Modern Gnosticism

We have remarked on the curious phenomenon of declaring anything outside of nature to be unknowable. This is the frame of mind we adopt when we declare ourselves to be “agnostic” on the question of God’s existence. Many tend to say that they don’t know whether God exists, and seal off the question as being unknowable. The tendency is to do so on the grounds that the knowledge—that is, of His existence, or non-existence–must be an interior, intuitive, experiential, felt knowledge, rather than merely a conclusion based on rational parsing of available evidence. Where did that notion come from?

From Christians, alas. We are so eager to see God’s hand in our everyday lives that we attribute particular events and circumstances to Him, rather than remembering simply that His presence is manifested in the astonishing and awesome fact of the existence of anything, rather than nothing. We so eagerly desire communion with God that we confuse emotion with spirit. Instead we should remember that His communion with us is manifested in our desire for His word, and for the good that He authors. We eagerly seek God but we look for Him in interior experience, rather than recognizing the inevitability of His existence manifested by the fact of physical reality, and by the fact of transcendent values.

The truth of God’s existence is literally overwhelming. It is overwhelming in the sense that we look past the obvious manifestations of His presence, and instead look for gnosis—a felt, interior, knowing of the Creator, such as that which we experience for His creation. Christians too often manufacture an emotional feeling as proof of God’s existence. This amounts to replacing hard evidence with grasping speculation.

Christian thinking is obviously a very significant contributor to modern culture. It is responsible for most of the positive assumptions and tendencies still existing in our culture. This one element, however—this tendency to Gnosticism—is also carried forward into the culture, and it is pernicious. The modern requirement of gnosis concerning God’s existence is a virus that had its origins in wrong-headed Christian thinking. The label “agnostic” had its origins, ironically enough, in errant Christian thinking.


2 thoughts on “Modern Gnosticism”

  1. Thought observations you make. Aquinas joins you in in thinking the rationality of Christianity is enough for those made in Gods image to comprehend Him to the degree He permits.

    In a slight zag from the discussion of gnosis, what do say to the Mystics as an ideal balance to raw rationality, not as an “instead”; but rather, an augmentation to theological exertions?
    They take a High view of interiority as a space for intimacy with Christ.

    1. Thanks for commenting. You make an important point. Allow me to adopt it as a caveat to the post.

      Rather than just saying “we eagerly seek God but we look for Him in interior experience,” perhaps the word “only” should be inserted. Raw rationality need not push out the desire for having a sense of the Spirit within. Certainly development of that interior intimacy is important. As we read in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” That must mean some felt presence, rather than just cold ratiocination.

      On the other hand, there is a very real danger that we become misled by our emotions, to the point that we miss the larger intellectual understanding of our place in existence subject to Almighty God. We see it in anti-intellectual obscurantism combined with impatient man-centered over-emphasis on subjective experience. It is this tendency, existing in some strains of Christian practice, that helps foster this false modern Gnosticism.

      Moderns often insist on a Gnostic assurance of God’s existence, and if it does not descend upon them, then they back away from the inquiry altogether, and call themselves “agnostic.” That has been the subject of several posts in the last two weeks. The main purpose of this one was to say that that tendency in our culture derives from this brand of anti-intellectual Christianity.

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