Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thinking On Your Knees

This is wisdom we preach among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the leaders of this age, which will become nothing. We preach the wisdom of God, mysterious and hidden... --I Corinthians

“Gnosis.” “Esoterism.” “Mysticism.” It seems that each of these words has negative connotations, not just for the secular mentality but often even more so for the religious person. But these are actually at the heart of any spiritual conception of reality, for they simply involve any knowledge that touches, either directly or indirectly, the Divine plane. In other words, gnosis is simply that knowledge of God which “brings the letter to life.” Esoterism is the means to that knowledge. Mysticism is union with it, or the deep realization of its truth.

Humans are unique, in the sense that we inhabit two distinctly different worlds--the outer, objective world of sensible forms, and an interior, subjective world of thought, emotion and reason.

As we discussed yesterday, one of the baleful consequences of religious literalism or “fundamentalism” (which is not actually fundamental, but a very modern deviation) is that it places religious knowledge on the same horizontal plane as empirical or rational scientific knowledge. In so doing, it places itself in competition with an inferior mode of knowledge that nevertheless copes more effectively with a lower plane of being, i.e., matter. At the same time, it willfully cuts itself off from the higher and more interior planes to which it is appropriate. Placed in competition with science in this way, religion quickly devolves into pagan magic, whatever you wish to call it.

Although I sympathize with so-called literalists, in the long run their position is simply untenable. But equally untenable is the position of the secular materialist who clumsily attempts to utilize the coarse tools of science to study the interior world.

Gnosis is not to be confused with debased forms of spirituality such as occultism, channeling, mind reading, “the paranormal,” and the like--the sorts of freaks, sociopaths, and con men you might see on Larry King. One of the central tenets of genuine gnosis is that it involves subjectively objective knowledge, which is the converse of Kant’s realization that all of our supposedly objective, exterior knowledge is actually subjective, i.e., limited by, and filtered through, our ways of knowing it. Science begins its investigation from our mysterious, subjective center and moves toward the periphery, studying the multiplicity and variety of the contingent exterior world. Esoterism operates in the opposite direction, from the periphery back upstream to the center, to the objective metaphysical principles that underlie reality.

Anyone who wishes to pass beyond mere “book knowledge,” beyond the realm of mere “information,” is an esoterist, whatever the field or endeavor. For in the absence of gnosis, the world we encounter is simply a brute fact with no depth or meaning at all. Facts do not speak for themselves, but must be imaginatively synthesized in the mind of a knower. No sensory or perceptual experience can tell you what you are experiencing. In other words, there is no knowledge at all at the level of the senses.

So in order to construct a world, we all engage in an imaginative leap, the secular fundamentalist no less than the religious fundamentalist. But this does not mean that the world is unknowable and that we are hopelessly enclosed in our own subjectivity. For one thing, unlike animals, we are aware of the fact of our subjectivity. But the moment we realize this, we have lifted ourselves beyond the plane of subjectivity in a way no animal can. We have begun to to acquire the state of objectivity. All forms of prayer and meditation, of “silencing the mental substance,” are in fact exercises for elevating ourselves and deepening our objective consciousness.

Gnosis represents the reconciliation of philosophical idealism and scientific naturalism. It has long been recognized that there are two philosophical temperaments, the “Platonic” (or idealist) and the “Aristotelian” (or naturalist). The naturalist, or scientist, would say that laws are derived through observation and induction and that “truth” is simply the correspondence between objects and accurate knowledge of them.

The idealist, on the other hand, believes that consciousness is prior to every “thing,” and that the world is a reflection of the intellect, or “ideas.” Another way of saying it is that for the Aristotelian the particular is antecedent to the general, whereas for the Platonist the general is prior to the particular--for example, the general idea of “dogginess” allows us to identify and categorize particular dogs.

You might think that science is a default Aristotelian enterprise, but this is not so. For example, the majority of great mathematicians are Platonists, in that they believe that mathematical ideas are real, immutable, and prior to our discovering them. 2 + 2 = 4 will be a true statement in any possible cosmos. Likewise, most of the great physicists of the 20th century were led to a Platonic conception or reality because of the a priori truth and beauty of the few equations that undergird all of reality.

But gnosis is neither naturalistic or idealistic. Rather, it is logoistic. That is, the truth of things is found neither in the external world nor in the mind that contemplates it. The esoterist worships neither gaia nor the intellect. Rather, he worships the eternal Word that is the source of each. As expressed by an anonymous Christian friend, reality is founded upon the Word, or Logos, “whose objective manifestation is the world of prototypes underlying the phenomenal world, and whose subjective manifestation is the light or prototype of human intelligence”: “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

So therefore, the only truly true and objective knowledge is knowledge of the Word. Objects are only real in the sense that they inhere in the Word--otherwise we could not know them. And our intellectual conceptions--our gnosis--are only true insofar as they reflect the Word. Real truth is not a construct or acquisition of the ego, but something to which we humbly submit.

Ultimately, gnosis represents the reconciliation of the vertical and horizontal. Science represents the quantitative world of the horizontal, whereas religion has to do with the vertical, qualitative world. Gnosis entails nothing less than crucifying ourselves at the innersanction between the vertical and horizontal, where the Word is perpetually dying away and being reborn. It is not a synthesis of science and religion, but a mode of consciousness through which the reality of the living Word shines in its metaphysical transparency. It’s just “there,” waiting for you at the crossroads, where to live the objective truth is to die a little.


Rorschach said...

Like I said before: God is not in everything, but rather, everything is in God.

