Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Gnostic Heresies

Here are a few lines from Eric Voegelin's The New Science of  Politics: an Introduction.  I've just begun to read Voegelin, but his thesis seems to be that in post-Christian Europe political theorists brought to bear a metaphysical interpretation regarding history and political systems, and that, collectively characterized, these theories reflect the Gnostic heresy regarding the nature of the universe and human history, and the role and character of God in that universe and in that history. Political scientists (philosophers and politicians) in Europe removed the anthropomorphic deity from the Gnostic formulation while retaining the heretical identification of metaphysical forces within the universe, within individuals, and as expressed through history and political and social activity.  Orthodox Christianity secularized the universe, while Gnosticism brought God back into it.  With that, I'll let Voeglin speak for himself:
The attempt at immanentizing the meaning of existence is fundamentally an attempt at bringing our knowledge of transcendence into a firmer grip than the cognitio fidei, the cognition of faith, will afford; and Gnostic experiences offer this firmer grip in so far as they are an expansion of the soul to the point where God is drawn into the existence of man. This expansion will engage the various human faculties; and, hence, it is possible to distinguish a range of Gnostic varieties according to the faculty which predominates in the operation of getting this grip on God.  Gnosis may be primarily intellectual and assume the form of speculative penetration of the mystery of creation and existence, as, for instance, in the contemplative gnosis of Hegel or Schelling.  Or it may be primarily emotional and assume the form of an indwelling of divine substance in the human soul, as, for instance, in paracletic sectarian leaders. Or it may be primarily volitional and assume the form of activist redemption of man and society, as in the instance of revolutionary activists like Comte, Marx, or Hitler.  These gnostic experiences, in the amplitude of their variety, are the core of the redivinization of society, for men who fall into these experiences divinize themselves by substituting more massive modes of participation in divinity for faith in the Christian sense.
As I suggested above, orthodox Christianity secularized the universe, while Gnosticism brought God back into it.  Philip K. Dick--who is often wrongly described as a "Gnostic"--was very keen on rejecting the mystical project of Gnosticism, and sought through his novels to illustrate the shortcomings of such fantasias and the people who live in, or who otherwise believe in, such artificial worlds, or who see themselves playing roles in the histories of such worlds--see, for example, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Eric Voegelin

1 comment:

FCBertrandJr said...

Couldn't agree more, Carter, with is, in particular, the last block paragraph. I've interviewed PKD and been writing about him for some 35 years, more recently in PKD Otaku, edited by Patrick. Would be great if you could write another article that expands upon that last block paragraph and takes on the wishful thinkers who try so desperately to make PKD into some kind of mystical/gnostic Guru.