Monday, September 29, 2008

The Way Out is In

Wow. Quite a wild ride the past few weeks, no? My first response to all of the manufactured crises we're seeing was to look back to the Gnostics. There was a time when a lot of serious people saw Gnosticism as a way out of the pre-packaged Fundamentalist/Atheist Punch and Judy show that's constantly shoved down our throats in the media. But in order to wedge between these extremes, you need a philosophy that's conducive to the accumulation of earthly power, which Gnosticism is clearly not. There's a lot of nonsense tossed around about Gnosticism, both by its admirers and its opponents. None of it really has anything to do with the teachings themselves. There could never be any true Gnostic political or economic conspiracy, because the Gnostics saw both politics and economics as fallen, corrupt and irrelevant.

I'd been listening to some lectures by the esteemed Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, and it was his contention that Gnosticism as we know it was essentially the outgrowth of the immense disillusionment that Jewish apocalypticists felt following the fall of Jerusalem and the ensuing diaspora. Jewish apocalypticists like Jesus and Paul and their followers thought the End of All Things was coming in their time, not in ours. They are quoted as such. All of the various forms of early Christianity were meant to prepare their followers for an imminent apocalypse, not one sometime in the distant future.

We are witnessing now the dissipation of a modern apocalypticism. Bush was able to rile up millions of believers who thought for sure that all of these wars in the Middle Eastern deserts would result in in Jesus coming back in his glory on the clouds. All that came back was their dead and maimed and traumatized children and a whole mess of trouble. And now the final charade of the Clown Show is falling apart- the illusion that wealth can be created by what is essentially a modern brand of sorcery. It's amazing to see how quickly all of the long-running cons are coming apart at the seams. All we in America can hope is that we are looking at a much more modest future, one where our grotesque sense of entitlement is burned away like so much chaff by the alchemical process of economic reality.

I don't think we can find much of practical use in the Nag Hammadi library, but we can find some guidance from the basis tenets of Gnosticism. The most important of these is to not look to the outside world for revelation, look inside. Apocalypse was nothing novel to the Gnostics, it was an ongoing process. They didn't understand neurophysiology or psychology, so they resorted to the florid language of religious metaphor potential converts would be familiar with. Today we have a lot of tools at our disposal to divine the truths the Gnostics were searching for. We have the writings of modern day prophets like Philip K Dick and Carl Jung, and any number of lesser though still vital luminaries. It's funny, they all seem to essentially be saying the same thing- you have the real treasure trove locked inside your head. There's a whole universe of possibility that awaits those who look inside rather than to the trappings of the outer world.

Apocalypticists believe that this physical world can redeemed and transformed- that the key to enlightenment comes from a new political system (and don't let them tell you otherwise) where supernatural forces rule over humankind. The Gnostics came to believe that that was a dangerous pipe dream, and it was the understanding of symbolic mysteries that offers the way out. Modern Gnostics use techniques like meditation, dream interpretation, and the study of symbol systems to deepen one's inner experience (and many other techniques besides). All of these were part of Jung's teachings and practices, as was the reinterpretation of myth and culture. Which is what I'll be concentrating on here.

Hopefully we'll be in for not too hard a landing, but I have to say I don't see a return to the go-go days any time soon. Too much of our financial system is built on trickery and fraud. And though the eternal dream of something-for-nothing will always separate fools from their money, all of this is too big and noisy for things to go back to the way they were. Or perhaps this is all some long-standing master plan to institute a new, socialistic system on America (maybe the plan was to give the hucksters enough rope so they could all hang themselves and the "Free Market" along with them). I don't know and, really, I don't much care. I don't see a place for me in the world of materialism, dialectical or otherwise. I gotta pay bills and put food on the table just like anyone else, but I'll follow Carl Jung, not Karl Marx. Or Karl Rove.