There are various types of Gnosticism, many manifestations of it. Obviously, by all appearances, Hegel is utterly different from Joseph Smith, and Karl Marx from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Their verbal expressions are different, but so are the parts of their beings that they close off by absolutizing, by self-divinizing. For the Gnostic, or any human being, can imaginatively divinize any part of his being, and the part that is divinized or absolutized gives distinctive characteristics to the spiritual illness. In very intelligent and learned men, such as Hegel and Nietzsche, it is clearly their intellects that get self-absolutized. These men are utterly proud of their “philosophizing,” and are clearly convinced of the truthfulness of their assertions, even as they “philosophize with a hammer,” borrowing Nietzsche’s phrase. In the case of Hegel, he explicitly tells his readers that his Logic was “in the beginning with God,” and hence claims eternal, divine authority for his utterances. Although the style and content differ radically from a far less educated Gnostic, such as Joseph Smith from the American frontier, both men claim an absolute divine authority for their assertions. The styles differ widely, the underlying experiences are similar: one’s mind knows absolute truth absolutely.
Other Gnostics absolutize their emotions, and think that they have emotional oneness with God, and that their feelings and imaginations and “dreams” are right and true, just because they are theirs. They put an absolute trust in their “feelings.” As one person expressed to me years ago when she was under the inﬂuence of emotional Gnosticism, “I just put my mind in neutral, and God works through me.” Well, something may have been working through her, but it is not likely to have been God, but some form of irrationality. For there is nothing intellectual or rational at work in such a case, but a willingness to suspend reasoning because one “feels good about it,” one “knows” that “one’s heart is in the right place,” or similar relatively mindless and misleading phrases. What about the person’s mind, reason in the human being? It is has “put in neutral,” or anesthetized. Emotional Gnostics praise and wallow in irrationality, are often anti-intellectual, against study and learning, and feel smugly superior to the “book-learning boys.” These folks can “smell a rat,” they believe, and insist with ironclad assurance that someone whom they dislike, for whatever reason, is bad, corrupt, evil. They seek out people who think and feel as they do, who will not question their beliefs, or challenge their closed system of pseudo-thinking. Such Gnostics could ﬁll a large hall, and work themselves up into an emotional lather, feeling so good about being together with others like themselves, who are also caught up in the same “dream” or delusion. Emotional self-absorption on a mass level could take the form of smiling faces singing, shouting, “just praising the Lord,” and feeling very good about themselves, or it could take a far more pernicious form of a vast crowd stoked on hatred of others—often enough, of Jews, or blacks, or “extreme right wingers,” or “airy-headed liberals.”Whereas intellectual Gnostics, such as Hegel, would be solitary, emotional Gnostics feed off the emotional excesses in others, and congregate in protecting and afﬁrming cults.
The most politically and socially dangerous form of Gnosticism emerges from those who absolutize their own wills, often including their most base desires, and who seek to dominate the world around them with the force or cult of personality, with the “will to power.” The self-willed Gnostic desires and works to impose his will on the external world—especially on other human beings—even to the point of causing upheaval, violent destruction, murder, annihilation of hated groups, and so on. Marxist-Communists in many countries, and National Socialists under Hitler in Germany, come readily to mind: the will is ﬁlled with hatred, and seeks to dominate anyone and everything, to “change the world,” using a favorite phrase of Gnostics of various stripes. Heaven forbid these self-inﬂated, self-absorbed egos simply seek to be at peace with themselves and the whole in which we participate by our whole being. In these Gnostics, one sees and experiences the full force of hatred and the will to power.
Gnostics cannot live in peace with themselves or with the world, for they are convinced that the world as a whole, or some signiﬁcant parts of it, are evil, and must be destroyed, transformed, overcome, changed. At they same time, they assume that their own thinking, feeling, imagination, willing is essentially good and beyond reproach or critical self-examination. There is a strange split in what the Gnostic sees in others, and what he ﬁnds in himself, as if he says: “I am good and right and know the truth; they are bad and wicked and live in darkness.” Or, “I am saved, one of the elect, but those people live in demonic darkness.” Or, “I have the true faith, but they are unbelievers, inﬁdels.” Or in a more secular form of the same disease, “I am a Scientist, and know the truth about reality, but the masses of people are ignorant and stupid.” Or again, as in a politician: “I have the power to change the world (because I was elected by the masses). I will do as I please, and impose my will, my thoughts, my wishes on everyone else—and of course you will be delighted by my work, because I know what is best for everyone.” In each case, one splits the world into two groups, all centering around one’s divinized, self-enclosed Ego.
