Modernist economics as gnosticism

The ancient Gnostics (such as the Manicheans Augustine got mixed up with in his youth) looked upon the material world as bad, a prison for the pure spirit. If only the spirit could be liberated into its purity, it would be wholly good.

Thus Gnostics rejected the Hebrew Old Testament as a book of materialistic immersion in the things of the world. They saw the Creator God depicted there as the passionate evil spirit responsible for imprisoning our souls in matter and subjecting them to the passions. The New Testament, according to the Gnostics, depicted the spiritual and peaceful God in the person of Jesus. (This remains a perennially attractive reading of the two texts; as far as I can tell, most of my Catholic students are taught some version of it in their early religious education.)

At first glance, it is not easy to see the connection between this otherworldly spiritualism and the quite worldly materialism that dominates modern life. The key to recognizing the continuity lies in understanding that for moderns, the spirit is more or less identified with the will. The ancient Gnostics saw that the world was not as they wished it to be, and created a fictional world of pure spirit as an alternative. They avoided acknowledging that this other world was the construct of their escapist will. As Augustine saw quite clearly, the Manicheans refused to admit that there could be anything wrong with their own wills, and placed the blame on the flesh that a malevolent power had trapped them within. Moderns refuse to accept that there could possibly be a problem with their own wills, but for a different reason: for them the will is the source of all values. Both ancient and modern gnosticisms deny that the world is good, but the modern form acknowledges that this is an assertion of the will against the world, and proposes to take the world in hand and set it straight.

Read the rest here. I don’t know if I agree or not – because I don’t yet know much about modernism, gnosticism, or economics. But it’s worth a look, because it’s argued by the Pope, who is a wise man. Gnosticism,¬†incidentally, keeps coming up, so perhaps I should read up on it sometime.

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2 thoughts on “Modernist economics as gnosticism

  1. that’s good source–I’ve often wondered myself–gnosticism seems to cover a wide territory. Harold Bloom says that modern evangelicalism is gnostic–and David Hart says the same thing. So anyway, I am going to print that column which uses Ratzinger. What led you to this topic?

    • I have Front Porch Republic on RSS because someone linked to them from a distributist site; they did that because the writers for FPR are localists.

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