the totem pole, or at worst, “uncivilized” or “uneducated”. As of late, some particularly nasty labels have been adopted, such as “racist”, “Nazi”, “white trash”, and so on. Of particular note, the strict adherence to Christian doctrine and any criticism of political liberalism as being unrealistic naturally fall under the category of unacceptable thought, largely because this strays away from the central Gnostic goal of achieving an idealized human condition apart from Christ (#3 above).

The reason it can be difficult to sniff out Gnosticism is because it mimics authentic spirituality and emphasizes things of true value – love and sex, culture and heritage, wealth, physical health and emotional well-being, a sincere appreciation for the memorable moments in life, and so on. Although these things may be good and healthy in themselves, Gnosticism spiritualizes and elevates these things to be the central aspect of a life that transcends mortal boundaries, and are therefore prioritized to the point of eclipsing contrasting truths, such as iniquity, sin and transgression, moral weaknesses, the need for mercy, grace, forgiveness, and regeneration, humility, responsibilities, discretionary spending, and the demands of one’s faith.

To the average person who lacks a mature faculty of spiritual discernment, Gnosticism may not appear any different from authentic faith. In fact, it may appear even better, because it is whitewashed from all things ugly about the human condition.

* Rock Kitaro brought up this statement in a previous discussion. I parted out some possibilities here, some of which are not actually gnostic in nature.
**
In 1897, R.L Dabney recognized that “Conservatism” would give way before “Women’s Rights” and “Women’s Suffrage”, and that everything to do with the Leftward drift of society was seen to be part of the Egalitarian Gnostic Heresy. H/T: Commenter Info.

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About Jack

Jack is a world traveling artist, skilled in trading ideas and information, none of which are considered too holy, too nerdy, nor too profane to hijack and twist into useful fashion. Sigma Frame Mindsets and methods for building and maintaining a masculine Frame
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29 Responses to 10 Defining Traits of Gnosticism

  1. info says:

    RE: 7. One’s spirituality is associated with sensuality.

    It seems to parallel the false dichotomy of sensuality vs. spirituality. But Asceticism could be even more a source of Pride than Sensuality. A far more dangerous Spiritual Pride like that the Pharisees fell into when they criticized the lack of fasting on the part of our Incarnated God and his disciples:

    Mark 2:18-19

    “18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were often fasting. So people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t Your disciples fast like John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees?”
    19 Jesus replied, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while He is with them? As long as He is with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

    Luke 7:33-34

    “33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon!” 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

    Luke 8:11-12

    “11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like the other men—swindlers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I acquire.”

    This Gnostic ascetic influence may have resulted in a more lax attitude towards dead bedrooms than outright provable adultery, when they are, I believe, more equivalent than we think.

    I believe the denial of sex is just another form of sexual immorality. I believe a repeated deprivation of conjugal rights is its own form of adultery. It has the same effects of breaking the marital union and effecting a divorce. (See 1 Corinthians 7.)

    Dead bedrooms, if not resolved, could be as much a just cause for divorce as adultery. Because in doing so the marriage has been already de facto in the state of being divorced.

    Liked by 2 people

    • info says:

      Notice when talking to the Pharisees Jesus said:

      Matthew 21:31-32

      “Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in a righteous way and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

      Indicating that the sensually enslaved may be more likely to be repentant than the ascetic who fasts regularly because of the latter’s Spiritual Pride.

      Liked by 1 person

      • caterpillar345 says:

        @Info,

        This is really interesting. I never thought about this before.

        Maybe that’s why Jack has drawn a dichotomy between clinging to legalism vs. engaging in fornication. I think Deti also hinted at this in his recent post. Someone who is a fornicator will probably sooner see the error of their ways and work towards becoming Godly than the legalist who thinks he’s better than everyone for not fornicating. The fornicator can quickly see that he obviously needs to change his behaviors to become like God and needs to experience God’s grace and mercy to become right with God. This at least opens the door for the fornicator to come to a relationship with God. The legalist is technically correct that fornication is against God’s law and the legalist is, at least in this one aspect, technically morally superior for not fornicating but, due to his feelings of superiority, he is blind to the fact that his attitude separates him from God, keeping him from acknowledging the ways he might need to change his behavior and experience God’s grace. This keeps him from developing a relationship with God.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Red Pill Apostle says:

      Info – Jack associated Gnosticism with cultural leftism, and since one of leftism’s key tactics is to change language, either through meaning change (think: gay) or rebranding (think: woman’s right to choose) I want to point out the language shift that has muddied the waters on dead bedrooms. In the west we have relabeled the biblical allowable reason for divorce as adultery and have ignored the dead bedroom, which is equal in its denial of spousal sexual rights as an extramarital affair. The term we need to bring back to the forefront in the churches is marital infidelity, because that encompasses both ways in which spousal rights are violated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • info says:

        Indeed. Wish I could like your comment.

