The Gnostic Revolution, Pt. I

Date: Mon 01 Dec 2003 - 04:53:54 GMT

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    From THE NEW SCIENCE OF POLITICS by Eric Voegelin, pp. 133- 144.

    ...In order to convey an understanding of at least some of the more important traits of the Gnostic revolution, it will be best to concentrate the analysis on a specific national area and on a specific phase within it. Certain aspects of the Puritan impact on the English public order will be the most suitable subject for a brief study. Moreover, this selection suggests itself because the English sixteenth century had the rare good fortune of a brilliant observer of the Gnostic movement in the person of the "judicious Hooker." In the Preface of his Ecclesiatical Polity Hooker gave an astute type study of the Puritan, as well as of the psychological mechanism by which Gnostic mass movements operate. These pages are an invaluable asset for the student of the Gnostic revolution; the present analysis will, therefore, properly begin with a summary of Hooker's portrait of the Puritan.

    In order to start a movement moving, there must be in the first place somebody who has a "cause". From the context in Hooker it appears that the term "cause" was of recent usage in politics and that probably the Puritans had invented this formidable weapon of the Gnostic revolutionaries. In order to advance his "cause", the man who has it will, "in the hearing of the multitude", indulge in severe criticisms of social evils and in particular of the conduct of the upper classes. Frequent repetition of the performance will induce the opinion among the hearers that the speakers must be men of singular integrity, zeal, and holiness, for only men who are singularly good can be so deeply offended by evil. [My addition: this works circularly, as only the vilest of evils can be construed to so offend such integrity-ridden, zealous, and holy men.] The next step will be the concentration of popular ill-will on the established government. This task can be psychologically performed by attributing all fault and corruption, as it exists in the world because of human frailty, to the action or inaction of the government. By such imputation of evil to a specific institution the speakers prove their wisdom to the multitude of men who by themselves would never have thought of such a connection; and at the same time they show the point that must be attacked if evil shall be removed from this world. After such preparation, the time will be ripe for recommending a new form of government as the "sovereign remedy of all evils". For people who are "possessed with dislike and discontentment at things present" are crazed enough to "imagine that any thing (the virtue whereof they hear recommended) would help them; but the most, which they least have tried."
            If a movement, like the Puritan, relies on the authority of a literary movement, the leaders will then have to fashion "the very notions and conceits of men's minds in such a sort" that the followers will automatically associate scriptural passages and terms with their doctrine, however ill founded the association may be, and that with equal automatism they will be blind to the content of Scripture that is incompatible with their doctrine. Next comes the decisive step in consolidation a gnostic attitude, that is, "the persuading of men credulous and overcapable of such pleasing errors, that it is the special illumination of the Holy Ghost, whereby they discern those things in the word, which others reading yet discern them not." They will experience themselves as the elect; and this experience breeds
    "high terms of separation between such and the rest of the world"; so that, as a consequence, mankind will be divided into the "brethren" and the "worldlings".
            When Gnostic experience is consolidated, the social raw material is ready for existential representation by a leader. For, Hooker continues, such people will prefer each other's company to that of the rest of the world, they will voluntarily accept counsel and direction from the indoctrinators, they will neglect their own affairs and devote excessive time to service of the cause, and they will extend generous material aid to the leaders of the movement.
            Once a social environment of this type is organized, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to break it up by persuasion. "Let any man of contrary opinion open his mouth to persuade them, they close up their ears, his reasons they weigh not, all is answered with rehearsals of the words of John:'We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us' ; as for the rest ye are of the world: for this world's pomp and vanity it is that ye speak, and the world, who ye are, heareth you". They are impermeable to argument and have their answers well drilled. Suggest to them that they are unable to judge in such matters, and they will answer,"God has chosen the simple". Show them convincingly that they are talking nonsense, and you will hear "Christ's own apostle was accounted mad". Try the meekest warning of discipline, and they will be profuse on
    "the cruelty of bloodthirsty men" and cast themselves in the role of
    "innocency persecuted for the truth". In brief: the attitude is psychologically iron-clad and beyond shaking by argument.

            Hooker's description of the Puritan so clearly applies also to later types of Gnostic revolutionaries that the point need not be labored. From his analysis, however, an issue emerges which deserves closer attention. The portrait of the Puritan resulted from a clash between gnosticism, on the one side, and the classic and Christian tradition represented by Hooker, on the other side. It was drawn by a thinker of considerable intellectual qualities and erudition. The argument would, therefore, inevitably turn on the issue which in more recent treatments of Puritanism has been so badly neglected, that is, on the intellectual defects of the Gnostic position which are apt to destroy the universe of rational discourse as well as the social function of persuasion. Hooker discerned that the Puritan position was not based on Scripture but was a
    "cause" of a vastly different origin. It would use Scripture when passages torn out of context would support the cause, and for the rest it would blandly ignore Scripture as well as the traditions and rules of interpretation that had been developed by fifteen centuries of Christianity. In the early phases of the Gnostic revolution this camouflage was necessary - neither could an openly anti-christian movement have been socially successful, nor had gnosticism in fact moved so far away from Christianity that its carriers were conscious of the direction in which they were moving. Nevertheless, the distance was already large enough to maks the camouflage embarrassing in the face of competent criticism. In order to ward off this embarrassment, two technical devices were developed which to this day have remained the great instruments of Gnostic revolution.
            In order to make the scriptural camouflage effective, the selections from Scripture, as well as the interpretation put upon them, had to be standardized. Real freedom of scriptural interpretation for everybody according to hus preferences and state of education would have resulted in the chaotic conditions which characterized the early years of the Reformation; moreover, if one interpretation was admitted to be as good as another, there was no case against the tradition of the church, which, after all, was based on an interpretation of Scripture, too. From this dilemma between chaos and tradition emerged the first device, that is, the systematic formulation of the new doctrine in scriptural terms, as it was provided by Calvin's Institutes. A work of this type would serve the double purpose of a guide to the right reading of Scripture and of an authentic formulation of truth that would make recourse to earlier literature unnecessary. For the designation of this genus of Gnostic literature a technical term is needed; since the study of Gnostic phenomena is too recent to have developed one, the Arabic term koran will have to do for the present. The work of Calvin, thus, may be called the first deliberately created Gnostic koran. A man who can write such a koran, a man who can break with the intellectual tradition of mankind because he lives in the faith that a new truth and a new world begin with him, must be in a peculiar pneumopathological state. Hooker, who was supremely conscious of tradition, had a fine sensitiveness for this twist of mind. In his cautiously subdued characterization of Calvin he opened with the sober statement: "His bringing up was in the study of civil law"; he then built up woth some malice:"Divine knowledge he gathered, not by hearing or reading so much, as by teaching others"; and he concluded on the devastating sentence: "For, though thousands were debtors to him, as touching knowledge in that kind; yet he (was debtor) to none but only to God, the author of the most blessed fountain, the Book of Life, and of the admirable dexterity of wit."

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