Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I met a gnostic

I have met a gnostic, and now at last I understand a little better what gnosticism is. Years ago in one of Paul Johnson's books, perhaps his History of the Jews, he wrote that "gnosticism is like a vine that winds itself around the trunk of a healthy religion" -- in other words it is something that approximates a religion but in fact chokes it. That still didn't tell me much, nor even does the definition of the word, which is simply "knowledge." It means knowledge in the sense of secret, wide-ranging amalgamations and distillations of any knowledge, known only to an elect, and based upon the idea that the world was created by an evil spirit. So as long as you know that and you're not evil, and naturally you are not, you can be bemusedly above it all. Whether there ever was a religion which its own devotees called Gnosticism, and whether or not it had buildings and liturgies, I don't know.

I suspect it did not, because my gnostic friend would not need them and wouldn't attend to them. I suspect his counterparts thousands of years ago would have been the same. What he has, is that special attitude that keeps him above and outside all people's religions, and even above and outside their whole lives, interior or exterior, ordinary or powerful. He's very cheerful about it. To him this perfect private attitude doesn't have a name, it's just the state of being true to himself and (bemusedly), to the human project thus far, across all time and space. In one breath he can mention the Ein Sof, gematria (both aspects of Jewish mysticism), Tao, corrupt government inflation statistics, how "Lucifer" seems like just a whistleblower against a bad boss, in short he can garrulously marvel at anything at all taking place or having taken place, lending mystery or having lent it, anywhere anytime, to today's "dark, interesting world." He is always safe above it.

From meeting him I would judge it's not so much that Gnosticism winds itself around the trunk of a healthy religion. That is academic talk. Rather Gnosticism winds itself around the human personality. It renders it, I suppose, a sort of self-appointed sponge of all wisdom, happy in its cool absorptions but unable to distinguish between bogus inflation numbers and anything at all of real importance. The Four Last Things, let us say. It recognizes the world as founded by evil, so it's exempt from responsibility in it. Nor can it allot to small things like bad inflation numbers their real importance. They do have some.

He is very nice, too. Is this what people mean when they say the opulent West is the Church's prime mission field?

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