Gnostics of various kinds are motivated by what I would call a dark, disturbing vision, by a vision of darkness. The Gnostic is an unhappy soul, or in other terms, is spiritually, mentally, emotionally ill. Rather than seek to attune themselves to God and reality under God, the Gnostic insists on remaking part of reality according to his or her favorite “dreams,” beliefs, imaginations. These “dreams” (another favorite symbol loved by Gnostics of various kinds) may at times seem positive and life-afﬁrming, as Nietzsche presents his own “philosophy.” Before achieving power, the Gnostic politician, for example, talks much about “dialogue” and “openness.” Once in power, the Gnostic politician avoids discussion and dialogue, because in reality, he is utterly convinced that he knows what is best for everyone. And as a self-enclosed ego, the Gnostic looks at all who disagree with him with sheer contempt—the kind of attitude making any genuine dialogue impossible. The Gnostic sees much evil in anyone who dares to disagree with him.
As one reﬂects on Gnostics and how they talk and act, what emerges is an awareness that, despite much verbiage, their speaking and actions are not positive and life-afﬁrming, but negative, destructive, hateful. Gnostics poison debate and the democratic process so essential in a society such as ours. For the Gnostic is often ﬁlled with a dark vision out of which he hates reality. As Jesus wisely said, “If your eye is dark, how great is the darkness within.” The Gnostic has a very dark eye, in the sense that he or she is preoccupied with evil and corruption in others, in institutions, in government, in political leaders, in the church, in “the System.” Yes, Gnostics can spew off all sorts of venom about the evil “System,” without ever clarifying what they are really speaking about. The Gnostic clearly does not see the beam in his own eye, and seek to remove it ﬁrst, before tampering with others.
It seems that the Gnostic has dabbled in evil for a long time, yielded to its intoxication and charms. Perhaps one has heard Gnostic preachers of hate: “Not God bless America, but God damn America!” one may spew out. The hearer of such hatred gradually grows use to evil, and reinterprets all of reality in light of this vision of hatred, this vision of darkness. The Gnostic is not in love with the Good, or goodness, or God. In some perverted way, he or she is in love with themselves as they wish to be; at the same time, they convince themselves that anyone who disagrees with them, or gets in their way, is corrupt and evil. To say the obvious: It is not pleasant being around Gnostics, because they infect themselves and others with their hatred and their dark vision, their distorted thinking. Hearing how bad the politicians are, how corrupt, how wicked the government, how greedy the fat cats, how looney the liberals are, how deranged and “extreme” conservatives are, and so on, not only gets tiring, but it proﬁts nothing. Worst of all, a person living with a constant bombardment of a hateful, dark vision is likely to come under its ruinous spell. Young people, in particular, get corrupted by the Gnostic vision of darkness. They do not know that they are being “brain-washed,” having their own understanding and response to reality poisoned by spiritual sick teachers.
This “knowledge” (gnosis) of evil in the world, or of the world system as evil, becomes a kind of sick and sickening song of hatred and disgust. It is neither pleasant nor edifying to listen to the rantings of the self-enclosed hating soul. To read the hatred poured out against the “capitalist system” by a second-rate Marxist is not enlightening by its teachings, but painful; if any enlightenment is gained by reading these Marxist rants, it is an understanding of the spiritual sickness at work in these self-deluded thinkers. One’s common sense warns, “Do not take this path, it does not lead to happiness.” Unfortunately, many are duped by puffed up professors and “educated” people who are themselves spiritually ill.
Ultimately, it is God whom the Gnostic hates. One pays an enormous price for the imaginative murder of God, or for the attempt to remake God in one’s own perverted image. The whole world becomes darkness and full of sickness according to the Gnostic dreamer. As Nietzsche saw so clearly, once the speculative murder of God has been achieved, and “God is dead, and God remains dead,” then the whole world has lost its moorings, spins out of control, and falls into an endless abyss, an endless night of nothingness. Nietzsche knew this result of rebellious atheism, because he experienced it in his own soul. Hatred of God kills the spirit, one’s own spirit.
