What a year. Nothing seems certain anymore, we barely dare making plans a week or two in advance. Everything around us has changed. In July, we went back to sectioned off churches, kept apart from each other. Now, we cover our God-given faces when we meet Our Lord in the Eucharist. We worry about our jobs, and if not for us, for our neighbours. Very anxious times indeed. And yet, there are still the things that were, are, and will always be: like educating our children. And now more than ever, our task is to educate them to Life, not to fear and anxiety.
Last February, I met with a very insightful colleague at the university. This was not a Zoom meeting, we were face to face, and the coffee was real. We talked about his ideas on the roots of what is destabilising our society, and he advised me to read a book about Gnosticism. It was a tough read, on many accounts. Complex, extremely detailed, and offering a disturbing explanation about the deeply subversive essence of Gnosticism.
It is an incredibly attractive, suave doctrine, which catches the imagination with beautiful poetry. It offers a captivating fantasy imagery and an explanation for the world, for being, and for suffering. Its main tenets have existed since before Christ became Man, and the Catholic Church identified it very early on as profoundly anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-Life.
Gnosticism has this extraordinary ability to surface throughout the ages, to penetrate existing philosophical or religious systems and to pervert them. Manicheism and the Cathar religions are probably the best-known examples of gnostic perversions of Christianity. But arguments are made to say that prevalent modern philosophies are also impregnated with it, such as Existentialism.
The core of gnostic belief can be explained as being an ontological rejection of all things material as being demonic. The cosmos, the earth, and human bodies and souls are made by demons. In the human soul, according to gnostic doctrine, there is the spirit, a spark of the unknown, the unknowable, the remote, the foreign god, and that spark is trying to get back to the Alien God. So all that is material is evil, and to be loathed and rejected.
There is an essential dichotomy between creation (by demons) and the Alien God. There is no order to Creation as we, Catholics, understand it. The gnostic Alien God is the exact mirror image of Our Father, who made us in His image, who made the world, the universe, and who loves us infinitely to the point of sending his own Son to redeem us. Before speaking through various philosophies and perverted Christian heresies, Gnosticism rejected the Antique Greek wisdom of contemplating the Cosmos as being the source of harmony and order which man thrives to reach by living virtuously.
For the Gnostics, the world and the cosmos are chaos, and the Gnostic soul is very fearful, anxious, sad. It does not know, nor want, joy or peace. There is no beauty, no order, no harmony to look for in God’s creation. There is no betterment for man to achieve by grace and virtue.
I started to wonder about how much “Gnosticism” there may be around us, covertly penetrating our minds, our behaviours, moving us away from God’s love for us – planting anxiety in our hearts by physically disconnecting us from His Creation.
The technological virtual society certainly does not make us more joyful, does it? Do our teenagers know the simple joy of human conversation with friends, without seeking the thrill of social media? Can we still see a pure and frank smile on a stranger’s face? What about our food habits? Pre-cut apples in a bag, shipped half-way around the world are so easy, aren’t they? But we miss out on connecting the apple tree in an Irish orchard with the fruit we eat. We are losing our deep, harmonious, beautiful connection with God’s creation, and, sadly, with one another.
Being a Catholic is to love Jesus Christ’s Incarnation, and our own flesh and bones: God made us with soul and body, in a world we can touch, see, smell, hear and taste – not virtual beings with a spirit. We are forgetting that He gave us five senses to apprehend His World and to love it. Do we still love the body God gave us? Do we still want to LOVE LIFE? This is today’s educational challenge. This is the only way to fight off fear and anxiety.