We cannot understand what’s going on with gay marriage without understanding the spiritual pathology of our Gnostic cultural revolution.
“You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she still will hurry back.”—Horace
For those of us watching a country race toward madness, this insight of the Roman poet is a last ray of hope. Whether it’s progressives ignoring the natural laws of economics (for instance, the law of scarcity, the law of unintended consequences, or the paradox of subsidies) or the LGBT gang rejecting nature’s dictates on the reproduction system, the common thread is the denial of obvious truths of nature. To be told what you see in nature is not what you see is indeed madness. Horace’s words provide some comfort: nature has the last vote and will have its day.
Hand in hand with the rejection of nature, of course, is the necessary sacralization of madness. “[M]adness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring,” said Marilyn Monroe. In a nation catechized by pop culture, such words ring truer than that of an ancient poet.
Like most pop-culture dingbats, Monroe was simply absorbing and reflecting the fashionable air she was breathing, sentiments of New Left thinkers like psychiatrist R. D. Laing, who believed madness and insanity are honest adjustments to an insane and mad world. Such a view—assuming the world is mad or insane—revolts against the inherited understanding of nature, that it is something ordered and good, that it musters the mind to something intrinsically worthwhile. Our current “logicide,” to build off the brilliant essay by Stella Morabito, is directly related to this denial of nature and the capacity of words to identify its various beings, or rationality to make sense of them.
Nothing testifies to the race toward madness and the revolt against nature better than the entrenchment of gay marriage and transgenderism as acceptable cultural institutions. Now that the Supreme Court has made gay marriage a right of every citizen, a revolution against nature begun a few decades back has officially succeeded. That revolution replaces a nature-based culture with a Gnostic one. What does this mean? (For a fuller treatment of the Gnostic revolution of our culture, go here.)
Nature-Based Reasoning and Culture
To set up our reflection on Gnostic-based reasoning, let’s look at a simple example of nature-based reasoning. Nature bestows upon our humanity about a dozen bodily systems. These systems each require the external world to conform to its needs. The skeletal and muscular systems, for instance, dictate the nature of our furniture, housing plans, clothing, and tools. Institutions develop around these basic human needs.
Marriage institutionalizes the reproductive system in the same way a restaurant or dinner table institutionalizes the digestive system.
The digestive system is particularly instructive, because perhaps more than any other system its needs have resulted in cultural institutions the world over. A Bob Evans restaurant institutionally manifests the demands of the digestive system. The purpose of the digestive system is to consume food that breaks down into energy for the body, and Bob Evans formalizes this biological truth. Cultural variances are granted, but the basic natural order of chewing food and swallowing it is universal.
Let’s put this Bob Evans analogy on the back burner for a minute and let it simmer, and let’s apply this nature-based reasoning to another system: the reproductive system.
Marriage institutionalizes the reproductive system in the same way a restaurant or dinner table institutionalizes the digestive system. Again, cultural variances are granted, but the basic natural order of male sex organ depositing seed into female sex organ in order to propagate the species is simply what the reproductive organs and system are all about.
True, nature introduced attraction to the mix to draw male and female together, but, like tastes in food, the attraction fosters a greater biological purpose. Historically, societies have wrestled with the tension between the pure biological purpose and the element of attraction, in regards to both reproduction and digestion, but generally when the attraction becomes totally disconnected from the biological purpose, this has been seen as indulgence, gluttony, promiscuity, and immoderate behavior.
Such nature-based reasoning is downright offensive in a post-’60s world where sexuality has indeed been disconnected from its biological and natural purpose and rests in personal attraction alone. The spiritual pathology of this cultural revolution is exactly this revolution toward Gnostic paradigms of thinking, particularly its understanding of sexual love.
Gnosticism’s Revolt against Nature
In Western history, both philosophy and religion took for granted the existence of a nature known by reason or revelation. Nature was seen as inherently good. Even the scientific revolution, with all its “nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” pretensions, still flattered nature by attempting to imitate it.
For the Gnostic, the natural order—the known universe—is a vast cosmic mistake.
One movement in Western history, however, began with the premise that nature is inherently evil, and that is Gnosticism. For the Gnostic, the natural order—the known universe—is a vast cosmic mistake. Materiality itself only exists as the result of a primordial cosmic fall. All should be one and undifferentiated, but after the fall of the one into the many, matter came into being as the stuff which makes individuality and distinctiveness possible. Through matter we can now talk of differentiated beings, a world into “me’s” and “others”. Matter allows for the “other”-ification of the world. This, for the Gnostic, is the source of all evils.
