Nice Gnosis & Naughty Gnosticism
Yesterday we discussed Voegelin's concept of political gnosticism, which first "condemns the existing world as broken and alienating, plagued by evil forces preventing a complete and happy restoration of man’s spiritual and material life." This existential diagnosis is followed by the promise of "a mode of deliverance or salvation from the prison of the world for man through a secret gnosis" -- i.e., by the toxic political prescription of a secular priesthood.
Progressives believe that by manipulating people with just the right coercive policies, the state can reconstitute paradise and create a "'kingdom of heaven on earth," for which Voegelin coined the ponderous term, "immanentizing the eschaton." He considered just calling it "uncool," but chose the former because he wanted to be taken seriously be academics who don't understand him. (This is the best book on Voegelin for those who would like an accessible introduction to this important but somewhat forbidding thinker.)
My son -- who turns three in a couple weeks -- already knows all about immamentizing the eschaton. For example, he wants to have bacon or pizza for every meal. Thus, I often have to remind him, "stop immamentizing the eschaton! You can't have bacon around the clock unless you're either a good person or an Islamist in the hereafter."
In Science and the Modern World, "Big Al" Whitehead wrote that "When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it is necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things ever occurred to them."
Being that we all live in "Christendom" -- that is, a culture shaped and animated (in the literal sense of "given life") by Judeo-Christian principles -- I guess it shouldn't be surprising that we share its underlying assumptions about the "brokenness" of man and the world. But where the progressive goes off the rails is in supposing there is some secret political formula that can reverse the fall and restore us to wholeness. Thus, the ubiquitous frenzied moral passion that always animates the left. Leftists are always exaggeratedly pessimistic about the present state of the world, but "optimistic" in a crazed and manic way that steamrules over anyone who would dare delay the immediate implementation of paradise.
From Marx on down, the leftist fallacy follows from turning spiritual Truth on its head (or "inside-out"), so that man's spiritual crisis is seen as a material one (e.g. "robber barons," "global warming," "global cooling," "nuclear power," "income disparity," "corporate greed," etc.) instead of a psycho-spiritual one. This is the "fundamental assumption" which adherents of all the variant progressive systems within our epoch unconsciously presuppose.
For example, the progressive would say that Palestinians aren't evil, they're just poor. Which precisely inverts the truism that they are poor because they are evil (except for the few who are extraordinarily wealthy because they are evil, having been enriched by the largesse of Western progressives who give them money because they think it will stop them from being evil, when it always does the opposite, thus ensuring a constant cash flow from backward progressives).
Just know that these philosophers whose wisdom you so much extol have their heads where we place our feet (Isaac of Acre), and you'll be okay.
So yes, secular progressives do begin with the same cognitive "deep structure" as those who are in touch with reality, but they promptly place their heads up their assumptions and de-spiritualize them, very similar to how the unconscious mind creates a sexual perversion. In order to create a perversion, the unconscious must "see" a truth it wishes to deny, usually revolving around the reality of sexual/generational differences. For example, many homosexual men compulsively attempt to incorporate the father's phallus in a direct instead of symbolic manner. An insecure heterosexual man might attempt the same thing by projecting this homosexual desire into women, thus having a compulsive need to "conquer" them in order to shore up his weak masculinity.
What the.... How did I drift into this topic? I wanted to explore the meaning of genuine gnosis, in coontradistincion to the false kind discussed yesterday.
In this regard, the first thought that pops into my head is, "hmm. I'm a little tired this morning. I wonder what Schuon would say? I can always defer to him and make myself look brilliant by standing in his reflected light." Conveniently, one of his books has a chapter entitled Gnosis is Not Just Anything. With any luck, this will provide all the answers we need, thus freeing me from the responsibility of thinking too hard.
Perfect! Just what I was looking for. The very first sentence reads, "It is a fact that too many authors -- we would almost say: general opinion -- attribute to gnosis what is proper to Gnosticism and to other counterfeits of the sophia perennis, and moreover make no distinction between the latter and the more freakish movements... that saw the light of day in the twentieth century.... [N]ow the fact that an imposture necessarily imitates a good, since otherwise it could not even exist, does not authorize charging this good with all the sins of the imitation."
Ironically, one of the reasons men of potentially gifted intellect reject religion is that they mistakenly believe there is no place for the intellect in religion, a misapprehension that is most certainly reinforced by popular caricatures of religion that are engendered by none other than religious doofuses themselves. But in reality, the nous (which is the word the early Greek Fathers used for the higher intellect) is the "satellite" of the Logos, the latter of which is the very Reason or intelligence that infuses Being.
A man is constituted of knowledge, will, and sentiment, with one of these three being predominant. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that the spiritual path breaks out into three main branches (or "yogas"), the way of bhakti (love of God), karma (virtuous action), and gnani (knowlede of God). Each of these paths represents a way to counteract the hardening or dissipative forces of the local ego, in that the ego wants to act, love, and know what it wishes, not necessarily what is real or good. But knowing the Truth, loving the Real, and doing the Good all serve in their own way to tame and discipline the ego's wayward tendencies. After all, Good is what you must do, just as Truth is what you must know, on pain of not actually doing or knowing anything useful -- you know, like the tenured, right? Right.
So really, gnosis is simply "the path of the intellect and hence of intellection; the driving force of this path is above all intelligence, and not will and sentiment..." Furthermore, this path "comprises on the one hand 'comprehension,' and on the other 'concentration'; hence doctrine and method" (Schuon). The two obviously go together, as the more we concentrate, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we con-centrate ("circle with," or orbit around, the focal Truth).
"Concentration" implies a gathering together of all one's disparate and fragmented parts, so to speak, so that one may know the Truth "axis to axis." Or, as Schuon puts it, "the unicity of the object demands the totality of the subject." Thus, it is insufficient merely to know Truth with the mind; rather, it must ultimately be approached with body-mind-spirit, so that Truth actually "infuses" the will and sentiments and brings them into alignment with the Sovereign Good.
Many are attracted to philosophy whose natures are imperfect and whose souls are maimed and disfigured by their meanness.... And when persons who are unworthy of education approach philosophy and make an alliance with her who is rank above them, what sort of ideas and opinions are likely to be generated? Will they not be sophisms captivating to the ear, having nothing in them genuine, or worthy of or akin to true wisdom? --Plato
In paradise, you can eat pork products all day while having your body painted by a fairy princess. In San Francisco, they would ban the former while making the latter compulsory.