Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gnosticism isn't Ideas, Theories, or Personal Preferences

This is something I feel obligated to write even though it will have no effect on almost all of the self-identified Gnostics of the moment. Yet, there are those, perhaps, who can join in seeing what I am discussing: those very few who are not dualists about everything, for whom the real is a consideration.

The online forms in use at the moment do not bring people into a community. Oh, you get to encounter on some level people who identify with the same things you identify with, with people who are interested in the same things you are interested in. But that isn't community. In many ways it is vanity. There are connections, there can be a lessening of the loneliness that is a part of being on a real path. But in regards to the aloneness, there isn't much.

You can successfully opine and proclaim, and then tune in to those who agree with your opinions and proclamations. It is a medium where we are all not only our own publishers but also the only judges of our own work. We can successfully misunderstand one another for months if not years, be happily oblivious to the nature of our assumptions, dismiss or ignore all real critiques—and not even notice. It happens more often than not.

In that environment it comes down to marketing. Which in turn comes down to sales, and recruiting, and all the other things I loathe about what passes for religion.

Don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with the forms you may or may not choose to use on your path. This has never been an ecclesiastical vs. street preacher debate, or any other kind of idea-dualism. It is something so much more fundamental, that I won't be able to explain it to most of those who read this.

My great disappointment with online “Gnosticism” is that it is primarily concerned with ideas and theories brought in from other contexts that are used to create abstract doctrines and dogmas. The only difference I see is that the doctrines and dogmas might be more of a negative or proscriptive form rather than of a positive or prescriptive form. That is why I don't see much that I recognize as Gnostic online. It isn't that their ideas aren't the same as mine, but the entire approach and understanding of Gnosticism isn't Gnostic at all. The approaches and understands are often easily identifiable from a specific mainstream tradition. Notice, please, that I did not say forms, but approaches and understandings.

There are many who equate Gnosticism with an aesthetic style: it is Gnostic if it has Gnostic elements—if it is “painted” Gnostic. This runs the gambit from needing everything to somehow “look Gnostic” to simply sprinkling terminology into what they would be, (and will be) doing under a different name if they didn't identify with Gnosticism at the moment. And so we see the endless repeat of cradle creeds recast to use Gnostic elements, and the insistence that “Gnostic” equals rebel. Both ignore the sage advice to not put your trust in the rulers or rebels of the world.

I find that I don't even know how to begin to talk to someone for whom Gnosticism is just a theory in their head. They, obviously, don't realize that there is a distinction. The discussions, if they can be said to begin, go nowhere. If Gnosticism is inside your head, then you are quite right to be certain that you are right in your understanding of it. But, I don't care about Gnosticism in your head or in mine except as it might be an incomplete or dim understanding of what is real.

It isn't that I haven't ever been in love with ideas, or suffered greatly from the delusion that my ideas matter greatly. I have. One of the flashes of impersonal wisdom I had fairly early on was the understanding that I wouldn't find what I was seeking through that method, but that I had to go through it and exhaust it to truly realize it. I know of no other way to work with the limitations of our methods than by gaining that exhaustive gnosis of them, except, perhaps, through community.

I know that there are more than will ever admit to it that have never gotten over the “I can do it all by myself” stage that begins in toddler-hood to a greater or lesser degree. The “anxiety of influence” shapes more than we can imagine. But it isn't the only alternative to slavishly being someone's disciple. We can come together in community, learn from one another, and help each other. Another way of describing this is as a “school,” as in a school of art, or literature, of thought. But that is a description of the result, not of the process. It is the result of influence, not the kind that proscribes or stifles, but the kind that challenges, that evokes, that requires one to measure up against the external, and against the eternal.

Minor schools and schools long forgotten are those that were insular. They measured themselves only against one another, a mere happenstance and moment in history. These are the fads that grow and fade. The schools that we still look to are more, they are not insular, they do not measure themselves against one another—they measure themselves against the ages with the aid of one another.

I yearn for this challenge. The Gnosis Institute has that selfish goal, to present that challenge that will make our work more than a fad, to do the hard work of measuring up outside of our beliefs and ideas, outside of a small circle, outside of our time and place. For this is not the best of times or places for serious work, but it is far from being the worst as well. We live in a dim age that seems bent on becoming a darker one. Yet our lives are as important and as precious as those of any other time and place. We may be obliged to try to change things on a larger scale than we can effect, but ultimately success or failure on that scale isn't the point. Providing a place where we can live our lives towards their potential is all we can ever hope for as human beings. And that doesn't require a perfect world, or even a supportive one—but it does require a community. A community that extends through the ages, but also a community that can respond to us, that can help us see what we would miss on our own, that can challenge our complacency, that can show us that there is much more to strive for.

