Dear Mr Smith,
Since my last letter on Gnostic thought and its connection to Utopianism, I have noticed an uptick in conversations online surrounding this. Indeed, even larger voices are beginning to pick up on this apparent connection and analyse it. This is essentially a bridging of the gap between modern philosophical and religious tones - particularly Utopian ideas with a socialist edge, and the ‘ancient wisdoms’, those being Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism.
Today I want to add some more thoughts regarding the recent re-popularisation of the terms ‘Gnostic’ and ‘gnostic’. While the enlightenment rationalist may find it easy to denounce any such thing wit the label ‘Gnostic’ as garbage, for someone like myself it is not so easy. Indeed, just as I mentioned with the German Counter Enlightenment philosophers, it seems to me that things are not as simple as they are presented, and the absolute disregard for the spiritual reality around us cannot be overlooked. For this reason, I want to follow this letter up with somewhat of a ‘defence’ (or at least playing devils advocate) of Gnosticism and the ‘gnostic mindset’. However, for this letter I want to add more food for thought regarding the similarities between the abstract idea of ‘gnostic thought’ and the elitist and socialist ideas we see today. While some of these views are generated through free thought, others are borrowed from the controversial Eric Voegelin, so there is that…
Out of the many other commentators I take note of, I have noticed a common theme among all of them; nothing has produced as much of a stir in the audience as bringing up the ancient beliefs of Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism. This is rather odd, considering practically no one talks about Gnosticism as they do about socialism. It is so obscure. Yet once you highlight the mindset behind it, and link it to a psychological trend unravelling today, people seem to freak out.
Surprisingly, some of the greatest defenders of Gnosticism in light of these recent critiques emerging online have been Christians. I have no idea why this is the case, beyond suspecting that it has something to do with the vagueness of the term ‘gnostic’, which I agree makes defining exactly what I am talking about far more difficult. Besides, it just doesn’t make sense to me. The gnostic mindset was quite literally the original sin in the bible, so why anyone - especially Christians - would be freaking out and jumping to the defence of this idea is truly something to ponder. Of all the hills Christians could die on, why does it have to be in defence of Lucifer worship…
I know this is a comical oversimplification, but whatever (It’s my party and I’ll dance if I want to). I must clarify that this is NOT a critique or attack on the religion known as Gnosticism, which consists of roughly 6 large movements. I use the term gnostic in order to parallel these older beliefs with what I see as a common trend amongst today’s political and social ideologues. Perhaps this has been the reason for such a strong push-back, but on that same note, perhaps not… there certainly seems to be a strong and long-winded attempt to decouple the terms ‘gnosticism’, ‘hermeticism’, and the broader modern esoteric spiritualist idea from Utopian socialism.
The Gnostic idea strikes me as something which emerged from a fundamental misreading of the Old Testament, and subsequent tainted reading of the New Testament. It has struck me as something in the same vein as Kabbalah, which - depending on sources - seems to have also emerged out of these same forms of ancient wisdom. Indeed, both Kabbalah and some Gnostic beliefs extrapolate entire story-lines out of what are otherwise a few odd words in a passage, and thus a new belief system is created from the mind of man.
My thoughts on the Gnostic and mystic idea stands in contrast to the majority, who are completely shut off to the idea of divine encounters. I believe that there is much truth in the spiritual realm which is simply ignored, but the mindset one has when approaching this is what will differentiate the depressed psychic occultist from the Christian who receives words from God.
As mentioned previously, the ‘gnostic mindset’ seems to be compatible with two blatantly wrong ideas. Both need to be understood as mindsets (essentially dispositions), and are NOT tied a spiritual movement or religion. They are broad terms.
The first mindset is that of imprisonment within reality. Life is a prison. Ones body is a prison. Ones situation is a prison. The list goes on, and likewise manifests itself in various forms depending on the nature of the disposition and the situation of the individual socially, economically, and religiously. Different forms of modern socialism just so happen to encapsulate this mindset; be it Classical Marxism (class), CRT (race), Queer Theory (sex, gender), postmodern Theory (identity, subject), Critical Theory (everything), or any other number of these ideas. Broadly summarised, everything is unfair at the deepest level. This is why Dostoevsky’s characters in The Brothers Karamasov have a dialogue about Utopian ideas, realising that in the end ‘even attractive faces should be made illegal’. I cannot help but see this at the root of so much. There is a deep pessimism about reality and oneself, supposedly created by a demiurgic force in an imperfect form, and thrown into a doomed reality. If it is not a brutally hard hitting insecurity about oneself and their estrangement from society, then it is a critique of a broader societal problem, almost always involving an attack on ‘the current society’ with the explicit aim of its complete destruction (which often alludes to self destruction).
