Friday, May 08, 2009

Icy Cold Blast from the Past

I would like to say, “well, now I have seen it all,” but that is a statement easily falsified by further events.

Some time ago I spent time on a forum, I said I was a Gnostic, they said they were Gnostics. There were occasional useful/non-polemical discussions at the very beginning. It seemed nice to find other Gnostics, and be Gnostics together. By now you should have guessed what the issue would become—that name-space “Gnostic.”

The problem seriously emerged when an attempt was made to define that name-space. When urged to caution, the charge was made “we have to do it to exclude the sex magic and new age groups!” Despite the many problems with that 'reason,' the push went aggressively on. Dissent is rarely popular by definition, and for such a grand scheme there was no opt out option, it was the entire name-space remember. A vocal dissenter is a persona non grata. The definition was presented as a fiat accompli, one of many such 'conclusions.' It was presented without an argument in its favor, the burden being on others to successfully convince those responsible for it that they were in error. Yes, it was that scholarly of a debate. “Here's my conclusion, convince me I'm wrong,” is not a caricature since identification with the conclusion stated was the norm, with arguments against being taken personally. Did I mention that these were the moderators of the forum?

Of course, it only got worse. In effect, if you disagreed with the definition of the name-space you were telling others that they were not Gnostics. Be part of the collective, or you are attacking the 'aggrieved' other parties. It was all about identity. It was the worst instance of identity politics. Simply not affirming the proclamations of some became “saying they weren't as good as you,” or, “saying that they were bad Gnostics.” It certainly wasn't the case that the 'aggrieved' weren't sincere, just that it was not a rational reaction by any means.

And, it got worse. The right to be a distinct individual with a different view on anything Gnostic was completely abrogated in practice. Any post making a distinction in regards to my own understanding and actual practice of Gnosticism was attacked by many respondents in ways that violated the forum rules. The only response of the moderators was to promptly close the entire discussion.

So, I was effectively silenced. Oh, the moderators did discuss me in their private forum, which they either forgot I had access to or just didn't care. Other moderators were asked to close discussions so it wouldn't seem biased on the surface that one of those involved actually closed them. Juvenile nicknames were used for me. A significant personal bias against my church and bishop was evidenced on a number of occasions. After seeing all that they were about, I left.

Yes, even after I left it got worse. I was pursued and hounded at another forum for the same sin of disagreeing. It may have done the trick of putting me off forums all together and effectively silencing me yet again. Fortunately, the moderators of that forum actually intervened to remove the personal attack made by a moderator of the first forum. There is much to be said for standards.

That was years ago, but the same people are doing the same things and whining and insinuating the same things. While about the most seriously creepy thing that I have experienced in my online dealings with those who call themselves Gnostics, I like to think that I have learned from the ordeal.

What comes most to mind is that community actually means being able to be distinct and to make distinctions. If you cannot be distinct it is not really a community, it is an identity. Dialoging is easiest with those who won't have identity-crossover with you, that is, for whom you do not play a role in their identity. When there is a similarity, caution is needed, as are perhaps new qualifiers for distinctions within your shared idea or name-space. To actually share things in common, we need to be able to share our distinctions and differences; after all, they are what we have to give each other.

One of the big lessons I learned is to actively remain agnostic about people and groups encountered online. When all you can know about them is what they say and what others say, it goes without saying that there is no gnosis involved. One can easily make a false-recognition out of a desire to either uncritically include or reject. Staying agnostic is what the ancients would have called a spiritual exercise, a practice of remaining aware of the difference between gnosis, doxa, and episteme.

I studied the scholarship on Gnosticism for years and had my own developing understanding from experience before encountering any practicing Gnostics, and I was quite skeptical about them, with many tests they had to pass both formulated and vague. Yet, somehow when this started, my policy was to accept anyone as they said they were, until proven otherwise. I had become ego-identified with being Gnostic in the usual way of such things so that I unconsciously identified with others who identified the same way. While a common and well-studied psychological effect, it is no less a failure on my part.

I also think that I have acquired more skillful means of communicating by that long exercise in not communicating. If someone misunderstands your argument, you can try to learn to argue more clearly. However, if someone twists your plain text in order to 'misunderstand' you, they are attacking you and not your argument, and that fact is all that there really is to learn.

The other lesson that gets driven home all too often is that if someone is attacking you in this medium, you probably cannot help them in any way. The reason for this is that anything you say will be twisted, and there is no “reality factor” that has to come into play. The interpretation by the individual does not have to be subjected to reason, facts, or simple reality tests—in this medium the interpretation by each isolated individual can be unassailable. However, I don't know if it will keep me from trying. After all, in the worse case, it only brings in a more personal animosity against me in particular.


Anonymous said...

Haven't you a section on your Institute website specifically for doing what you are angry with others doing here, namely defining Gnosticism, setting boundaries, and excluding certain "Gnostic" groups that you don't consider Gnostic?

Troy W. Pierce said...

You seem to continue to have trouble with the difference or distinction between considering distinctions or differences, and pushing a universal definition upon others. That is another blast from that past.

No. The answer to your question is no. I have initiated both a website and nonprofit corporation that has a purpose that is spelled out in full at, but here is a quote: “The Gnosis Institute serves the world through the application of insight and wisdom from the Gnostic tradition and allied traditions of spiritual liberation, and through scholarship, support and growth of these traditions. ” Obviously, it would be impossible to pursue this purpose, or engage in any field of scholarly inquiry, without having an idea of what is being inquired into. Likewise a full definition would prejudge too much that should be open to inquiry.

