Religion, Fundamentalism, Gnosticism: Part X
Bill Hurrell’s recent Human Events article continues his efforts towards a taxonomy of leftist thought. “REVEALED: The 2010 Essay That Explains What the Woke Want” digs up an Orbis essay by Ernest Sternberg chronicling the rise of “world purificationism” in the environmentalist movement. It is worth reading, but contains a hilarious misunderstanding of millenarian cat ladies.
World purificationism, Sternberg tells us, is a “non-religious chiliastic movement” which “contrasts the degenerate present with the ideal future” and divides the world between “the empowered global system [“Empire”] which is the purveyor of toxicity and disempowered communities that suffer its consequences.” It is committed to the destruction of Empire and of its rights and rationality:
“The outlook that upholds Empire is known as ‘liberalism’ (known in the United States as conservatism). Someone who has sympathies with liberalism might associate it with, among other things, individuals’ right to freely express political beliefs under laws that protect such expression; and the freedom to contract with others for personal and business affairs under legal institutions that protect contract and property. To the new ideologues, however this is wrong. Liberalism panders to desires for freedom, while it actually contaminates human motivations, making people greedy and selfish.”
To readers of this series, this will all be familiar. Let’s summarize the essential points we have covered:
1. Both religion and politics organize power by means of the “common vocabulary” of myth or narrative.
2. If the narrative of religion or politics becomes not only an authority, but the only authority, it is fundamentalist. A fundamentalist myth is a “fact-proof screen” between the true believer and the world.
3. If fundamentalism refuses all ambiguity it becomes Gnosticism, which entails the clean division of elect from reprobate, oppressor from oppressed, and the intolerable present from a future state of bliss. Given these premises, Gnosticism can only promise salvation through destruction.
4. Because liberalism and conservatism are predicated upon contingency, ambiguity, and uncertainty, they are incompatible with Gnosticism.
Hurrell believes that Sternberg’s essay describes what we now understand as “wokeness,” and that it should put to bed debates about whether wokeness is religious, neo-Marxist, postmodernist, etc. Those debates were always without value: distinguishing wokeness, postmodernism, Marxism, Antifa, and BLM, religious or secular, is of little moment if all are Gnostic movements. The reason for this inconsequence raises a significant misjudgment in Mr. Hurrell’s article, namely, his claim that “in knowing what the most sophisticated woke activists want, we can remove their mystique and force them to defend their utopia on practical and moral grounds.”
Having just named them a movement of millenarian cat ladies, it is extraordinary that Mr. Hurrell thinks any means adequate to compel woke activists to state practical and moral grounds for anything. The provision of such grounds would, in fact, weaken woke doctrine’s power, suggests Eric Hoffer:
“Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: it must be ‘contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.’”
No, our present-day Gnostics never tire of stating their opposition to “linear, rational thinking.” Let’s take them at their word.