The standard definition of fundamentalism includes strict adherence to inflexible doctrines, either religious or secular. Such doctrines are variable and transitory, being in the nature of opinions, theories, or propositions, improperly elevated to the status of absolute truth by a priestly caste which benefits in status and power. Where there is knowledge (of the propositional kind), it will pass away. All truth claims eventually fail. In my book I often refer to the Wizard, the founder of our church/cult, who had his own definite ideas about what constituted “wholesome entertainment”, and this was taken as absolute truth by we impressionable students. No one dared say, “I disagree with him about that” or, “that’s just his opinion”. In Sedona Arizona, I discovered a psychiatrist with a huge following, highly regarded by various New Age authors, who claimed to have discovered an avenue to the absolute truth on any subject using a technique called muscle testing. But all his “discoveries” sounded more like his own generational worldview. This seemed to be an updated, re-packaged and highly innovative repetition of the same old story.
The fundamentalist insists – I know! But so does the Gnostic, so what’s the difference? The Greek word Gnosis means knowledge but when Gnostics confidently say they know, they speak about a specific kind of knowledge – that of their own experience. Fundamentalism, can be seen as the slavish adherence to the thoughts and opinions of others. It is a false claim to Gnosis, destined to fail, and therefore a counterfeit of the real thing. Fundamentalists are also prone to accept the revelations of others as absolute truth, but for the Gnostic, there’s no such thing as a second-hand revelation (Thomas Paine). All revelations can only be in the first person. The Wizard, for example, claimed to be a modern-day apostle and this personal revelation was accepted without question. I see Gnosticism as anti-fundamentalist, representing a complete u-turn from my former life, but I also tried to salvage whatever remained relevant and meaningful from the past. This meant continuing to be a Christian but in a very different way.
A critic once described clinging to Christianity and embracing Gnosticism as “rolling the same old turd up a different hill” but I disagree with that interpretation. For a fundamentalist, to embrace Gnosticism is a revolutionary act, but there are two kinds of revolution. One kind sweeps away all that went before creating a blank slate. I would put Mao’s Cultural Revolution in that category or the French Revolution of Robespierre, otherwise known as “the reign of terror”. These revolutions created an outcome even worse than the old regime. Another kind of revolution seeks to preserve the best of that which went before, recognizing that nothing is all good or all bad, black or white, all true or all false, but rather some combination of the two. These latter revolutions tend to stick because they are anchored more in reality. Moreover, psychologist Carl Jung, a self-avowed Gnostic, having studied the spiritual traditions of many cultures, concluded, in the end, that it’s best to frame your understandings in terms of your own cultural heritage, as this is more understandable to you.
For some years after I left fundamentalism (or thought I had), I would read a favorite author or listen a lecture but If I heard something that didn’t seem right to me, I would unconsciously adopt that idea as my own, even though I didn’t believe it. I think I did so in order to resolve an internal discomfort, as though that person had let me down in some way and I wanted to resolve the cognitive dissonance. Without realizing it, I was elevating that person’s opinion and depreciating my own. It seemed to resolve itself into a binary choice, reject that person entirely or embrace all that he/she had to say. Now that I am more aware, I can make a conscious effort to reframe the experience by saying to myself, I agree with this person on many things but disagree on others. I really appreciate his book/lecture even though I have a different view in some areas. Giving away your responsibility is the fatal flaw of the fundamentalist. The most important lesson of my life could be expressed in this way: Do Not Defer To Others. Fortunately, Gnosticism is a philosophy which supports that approach.
Carl Jung compared Gnosticism to the psychological process he called “individuation.” Full personhood requires access to our own subconscious and, ultimately, the collective unconscious. In so doing we bring forth our true, authentic selves. Authenticity requires expelling “the foreign installation” (Carlos Castaneda). The foreign installation is an idea planted in your head which is incompatible with your true self. It is often planted there by some parasite which wants to control you and program your mind to benefit itself.
Having once escaped the grip of fundamentalism, I came to embrace Gnosticism, which I consider more of a philosophical approach than a replacement religion. To the philosopher, the universe is a mystery to be continuously explored but exploration is only possible once you get out of prison. For the literalist, life holds no mysteries because the answers are already known. Gnostics make no truth claims, but only speak of personal revelations and insights which are true and meaningful for them.
“We run with those who search for the truth but avoid those who have found it.” Miguel Conner
Gnosticism is philosophy combined with mythology. Listening to a Gnostic, you never really know if they speak literally or figuratively. A Gnostic might speak as though certain things are literally true but symbolism is the only thing that matters. For the Gnostic, the exodus myth is about the transition from slavery to freedom and as such, not only true but profoundly true. Viewed in this way, why would it matter if the Red Sea actually parted? Devoid of meaning, it would be reduced to nothing more than an impressive magic trick. I remain agnostic about those things which I have neither seen nor heard myself. I wasn’t there, so I can’t know for sure, but why close the door on anything? Miracles are possible. To insist too much, one way or another, is to be fundamentalist. Religion insists you must accept implausible things on faith or face damnation. The Gnostic says, “bring forth what is within you” and what is within you will save you. We already have all the internal resources we need to save ourselves. The challenge of this particular saying, from the Gospel of Thomas, is that it does not tell us what to believe but to find the truth for ourselves and from within ourselves.
Read more at: A Prison For The Mind Blog
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