Distinctions we would think are natural, such as the distinction between male and female or the distinct natural necessity of male-female coupling for procreation, are deemed corrupt. Likewise are the institutions arising from these distinctions—like marriage or family—inherently false and delusive. Such systems of this fallen world, and many others, only conspire to create prison cells for our minds, trapping us into perverse thinking.
The Gnostic believed an elite few had within themselves a spark (sometimes referred to as the higher Self) of the original One. Salvation occurred only when the higher Self awoke to the prison cell of this world order—with all its systems and institutions—and returned to its primordial state of oneness, where no distinctions existed.
Rebellion against the natural order was thus salvific, a liberation of the true Self. This is why Gnosticism has historically gone hand in hand with the rejection of marriage and childbearing, as well as the embrace of bisexuality, androgyny, and communitarianism. Anything rooted in the natural arrangement of things—property claims, gender distinctions, procreation, natural cultural institutions—shackles the higher Self.
From this premise, the Gnostics abstracted sexual love from gender, marriage, and baby-making, proposing what they thought was a higher and more transcendent view of love.
The New View of Love
Gnostics propose erotic love as the antidote to traditional, nature-based love. Erotic love centers on Self. It must center on Self because “other” (otherwise known as “neighbor” or “spouse”) is a deceptive fraud existing only in a world of distinctions. In the primordial, pre-fall world there is only the One, and my higher Self is a manifestation of that One. The liberated Self leaves this world of “others” and neighbors and spouses behind as the false delusions they are.
Gnostics propose erotic love as the antidote to traditional, nature-based love. Erotic love centers on Self.
In the Gnostic myth, Lady Sophia archetypically represented the awakened aspect of Self reaching down to draw each fallen Self back into the primordial Oneness. Some Gnostic sects practiced a “bridal chamber” ceremony to ritualize the restoration of the fallen Self to the Unity, through a Sophia stand-in, a sacred prostitute. The stand-in mate was nothing more than a symbolic representation of my personal Sophia.
Where nature-based sexual love calls for self-sacrifice and the suppression of internal passions—precisely because of what it means for civil society (adultery has been a crime in most societies)—Gnostic love was all about the inner passion and yearning for a transcendent Sophia. The Gnostic is ever in love with love, always moving on melancholically from one stand-in to another, never attaining his desire except in brief moments of ecstasy, glimpses of the divine vision. Their promiscuity is their ached quest for the liberated Self. Those who think gay marriage is about opening up a traditional institution to all people are kidding themselves (this is for you, Justice Kennedy!) and haven’t been paying attention to the gay movement. It’s about a new, Self-actualizing, deliberately non-procreative, Gnostic understanding of love.
Donna Minkowitz, lesbian author of “Ferocious Romance,” perfectly describes Gnostic love in a passage describing one of her many liaisons with different partners: “Pleasure without restriction. Vulnerability without exploitation. To me, to most of us, gay love means all these things and more – an ecstatic knowledge, almost a gnosis, that sex is possible outside of the horrifying thickets in which the rest of the culture has hedged it. And that we ourselves can get to it! Visions of a totally satisfying oral bliss, what Ginsberg called ‘caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,’ the mind-stealing kisses of ‘human seraphim,’ a physical joy beyond the bounds of anything most people experience, almost beyond the bounds of desire itself, my God! no wonder people fear us! But they should not fear. They should open to the Ultimate, as we have done.”
I guess when my wife becomes a quadriplegic, or old and wrinkly, or her body changes, and a flirtatious glance from miss-hotty-at-the-bar opens me up to the “Ultimate,” I should jump right in. After all, I was born with hot-chick-who’s-not-my-wife-attraction. Don’t judge me! Sorry, wife, your wheelchair is a horrifying thicket. And sorry, son, but my decision to commune with the Ultimate just put you on track to be suicidal, depressed, and more likely poor. You’re just one of the horrifying thickets on the bush of that institution called marriage.
It’s about a new, Self-actualizing, deliberately non-procreative, Gnostic understanding of love.
My sarcasm misses the point. A bigger battle is going on here. Hurting demanding children and boring spouses is acceptable collateral damage to an understanding of love rooted in internal passion, or “what I’m attracted to.” It’s all about love understood as liberating, ecstatic, and salvific, which is why sexual identity comes to dominate self-identity. Only through non-procreative sexuality—with whoever happens to be standing in as the archetypical object of my transcendent yearning—is the Self truly authentic.
The fallout of such a view of sex—the treatment of melancholic longing (i.e. depression and suicide) not as a danger but a feature, the hurt of broken relationships, the abandonment of children to instability merely becomes first tolerated, next accepted, then standardized, and finally consecrated.