We can have this, but we must rise up out of the unmarked graves that history would bury us under. We must rise up out of the currents and ideas that we simply take for granted, or just want to believe. There is more, there is so much more. Gnosticism holds a key to that, if you are willing to engage with it beyond the safety of ideas and theories, beyond the comfort of personal preferences. “Rise up and stand upright, you who where once brought low.”


Andrea said...

"There are many who equate Gnosticism with an aesthetic style: it is Gnostic if it has Gnostic elements—if it is “painted” Gnostic. This runs the gambit from needing everything to somehow “look Gnostic” to simply sprinkling terminology into what they would be, (and will be) doing under a different name if they didn't identify with Gnosticism at the moment. And so we see the endless repeat of cradle creeds recast to use Gnostic elements, and the insistence that “Gnostic” equals rebel. Both ignore the sage advice to not put your trust in the rulers or rebels of the world."

I am not certain if I can clearly express how I feel about this paragraph, so all I can say is right on. In fact I agree with everything you said in this entry.

Although the online Gnostic Community is a great resource for me to learn from, what I learn from most is through experience and trial and error on the spiritual path towards gnosis. And I learn a little more from each mass I serve at.

There is no replacement for face to face, human to human contact. Online we can edit our entries to make them look pretty, we can look up stuff in Wikipedia and sound intellegent and like you said we can read those who we only agree with. But the real test is living gnostism in the day to day world. Working to pay the bills, raising our children, socializing with friends, living lives to the absolute fullness.

I for one enjoy my face to face contact with the gnostic community here in Seattle. There is nothing like it. But I also appreciate the opportunity to read and write online when we have a break from mass, like today.

So with that Troy I thank you for giving me something to think about.


Rev. Troy said...

I don't see it necessarily as an online as opposed to offline thing. But it does show what I mean. We can acknowledge the severe limitations for what they are, and work to overcome some of them.

When I think of community I also think of writers who never met face-to-face yet through letters and deeply reading each others writing lived in a community. It is the commitment to the greater work, and the real friendships between those who can recognize that commitment in each other, that are key.

Yet they lack that dimension that living in community has. Living in community you get to see and interact in ways that can't be described in words. You get more than the online self-reports that may simply transcribe self-deceptions or self-delusions. You get to see how it all works: the flaws, the failings--and the continuing on.

One of the issues seems to be that people actually eschew their local communities for online ones. The easy choices online, being just another form of consumer culture, lead towards an attitude that is detrimental to actually coming together and learning from one another. After all, the people locally might not share your ideas or appreciate your insight as new and original when it isn't—but if someone online does, that gives a means to avoid growth.

I do want to continue to work towards the possibility of online community beyond the level I am critiquing. But I also want to be honest. Even if it is “all that we got” in many circumstances, it has severe limitations. And this is simply too important not to try to do more, seek more, be more.

This is, after all, just the Internet. It should be a tool, not what shapes us. But it shapes us more than we think.

PhantomDirector said...

Troy+ I have some sympathy for your comments here; I probably don't see the issues as problematic as you do. In any event while I was thinking about how to prepare materials for the Gnostic Institute (a kind of library) I decided to put that stuff up on a Blog. So I thought I would share it with you (hoping you don't perceive it as just another internet "sin"). Go to:

Cheerfully, RK

Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for the posting.

I sympathize with your position on the Net as lacking the depth of community that we encounter in other venues. It is quite cumbersome and less than personal.

On the other hand, it is an extraordinarily powerful means of communication. It helps us to reach out to people in ways that we did not expect. I've had some terrific feedback during the short time that I've been posting on the Net. That includes people who went to the trouble of tracking me down to meet in person.

I feel sorry for the people who think that the Net is everything. "If it isn't on the Net, it doesn't exist." Such a mindset gets in the way of a broader experience.

Rev. Troy said...

My critiques of online “Gnosticism” are critiques, not condemnations. Why be passive consumers of forms of communication? Jeremy Puma took the communication forms we had available a huge leap forward with the Palm Tree Garden forum. We need more like that, not less. We need to go forward, not backward.

At the same time we must acknowledge that what passes for “Gnosticism” online has been shaped by the communication forms, and further, that that shaping has had effects offline as well.

When you find others of similar interest online you go through different phases. But, basically they can be summed up as a disillusioning process that ends up far removed from the initial excitement. This has happened before in other communication forms. The “community” stays alive because of those who continually pass through, staying until they continue on looking for something more than what they can find through those forms.

I've been trying to articulate what is lacking and what I am seeking. The result will be more work towards bringing it about, though with a clearer and hopefully better articulated vision.

Roger, if you're asking for permissions, ask for the Institute as well. :)