Monday, December 29, 2014

Voegelin and the Two Ways

I am in the midst of reading a number of excellent books, including several by Eric Voegelin, a brilliant writer, who has been recommended to me before.  Blog reader Marianne Bacon is the latest to suggest him - and I'm glad she did, as I've been devouring whatever ebooks I could find of his since last week.  He gives a name to the nameless heresy of our age, and writes profoundly about what I've been calling Unreality, and he analyzes it philosophically, psychologically and historically.

I plan on writing about Voegelin at length and in detail soon.

But here's what he seems to be saying in a nutshell.

There are two primary ways societies organize themselves.  One is in accordance with transcendent truths and with the truths of the human psyche.  The other is in accordance with Unreality, subjective systems that reject transcendent truths and that brutalize the human psyche in order forcibly to reshape it to suit the society's ends.  Socially we see this most clearly in totalitarian states, and in fiction Orwell captured it in his novel 1984, which is about the exhaustive and violently dehumanizing attempt to keep Reality suppressed so that the arbitrary Unreality of the party can hold sway.  Voegelin calls this Gnosticism and traces it back to the original Gnosticism of ancient times.

What he says is crucial to today's insanity, for our society has now become so utterly "Gnostic", and so absurdly devoted to the Unreal that even a person's sex is denied.  Neither our chromosomes nor our genitalia determine what sex we are anymore - or so the Lie goes.  Men are not men and women are not women.  Even the most fundamental distinction in our very nature is up for grabs.  And that's just the most startling example of an age wherein we honestly believe that reality is whatever we call it, that our powers of creating fiction are limitless, that our Unreality is real, and by God we'll crush anyone who points out, even meekly, that it isn't.  We are even forced to believe that marriage, for example, is not a real thing but a fictional creation, a merely subjective human whim that bears no relation to anything beyond itself.

As I say, I'll write more about this later, for it goes to the heart of the single most fundamental distinction between people these days.  That distinction is not Christian vs. Secular, it's Gnostic vs. Realist.  You'll recall that much of my critique of Christopher West and the Sex Magic he's peddling is that it's Gnostic.  I called it that long before reading Voegelin, and it shows that even those within the Church can be as devoted to Unreality as those without - sometimes more so.

Again, that which divides us (at least to an outside observer) is not our position within or without the Catholic Church.  What divides us is this ...

1. Do we think of reality as something ordered, awesome and transcendent, a Truth to which we struggle to correspond, both in thought and action (and for Christians through worship and prayer), as something beyond us, which can only be approached with humility?


2. Do we think of reality as a subjective construct that we must work very hard to maintain, even if we must use brutal or immoral means to do so?

In other words, do we approach reality with humility or with pride?  This is the fundamental question at the root of everything Voegelin says.

And many of my friends, even my Devout Catholic friends, are of the second camp, prideful, Unrealists, Inconsequentialists.  They find themselves in the wrong branch of the divide - perhaps through no fault of their own, for our society is Gnostic and is as viciously insistent on its Untruths in 2014 as the Soviet Union ever was in 1954, when Voegelin was writing.  It's in the air we breathe - even (perhaps especially) in the air inside our weird suburban shopping mall parishes.

Meanwhile, here are some aspects of this modern Gnosticism of Unreality that I've noticed ...

UNREALITY (Gnosticism) =

  • Lack of boundaries (since we create our own reality, reality's boundaries are always shifting)
  • Formlessness & vagueness (form fades with the denial of metaphysics, and without form nothing can be defined)
  • Exhaustive effort to maintain the fiction (my fellow neurotics and addicts - you know what I mean by this)
  • Contempt for the real world (Unrealists are very angry that their Cloud Cities are always evaporating in the heat of that real thing we call the sun)
  • Ingratitude (you can only be grateful for a gift, and if you work very hard to make reality, reality is never a gift)
  • Addictive behavior (addicts are clear examples of people devoted to their own make-believe, even if it kills them or kills others)
  • Inversion - light becomes dark (a demonic inversion always results from these points)
  • No humility - as you are the god of your own reality

These are simply notes, first impressions of a profoundly important writer that I'm very grateful I've discovered.


Sebonde said...

You insist upon sexual difference only because you are a pervert.

Artur Rosman said...

The introduction written by my former professor remains the best one volume guide to Voegelin's work. There are still some cheap used copies around:

Adrianne said...

Thanks for this Kevin; especially the list. It's interesting that the first two items, boundary-lack & formlessness, are two things that move humans toward violence (according to Rene Girard).

Anonymous said...

This conflict seems to be one of the fundamentals of history: Socrates vs. Sophists, Jesus vs. Pharisees, Christians vs. Gnostics, and (today) Traditionists vs. Modernists (Chesterton hints at this in his introduction to the Book of Job). Despite how angry we the Devote get from the modern insanity, we must remember, in the words of Koheleth, "Nothing is new under the Sun". Let's remember not to endanger our own souls by hating and mistreating those who are simply the victims of the Enemy. Fight and attempt to correct their nonsense, no doubt we should. But to lose Grace over it, no we shouldn't.
I love this blog, Mr. O' Brein, but sometimes (if one doesn't read your posts all together), your writing can cause me to panic and despair about others and the world itself.
- Daniel

John Henry Lamming said...

For what it's worth, elements of social reality are constructed by consensus. I'm thinking of things like borders, laws, currency, and those insubstantial memetic beings we call corporations. These are all "real" things, in that they affect our lives when we cross them, even though they are nothing more than phantoms, summoned up by acts of sorcery. Could it be that a life among phantoms makes it easier to believe that everything is a phantom?

Kevin O'Brien said...

But all not elements of social reality are constructed by consensus. A society's geography is not, its resources are not, and the transcendent reality to which the society orients itself is not.