By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
We never see it, I think out loud, unlessthere’s a tear in the fabric of our “reality” that suddenly reveals the Man Behind the Curtain — as when in The Truman Showthe spotlight falls from a clear blue sky and lands at Jim Carrey’s feet.
“ ‘There’s a crack in the world,’ ” adds Hoeller, quoting Leonard Cohen. “That’s how the light gets in.” The bishop smiles a Mona Lisa smile. “Yes,” he adds. “You see, to cite another chapter from the Matrixseries, the Architect of this illusion is not all that skillful. There are flaws in the blueprint, fissures in the foundation, through which we can glimpse the supernal reality. But we must be very attentive, because as soon as a crack appears, the enemies of gnosis — enemies of a direct human perception of the true nature of God and man — begin to paper or plaster it over.”
Hoeller is speaking of the Demiurge and his cohorts, the Archons, and I cannot stop myself from asking the agnosticquestion: Are we talking allegorically here, or should I double-bolt the door tonight? His answer provokes a shiver, and makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan should be added to the list of Gnostic filmmakers. Hoeller describes these “enemies of gnosis” as “forms of transpersonal consciousness which have been actualized in some way and have an existence outside the individual psyche.”In other words, they’re not simply “in our heads.”
For the skeptical (and all Gnostics begin as skeptics), it may be worth noting that no less an authority on human psychology than Carl Jung wrote that flying saucers were an actualized projection of both nuclear-age anxiety and the deep longing for wholeness. They were not merely in our heads either.
Unlike Kabbalah, the mystical strain of Judaism whose mythos of divine emanations and scattered sparks of God-stuff closely parallels its own, Gnosticism doesn’t have a celebrity spokesperson like Madonna. That may be partly because its sobering epiphanies don’t lend themselves to a feel-good conclusion, and partly because Gnostics tend to observe the Zen axiom that “Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.” But the Gnostic tradition is clearly enjoying a revival by way of popular culture and cyberspace, and the Gnostic worldview, while underground for ages, has always been “in vogue” among the intelligentsia. A bold case could be made that gnosis is the ultimate form of hip,in the sense of knowing the score: You couldn’t ask for a headier jolt of inside dope than that the god of this world is a fraud. From William Blake to William S. Burroughs, from Goethe to Henry Miller to P.K. Dick, anyone who’s ever sought his illumination straight from the source, or doubted that the evil in the world was owed to the “Original Sin” of one errant couple, has felt the Gnostic twinge. It may be true, as Hoeller asserts, that “any serious artist is already half a Gnostic.” Certainly, any serious comedian is, comedy being the rearview mask of angst.
For a “man of the cloth,” Hoeller can be irreverently funny, a sort of ecclesiastical H.L. Mencken. On the eve of the millennium, he hosted an “End of the World” party that included such “guests” as clueless ’50s TV prognosticator Criswell (raised from the dead) and outré diva Tequila Mockingbird. I once heard him quip at a Friday-evening lecture that “a more suitable doctrine for modern life than utilitarianismwould be futilitarianism.”I ask him if he thinks that cutting-edge comedians like Lenny Bruce and Sam Kinison were Gnostics in their own way. “Well, yes,” he replies. “Freud wrote that our reaction to a joke was an explosion in the psyche. When a person gives up the attempt to make sense out of a world that is largely bereft of it, it’s liberating. The realization that the machine is defective frees us from the constant temptation to tinker with it, and lightens the soul.”
Well, maybe not for everyone. The pessimism implicit in the Gnostic outlook has made it a tough sell from the first century onward, with critics asking, essentially, “Where’s the comfort in a religion that says the inmates are running the asylum?” Hoeller emphatically does not back away from the controversy when he fumes, “I’m fed up with hearing everyone chant ‘I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.’ Well, everything is not okay!”And he’s decidedly not prescribing his doctrine as an opiate for the masses when he cautions, “When encountering Gnosticism in the spiritual supermarket, we may be tempted to embrace some parts of its worldview and disregard others . . . such as the presence of evil in the very fabric of the universe.” Although it may be more accurate to characterize Gnosticism as mystical existentialismthan the nihilism it has often been labeled, it’s clearly an acquired and rarefied taste, like absinthe or Nick Drake or, to cite another cinematic exorciser, David Lynch.