Religion, Fundamentalism, Gnosticism, BLM
Reports and images of white suppliants, prostrate, kneeling, foot washing, or knitting, have led certain commentators to note the religious aspect of the Black Lives Matter agitation, some describing it as a “Gnostic” faith. Without judging the merits of BLM’s case, or that of its opposition, let’s consider its form, and, to that end, undertake a brief exercise in definition.
The term “fundamentalist” was used early in the 20th century to designate those American Protestants who resisted a liberalizing of theology underway at major seminaries. Since that time it has come to refer, more narrowly, to a Protestant who believes in six-day, young-earth creationism, and rejects, wholesale, evolutionary theory, not on the grounds that the latter theory is inadequate or problematic, but for the reason that he will allow no external challenge to his literal interpretation of holy scripture, which is competent to answer any question. Mencken used the term in something like this sense in his essays on William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial.
Cornelius Van Til was an advocate of this perspective, and provides its classic statement in his Christian Apologetics: “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything…It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instruction of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.”
Fundamentalism then, in this narrow sense, is faith in a readily comprehended doctrine, which is unprovable but unchallengeable by facts or by argument external to that faith, and which claims a universal application.
Contemporary “Gnosticism” has all of the features of fundamentalism, but adds to them, as Eric Voegelin tells us, “the experience of the world as an alien place into which man has strayed” and a conviction that salvation from this alienation lies in “destruction of the old world and passage to the new.” A cursory review of blacklivesmatter.com will show these hallmarks of Gnosticism to be patent.
There we read that this movement is premised on the violence “inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes” and on a worldwide “anti-Blackness” because of which black persons lack the “social, economic, and political power to thrive.” On account of these wrongs, “comrades” are to engage in a “beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting,” in order to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” to “dismantle…patriarchal practice,” and to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.”
The repeated use of “struggle” and “comrade” on this site indicating a Marxist-inflected view, it is worth noting that among the modern Gnostic movements identified by Voegelin are progressivism and Marxism. Here as in Marxism, alienation demands destruction, and—while no explicit statement is made as to whether Black Lives Matter would welcome discussion concerning either the factual basis of its premise or the likelihood that its program of disruption will realize its millenarian hope—it seems unlikely that the movement is particularly data driven, since only an assertion or an article of faith is offered to justify nothing less radical than the dissolution of the nuclear family. For the present, we may assume that Black Lives Matter would be as little impressed by statistics of racially-motivated violence or discrimination as Van Tillian fundamentalists are by coprolites and carbon dating, and therefore that it is a squarely Gnostic movement.
Not all religions are fundamentalist, and not all fundamentalisms are Gnostic. A question for another day is whether fundamentalism can credibly challenge Gnosticism.
Also in this series: