Nietzsche the Gnostic
Posted by madcap on July 5, 2007
Cross Posted on my new blog www.thoughtsongod.com
By, Chuck Jines
The following is in response to Nietzsche was Not a Gnostic by Brother Jeremy at Summer Harvest. His claim is that Eric Voegelin is mistaken in his understanding of Gnosticism. Brother Jeremy claims that Gnosticism in neither dualistic nor “world hating,” and that Nietzsche was not a Gnostic. His article is partially in response to an article I wrote titled The Age of Gnosticism. To get the background, you may choose to read these other articles. However, this article stands on its own, and can be read alone.
Brother Jeremy states that “Such claims [that Gnosticism is both dualistic and views creation as evil] are not only completely baseless, they’re completely devoid of any kind of provable assertion.”
I will now show, using Brother Jeremy’s own words and the Gnostic texts themselves, that Gnosticism is in fact both dualistic and has a negative view of creation. Or as Jeremy claims, they are “world haters.”
Gnostic dissatisfaction with the world
Lets take the term “World haters,” which Voegelin does not use, to describe the belief that creation is a poorly organized mistake. From this follows the attempt to re-create the world through man-made systems. Brother Jeremy contradicts his own premise and confirms Voegelin’s perspective, by explaining the purpose of this demolition job… rather than denying the Gnostic desire to tear down the ground of being. This is how Jeremy himself describes the Gnostic enterprise:
“The point behind tearing down these structures, behind admonishing the control systems and demolishing the illusion of the world is to rebuild It… and I’m fond of referring to the Gnostics as the ‘original anarchists.’”
And this is how Voegelin describes it:
One) It must first be pointed out that the Gnostic is dissatisfied with his situation. This, in itself, is not especially surprising. We all have cause to be not completely satisfied with one aspect of another of the situation in which we find ourselves.
Two) Not quite so understandable is the second aspect of the Gnostic attitude: the belief that the drawbacks of the situation can be attributed to the fact that the world is intrinsically poorly organized.
Three) The third characteristic is the belief that salvation from the evil of the world is possible.
Four) From this follows the belief that the order of being will have to be changed in an historical process. From a wretched world a good one must evolve historically
Five) With this fifth point we come to the Gnostic trait in the narrower sense – the belief that a change in the order of being lies in the realm of human action, that this salvational act is possible through man’s own effort.
Six) If it is possible, however, so to work a structural change in the given order of being that we can be satisfied with it as a perfect one, then it becomes the task of the Gnostic to seek out the prescription for such a change. Knowledge -gnosis- of the method of altering being is the central concern of the Gnostic. [Science, Politics and Gnosticism; pg. 64, Eric Voegelin]
I would have to say that Jeremy’s definition of the Gnostics, as anarchists who set out to demolish the illusion of the world in order to create a new order, lends even deeper insight into the validity of Voegelin’s understanding of Gnosticism. Jeremy described what Voegelin would call the Gnostic enterprise. He confesses to possessing the desire of “demolishing the world.” He clearly states that the reason for this demolition is so that the Gnostic can “rebuild it.” His motivation for this endeavor must be that he views the world as intrinsically poorly organized. God screwed up, and Jeremy’s going to fix it!
To the Gnostic, the divine light of the “true” God is trapped in creation by the “trickster God.” This is how the basic philosophy is portrayed in Gnostic myths. It is in fact a well know motif. Joseph Campbell, who was hardly out to get the Gnostics, articulated and extensively wrote about this basic motif. It is a rebellion against reality as it is given; it is a movement that believes it possesses the power to alter the ground of being. It is an attempt to bring about heaven in the here and now. It is a revolt against the limitations of human nature.
While Jeremy may not believe in the actual ancient myths of the Gods at war, he still holds those basic beliefs. He claims Voegelin’s description of Gnosticism to be “baseless,” while living out his very claim! In other words, Jeremy is what he says he is not. Charles Taylor, in his work Sources of the Self, describes this modern Gnostic mass movement as the “worldview that claims not to be a worldview.” This is part of what Voegelin terms the “intellectual swindle,” and what George Orwell coined “doublethink.”
Duality of Gnosticism: The source of evil
On Jeremy’s point concerning Gnostics not being dualistic, I must again differ with him, in that it is the dualism that leads to the view of the creation as bad. Looking at the Apocrypha of Peter, one of the Gnostic texts, we find the following:
“… But many others, who oppose the truth and are the messengers of error, will set up their error and their law against these pure thoughts of mine, as looking out from one, thinking that good and evil are from one source.”
This is a central theme of Gnosticism that makes it dualistic. To the Gnostic, as I said before, the Divine light of the one God has been trapped in the creation by the trickster god, thus giving evil a source other than the one God. This idea expressed in the ancient myths evolved from mere myth to an actual philosophy.
In the Apocrypha of John we find this story of the fall of God into creation: The name given to the creator god in this account is Yaltabaoth. The trickster God is Elohim. It is said in this motif that “he called himself god.”
“…but the power in him, which he had taken from his mother, produced in him the likeness of the cosmos. And when he saw the creation which surrounds him and the multitude of the angles around him which had come forth from him, he said to them, ‘I am a jealous god and there is no other god besides me.’ But by announcing this he indicated to the angles who attended him that there exists another god. For if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous?”
This then leads to the common interpretation that the serpent in the genesis account of the garden is the redeemer. It is Yahweh the creator god, who has been tricked by Elohim the trickster god, into trapping the soul of man in matter, forever imprisoning man. Therefore, life as it is, is something to be escaped.
The translator of this text, Frederik Wisse, sums up the matter as follows:
“Yaldabaoth is tricked into breathing light-power into him. Thus begins a continuous struggle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness for the possession of the divine particles of man. The evil powers put man in a material body to keep him imprisoned, and also create woman and sexual desire to spread the particles of light and make escape more difficult.”
This is no small matter and is the direct opposite of Occidental philosophy. Plato, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas all maintain that evil is caused by the deficiency of goodness. Evil is totally dependant upon the good, and has no source other than the good. In contrast with this Occidental philosophy, Gnosticism is indeed dualistic. Not in that it does not recognize the one God, but in that it creates a lesser god in order to account for evil.
“On the contrary, Augustine says that there is no possible source of evil except the good…evil has no formal cause, rather is it a privation of form; likewise, neither has it a final cause, but rather is it a privation of order to the proper end; since not only the end has the nature of good, but also the useful, which is ordered to the end. Evil, however, has a cause by way of an agent, not directly, but accidentally.” –Thomas Aquinas, Suma Theologica; Part one, Question 49
FOUNDERS OF MODERN SECULAR GNOSTICISM
While the spiritual Gnostics tend to elevate man as god, i.e. man is god who has forgotten himself; the secular Gnostics claim god is dead. Both however, share in the idea that man can be re-created, that man can be overcome. Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche can indeed be considered the founding fathers of the Gnostic mass movements of the past century. Their ideas led to the holocaust and multiculturalism. Their ideas led to the political decline spawned by communism, and the moral decline caused by relativism.
The Gnostic Enterprises in recent history include Karl Marx, with his attempt to create the social man, Fredric Nietzsche with his attempt to create the superman, Hitler with his attempt to create the Arian man, and the New Age Movement with its attempt to create the god man.
All of these Gnostic enterprises ended in disaster. All of these secular Gnostic enterprises share in the belief that, as Hillary Clinton put it, man can “change what it means to be a human being.”
The premises put forth by our Gnostic friend, Jeremy, can neither be substantiated in Gnostic text, Gnostic history nor modern Gnostic philosophy. Modern Gnosticism is without a doubt dualistic, and therefore views creation as a mistake. The attempt to re-create what God messed up, through a man made system, is the heart and soul of Gnosticism. This is true of the ancient Gnostics as well as our modern secular versions devised by the great swindlers Marx and Nietzsche.
Voegelin stands firm on the ground prepared by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. “The nature of a thing cannot be changed; whoever tries to ‘alter’ its nature destroys the thing. Man cannot transform himself into a superman; the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man.” In this respect Nietzsche was indeed one of the founders of the modern Gnostics.
UPDATE: Response to critics