Protestants, gnostics and modern marxists

Posted on Dec 11, 2022

Against the Protestant Gnostics is a fascinating read. From Irenaeus onwards, whomever mainstream Christians do not like they label gnostic, but at the very least the author of this book goes into great lengths to support his position. Unlike Irenaeus, who delves deep into Gnostic mythology and cosmology, the author of “Against the Protestant Gnostics” uses the bible as source material. He sees the extreme individualisation and lack of community as the modern cardinal sin, very much in line with Christopher Lasch. Secondary issues include a strong preference on personal revelation, an excessive focus on knowledge (though I doubt that’s the knowledge the Gnostics were taking about), a disdain for this world, elitism, and the surrender of evangelical protestantism to capitalism. I would not have attributed all the above to gnostics; indeed the New Testament (exp. John and Paul), as the author accepts, is full of these and the Church fathers are no better. For example Irenaeus himself blames living among the barbaric Celts for his lack of oratory skills (tiny bit elitist?).

Overall, the author points to the following:

un-Christian social order can be known by the fact that it makes good men do bad things. It tempts, defeats, drains, and degrades, and leaves men stunted, cowed, and shamed in their manhood.

Instead we should be aiming at:

A Christian social order makes bad men do good things. It sets high aims, steadies the faint impulses of the weak, trains the powers of the young, and is felt by all as an uplifting force which leaves men with the consciousness of a broader and nobler humanity as their years go on.

This social and economic order has been the holly grail of western thought for at least 2,000 years. What has been widely disputed is how get there. The “modern marxist” road is made roughly from the following:

  1. If society realises that the world order is corrupt and broken, it will attempt to change it.
  2. On a personal level, if you see the world around you as corrupt, you will attempt to do something about it.
  3. Horrible material conditions, combined with lack of meaning will lead to rebellion and a new society.
  4. We should not say too much about this new society, as we have no idea how things will pen out.

It has been 10 years since the last big crisis, we are marching into another crisis, the three above pre-conditions are here, but no change is taking place. Everyone knows that there are fundamental problems with this world order. Capitalism, which looks like a massive supply chain at this point, is so overwhelming and so totalising that every other institution has atrophied or is simply there to serve it.

The idea that a simple realisation will change the world is looks like a gnostic fallacy to me. It attributes extreme agency to all of us. One can see a world of total depravity (heh) and just exist in it, if the costs of acting differently are too great, and the costs can always made to be big enough. Mitigating and sharing these costs requires community – fully knowing that others have your back and can support you if you fail. This community is completely lacking, and I am not sure how we will go about creating it.