America’s errors typically aren’t due to secularism or revived paganism but some form of Christian heresy.
The Supreme Court’s creation of a right to same-sex marriage seems mostly Gnostic, not rooted in concrete law but an ethereal empowering of the supreme self. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion reads like a spiritual journey towards self-revelation, or Gnosis. His mindset is maybe best encapsulated in his infamous 1992 abortion rights ruling, in which he mystically opined: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
Deep, and profoundly Gnostic. The Gnostic of early Christianity rejected Jesus Christ as a physical person, preferring Him as a spirit who transcended this world. Gnostics rejected the plain meaning of Scripture as the orthodox Church taught but developed their own parallel, secret doctrines discerned through superior wisdom and spirituality. Gnosticism was for self-elevated special people, not the common people to whom Early Christianity typically most appealed.
Gnosticism broadly defined is pervasive in modern American culture, although its devotees usually don’t fully realize the antecedents of their lofty spirituality. There is a formal Universal Gnostic Fellowship, which explains, “To be Gnostic is to believe we can know the Divine, we can learn the Divine’s purpose for us, we can approach the Divine in consciousness, we can move closer to the Divine… whomever and whatever the Divine may be.” Its doctrines are “optional,” and it proudly “has no dogma.”
But its dogma is really about rejecting external authority and fixed reality in favor of self-empowerment, self-actualization, and some level of self-deification. There are no rules, or sins, in Gnosticism, just the self’s endless quest for fulfillment through greater freedom and knowledge. Justice Kennedy is formally Catholic, but his journey to create his “own concept of existence” likely more than qualifies him for the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. Perhaps there’s a special chapter for jurists.
Gnosticism has always been around and certainly long a partner in much of American hyper-individualism. But its special moment may be now arriving in American culture. Same-sex marriage and transgenderism, joined now by post-genderism, insist individual thoughts, yearnings, and self-identities trump physical realities and universal truths. Instead, there is primarily the naked will.
There is another Christian-related theology that is partnering with old-fashioned Gnosticism in creating a new spiritual politics and view of government. It is the idea of governance as therapeutic affirmation rather than the more traditional and much more limited view of government as primarily for protection and civil order.
Christianity has historically taught that magistrates are divinely ordained to provide the police, military, and judicial functions of society, to ensure peace and safety for civil life. Other important needs in civilization were met by the church, families, commerce, charity, guilds, and other components of civil society. The state chiefly defended these actors from internal disorder and foreign attack.
In contrast, the therapeutic view of government is not so interested in these core hard functions of statecraft, which are punitive and often absolute in their judgments. Therapeutic government focuses instead on providing the essential material needs of its population and providing spiritual affirmation. Justice Kennedy emphasized the law’s obligation to provide “dignity” to all sexual orientations, without which “full liberty” cannot be guaranteed.
Besides affirming various sexualities and domestic arrangements, not to mention sex change operations, which the current administration and zeitgeist are quickly translating into essential rights, even for prison inmates, therapeutic government strives to guarantee what previously biological families and religious institutions primarily provided. Food, shelter, medical care, education, guaranteed benefits with or without labor, plus a vague but determined spirituality of constant self-affirmation that mitigates against guilt, regret, conviction of sin, or need for redemption beyond what the state can offer.
In this spirit, shortly after the 2010 election of a partially Republican Congress, liberal religious groups offered a “Circle of Protection” to the social welfare entitlement state against any limits on growth to ameliorate the deficit. Many of these religious groups disagree with or minimize the need for personal redemption. But they assign to the state a sacred purpose in guaranteeing to each person cradle to grave care, effectively negating personal responsibility, families, and private charity in favor of entitlements as virtual sacraments.
Government as permanent mommy originates mostly with the Social Gospel’s shift away from the heavenly kingdom towards a state provided earthly kingdom. But government as priest and church, guaranteeing “dignity,” and protecting with coercive force against any social disapproval of some domestic arrangements or self-created identities, is a newer cultural and spiritual development.
As administered by Justice Kennedy, the state is now a powerful partner in search of Gnosis, divorcing individuals from tradition, law, and organic communities outside government. Each person now has a virtual right towards self-divination. The question now becomes, how can society function with several hundred million unique, self-willed deities, each seeking its own lordship?