As Jon Ossoff left the stage in defeat for the sixth congressional district runoff race last Tuesday, he said, “Darkness has crept across this planet.” Call it metaphor or call it spiritual, it’s not the scientific secularism the Left claims to represent. In fact, it represents a resurgent spiritual posture with distinct articles of theology. One of the loci theologici of this theology is its initiation sacrament, its baptism of blood if you will: political violence.
It begins, as we see in Ossoff’s words, with the view that world as it exists in its totality is under the rule of dark powers. This is classic Gnosticism. The esoteric language of the historic Gnostic myth sounds arcane to the modern ear, but the psycho-spiritual mechanisms going on are resurgent, and until we grasp Gnosticism’s various traits and characteristics (which you can get a fuller reading of here), we will not fully understand our era.
Note, for instance, the Manichaeism (an ancient Gnostic variant) of the leftist imagination. The world of the past is a realm of darkness and ignorance, generating systems and institutions like marriage, gender constructs, bordered nations, rationalism, individualism, federalism, capitalism, language, and so on. Stooges of this dark world order are the un-woke.
Meantime, for the woke (a truly Gnostic term) they envision a place of purity and light, where borders, gender distinctions, marriage definitions, distinctions between personal property, and rational meanings in language all dissolve. (The discerning will note it’s the darkness that blurs distinctions and the light which exposes them.)
When they win, the Left becomes Hermetical. Hermeticism, which was popular in the Renaissance after a Neoplatonism revival, was optimistic Gnosticism, proposing man can take the reins of the world’s dark overlord and run the world for good. This is the “long march through the institutions” approach, and with the actual success of this approach since the 1960s. the Left was content to sit back while “History” did its thing.
The Left Thinks Their Despair Justifies Violence
Now that the Left has lost, and keeps losing, another dynamic is taking over. It’s not one of surfing History into the future, but of lashing out at phantom threats under the delusion that it’s self-defense. It’s logical within the Gnostic framework: “I do violence to defend myself against the oppression of the current system and its supporters.” The obvious example of this is the recent shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. But consider some other high-profile examples and pay attention to the language.
After the University of California-Berkeley erupted in leftist violence, the Daily Californian ran five editorials under the banner of “Violence as self-defense.” Nisa Dang wrote, “To people with platforms who decide when a protest should and should not be violent: You speak from a place of immense privilege. As I recently wrote in a tirade against this brand of idiocy, asking people to maintain peaceful dialogue with those who legitimately do not think their lives matter is a violent act.”
Then there’s Kathy Griffin and her odd justification for mock-beheading President Trump: “I’ve dealt with older white guys trying to keep me down my whole life, my whole career.”
Now we hear from Huffpost’s La Sha on the death of Otto Warmbier at the hands of North Korean torturers: “The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense.”
Or consider the mocking reaction you get from leftists on the rising suicide rate among middle-aged white males. Bill Maher is typical: “It’s hard out there for a wimp, and that’s why tonight I’d like to remind white people of something very important they may have forgotten, you’re white, cheer the f-ck up.”
In each of these examples, the author or speaker has lost touch with basic human decency, caught up in a psycho-spiritual drama where the world is imprisoned by dark forces operating through entities, including people, deserving of destruction. Why? Because the salvation of humanity requires it.
This all reminded me of my favorite quote I discovered while researching for my book, “Gnostic America,” where Donna Minkowitz claims she had sadistic lesbian sex (even calling such sex a gnosis) as a rebellion against marriage norms. On these terms we get insight into the Left’s regard of abortion as a sacred act: it’s a bloody political revolution against traditional systems of oppression created by reproductive biology in cahoots with traditional culture.
The fact that Minkowitz made her reflections on rough sex after attending a religious right charismatic event—and seeing a similar spirit there as she saw in the gay rights movement—only underscores the total permeation of a certain, iconoclastic spirit in the American soul. And that spirit is Gnostic.
The Phantasmic Roots of Gnostic Iconoclasm
Gnosticism’s iconoclastic streak throughout history is apropos. Iconoclasm literally means “to break images.” Images, in their original Greek progeny, are phantasmic, as in, they are something mentally or psychologically induced taking projected form. Of course, for the Gnostic, what is mentally or psychologically induced is the only sort of reality that matters.
Here’s the kicker. As I become woke to my imprisonment in the external, dark world order, reality transfers from the outside to the inside. My engagement with reality evolves from a posture of reception to a posture of projection. Where before I might see a particular human being as a unique, independent entity sharing a humanity with me—Christians call that my “neighbor”—now I project onto him my newly “woke” imaging. Everything outside of me now becomes a projection of internal phantasms, characters, and symbols in my own psycho-drama.
The bottom line is that, once woke, you see the world in symbolic, iconic idioms, icons deserving destruction. Thus iconoclasm. A simple shop in an inner city becomes a symbol of the system of capitalistic oppression, deserving of riotous destruction. A police officer becomes a symbol of white privilege, justly murdered in an effort to break free from oppression.
A soldier becomes a symbol of American colonialism, rightly spit upon. Donald Trump symbolizes the patriarchy keeping women down. Republicans become symbols of all that is evil, the archons ruling the world, who will keep us all in chains unless destroyed. Language must be deconstructed, by violent legal fiat if need be. As icons of a hopelessly corrupt world oppressing me, it all must be iconoclastically broken. Violence is salvific.
It’s Only Going to Get Worse
So long as we are a media-saturated culture, it’s not likely things are going to get better. Media by its very nature works in the realm of the phantasmic, manipulating archetypes and narratives. Every story has to have a hero and a villain, and in the gnostic psycho-drama, representatives of traditions and long-standing systems or institutions—like capitalism, republicanism, federalism, the rule of law, individualism, marriage, family, and faith—are the villains keeping the hero from his journey of authentic self-realization.
Exhibit A: just about every movie ever made. Exhibit B: the mainstream media’s framing of news and events. It’s the gnostic psycho-drama that haunts the American soul, a truly American religion.
Until we pass through this gnostic moment, and begin seeing each other as our flesh and blood neighbors with names and not through the phantasmic and archetypical lenses of Facebook, the mainstream media, pop music, and any number of other media, the violence will only heighten. This is true on the Left as well as on the Right. The Left should know that they’re no longer dealing with right-wing, passive Christians, but with a new, irreligious rightist element that will fight back. Have fun with that.
Over the last several decades our society has made the wager that we can disconnect from a religion whose central message is that God traversed the gulf between spirit and flesh, becoming our flesh-and-blood neighbor, making our neighbor an object of love, and miraculously creating a community of human beings transcending race and nationality.
But as that same religion has warned us, madness lies the way of that disconnect. Madness, and also violence.