Contemporary Gnosticism

These prophetic words come from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudeete et exsultate


  1. Gnosticism presumes “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings”.[35]

An intellect without God and without flesh

  1. Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. “Gnostics” do not understand this, because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others, locked up as they are in an encyclopaedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people”.[36]

  2. Certainly this is a superficial conceit: there is much movement on the surface, but the mind is neither deeply moved nor affected. Still, gnosticism exercises a deceptive attraction for some people, since the gnostic approach is strict and allegedly pure, and can appear to possess a certain harmony or order that encompasses everything.

  3. Here we have to be careful. I am not referring to a rationalism inimical to Christian faith. It can be present within the Church, both among the laity in parishes and teachers of philosophy and theology in centres of formation. Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. It is another to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.[37]

A doctrine without mystery

  1. Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect. Thus, perhaps without even realizing it, this ideology feeds on itself and becomes even more myopic. It can become all the more illusory when it masks itself as a disembodied spirituality. For gnosticism “by its very nature seeks to domesticate the mystery”,[38] whether the mystery of God and his grace, or the mystery of others’ lives.

  2. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.

  3. Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mystery that a gnostic mentality cannot accept, since it is beyond its control.

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All of this reads like Leo XIII’s warnings against the “heresy of Americanism” in Testem benevolentiae.

It didn’t exist.

It was a “phantom heresy”. Some say he was calling out certain tendencies in France at the time, but France and the United States were (and are) two totally separate countries. Leo came dangerously close to violating the commandment “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, by accusing Americans of something that they were not. It is true that Americans do value the active over the passive, everything is about maxing out your life, making more money, and so on, but that doesn’t rise to the level of a heresy, it’s just a mindset of a very prosperous, “get things done” culture and economy. My mother’s caregivers work two and three jobs to support their families. For some, it’s a necessity.

Who are these latter-day Gnostics that supposedly exist somewhere?

The only time I saw anybody embracing gnosticism in earnest was a small group calling itself “True Left”. Their ideology combines gnosticism, hatred of Western civilization, opposition to modernity and democracy, rejection of both masculine and feminine sexuality in favour of “angelic nobility”. Some members praised Hitler, but this looked more like irony. I used to visit their website quite regularly for amusement from 2017 to 2022, but then I decided to stop poisoning my heart.

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They sound a little bit like the Cathars or the Albigensians (basically the same thing), mutatis mutandis.

They were pretty much a cult.

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The libertarians. They still constitute the Americanism heresy. One example being the insane gun ownership position that is so anti life it baffles the rest of the Catholic world.

Libertarians as Gnostics. That is, to say the least, an original observation.

Many other cultures besides American culture have whispers of the things that Leo XIII described. Valuing the active over the passive could be said of any Western or Western-adjacent (these are cultural and socio-economic adjectives, not necessarily geographical ones) society.

Gun ownership is a manifestation of one’s natural-law right to self-defense, or just the pursuit of sports and hobbies such as hunting and target practice. Anyone who invades my home in the middle of the night has just signed their own death warrant. Better them than me (or my family). This is one thing America gets right.

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An interesting read by the sounds of it.

I don’t see libertarianism as gnostic, but rather Aristotelian: empiricism, rational self-interest and pursuit of happiness.

And it’s not. To try to find a link between Gnosticism, conservatism, and libertarianism, is really reaching, ditto for trying to link it to Leo XIII’s bizarre encyclical on an alleged “Americanist heresy”. It is not that Leo was wrong to condemn the tendencies he described, just that he seems to have built a “straw man” that (a) rose to the level of a heresy and (b) didn’t exist, at least not at the level of a heresy, in 19th-century America. Some say that he was actually calling out a movement in France at the time, that for some reason he couldn’t condemn directly, so he used the United States as a “whipping boy” instead. That is disappointing.

When you strip away everything else, there is one issue, and only one issue, that has forced a sharp cleavage in American politics in the past 40-50 years, and that is abortion. You have very few Democratic politicians who are openly pro-life (there are blessed exceptions such as John Bel Edwards, Henry Cuellar, and, to some extent, Joe Manchin), and, though it is more tolerated on the other side of the aisle, relatively few Republican politicians who are pro-choice (Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and, to some extent, Nancy Mace). It has made for very much a “strange bedfellows” situation. Aside from abortion and Second Amendment rights (both parties caved equally on same-sex marriage), my own politics are closer to Bernie Sanders than to Ron Paul (and Rand fils) — I favor taxpayer-funded universal health care, free education through post-graduate level, and do not oppose in principle some kind of reparations for African Americans who can demonstrate how the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow has degraded their lives. If it weren’t for abortion and 2A, I’d be a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat with bells on. In my own family, the strong help the weak — you’ll not find a better home in this country to be sick or disabled, we “circle the wagons” and give help where it is needed, everyone “pitches in” — and I’d like to see this be a paradigm for the whole of society.

Also, the Reverend Mr Paul Weyrich (memory eternal) couldn’t have been too “anti-Vatican II” (whatever that means), as he was an ordained deacon in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which, so far as I am aware, totally accepted Vatican II. I did not know him personally, but I knew several people in DC who were in his circle. Nothing to see here.

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Of course proponents of these ideologies aren’t going to take direction from a foreign Pope especially one from Argentina.

From a letter to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Finally, I cannot but speak of the serious risks associated with the invasion, at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools, of positions of libertarian individualism. A common feature of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, that is, “living well”, a “good life” in the community framework, and exalts the selfish ideal that deceptively proposes a “beautiful life”. If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”. Thus libertarian individualism denies the validity of the common good because on the one hand it supposes that the very idea of “common” implies the constriction of at least some individuals, and the other that the notion of “good” deprives freedom of its essence.

The radicalization of individualism in libertarian and therefore anti-social terms leads to the conclusion that everyone has the “right” to expand as far as his power allows, even at the expense of the exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable majority. Bonds would have to be cut inasmuch as they would limit freedom. By mistakenly matching the concept of “bond” to that of “constraint”, one ends up confusing what may condition freedom – the constraints – with the essence of created freedom, that is, bonds or relations, family and interpersonal, with the excluded and marginalized, with the common good, and finally with God.

Actually, I don’t disagree with a word of what Pope Francis says in the above passage.

US libertarians do. In fact they took the time to respond to Pope Francis while not addressing any of the points he raised.

The problem with the ideology is that like contagious virus that can’t survive and thrive on it’s own merits, it looks for a host that already has connections it can exploit. Even invading Catholic theology in order to usurp Social teaching for it’s own atheistic ends.

I detect the faint rumblings of a rabbit hole opening, so I will just reply by saying that I am not a libertarian. I have studied their ideas in the past, and found some merit in some of those ideas — and still do — but in the end, I favor the common good, common sacrifice, common effort, and bearing one another’s burdens. So libertarianism would be a poor fit for me.

That is all I will have to say about that topic. People of equally good will can legitimately disagree on how society should be ordered, just as they can disagree as to how the principle of subsidiarity is best implemented.

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