The term ‘gnostic mindset’ accurately describes this idea on a deep level. As I have written about in the past, I have long understood this disposition, but was unable to formulate a term to encapsulate it. In previous letters I spoke about Shafarevich’s ’Socialist Phenomenon’, an essay which I read several years ago, and touched on the idea of an instinctual ‘death drive’. (I am pleased Winston that you too are going through this essay.) This essay aligned with some ideas I had in the back of my mind concerning the socialist revolutionary types. Having met many people with such a disposition, I had often come to the conclusion that these individuals had given up hope, and instead fallen into a type of revengeful, self destructive pessimism, in which they could barely see the light. They could still be redeemed, and I imagine they still held onto unspoken joys, but these were repressed by the pain and anger. Shafarevich described this as an instinctual death drive, which explained the spread of socialist ideas across the world, despite there being no way ideas could be transmitted from one group to another, yet still develop in the same manner and end in the same destructive downfall. It is a disposition. Shafarevich ends by tying it to the Biblical idea that one has the choice between life and death with God encouraging us to choose life.
The second mindset is that of divine authority and understanding which sets one apart from his neighbour. This could be described as elitism, or as a type of self-begotten privilege. In all cases, it involves one individual believing that his own personal enlightenment puts him in a ‘godlike’ position. Since he knows and understands, his will is the will, and anyone who opposes him is simply wrong. Nietzsche’s Will to Power is by far the most prominent philosophical idea addressing this; essentially advocating for those with a ‘corrected’ and ‘perfected’ mindset to have authority over those without, and to forcibly move them towards the light. This stands in contrast to the biblical idea of divine law, and divine understanding. No man has the right to play god. The law of the Old Testament was from God, not man, although man transmitted the will. The German Counter Enlightenment warped this idea by claiming that such things as ‘The State’ (as Hegel claimed) was ‘God’, and thus the will of the state was the will of God to be spread by man. However, in most cases, this second form of gnostic disposition seems one claim moral and intellectual superiority over another, who ‘lacks’.
This is not an accurate reflection of the New Testament teaching either. It says that the revelation of the true God was made evident to all, so that none could claim to have been unaware of his existence. Not only that, but Paul also writes that ‘the mystery has been revealed’, and alludes to this divine understanding as being ‘veiled’ only insomuch as man refuses to unveil it. This is not ‘gnosis’ in the elitist sense. It is ‘gnosis’ in the same way that one chooses to read a book. It is not restricted to some, but open to all. It later alludes to those who decide to refuse this understanding essentially falling into a type of foolishness due to a circular send made understanding of reality.
As a side note, Gnosticism in the religious sense also doesn’t align with either New or Old Testament writings, since it explicitly rejects the idea of ‘faith’ in favour ‘knowledge’. That is, the idea of faith - which forms the basis of the story of Abraham, Noah, and so forth, and is evidently one of the primary themes of the New Testament - is simply ‘unnecessary’, because hope in things unseen falls secondary to ‘knowing’ in the individual sense.
GNOSTIC VS RATIONAL WORLDVIEWS
In previous letters I have paralleled how surface level manifestations of deep seated differences - such as those that pitted 19th century Germany and England at odds - were part of a older problem which extended throughout the west. I summarised this as a battle between Enlightenment philosophies (Locke, Hume, Descartes, etc.) which saw popularity in England and France, and the Counter Enlightenment (Hegel, Fichte, Nietzsche, Kant) which reflected the disposition of the Germans to English ideas. The Counter Enlightenment thinkers began their battle under the guise of Christianity, claiming that Enlightenment ideas of empiricism and reason made God a subject, rather than absolutely divine, and thus Enlightenment thinking was heretical. This was a convincing argument, but flawed and overly simplified. I had come to the conclusion that it was the Enlightenment that truly saw the split of ideas between Germany and the rest of the West. However, after far more research, it appears that the German tendency to side with Monistic ideas was far older than that, as was the English reluctance to stray too far from more conventional views on God. It also muddied the waters in relation to the distinctions between Enlightenment and Counter Enlightenment ideals.
This was made obvious after reading of various influential theologians in Germany; Jakob Bohme and Meister Eckhart. Both men existed at different times; Bohme in the 17th century, and Eckhart in the 12th. Eckhart in particular had a profound influence on German strains of Christian thought. I do not wish to criticise either men, as both clearly believed that they were preaching a biblically accurate gospel, but I do want to highlight that both had a heavy bias towards Neoplatonic ideas. Eckhart in particular emphasised the ‘Oneness’ of reality, and touched on the gnostic belief of a ‘higher God’ beyond our comprehension, who cannot truly be known or comprehended.
Another interesting character I have known about for some time who ties in to this is Joachim of Fiore. I initially learnt about Joachim several years ago while researching the history of the Cathar movements in Europe. While we cannot know for certain whether Joachim was a miracle worker, as his contemporaries claimed (I will give him the benefit of the doubt) what is properly recorded is his worldview. Joachim appears to be an early advocate of the ‘progression of history’ theme, which claims that the unfolding of history and events will result in the perfection of things in material reality, pointing towards Utopia. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the exact same idea I wrote about months ago; Hegel’s dialectical progression and perfection of the world, pointing towards the ‘End of History’. Joachim essentially holds that there is no longer a use for Jesus Christ, nor is there even a reason to follow him, since history will inevitably manifest the kingdom of heaven on earth.
INCURSION OF GNOSTICISM
It is hard to say just how protected England and the rest of the western world was from these Utopian ideas following the Enlightenment. Obviously there were always strains of ‘heretical’ ideas seeping in, but these were mostly ignored due to the understood importance of faith (rather than ‘knowledge’), and the sheer strength of British society, which by the 19th century had existed in form for over a thousand years. However, one of the first noticeably impacting incursions of German Counter Enlightenment thought came through the Fabian Socialist Society. The Fabians broke into the British mainstream thanks to their smart use of language, which often conveyed a message of social justice, without explicitly referencing the German esoteric origins of their claims. The original Fabians were essentially a 19th century equivalent to the Club of Rome, with their members holding a pessimistic, Malthusian outlook on humanity, and advocating for eugenics programs wherever necessary. They held a radical set of political opinions based primarily on the writings of Marx and Engels, and used these writings to justify their claim that society should be guided by a centralised government under the dominion of the ‘social sciences’. These ‘social sciences’ are not what one learns at university, but refer to the ideas of the science put forward by Hegel (reason and understanding) and later Marx (socialist sciences). That is, they are sciences which can only be understood and made sense of after one has taken on the ideology.
The Fabian Society quickly attracted some of the most pessimistic, life hating radicals around, including George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and later Margaret Sanger. Shaw was an unparalleled nihilist, with a clear hatred for humanity. In a famous speech, he claims that society audit its individual members, gauge their utility, and execute those who are not necessary. He later says that society should “put a price on the right to live”, and that “if they are not fit to live, kill them in a decent human way”. This was the exact same ‘humane’ view on eugenics held by Hitler.
Speaking of that, Margaret Sanger - founder of Planned Parenthood - also spoke of eugenics often. A profound racist, Sanger advocated for the elimination of blacks, Chinese, the disabled, “morons”, and other ‘inferior’ people in the United States through such methods as sterilisation. Just as Adolf Hitler let it slip in his 1933 Chicago Times interview that Henry Ford was his inspiration, many Nazis cited Sanger as an influence, and Sanger herself reprinted articles by Nazi eugenicist Ernst Rudin in English. In a time of calling out ‘racism’, it is strange to note that Sanger - despite telling a fellow doctor to “hire a full time negro physician” so that “negroes can get closer to their own members and lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstition, and doubt”, alongside many other private correspondence regarding the targeted elimination of blacks, that no one has cancelled Sanger. Now why would that be? Unless there is something deeper going on here, which has nothing to do with racism…
H. G. Wells was perhaps the most Utopian of the bunch. Possessing a similar ideology to the likes of Bill Gates, Wells asserts that humanity will destroy itself unless a global centralised government - conveniently a socialist government - was put in place to control the people. This government would of course be overseen by those with divine knowledge and superior intellect - such as scientists and intellectuals - capable of guiding the unknowing masses. Ironically, Wells’ intellectual flaws were laid on the table following debate with George Orwell, who did not share Wells’ optimism regarding ‘the science’ as a force to drive humanity forward. Orwell put Wells’ ridiculous ideas in place, noting that the foundation for Wells’ ideal society was essentially completely subjective to the whims of those at the top.
What is common amongst all three individuals - and indeed amongst many of the Fabian Societies members - was there profound influence in the west, and their belief that they possessed a divine knowledge which justified their overstepping of individual rights in the name of pushing society forward and progressing history.
