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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- The Orthosphere (Alan Roebuck): Atheism, Agnosticism, and Cultural Low Self-Esteem (2014-05-08)
- The Orthosphere (Kristor): True Gnosticism (2015-11-05)