“The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel, within his own heart, a big, warm, sweet interior glow. The sweeter and the warmer the feeling is the more he is convinced of his own infallibility. And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he is really a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation: and the world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.”I know I can't revisit something as important as this enough. (See Gnosis and Delusions)
Seeds of Contemplation,
New York, 1949, (p 111-112)
Every time I'm asked by a reporter about dogma, I tell them we don't really have any but people are always trying to force theirs on us. It's just the way some people are: they see a lack of enforced authoritarian dogma as a vacuum for them to fill. All Gnostic Clergy have such stories.
It seems to be a common mistake of the grandiose to think "Gnostic" means "looking for a new prophet to follow" or some such ridiculousness. Even the sincere get ego inflated by their experiences, but some really do seem like they're trying to fill up a balloon and fly away. And some seem to succeed to the awe and amazement of many. But they are not the air, the breath, the spirit that fills the balloon--they are dead weight that is trying to contain it, thinking by doing so they are in control, when in fact they are now at the mercy of the winds.
As Merton reminds us, ego inflated people can be very sincere, very appealing, and very dangerous. Who are these people? Sometimes, we are, it is a part of the spiritual path and we must learn to recognize it. But there are also those who seem to be addicted to ego inflation, to the spiritual high it brings. They equate it with spirituality, with progress on the path. If there is no one to aid them, or if they make themselves impervious to aid, they can become lost. Just as in the balloon analogy, the inflated ego becomes a puppet for larger forces.
What could be a bigger tragedy than finding out that you have lived a life that was not your own, wrapped in patterns and sensations, that in attempting to redirect them for your benefit, only enslaved you?
[Thanks to Francis who posted most of the Merton quote at Fantastic Planet.]