What is actually taking place in such speculation is this: Out of the abyss of darkness, of evil, of hatred in the Gnostic’s own heart come attempts to destroy and to rebuild the world according to the Knower’s “dreams.” Those who disagree with the Gnostic or challenge his thinking will fall under the spell of the Gnostic dreamer’s ill will. The Gnostic neither sees, nor looks for, the good in others, good in social systems, good in the whole world. It is evil that fascinates and attracts the Gnostic. Clearly, evil has its seductive charms. The Gnostic thinks that by imaginatively or actually destroying the world, or part of the world, it will be magically transformed into the utopia of his mindless dreaming. What must be destroyed is whatever the Gnostic has chosen to hate.
Of course the Gnostics’ destruction does not lead to a “new world,” but instead leaves many murdered all around them, whole societies ruined, human beings suffering from the ravages of Gnostic wars upon wars. For the Gnostic dreamer, his war in principle is “a war to end all wars,” and instead of Utopia and a “realm of freedom” rising up after the resulting bloodbath, many lie dead, cities in rubble, lives torn apart. The dark vision of the Gnostic begins with the speculative death of God, and leads to the murder of human beings.
There are Gnostics who think that they “believe in God,” are good Christians, or good Muslims, and so on. The simple, clear test was given by Jesus: “By their fruits you will know them.” When one leaves behind a string of death, of wounded human beings, of uprooted lives, of families at odds with one another, of a country ﬁlled with passionate hatred of “the other party,” and so on, this is not the work of God, but of spiritual sickness, of the hatred of God, and of his creatures. Love uniﬁes; hatred divides. Murdering innocent life in the name of God is murder, not a genuinely spiritual act at all—not even when the killer shouts out, “God is great!” Let common sense reign: Better by far is the healing work of an agnostic physician than the destructive work of a Gnostic “true believer.”
There is much appeal, at least for many in our society, in the hate-ﬁlled rhetoric of Gnostic dreamers. One need only watch a few minutes of Leni Riefenstahl’s masterful work of propaganda, “The Triumph of the Will,” or watch other ﬁlm footage of Hitler speaking and the crowds adoring, to see with one’s own eyes the unbelievable appeal of hatred and evil. Hitler was clearly ﬁlled with hatred, and yet millions cheered him on, adoringly. Or listen to some rantings by a highly-inﬂated preacher, such as Jeremiah Wright in Chicago, with his bitter hatred of the United States of America, and “white dominance.” Why does evil have such a power over human beings? How can reasonably intelligent and good people be lead so far astray by the rhetoric of Hegel, of Marx, of Joseph Smith, of Emerson, of Adolf Hitler, of Osama bin Ladin? What is there about their “visions” that appealed and still appeals to so many? Hegel and Emerson were more benign, and not spewers of hatred; but they surely were self-divinized minds, intellect very proud of their “wisdom.” Did not their hearers and readers see through their double-talking nonsense? hy do we get duped by such dark, ego-ﬁlled visions?
Clearly, gnosis has a charm and power over people. Many of us want security, certainty, leadership, wisdom. We want what these men and women pretend to have: certain knowledge of history, “revelations” of their God, the will to lead people to “the promised land” in one form or another. Gnostic dreamers promise to give what they do not in reality have, and many listen and follow. Gnostics often are highly charismatic individuals, whose reality centers on their own egos. Often they are men and women with considerable natural gifts which could indeed be used for good, if they were not so self-inﬂated, self-deceived, and ﬁlled with hatred of God and his world as it really is, here and now.
The Gnostic’s dark vision must be seen for what it is. Nothing is gained by pretending that this vision is not damaging to the man with it, and to others who come under the Gnostic’s inﬂuence. To understand the dark vision and its appeal, one must examine himself, and see in what ways one may be dabbling in evil, and accustoming oneself to its dark and false light. To the one who truly loves God, goodness, and reality, Gnosticism has no appeal. To those of us who hesitate between love of God and love of self, who may indulge our lower selves too freely, who are not content with this imperfect world as it is, Gnostic nonsense has its appeal, especially when it is dressed up in promises of a golden future, of the realization of utopian dreams. In the all-too-familiar and banal words, “We will transform the world.” Next time a politician or preacher makes such a promise, we would do well to return to common sense instead: The world is what it is, good and evil commingled, now and into the unknown future.