Back to Bob Evans
Our Bob Evans analogy has simmered enough. It’s a good analogy because the iconoclastic tornado of the 1960s has not (yet?) done to the digestive system and its institutions what it has done to the reproductive system. Perhaps we can restore some sanity to our thinking by recalling what normalcy looks like vis a vis absurdity.
I just eat in an alternative way. Who are they to impose their standards on me?
Let’s say I determined the biological “rules” of the digestive system were oppressive. Let’s say I preferred to glory in the taste of food alone, but not its digestion, so that I vomited everything I ate. Let’s say I got my nutrition intravenously, so that wasn’t an issue.
Society currently calls this an “eating disorder,” but isn’t such thinking oppressively bound by the natural “rules” of the digestive system, the “rules” of our biology? And isn’t the very existence of Bob Evans nothing more than an institutional micro-aggression, daily reminding me of my so-called “disorder”?
Well, one way to remedy the situation is to blow up the whole system and its biological assumptions. Perhaps I should go into a Bob Evans, eat, then vomit wildly over the table. As patrons looked over at me in disgust, I could ask them what’s so different about me? I just eat in an alternative way. Who are they to impose their standards on me? You say what I do is “icky.” Maybe I think it’s icky the way you eat!
Then when the manager of Bob Evans ushers me out of the building, that’s when I begin a movement to habituate society into the belief that vomiting after dinner is normal, that I was born with this way of eating, and that no one should label my proclivities “disordered” or biologically perverse.
Eventually, I could get the law to force restaurants to allow alternative eating, i.e., vomiting wildly as a coda to dinner.
I could host vomiting parades, get Hollywood to have 25 percent of its characters be vomiters, have Bill Maher and all the cool late-night people sneer at swallowers as prudish stiffs. Eventually, I could get the law to force restaurants to allow alternative eating, i.e., vomiting wildly as a coda to dinner.
But what about biology? What about the digestive system and its clear biological purpose? Ahhh, this is where our Gnosticism comes in handy, because all nature-based or flesh-based “systems” are inherently unjust and oppressive, creating prison cells from which true redemption demands an escape. In a way, the vomiter is the truly liberated one, one of the few not oppressed by his biology.
A Critique of Nature-Rebellion
Matching people against the standards set by biological realities has always been a trustworthy way of identifying disorders, and in the end it actually helped people. When that standard is removed as oppressive, people will be left to wallow in an understanding of humanity rooted not in nature but self-determination alone. Psychology categorized homosexuality a disorder until 1973 for a reason, because it was and remains a breach of the natural reproductive order.
Now that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage for all states, and the Rubicon of nature-rebellion has been completely crossed, what real authority remains to declare anything a disorder?
Now that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage for all states, and the Rubicon of nature-rebellion has been completely crossed, what real authority remains to declare anything a disorder? As many conservative commentators have pointed out, what argument remains to say “body integrity identity disorder” is not simply the misnomer for transabled people who can only live out their “authentic” identity once they’ve cut off the limb they feel shouldn’t exist?
Of course this is madness, but if madness is sacralized through a wave of pop-culture affirmation and nature is chased out with pitchfork, what real argument does society have to declare anything a disorder? We already allow a male who believes himself female to amputate his sex organ. Why not amputation of limbs?
Every day people are born with a predisposition toward disorders from an ordered biological system: alcoholism, heart-disease, cancer, homosexuality, eating disorders, body integrity identity disorder, transgenderism, and whatnot. A caring society seeks to help such troubled souls. Once we disconnect care from a biological standard, where does that leave us?
It leaves a vacuum in which it appears the self is the final determiner of meaning, but in reality—because the idea of a lone, meaning-choosing Self is a fiction, an existentialist pretense, given our true existence in community from the moment of conception—something will fill the void and manipulate those choices. When anarchy of thought prevails, with no acknowledgment of natural, universal truths to strive for or guide us, the rule of the strong alone prevails.
Plato knew this long ago. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when nature becomes deconstructed to the point of vacuum status, something will step in and fill the void. This is the exact foundation for Nietzsche’s superman. It cannot be otherwise. In our culture, the role of strong man has been assumed by pop culture, which has truly tyrannized the American mind in a way unprecedented with the rise of 24/7 media saturation.
One can only wait for Horace’s dictum to play out, and pray nature hurries back.
Peter M. Burfeind is a campus pastor at the University of Toledo and author of “Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy.” He blogs at gnosticamerica.com. Follow him on Twitter.