In the case of the name-space of “Gnostic” and “Gnosticism” there are a number of mutually exclusive and simply divergent meanings that individuals bring to it. More than that, there is a sort of active competition on the part of some to occupy and hold the name-space with a meaning that is rather different if not antithetical to our own.

No one owns the terms involved. They are free to use the words, but the loss of the foundation of their meaning in the distinct and ancient word gnosis, would be a cultural loss, and would undermine the purpose quoted above. Whether a group chooses to use the words or identify with them is not the non-profit's concern, however, helping to clear up confusion caused by this through access to information is. A few actively marketed groups are listed. There are many people who know of no other use of the words than those used by these groups. In such a confused name-space it is an understandable situation, however, drawing distinctions is different from exclusion. Individuals involved in these groups are encouraged to participate with the knowledge of the differences and distinctions involved.

Giving information about such groups is the simplest way to inform potential participants in the non-profit that we may not be at all associated with what they think of as “Gnostic,” and to inform potential inquirers into a particular group of such a distinction in doctrine and also in practice. None of this parallels using strong-arm tactics to enforce a correct belief in what is and is not really “Gnostic” in some abstract universal sense.

It also has come to my attention that you, or the person who's words you are echoing, have decided to brand groups that do not defer to your assessments as “so-called” Gnostics. Unconscious of your own actions, you decry any hint on them in others.

Andrea (Acolyte) said...

Good post. This is why I tend to stay away from online "Gnostic" groups. It's one thing to use the Internet to get information about a group out, but another thing when there are online discussions about "Gnosticism" and those discussions turn into not only a debate but an attack on one another and other groups.

To me being a Gnostic is so much more than intellectual knowledge, but it's how we treat one another as human beings. There needs to be a balance in standing up and setting boundaries for a chosen path and respecting others in their own chosen path. In simple terms agree to disagree and move on. But for whatever reason not everyone is able to do that. There are occasions I have trouble letting go and moving on and that is my ego taking over.

You summed up the lesson fairly well when you said you remain agnostic towards groups you encounter online. Personally I think I like the word detachment towards Gnostic Groups online.

Okay done with long rambling post. I'm killing time until we go see Star Trek at IMAX :)

Gary said...

I find that direction when asked for is a very welcome part of my gnostic journey. What I do not like is having my journey plotted for me and advice is used to chart my direction and any varience in that direction and plotted course is considered herasy in the gnositc "faith", which is just flat WTF, to be heritical in a heritical path.
It seems that others like to place an ownership on the thing they are most interested in and forget that there can be no owership on someone elses desire and faith.
The "church" for lack of a better word is only a place to meet with like minded folks and gather intelligence to continue on, then when you think you understand it, place it on the table and then learn that it was the wrong idea, learn from that and continue on stronger for the lessons.
Whe I see these online forums and a few people deciding what will be thoght of by the group it makes me think of the Rush Limbaugh echos in the world that do not think for themselves and just repeat what they have heard,and that is not what is practiced at EG, just the opposite advise and direction when asked for is all I have ever received from these fantastic people here.
In a cyber world where you will never have to face to face with the people you are insulting, it is very easy to become a pseduo tuff guy, but when the "rubber meets the road" no one will stand fast and be counted, and that is making a world of cowards - I said it out loud - and that is making a world of bullies with high speed internet and no backbone.

Enuff fuel on the fire, now I have to attend mass and repent for my sins (you cant hear the language I am using here, lol).

See you on Sunday.

Troy W. Pierce said...

Dear "anonymous"

I may have been incorrect about usage of your label of "so-called" Gnostics. I have only read your initial rant on the topic, then your complaints and accusations that immediately followed. You state that your usage is similar to "people who call themselves Gnostics." If so, it is merely unfortunate to follow the title of the heresy hunter's text in the terminology.

I sincerely apologize for invoking your term, regardless of its usage. Responding to an attack with an attack is yet another mistake I shall try to learn from.

I have given my account as a way of reflecting upon a bad set of experiences and to articulate the lessons learned for myself and to share with others. I have no desire to reenact the past by arguing over it.

As a student of psychology, I know that memory is plastic. However, I do not need to somehow re-remember the events into your version, as you suggest. I have kept records in order to remind myself that, as surreal as it all seems to me now, these things actually did happen. A sense of objective history keeps us from its repetition. As we also know from psychology, subjective history only flatters.

Troy W. Pierce said...

Yes, this is my blog and I reserve the right to not publish personal attacks, false characterizations, or crazy talk. Your reception here is better than what you received from neutral moderators on another forum.

You have made false statements in your comments, and falsely attacked me for a claim that I have never made. When I said that I “left” your forum, I'm very sure that that is what I meant. Your ability to twist that into a claim that my account was revoked only further shows your lack of integrity or reality orientation.

Nor do I wish to encourage your obsessions. So this is the last response you will get from me on this topic. Although, I retain the right to publish the records I have kept, you are the only person who cares that much about it. I really suggest you find some way to move on.

The Gnostic Ninja said...

Thanks for the post, Troy. I can relate. I joined a Yahoo group a while back, in which the moderators teamed up and attacked anyone who didn't believe like they did. It was freaky. Seriously? Fundamentalist Gnostics?

Needless to say, I bid that group farewell rather quickly. The leaders seemed to love how different the beliefs of the Gnostics were (you know: the hip factor of having a religion that isn't your parents' religion), but they didn't seem to realize that the path of gnosis requires a deep, fundamental paradigm shift away from the absolute rules and boundaries of traditional religion.

If I'd wanted a leash, I would've stayed with the Southern Baptist Church.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that this a site that starts with a P and ends in -arden. :-P

Those people deserve each other.

I'm with Andrea, I am now very wary of "Gnostic" groups online, or even IRL.