        Like

      • Jack says:

        “The term we need to bring back to the forefront in the churches is marital infidelity, because that encompasses both ways in which spousal rights are violated.”

        RPA is right! The term infidelity fell sharply into disuse around the time of the American Civil War, and more with the rise of women’s suffrage!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oscar says:

      The Puritans get a bad rap these days as killjoys, but when it came to marital love, they were way ahead of the average modern Evangelical.

      “They [the Puritans] went to Genesis for its [marriage] institution, to Ephesians for its full meaning, to Leviticus for its hygiene, to Proverbs for its management, to several New Testament books for its ethic, and to Esther, Ruth, and the Song of Songs for illustrations and exhibitions of the ideal.” (A Quest for Godliness, 263)

      Here are some more specific Puritan teachings on sex in marriage.

      Ligonier: Sex in Marriage (2014-02-14)

      “Perkins defines marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh.” In contrast with Desiderius Erasmus, who taught that ideal marriage abstained from sexual intercourse, Cotton said in a wedding sermon that those who call for marital abstinence follow the dictates of a blind mind and not those of the Holy Spirit, who says that it is not good that man should be alone.”

      “The Puritans viewed sex within marriage as a gift of God and as an essential, enjoyable part of marriage. Gouge says that husbands and wives should cohabit “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” “They do err,” adds Perkins, “who hold that the secret coming together of man and wife cannot be without sin unless it be done for the procreation of children.”

      “Perkins goes on to say that marital sex is a “due debt” or “due benevolence” (1 Cor. 7:3) that a couple owes to one another. That must be shown, he says, “with a singular and entire affection one towards another” in three ways: “First, by the right and lawful use of their bodies or of the marriage bed.” Such physical intimacy by “holy usage” should be “a holy and undefiled action (Heb. 13:4)… sanctified by the word and prayer (1 Tim. 4:3–4).” The fruits of God-honoring, enjoyable sex in marriage are the blessing of children, “the preservation of the body in cleanness,” and the reflection of marriage as a type of the Christ-church relationship. Second, married couples must “cherish one another” intimately (Eph. 5:29) rather than having sex in an impersonal way as an adulterer with a prostitute. Third, a couple should be intimate “by an holy kind of rejoicing and solacing themselves each with [the] other in a mutual declaration of the signs and tokens of love and kindness (Prov. 5:18–19; Song 1:1; Gen. 26:8; Isa. 62:7).”

      Check out the bolded sections again.

      Marital sex is a “due debt”, or “due benevolence” that a couple owes to one another. No withholding sex, say the Puritans.

      “With good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” No star fish sex, say the Puritans.

      But they were the repressed ones, right?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Red Pill Apostle says:

        I am with you on the Puritans Oscar. I began reading about their views more last year. Think how far off base we have become culturally that now when we think of the ‘pure’ in Puritan, we immediately disassociate sex from them. When all along their view that sex should be frequent and caring within covenant marriage is the truth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Francis Silk says:

        They also tended to look the other way when young couples had sex before marriage, just as long as they got married soon after.

        Then again they also banned Christmas, having fun on Sundays, and a whole lot of other things. Let’s not get started on the New England moralism that descends from them. The American Civil War should be properly called The Conquest of America By Massachusetts.

        Like

      • Jack says:

        Eric,

        “They also tended to look the other way when young couples had sex before marriage…”

        Have you studied Puritan sociosexual behavior too? Do you have some evidence of this?

        Like

      • info says:

        @Eric Francis Silk,

        “They also tended to look the other way when young couples had sex before marriage, just as long as they got married soon after.”

        Shotgun weddings are biblical:

        Exodus 22:16-17

        “16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
        17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”

        Like

      • Eric Francis Silk says:

        In colonial America, between a quarter and two fifths of brides were pregnant on their wedding day. In fact, the number of out of wedlock pregnancies were much higher than they are now.

