Quotable (#76)

John Gray on contemporary Gnosticism:

A widespread wrong belief today is that knowledge will free us from our material nature. Lots of people—I would say the majority of educated people in Western Europe—now assume some version of a materialist picture of the world and themselves. But still they want to break free from the prison of matter. And I think this picture, as I try to show by the history of ideas, is a kind of Gnosticism. […] The two elements of Gnosticism as a religion were: Humans are spirits trapped in a material body, the flesh. Secondly, Gnosticism believes that we can get out through a special kind of knowledge. That was a mystical knowledge in earlier times, but later on that got attached to science. Some people would claim that Gnosticism can’t be reconciled with science, but on the contrary — it’s very strong in scientific thinking. […] The prevalent thinking is: we’ve discovered we’re trapped in our bodies, so what human beings really are is minds. The way out of that dark cosmos under whose laws we stand, which force us to work, which force us to age and to die, is to acquire a special kind of knowledge. Then we would no longer be enslaved by matter. That is Gnosticism in a nutshell. But Gnosticism, even in its pre-scientific forms, is a radical error. […] It is an almost purely paranoid religion. Monotheism is also paranoid because anything that happens is known to God — everything has meaning. By paranoia I mean the discovery — or, rather, the invention — of meaning where it doesn’t exist. It is the perception of meaning where it is not.

(For someone who attaches themselves to the ‘negative capability’ of doubt, he seems peculiarly certain about what this syndrome means, and where meaning ends.)

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