ENEMIES OF THE PROGRESSION OF HISTORY
If this is the worldview held by those within what I may refer to as the ‘gnostic mindset’ (that being a mindset which is not tied to the historical religion of Gnosticism but rather an embodiment of the belief that reality is either a prison, or that man can create his own salvation through divine knowledge - gnosis) then what about those who do not agree? They are deemed enemies. Just as I mentioned in the past how Hegel’s enemies are those who do not believe him, and that Herbert Marcuse’s enemies are those who do not actively take part in socialist revolution (thus being ‘fascists’, since Critical Theorists believe that capitalism inevitably leads to fascism), for those in the gnostic mindset, it does indeed seem that anyone who is not actively taking part in the rejuvenation of (or destruction of) reality is by definition an enemy. Some of the ‘old ways’ which stand in the path of history makers includes family, Christianity, and as per usual capitalism, as it is dictated by individual decisions rather than forced top down direction by ‘the enlightened elite’.
This stands in stark contrast to the classical Christian view on ‘history’ and ‘time’. The time should be spent with God, who will return in his own power, not through the power of man being his own saviour. Beyond this, Jesus Christ says that his follows should ‘make disciples, heal the sick, and cast out demons as they go’. This is often left out when the inevitable misinterpretation of the ‘body of Christ’ passages are read. In being a member of the Body of Christ, the individual is a ’slave to righteousness’ who bears the yoke of Christ, who’s ‘yoke is easy and burden light’. In this way, the individual is subject to Jesus and the commandments offered in the bible, not acting as an agent of his own salvation, and especially not attempting to ‘break free from the simulacrum of reality’.
In this way, my current view on this ‘gnostic mindset’ is that it is often embodied by one of two type of individuals; those with a hopelessly pessimistic outlook on reality, seeing the material world as a prison they were unfairly flung in to (this would be more accurate to the older religions of Gnosticism), while the other is he who views himself as being able to attain divine knowledge (gnosis) and wisdom (Sophia) which sets him apart as elect, and that this election grants him the right to do anything necessary to progress history, including the destruction of individual rights (this is closer to the ‘positive’ Hermetic outlook on life, and the view of society and personal enlightenment held by Plato). This is exemplified in Plato’s ‘Republic’, in which Plato describes the ‘ideal society’. The society does not sound ideal, unless one imagines that they’re the God-man who will be in charge of organising it. In the same ways, many utopianists envision radically different societies, often requiring forced stratification and change, yet never imagine themselves in the shoes of the average person within this society. Instead, they always view it from the perspective of them being above others, since they have the ‘gnosis’ which has been exclusively given to them.
In some strange way this also seems to connect with the beliefs held by the anti-natalists movement. I vaguely remember writing about this movement before, as I have been disgusted by the pure life-hating views espoused by them. Anti-natalists align with my second ‘type’ of gnostic idealist; he who believes reality is a prison, and that one should escape. They firmly believe that having a child is perhaps the worst crime imaginable. On the surface, they throw around such generic, resentful arguments as it being ’bad for the planet’, and so forth. But after reading deeper into their online communities, it become obvious that the majority openly hold the view that the reason they hate the idea of bringing children into the world is because the child had no say in his or her creation. Pair this with their claim that reality is a pit of meaningless suffering and struggle, and the result is an ideology which resents being itself.
I had initially believed that anti-natalists were essentially pushing a type of Heideggerian philosophy about the unfairness of being forced to be, and I hold that this is still somewhat true. But now it seems increasingly evident that this also aligns with the ‘gnostic mindset’ yet again. Reality is a prison, and to bring children into this world is to unfairly bring another human into the demiurgic realm of suffering.
JAMES LINDSAY’S ‘GNOSTICISM’
Unlike the many, I have not found much of an issue with Lindsay’s reinterpretation of Voegelin’s work, although there are evidently issues. His primary issue is that he seemingly ignores metaphysics all together. He also refuses to equate objectively positive virtues with their biblical origin, instead falling back on the same tired argument that Christianity and Judaism ‘borrowed’ their ideas on morality from Aristotle. While Aristotle was certainly at odds with the ‘anti-biblical’ Plato, his ideas are certainly not the groundwork for, nor predate Judaism. Most of this was verbally admitted in a recent podcast interview between Lindsay, Benjamin Boyce, and Carl Benjamin.