        The consent of the couple was seen as much more important for making a marriage than the formal ceremony (hence the concept of common law marriages). A betrothed couple having sex wasn’t exactly approved of but it carried little stigma so long as they got formally married before long. The Puritans were horrified by divorce but tended to be light on premarital (in the strictest sense of “taking place before the wedding”) sex. The opposite of quite few churches today.

        Like

      • Jack says:

        “In colonial America, between a quarter and two fifths of brides were pregnant on their wedding day.”

        This may have been true for colonial America, but it was rare within Puritan communities.

        Like

      • Oscar says:

        @ info,

        “Shotgun weddings are biblical…”

        What?! Christians actually obeying God’s word?! Perish the thought!

        Like

      • Oscar says:

        @ EFS

        You mean the Puritans were imperfect?!

        Like

  2. Oscar says:

    “The underlying “hope” of Gnosticism aspires to achieve an idealized human condition (apart from Christ).”
    […]
    “…a person who says, “I am spiritual, but not religious” is (most likely*) a gnostic because they are placing their own subjective spiritual experience over Christian fellowship, the gospel, and God’s directives for living.”

    So, hardasses like Communists, and Nazis are Gnostics, and so are hippy-dippy flower children. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

    Like

    • info says:

      Fire is essential to our life. It cooks our food which we need to do to survive. Who unlike other animals cannot do without cooked food. It makes food delicious too and provides us with it’s unique pleasures. It enables us to make essential products. Provides us with heat and light we need to survive too.

      Gnostic Ascetics want to deprive us of fire in its proper place among us. Whilst Gnostic hedonist wants to let fire run wild.

      They all have Satan as their daddy.

      Like

  3. caterpillar345 says:

    “The underlying “hope” of Gnosticism aspires to achieve an idealized human condition (apart from Christ).”

    Jack, what would you say the underlying “hope” of Christianity is?

    Like

    • Jack says:

      Caterpillar, it is unique to each man.

      Ephesians 1:18

      “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…”

      In my own words, I would say it’s the hope of a new day, things to do, places to go, people to see… and being joyful and enthusiastic about it. Of course, there is a spiritual aspect of this that cannot be put into words, and an eternal aspect as well.

      Pray Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18 for yourself, and you will know. (Keep praying diligently. It may take a few weeks.)

      Like

      • Red Pill Apostle says:

        I read Eph 1:18 and immediately my thoughts went to the eternal. What is the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice if not to restore the relationship with our creator as He created it to be in the beginning? We know the effects of sin on creation. In fact, it’s all we know from a physical sensory standpoint, so much so that it is hard to grasp what it will be like to have a body that does not break down and to be in communion with God the way Adam was.

        Thinking about this further, this is the groaning of creation longing to be restored to what it is supposed to be. So the hope of Christianity is God fixing all that is broken due to sin. Except that in opposition to Gnosticism, we know that the means of the restoration are outside of mankind, that those means have already been put in place through Christ and now we are merely waiting on God to fulfill what He has said He will do.

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. redpillboomer says:

    “The reason it can be difficult to sniff out Gnosticism is because it mimics authentic spirituality and emphasizes things of true value – love and sex, culture and heritage, wealth, physical health and emotional well-being, a sincere appreciation for the memorable moments in life, and so on. Although these things may be good and healthy in themselves, Gnosticism spiritualizes and elevates these things to be the central aspect of a life that transcends mortal boundaries, and are therefore prioritized to the point of eclipsing contrasting truths, such as iniquity, sin and transgression, moral weaknesses, the need for mercy, grace, forgiveness, and regeneration, humility, responsibilities, discretionary spending, and the demands of one’s faith.”

    And isn’t this the Zeitgeist of our times? Just peruse social media posts. Some Christians bold enough to post Scripture, but many posters (secular folk) offer up one post after another that “mimics authentic spirituality.” Or, just look at the magazine headlines as you check out at the grocery store. One article after another that “mimics authentic spirituality.” It’s everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack says:

      “One article after another that “mimics authentic spirituality.” It’s everywhere.”

      Yes, it is everywhere. Once you become aware of it, it will be obvious. Part of the reason I am covering this topic is because Christians are totally unaware of it. In an upcoming post, I’ll cover current sources of Gnostic literature that are found online.

      Like

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