Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Liberals and Gnosticism

Via my blogging friend Ilona, I came across this intriguing essay by a blogger I haven't bumped into before. I don't want to comment on it too much because I'm not overly familiar with one half of his comparison of Gnosticism and Liberalism. I'll throw it out to readers and wait to hear comments. I know I have at least one reader who is very knowledgeable in that area, and I hope he might share some thoughts. Here's a snip of Dr. Bob's commentary:
Gnosticism as a religion is ancient - predating Christianity by at least several centuries, and coexisting with it for several more before dying out. It was in many ways a syncretic belief system, drawing elements from virtually every religion it touched: Buddhism, Indian pantheism, Greek philosophy and myth, Jewish mysticism, and Christianity. Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, to know, or knowledge) was manifested in many forms and sects, but all shared common core beliefs: dualism, wherein the world was evil and the immaterial good; the importance of secret knowledge, magical in nature, by which those possessing such knowledge could overcome the evil of the material world; and pantheism. It was also a profoundly pessimistic belief system. ... There is a disconnect in liberalism between belief and action. As a result, there is no such thing as hypocrisy. So the National Organization of Women, tireless in its campaign on violence against women, sexual harassment, and the tyranny of men in the workplace and in society, stands wholeheartedly behind Bill Clinton, who used a dim-witted intern for sex (in the workplace, moreover!) and who was credibly charged with sexual assault on Juanita Brodderick. Hypocrisy? No, Bill Clinton “understood” women and women’s issues– his knowledge trumped his behavior, no matter how despicable. ... The profound pessimism of the Gnostic world view is seen in contemporary liberalism as well. If ever there was a gentle giant in history–a nation overwhelmingly dominant yet benign in its use of power–it is the United States of the 20th and 21st century. Yet we are treated to an endless litany of tirades about our racist, sexist, imperialist ways, which will only end when the Left “takes America back”–ignoring that a nation so administered would cease to exist in short order. American liberalism was not always so. As recently as twenty years ago, it was optimistic, hopeful and other-oriented, albeit with misconceptions about human nature which proved the undoing of its policies and programs. Only at its farthest fringes did pessimism reign, but today this dark view is increasingly the dominant one.
There is a follow up post here, that has more to do with the nature of religion than anything in the post I've highlighted. Still, it's interesting and well written. There are two things about this post that interest me. One is the idea that there are only so many thoughts that can be thunk; they seem to mix and match and put on new clothes over time but by and by, today's issues are in many ways not so different from yesterday's. I suspect there is more truth in that than anyone could take comfort in. I am also struck, like the doctor, about too many progressives' ambivalence about means. If we really are confronting the same old problems, adhering to time tested means has got to be the best way of squaring the circle of how it is we are all going to get along. If the ends are continuing to elude us after all this time (and I'm talking about 1,000's of years here, not something as puny as an election cycle), then means are all we have. We have to get them right, and then preserve that knowledge. Incidentally, one of the marvels of the Mass is that it drives this home. At the Eucharistic table, everyone approaches based on how they've acted. Success and wealth, power and intellect, those things are not of merit there. Thus the mighty are brought low, and the low are raised up. Fidelity and love of the Law is the key, and a talent (such as intellect) is not an accomplishment.

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