Gnosticism vs. The Incarnation: The Ancient Battle Renewed | John B. Buescher | CWR
The contemporary sexual revolution is thoroughly Gnostic, attacking the institution of marriage, thwarting the conception of children, and denying the differences between men and women
There is a tale, whose threads are too long to unravel here, of the meanderings of an idea through history—the idea that, as Nicolas Gómez-Davila parsed it, man is “a god imprisoned in the dull inertia of his flesh, or a god who elevates matter as his cry of victory.” This is the “knowledge” of both the old and the new Gnostics: We are not who we think we are, but gods imprisoned in matter. And knowing that we are gods is the condition for freedom, for it is only our wills that keep us from rising up divine.
If man is a god, then his essence is a will, exercised in purely unrestricted freedom. His sovereignty is expressed gratuitously. That sovereign will must be identical in everyone (or else it is not sovereign), and everything else about individuals exists as mere accidents, signs, or externalities. Indeed such things are impediments to which our wills are shackled.
The ancient form of the tale includes these basic propositions:
The prison in which we are shackled is matter. Yet matter does not matter. It is a dream into which we were born, and in which our spirits serve time in blind darkness, until death, or emancipation.
The creator of this world of matter was demented or malevolent. He is not the One who is the source of our spirit and our freedom.
Being born into this world is our problem. Exiting this world is the solution. Our bodies—and all the things that derive from being embodied and being pinned down into particularity—are features of our prison. That is most especially true of the most basic particularity of our bodies: the division into male and female. It is the primordial cleft, which ramifies throughout all other distinctions. In our highest form, we are androgynous.
Acting upon the sexual distinction, therefore, is the most basic sin. Above all, conceiving and bringing children into this fallen world of matter merely traps their free spirits and consigns them to bondage. When born, everyone has been conceived in the sin of his parents and is clothed in the prison uniform of his signifying flesh.
The ancient Gnostic responded by avoiding the generation of children. Some of them became extreme ascetics and totally celibate and even sacramentalized their fasting unto death. But some of them became “free spirits” who flouted all sexual taboos and customs—upon which the world’s prison bars were built—and engaged in every sort of sexual irregularity. It demonstrated the Gnostics’ contempt for the deep distinctions and features of the material world and how they were living purely in the spirit, and no longer bound by the world. It was a sign of contradiction to the fallen world, and was, in itself, a way to arise out of it, ringing the changes on what that world held to be sin, entering into it, but without being caught in it, and thereby wearing it out, exploding it from the inside, deconstructing it, turning the sexual act into something that would not result in the conception of children. Such acts too, for the Gnostic, could be sacramental.
Sexual activity engaged in by the unenlightened followed the logic of the prison world and resulted in its continuation into succeeding generations. Sexual activity that might be engaged in by the enlightened was done to arouse the “spirit,” but then to turn it to a purely spiritual purpose and away from the generation of children. The strategy was the uncoupling of the act from its worldly consequence, the generation of children.
At the very heart of this was the determination to undermine the foundation of this prison world. Whether the strategy was one of extreme asceticism or extreme licentiousness, the point was the same—the defeat of the material world by the freed spirit, whose essence was its own divine, sovereign will, unencumbered by any consequences that were not the expressions of its free choice.
The Current Gnosticism
This Gnostic logic underlies our contemporary sexual revolution, including the sacramentalizing of same-sex activities, the attack on traditional marriage, the evaluation of procreation as mere breeding, the treating of pregnancy as an unhealthy state that should be annulled or healed, the offering of contraception as a means to avoid that state, the evaluation of abortion as a way to avoid the supreme sin of bringing into the unwelcoming world a soul that would be marked with the sign of its iniquitous conception, and the offering of assistance—as a kindness—to those who would freely choose to end their lives.