Gnosticism has become a fashionable tarring tactic among some Christian bloggers. An efficient means to neatly – albeit restrictively and inaccurately – categorize the views of another. "Gnostic" not only brands, it also condemns. How convenient!
Disagree with something a Christian has expressed somewhere? Easy solution – call it Gnosticism. Confused or unsettled by the metaphysical assumptions a Christian has disclosed? Simple – write it off as Gnosticism. Unhappy with the Christianity a Christian espouses – piece of cake; label the Christian a Gnostic.
Great pigeonholing tactic there. What’s next? Resort to terms like racist and transphobe?
To all those who enthusiastically sling the Gnostic tar, I offer the following humble advice – up your game . . . seriously . . .
Here’s the thing, those who sling the Gnostic tar probably know – deep down – that Gnosticism is an empty and meaningless term, yet they utilize it anyway, primarily as a pretentious boo word to dismiss those who happen to hold different opinions or assumptions.
At the same time, Gnostic tar slingers seem oblivious to how vapid and laughable their use of Gnosticism comes off.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has caught on to this “impotent and meaningless slur.” The following is an excerpt from an article aptly called Gnosticism Schnosticism (bold added):
How is it, then, that this term “Gnosticism” has become a source of opprobrium? Some insights from Bruno Berard’s A Metaphysics of the Christian Mystery: An Introduction to the Work of Jean Borella:
- Christian antiquity is unaware of any term Gnosticism designating a vast yet poorly defined religious movement; St. Irenaeus, for example, denounces “gnosis with a false name,” not gnosis itself. Likewise, “Gnosticism” identified as a single school of thought is unknown to the entirety of the medieval doctors and theologians.
- The word Gnosticism does not appear in any pejorative sense until the 17th Century, when it was used by Platonist Cambridge professor Henry More; it does not appear in French until 1842.
- There are no self-avowed Gnostics, nor any Gnostic school of thought marked by a clearly defined doctrinal corpus.
- No texts exist in the entire Catholic magisterium recording any condemnation of a heresy named gnosis or Gnosticism.
Gnosticism as a slur is a definitively modern thing. It was the creation of nineteenth-century German academics and, as is true of so much Prussian jargon of the time, tends to confuse rather than illuminate the matters being investigated. Gnosticism served as a catch-all term for a variety of heresies that existed in the early Church, none of which individually or as a whole had anything to do with gnosis per se.
Put simply, the term was nothing but a conjuring of the German intelligentsia. It speaks not to any extant group or creed in the early Church, but rather the German intelligentsia’s slide into heterodoxy and intellectual vacuity.
In connection with the above, Dr. Charlton noted the following in a comment section of my Gnostic Tar post:
I think that this common but ignorant use of gnosticism as a generic boo-word against Christians one disapproved-of; derives from the US political philosopher Eric Voegelin.
Voegelin was not a Christian, was indeed one of those who (mistakenly) regarded leftism as a Christian 'heresy'. He can have known very little about real-life historical gnosticism, because the relevant texts (Nag Hammadi library especially) had not been translated when he was writing.
Gnosticism Schnosticism picked up on the Voegelin angle too and expands on Dr. Charlton’s insight with the following:
It isn’t difficult to imagine we might be free of this bogus term if not for conservative political scientist Eric Voegelin, who made Gnosticism central to his political critiques. At best Voegelin’s definition is hazy, at worst incoherent. Modern Voegelin scholars provide us with the following definition, one that roughly track’s with Voegelin’s own in Politics, Science, and Gnosticism:
For Voegelin, Gnosticism was primarily a mindset characterized that 1) man was not responsible for the evil he finds in himself, 2) he has a right to blame someone or something else, and 3) his salvation depends upon his own efforts to correct the flaws in reality. Dissatisfied with present reality, the modern Gnostic can confidently hope that with increased knowledge he will be able to transform the world into his own image.
Note that there is nothing here that could not be said about the orthodox Christian. The Christian too finds himself amongst evils he did not cause, evils that are blamable on his first ancestor and unseen armies of darkness, and his salvation depends on his efforts to correct the flaws of reality, namely through baptism and the practice of the Faith. If by Voegelin’s own terms even the orthodox Christian is an enemy gnostic, then clearly the term is useless as an intellectual category, let alone one of opprobrium.
The more one is wrapped up in the knots of his analysis, the more one realizes that “Gnosticism” is simply any philosophy Voegelin doesn’t like. The subjects of his disdain are Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. From a Christian perspective, there is much to criticize in all these thinkers. But such criticism demands precision, for many of their trenchant complaints about modernity are felt and seen by the Christian as well. These men recognized that the “Western world lives in a period of nonessential existence.” Yet instead of pursuing the roots of this feeling, Voegelin writes it off as another stage of Gnostic advance. The very fatuity of his Gnosticism prevents Voegelin from investigating the roots of this alienation.
The Gnostic slur is frequently used by those who claim to be orthodox, with the general grip being that so-called Gnostics are bad/wrong because they deviate from what amounts to expert rule. The writer of Gnosticism Schnosticism has some interesting insights in this regard:
All this speaks to the servility and stupidity of modern conservatives. However much they may decry the effects of expert rule and ideological propaganda, they still accept as legitimate their ability to set the tenor and tone of our discourse. When conservatives call someone a Gnostic, they are accusing that person of deviating from expert rule and, as such, from respectability. The slur has no intellectual content. One is tempted to say that they themselves are the true Gnostics: convinced as they are that the tenets of mid-century conservatism and multiculturalism will somehow result in civil peace — but again, the term is bunk and shouldn’t be used at all.
There is only one appropriate response to the term: derogatory laughter. Whatever insights can be gained by the use of the term are obscured by its fatal incoherence. If you want to critique the modern world against ancient heresies, use an actual heresy. Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Albigensianism: all real and well-defined creeds that help explain the present age. The difference is that these heresies were real, not made up ex post facto like Gnosticism.
The article is a good one, and I recommend reading the whole thing.
Having said that, I must preface my recommendation by pointing out that the article is nestled in some rightist manosphere-type journal called Man’s World Magazine, which is about as fitting as you can get.
I perused the online content and discovered it included a manifesto -- of course it does! -- lauding the inevitable emergence of a phenomenon known as globo uomo (no I'm not making this up):
The Globo Uomo is a new type of man. Or, rather, an old type of man reborn. In times past, his influence was felt across the world, in times to come, it will be felt again.
Globo, not because he is a globalist in outlook, but because his appearance is a global event. Everywhere, from the frigid wastes of northern Europe to the pampas of Argentina via the beaches of the Med, this new man is on the rise.
Handsome, stylish, physically fit, charming and witty, learned but disdainful of intellectual imposture and empty gesturing – the Globo Uomo is, in short, a man of refinement, but also a man of action.
And who is the Globo Uomo poster boy, you might ask?
That's why we've chosen Alain Delon as the face of Globo Uomo. Delon was not just a heartbreaker, one of the great sex symbols of 20th-century European cinema, but also a man in whose eye the cold flicker of a switchblade knife could be seen.
Whether he was raising hell as a French fusilier marin in Indochina, mogging Mick Jagger in front of the world's press, or defending himself from charges of political scandal and murder, Delon never looked anything but his best.
I confess, my reaction after reading that went something like this:
I guess they could start by being more like Alain Delon who, records show, never looked anything but his best whenever he refrained from calling people Gnostics.