Gagdad Bob said...

Well, not to quibble, but the objective truth is that God is in everything and everything is in God, for God is both immanent and transcendent. After all, if he were not immanent, you could not know anything about him. This is what it means to live in a logoistic cosmos.

DataWizard said...

Well, I wouldn't know about that

will said...

Bob, assorted Heads -

Thing about the "debased forms of spirituality" - quite a few of these people do have legit gifts or talents. Probably some of the so-called channelers do, though what they're channeling may not always be what they think it is. But it's a huge mistake to automatically equate spiritualism with spirituality or a psychic talent with gnosis/wisdom.

Not to wax too morbid, but I suspect many of the truly evil sort, say, serial killers and the like, do have some kind of raw psychic talent which they, unconsciously or not, utilize to maneuver through the subterranean chambers they inhabit.

It could be we are living in the days when "the Spirit pours out on all flesh," that is, when the ancient extra-sensory abilities and talents are being re-awakened in humanity at large. I think this part of the Divine Schematic - we are stripped of our higher Edenic senses, we then acquire individuality and self-awareness, then we re-acquire our higher senses, preferably with enough self-awareness and wisdom to use them properly.

Obviously, this need not be the case. If we're bereft of individual wisdom and self-awareness, then the pouring out of Spirit on all flesh might result in forms of insanity. (SEE ISLAMOFASCISTS) And we could easily be seduced by those who have acquired some kind of psychic ability/charisma and who use it unscrupulously.

Hey, "interesting times" are demanding. Lotta personal responsibility is called for.

John said...

G-Bob said: "So in order to construct a world, we all engage in an imaginative leap, the secular fundamentalist no less than the religious fundamentalist."

Interesting that this is an argument that the religious fundamentalist uses, and it is exactly as much of an overstatement by G-Bob as by them.

It's ok with me if people choose to say that science is my "religion". It's not so, but I don’t take it as an insult. I understand what is at stake for the “believer”.

I don't worship science. I don't have an irrepressible desire to proselytize. It stands up, or falls, on its own.

The fact is, nothing G-Bob believes and nothing the religious fundamentalist believes can be falsified. I'm more than happy when a scientific fact I've come to accept is falsified. It simply leads closer to a truth. The true scientist doesn't believe anything is a fact, only that there is evidence for it and that holding that fact has some value for the short time that scientist is here on this planet.

Someone referred me to your blog, and I had some comments concerning it today if you want to take a look. Good luck. You are a fine writer.

Gagdad Bob said...


I take your comment as a frank confession of innocence of any knowledge transcending the senses, which is fine. We are not here to argue. However, yours is a view which cannot be falsified, only transcended.

John said...


I didn't come to argue and, believe it or not, I fully understand what you saying. You are completely correct. I am "innocent" of any knowledge of transcendence of the senses and I get that you feel my world can be transcended. Your view can't be falsified either and I wouldn't presume to try. I only know that it doesn't ring true in my life.

jwm said...

...mathematical ideas are real, immutable, and [exist] prior to our discovering them

You have said more than once that God is both immanent and transcendent. I recall a couple of years or so back, when I was walking along the railroad tracks near my house. I was doing some thinking along these lines. The realization dawned on me that the Creation was not something that went off like a firecracker some eons ago, but was happening, is happening right now at this very moment. The words that came into my head were:

The Creation is immanent; God wills existence into being.

Truth to tell, I thought it was a pretty smart thought. But obviously, someone else thought that thought before I was here to think it. This brings up the question- Was that notion a product of my intellect, or was that notion just there waiting for my brain to find it? It's not an idea that can be proved or disproved, but as soon as it burst into my head it had the same resonance of truth that 2+2=4 does. It just struck me as axiomatic.
I know this is not a unique experience. I think most of us have, at one time or another, stumbled on to some wonderful realization or other only to find that someone else had already written a book on it.

A final unrelated thought that just now came winging into my head: You could tell a cave man that he could look around the earth and find everything he needed to build a ship that would fly to the moon, and you'd be right.

I don't know what that has to do with anything, though.


will said...


And the cave man, gesturing toward his peyote button pile, would tell you he had everything right there to fly to the other side of the Milky Way - and he'd be right.

jwm said...

Been there via Salvia.

More fun than anyone ever needs to have.


Sal said...

And the Shroud of Turin could have been a photo taken by Leonardo Da Vinci - all he needed was a camera obscura, a vat of urine to make the acid to prime the linen, a couple of bright, sunny days and a non-decayable corpse.
Or not.

You reminded me of this, re: spaceships.

And no, NOT trying to open the Shroud subject- she has interesting things to say about event horizons, which are pertinent, I think.

jwm said...

(If you're still checking)
Thanks for that link!I read it, thought for a moment, and just had to laugh at myself. On thoughts that just come winging in:
I guess I have to keep in mind that not everything with wings is a bird.


Debby said...

Bob... Today is the birthday of T.H. Huxley, grandfather of Aldous and inventor (self-proclaimed) of the concept of agnosticism. I would be interested in how you feel his comments, below, fit with your essay/post.
"When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of those good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain “gnosis”—had more or less successfully solved the problems of existence, while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in hold-ing fast by that opinion... So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of “agnostic.” It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the “gnostic” of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society, to show that I, too, had a tail, like the other foxes.
• T. H. Huxley
(quoted in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1908)

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle... Positively, the priniciple may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to other considerations. And negatively, in mat-ters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.
• Huxley
(Agnosticism, 1889)