For context, Carl Benjamin is a pseudo-intellectual atheist who runs a popular YouTube podcast. He also adopted the ‘gnostic’ term, albeit without an apparent understanding of why. As per usual with the atheist, his position on the matter has no proper foundation, and when asked to clarify, falls into a linguistic idiocy that usually results in the complete opposite answer to that previously proposed. Carl exemplified this when asked about objective moral values, stating that they cant be exclusive to the bible, before describing how a ‘person from Italy’ wouldn’t report their cousin or family member to the state if they did something wrong, while Carl says that he holds ‘the same values’, but would report his family to the state. The irony being that the guy - in the typical pseudo-intellectual manner - unknowingly took the side of his supposed enemy in order to justify his stance against Christianity. Thus, I am inclined the align myself closer with Lindsay’s ideas than with his.
The recent popularisation of the terminology ‘gnostic’ which I noted early has primarily stemmed from a re-emergence of Voegelin, alongside Jay Dyer, and now James Lindsay. I am unsure of Dyers religious views, but as mentioned earlier, Lindsay doesn’t believe in a God. In this way, I believe they are missing crucial concepts within Christian mysticism, and hence their criticism of mysticism should be taken with a large grain of salt, since they do not clarify the difference between a self-inflated ‘gnostic’ knowledge, and a deeper understanding clarified by the Holy Spirit. It also appears - although I could be wrong - that Lindsay lumps everything together in the realm of mysticism, from Freemasonry to the Christian mystics killed by the Catholics in the Middle Ages. However, he does claim that what he is broadly criticising is the individual who’s mystical experience is claimed as fact and somehow sets them apart in terms of morality and reason. His rebuttal – “you are not God, and none of us get to be God”. This is a good criticism, and he parallels that with the Yuval Harrari goal of making ‘man as God’, since Harrari ‘knows’ and is therefor justified in squashing individual rights in order to see his vision come about.
One pressing issue I do see with the ‘gnostic alert’ trend is that it can very quickly deteriorate into a witch-hunt once (or if) it goes mainstream. By this I meant that it will be used as a tool by hyper-rationalist movements (like the New Atheist movement, if that still exists) to hunt down and cancel anyone who does not toe the line of absolute empiricism and rationalism. For example, if the trend does go viral, I see figures like Iain McGilchrist being metaphorically burnt at the stake. McGilchrist has so far gone under the radar, but his ideas to the average observer sound gnostic, in that he criticises absolute reason as a byproduct of left-hemispherical dominance, and suggests that there is more than meets the eye. I agree. He has been falsely equated with an Alchemist or Hegelian, although the fact that he uses Kantian Synthesis to describe Hegel’s Dialectical process - a classic telltale sign that someone doesn’t understand Hegel - puts that to rest in my opinion. McGilchrist and others offer perspectives which sound mystical, yet do not suggest that ‘Man is God’, or that certain men (with supermen gnosis) have the right to trample on the rights of others and redirect society as someone like Nietzsche would suggest.
Just as the gnostic-esque Hugenots desecrated the tomb of Irenaeus for describing the gnostic mindset as heresy, it is possible that the hard opposite could occur, with rationalists labelling anything remotely right-brained as heretical. However, this is relevant only in so much as one is criticising the ‘spiritual’ element of the gnostic idea, and not the more blatant ideas of elitism and entitlement over others rights, or the idea of absolute imprisonment.
I am afraid that this has been one of my more disjointed letters to date. Forgive me. I am still trying to connect the dots between my own thoughts, the rather confusing thoughts of Voegelin, and the more simplistic yet important ideas now being popularised by Jay Dyer and James Lindsay. I feel as though I am coming to a similar conclusion on my own accord in regards to the negatives regarding ‘gnostic thought’; the belief in divine knowledge which nullifys the human rights of others and allows oneself to ‘be as God’ in contrast, or the belief that reality is a type of prison, and that God is responsible for the crime of thrusting oneself unfairly into being. However, I also do not wish to naively disregard mysticism as a whole, as this simply does away with the idea of a spiritual realm or a God beyond a set of archetypal structures. I could go on, but it is better that I attempt to wrap up this letter while I can.
I wish to follow this letter up at some point with a type of ‘defence’ of Gnosticism based off of the views of a few authors who have taken issue with Voegelins outlook, for the sake of completeness. But for now, dear Mr Smith, I thank you for your attention.
Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that the Church denounced centuries ago. https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/church-history/second-century/protecting-the-church-from-falsehood-and-heresy
I personally don't have a problem with traditional Christians, so long as they keep to their values and don't go off on another bloody inquisition on those that share those values, but don't agree with their dogma.
It sure would be nice if certain "thought leaders" stopped focusing on the esoteric (in what appears to be an attempt to create content because they suffer from the belief that they need to keep pumping it out, regardless of quality) and instead focused on virtue, common values, and finding solutions to the very real problems directly in front of us.