Mr. Gnosis All (or, Physician Get Over Thyself)
As a matter of fact, the idea that there is some kind of hidden knowledge accessible only to "special people" is immensely appealing to unredeemed rascals and hideous narcissists like Madonna or Deepak Chopra. I would venture to say that 99% of the interest in kabbalah or yoga is of this nature. It's not a statement about kabbalah but about those barbarians who would eagerly seize upon it in order to further aggrandize themselves (or enrich themselves in the case of Chopra and his sleazy brethren of The New Age Treedwelling Salivation Show).
Some intellectual types who come to faith do so precisely because they are tired and weary of the predictable games of the intellect. They know full well how the debased intellect builds castles in the air, how it lives in its own fantasies, the arrogance it displays in its empty claims to know so much about reality. They are aware of the solipsism and self-centeredness it engenders. Better just to defiantly believe "because it's absurd" and impenetrable, and leave it at that.
Of course, you may have noticed that people who are in possession of the "saving faith" can be just as tedious and arrogant as the spiritual gnosis-alls, whether Christian, Jewish, or obviously Muslim. In fact, we've even had an arrogant and pompous Aurobindean and Spinozean pantheist who have condescended to offer their pearls to the rest of us benighted One Cosmonauts.
Do you not see, my dear bobbleheads, that faith deployed in this manner is nothing more than mere "special knowledge" by another name? In other words, faith can be used by a blunt intellect to aggrandize the self and to feel superior to others, just as knowledge can be. "X said it, I believe it, that settles it. Oh, and by the way, you're going to hell." Thanks for the tip!
I do not believe that God gave us our intellect merely to shut it down when we come to faith. Rather, we are to love the lord not only with all our hearts, but with all our minds as well. For all truth ultimately emanates from the same source.
Normally I don't lay down the law, but I will say this: you must never reject a truth merely to preserve your faith. Rather, you must widen your faith to encompass all Truth. For I AM that Truth.
Of course, I get the opposite complaint as well---not a complaint really, more of an urgent request--"Bob, stop beating around the burning bush. Just give us the damn secret." Of course I can't do that, for although I believe there is "saving knowledge," as I tried to explain in the book, it is not the type of knowledge that can be passed like an object from mind to mind.
It is actually paradoxical, for I believe the type of knowledge I am talking about is objective. And yet, it must be subjectively discovered or realized for it to bear fruit in the rocky fields of the soul.
We're going to be hearing a lot about this issue in coming weeks, what with the recent bogus controversy over the "Gospel of Judas" and with the dopey Da Vinci Code. In order to insulate yourself from this nonsense, you must draw a sharp distinction between gnosticism and gnosis.
Gnosticism refers to a group of early Christian heresies that had some very specific ideas and doctrines, while the latter simply refers to the activity of the higher mind, or what used to be called in the Christian West intellection. As I mentioned yesterday, ever since the Enlightenment, there has been an unfortunate conflation of soul and spirit, so that the intellect has been appropriated by mere secular intellectuals.
But it was not always so. For example, when Aquinas refers to the intellect, he is specifically talking about that eternal part of us that can know the divine, not about the reason, which is the province of what we now call intellectuals.
Can you see the problem? Those who would suspect me of being a gnostic in the pejorative sense are themselves fully caught in the enlightenment trap of conflating intellect and reason. Gotcha! Some falls are a result not of pride but of misplaced humility.
One of my nonlocal friends says "Knowledge saves us only on condition that it engages all that we are: only when it constitutes a way which works and transforms, and which wounds our nature as the plough wounds the soil." Right there we have a key to the type of knowledge I am discussing: rather than aggrandizing the self, it pierces the self--it does not elevate you but humbles you.
There. You now have some saving knowledge of your own, for in knowing it, you are in a position to identify both false prophets and true profiteers.
Here is the potential problem with "saving faith." Yes, of course it is true, assuming it comes from an authentic revelation. However, we are created beings who live in time and space. The spiritual life is a journey, a sojourn from truth to Truth. Truth must be the basis of the journey, but it is also the end, the telos drawing us toward itself. For that matter, it must also be every step along the way. If you merely "possess" truth in the usual way, I'm afraid it won't be operative in your life in the manner I am discussing.
For the depth and breadth of truth are only revealed in the fulness of time. Otherwise, the understanding received by your next door neighbor who was saved in church last Sunday morning is absolutely no different than the understanding of Meister Eckhart, or St. Theophan the Recluse, or Shankara, or Denys the Areopagite--someone who has been wounded by the truth for many years and has been bringing forth sound fruit. Even after they're technically dead.
Perhaps you believe there is no room for improvement on the spiritual path. What you know now is what you will always know. The knowledge has no instrumental purpose within your soul--it performs no work, engenders no transformation, drains no psychotoxins, dissolves no clots or hidden complexes. It is entirely static, reducible to a slogan on a t-shirt or a sign held up at a sporting event.
On the other hand, perhaps truth is an arrow, spiritual practice the bow. What is the target? That very same truth, only understood with the whole self--not merely the mind or heart but the mind in the heart--body, mind and spirit.
Certainly faith confined to the heart is preferable to gnosis confined to the head. In the latter case, the so-called gnosis will be inoperative anyway. It won't do anything or go anywhere without being leavened by the heart. It will indeed be vain conceit.
Here's how to tell the difference. True comprehension will not merely be passed off at the head. Rather, comprehension will lead directly to spontaneous conformation with the divine, for these are two sides of the same reality. Truth is the virtue of the mind, while virtue is the truth of the body, of action. Knowing the one will entail being the other: know how = be who.
Let's bring it down to a personal level. Although I have come to enjoy getting up early in the morning and sending my little spiritual bobservations out into cyberspace, I do so with the greatest trepidation and humility, and sometimes wonder whether I should be doing it all. So you don't need to remind me of the potential pitfalls. I am well aware of them. One false move, and whatever genuine assistance I am able to offer would dry up in a nanosecond. Yes, I could probably still fake it. But I would know it, and that would be extremely disturbing. (And if you are foolish enough to believe I make money off of this or my book, I respond with a hollow and bitter "ha!")
For gnosis is not so much a noun but a very special verb. Ultimately it is lived and not thought. You might say that it resolves the tension between "faith" and "works," for works will actually become a form of gnosis, while gnosis will lead directly to actions, not in a "top down" moralistic way, but in a spontaneously insightful way. "Goodness" will come naturally, for, in the words of Frithjof Schuon, “he who possesses Truth must nonetheless merit it, although it is a free gift.... If we want the truth to live in us, we must live in it.”
So, as I hope you can see, I am not some kind of spiritual “know-it-all.” Rather, I am insufferably self-righteous.
Stand upright and humbly pass along what has been given to you: