Sunday, September 24, 2006

Five Critiques of Online “Gnosticism”

There has been much that has disturbed me about online “Gnosticism,” and much more that has disappointed me. I have considered ceasing to participate, as others have done, and have changed how and to what extent that I do. I've also had to wonder whether the well has been poisoned so that it may be extremely difficult to accomplish serious work as a Gnostic and have it be accepted as such. I also wonder how much of a barrier my wearing my collar is, metaphorically speaking. There is a long and ancient tradition of priests engaged in serious academic work. Lest we forget (or never know), that is where the enlightenment came from: even though its proponents ridiculed religion uniformly. The modern imagination is a very poor thing, it knows only the few framing or over-arching stories that have been pounded into it by advertising and polemics. Being able to judge as opposed to pre-judge is rare.

I also don't really recognize most of what goes on under the title of Gnosticism as being particularly Gnostic, if Gnostic at all. There are the idiosemantic users of the word, those who essentially invent their own meaning. But even if you take away those, there isn't much I identify with as a Gnostic. Fortunately, there are some gems. Some of that is the nature of online communication, but how much?

So, as I ponder these things, I'll lay out my own critiques in response to Jordan's.


1) Where's the Beef? The meaty chunks of simmering insight that come from Gnosis? In the absence of that, where is the careful work that continually checks to see if we have imprisoned ourselves in one false cosmos or another? Commenting on current events and responding to one another is a part of a vibrant community, but it can also lead to vacuity. And no vacuity seems worse than blog vacuity at times. I'll admit to it myself, in case you think I'm unaware of a celebrity interview snip not far below this article. Sure, it touches on Gnosticism, yet I can't help considering it a low point of this blog. The other low points come from responding to posts, which make me wonder about the whole vibrant community thing. That, and in a vibrant Gnostic community, one would expect more gems than there are.

It may be that if we actually supported good writing we would get it. It is also hard to disentangle issues of the mediums used: blogs, forums, and such.


2) Where's the conversation? Chatting doesn't in and of itself lead to much. It is the deep conversations that enrich us all. Conversation in the largest sense. Conversations that might begin as speaking together or as correspondence, or might be with the works of those long past, and might grow into books or works of art. The great Conversation of the Ages is so hard to hear now, that at times it seems silent. How can we raise our conversations to a point where we might converse on that scale, if we don't converse at all? (Some of this is a result of the forms of communication, but how much?)


3) What's with all the labels, groupings, and team-identifications? Gnosticism is what connects many otherwise divergent approaches to religion. That isn't easy to understand, and there will never be a mathematical formula, nor a quick and slick definition for it, because it concerns Gnosis. It would be like sculpting a sonnet: an indirect representation at best. The adding of an adjective seems to be the adding of a form that is more or less a religious form to this. The approach of focusing more on the adjective than on the noun seems part of an odd movement to turn Gnosticism into just another religion, with handed down or institutional: beliefs, authorities, and identities. It gives me a sensation like ice spiders crawling down my back. Going hand in hand with this is the tendency to see Gnosticism as being centered around personalities. There are strong personalities and very gifted individuals involved, but it isn't about them.


4) Where's the commitment and support? If this your spiritual journey, why treat it like a hobby? If you seek liberation for real, then it isn't just a weekend thing, or something you do so long as you don't have to put in an hour of work or a dollar of support. This comes down to the seriousness of being on your spiritual path. The real measure we are measured against is not our ideas, it is reality. It is troubling to see how many individuals seek to change or control everything so that they can avoid being transformed. We get them all the time in our churches.

Gnostic churches and projects don't take a lot of money to support, but they do take some. Many spend so many times more on their pets, on things they never use, on entertainment, or on the snack machine—than on what might support them and others on their spiritual path. If you've had money in your pocket and haven't donated at least five dollars in the past month, why not? Unless you are in the same category as me, that represents a lot less than the ten percent many manage to give in mainstream churches. No one is asking for ten percent or any bundle you can't afford, but sticking your change in a jar for a few months then donating that money is more than almost everyone does. You may be poor, but face it, if you live in the privileged parts of the world, you probably dispose of disposable income to some extent. Why almost none of this ever goes to support Gnostic services, projects, or churches is very perplexing. Who do you think pays for everything?

It isn't just about money either, even if you don't have money on the very small scale we are talking about, you often have time. Donate some time to perform whatever work or tasks need to be done. They aren't all wonderful or interesting tasks, and the reason I know is because I do them. Getting any help with anything can be impossible, and it isn't like we can hire help.


5) Where's the focus on Gnosis? If anything besides apathy seals the decline of modern Gnosticism, it will be the ideas people have lodged in their minds about it. Arguments over people's ideas of the forms that Gnosticism should take are only made the more ridiculous by the fact that these are theoretical arguments. The only “should” that really matters in Gnosticism, is Gnosis. Without keeping a focus on it, the rest is meaningless. Your theories can never interfere with my experience of the Eucharist. Nor can your theories alter the experiences I had in my ordination, and as a result of it. Just as no theories or ideas I or anyone else may have can remove your experiences. If we can see our Gnosis reflected in the tradition, and can use the tradition as a foundation, guide, and touchstone for our work, we have a deeper kinship than any theory or set of ideas can grant us. Without Gnosis and the mirror of tradition, there is no Gnosticism. There may be Gnostics, but there is no Gnosticism.



The vision I have tried to articulate and am working on bringing into actuality is the Gnosis Institute. Yet that will not address all of the above, particularly 3 and 4. The problem I see is people deciding that Gnosticism is too inconvenient if it requires work, commitment, and support, when they can decide another label will work better for them, or none at all. But it isn't about labels, or being a member of a group, or identifying with something—it is about reality. We can do much more than opine and argue, we can study, research, and seek to know what we can of the truth; for it is the truth that will set us free.

5 comments:

Marsha+ said...

Hi Troy,

I wish I had answers for you to your many questions, but then perhaps the point of your post was to provoke thought rather than speach. While it is true that each one of us could respond in a varity of ways, how much of the response would sould like justifieng our actions or lack there of? Maybe we are all so wrapped up in our own little worlds that we are not yet reaching out into the community at large, but then it could be that we spend so much of our time, talent and tresasure doing things locally that we don't do so on-line.
As for anything specific, I am of the opinion that the art of conversation is is dead, and so is the art of letter writing. In an age of when being entertained is the goal of the masses, people don't really take the time to listen or to read. There is a football game on or a mall to shop that is higher on the priority list than sitting donw with pen and paper and writing a letter of comfort to a sick friend.
In the west we want everything now. No now. Those were my mothers first words according to my grandmother. Instant coffee (gross) microwave ovens and flush toilets are the basis of western civilization. How surpising could wanting instant enlightnement be? We are so far removed from The Source that inforation is just more data. In addition the motto of our culture is "A is for Appathy"
Then we slip into the darkness of depression with out ever knowing why. Depresion eats at the soul, we wither, and loose hope. We lack the disipline of our forefathers becouse we have life too easy, we get frustrated when there is an incline in the road and give up with out ever really trying.
And yet the Divine will not be ignored. Just as 'Sparks fly upward' the Divine show forth its presence in a million ways to us every day. More and more people across the globe are rubbing the sleap out of their eyes and stretching and yawning in the Light of Gnosis. If we fan the spark within ourself and them we can light a roaring Flame that will spread and refuse to be snuffed out by weak will and ignorance.
Look at how far we as a 'faith' if you will have come in the last ten years, or 2o or 200. We are still making small baby steps yet is it my belief that if each and every one of us does what ever it is that we can do, both as individuals and as a collective whole we can 'lengthen our stride' (as the LDS say) and set the world ablaze with Gnosis.

Just my ramble of the day. By the way could everyone keep my father in their prayers. He has just had surgary for cancer a few days ago. He is paticulary fond of the Rosary.

Pax
Marsha

PhantomDirector said...

Troy+ for the many who have no external expression as face-to-face to explore Gnosticism or Gnosis--the net becomes a best option. Hence we might also work on developing the "X Accolades of Onlline "Gnosticism." Just a thought.

Cheerfully, RK

Jordan Stratford+ said...

"I also don't really recognize most of what goes on under the title of Gnosticism as being particularly Gnostic, if Gnostic at all."

I agree. I find most of this anti-clerical, anti-scholarly anti-tradition roll-your-own "Gnosticism" to be a lightweight (and cranky) newage Protestantism. It comes from two things as I see it:

1) A failure to see Gnosticism as a distinct religion in its own right and

2) gnosis-ism: the idea that Gnosticism is supposed to dispense gnosis, rather than understanding that Gnosticism is the tool you pick up to celebrate and amplify an experience of gnosis.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, while I agree with much of what you have written, I also have to accept the plain truth that: it comes with the field. Considering Gnosticism has grown considerably in popularity (admitedly in much watered-down versions), we're going to get plenty of bad apples for that one golden one. Yes, it's disappointing to see such "pseudo-Gnostics", and disheartening to have to wade through so much crap to get to the good stuff, but it's the price you have to pay. Some good comes of it, and, I feel, is worth the crap, no matter how much I dislike the latter. So long as there are a few to provide some good solid presence within the online world of Gnosticism (like you and Fr. Jordan+, for example), there will always be that resource for those who need it.

jp said...

Where's the focus on Gnosis? If anything besides apathy seals the decline of modern Gnosticism, it will be the ideas people have lodged in their minds about it. Arguments over people's ideas of the forms that Gnosticism should take are only made the more ridiculous by the fact that these are theoretical arguments. The only “should” that really matters in Gnosticism, is Gnosis. Without keeping a focus on it, the rest is meaningless. Your theories can never interfere with my experience of the Eucharist. Nor can your theories alter the experiences I had in my ordination, and as a result of it. Just as no theories or ideas I or anyone else may have can remove your experiences. If we can see our Gnosis reflected in the tradition, and can use the tradition as a foundation, guide, and touchstone for our work, we have a deeper kinship than any theory or set of ideas can grant us. Without Gnosis and the mirror of tradition, there is no Gnosticism. There may be Gnostics, but there is no Gnosticism.

YES, YES and YES!!!!