Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My religion: gnosticism with a small g

gnostic with a small g

My religion is gnosticism, which makes me a gnostic.

Its main notion is gnosis

This term means, that which pertains to knowledge.

Gnostics believe that everyone is striving towards gnosis, which makes up all the motivations and goal directions of their behavior. But what signifies a gnostic as distinct from other is their awareness of and drive to immersion and acceptance in striving toward their gnosis. All gnostics believe in the liberty to choose ones own gnosis and to respect other people’s gnosis, not interfering with them. Gnosis can be liken to one's personal meta-narrative or overall story of life.

What does it mean to strive toward gnosis? It means taking all the loose facts and ambiguous judgments about life and connecting them into a coherent, personal, and unique picture, meta-narrative, or story, we call gnosis. This picture serves as a motivator toward a specific pattern of behavior that is perpetual. This is the striving aspect of gnosis; that is, a striving toward the meaningful and holistic picture of existence that we created. We are driven to become a reflection of our unique meaning, which we strive to continuously create in the world.

A quick definition of religion has nothing to do with the supernatural, and much to do with one’s attitude toward life: mainly one’s purpose and motivation. In this sense we are all religious. And our religion is the total of our purposes and motivations, our approach and attitudes toward life, weather we are aware of it or not. Everyone is a religious person in that respect. With that said, all religions whether organized or not have three parts: doctrine, ethics, and ritual. Now as this is cleared up we can move on.

The doctrine of gnosticism can be summed up with the term gnosis and our relation to it. gnostics believe that everyone including themselves are searching for gnosis in life. This is the whole aim of our existence and nothing more or less. Gnosis means knowledge. So we are all looking for knowledge. But what is knowledge? On the face of it, knowledge is understood to deal with blunt facts. But the actual definition is much broader then most think. To define it easily, knowledge can be broken up into two kinds: procedural and declarative. The former is knowledge of how to do something, while the latter is knowledge of something. So you have a procedural knowledge of how to ride a bike, and a declarative knowledge of what the capital of franc is. This way, knowledge becomes much broader then how most understand the term to mean. In this sense, knowledge becomes includes all human activates.

There are many kinds of knowledge that people strive to know or learn. The gnostic sees everyone’s actions as striving for a particular knowledge state. A knowledge state is state of mind either immediate or imagined, which brings some kind of closure to the person, while allowing for a furthering of progress in their behavior toward that closure. The knowledge state could be like a carrot at the end of a stick which drives us but ultimately is unreachable because of its very nature to motivate us. A simple analogy to illustrate this idea would have the closure as the purpose and the striving toward the purpose as the motivation. Therefore, we are motivated toward our purpose. It’s important to note that the person may or may not be aware of these motivations and purposes. Nevertheless, their behavior is geared in such a fashion because if it was not, there would be no other force propelling them to be any different from any other animal. Therefore, all people are all determined to reach a certain knowledge state called gnosis which brings motivation and purpose, tying up the all the facts, to life.

When it comes to ethics, gnostics understand liberty, self-awareness of one’s short comings and a full acceptance/complete immersion into their striving toward gnosis to be the three highest moral virtues. They believe understanding one’s limitations and personal/social biases helps one become more sensitive to the word and others, in turn increasing empathy and allowing for consideration of multiple perspectives. It is only through knowing our own limitations that we can become humble toward existence and find a place in it by following one’s own gnosis. Free will is thought by gnostics to be the state of mind in which one is fully aware of their own bias and limitations of their perceptions and understanding of the world. This helps one control the problem of ambiguity in life’s situations by allowing for it and finding within it one’s own unique of expression of it; this helps one in their striving for gnosis. The only constraint on social behavior is to respect others liberty to chose and pursue their gnosis, without the threat of one interfering with another’s endeavor. The gnostic also believes that the awareness of ones humility and ultimate ignorance helps deter negative behavior toward others, not with punishment, but with an awareness that can not only, perceive the world, but feel for it. The sense of ecology grows with this kind of self-awareness; one becomes integrated with the grander scheme of things by balancing the smallness of their perspective and understanding, with the grandness of their own personal striving toward gnosis. The personal striving aspect toward gnosis also helps in one’s behavior toward others by focusing on their own understanding of knowledge of the world, which puts their priorities in building and giving to the world, rather then taking from and destroying things in the world.

The ultimate ethical goal of a gnostic which separates them from others who are not gnostics, but nevertheless follow their gnosis, is to reach a mental state of acceptance and immersion into their striving toward gnosis. Acceptance means to want to follow the gnosis one has without any doubt that this is one’s own proper gnosis. This means not performing ones gnosis halfheartedly or with a divided attention filled with distractions. Immersion refers to fully engaging one’s self into the activity of striving toward gnosis. This means that one’s mind becomes lost in the experience, so as to feel a sense of “flow” or what some call “being in the zone”. This state of mind is very healthy and shows the pinnacle of a successful activity. This sate of mind allows a fuller and richer emotional experience of happiness because one’s sense of purpose is complete and accomplished.

As for ritual, gnostics simply follow or discover their gnosis and strive for it. This aspect is related to the ethics described above, but with the difference that ritual is focused more on personal transformation/striving, then on moral imperative or duty. That is, this aspect regards the individual’s own striving for gnosis, and not how the individual relates to others. The ritual one performs as a gnostic is to pursue their gnostic endeavor at all times. One is responsible for creating and applying meaning to their daily activities which directly reflect their striving for gnosis. This means that whatever gnosis one strives for, they need to make sure each activity they perform is related toward the gnosis. Nothing should be done that is not a part of their striving, no matter how trivial it may seem. Failure to do this can bring distractions which make one lessen their concentration on gnosis. Therefore, although the only ritual to be performed is one simply stated and broad, it required constant diligent engagement, so as to not falter in their concentration and striving.  

A gnostic fantasy of the ideal world would be one in where all people strive for gnosis in two basic ways: technology/science and  artistic/expressive endeavors. This would be a world where people would strive toward discovering the world through observation and experiment, or to use that knowledge to create new technology. Another group of people would peruse gnosis related to artistic expression. These areas also mix and overlap, creating many people who purse gnosis which blends aspects of the before mentioned endeavors. An example of an individual’s gnosis may be their will toward finding new ways of bettering or performing a particular sport. Another example may be a person’s love and wish to understand the biology of a living cell. One’s gnosis can be broad to include several activates. Take for instance the person who loves a particular sport, they may perform many different actives related to that specific sport or group of sports. One may pursue to learn the art and technicality of cinema; learning both how to use their intuition to create, as well as the mechanics of the cinematic process. Whether or not the ideal world is reached, it does not and should not infringe on a persons ability to follow their gnosis. The personal ideal always trumps the collective ideal. This prevents gnostics from ushering other to be like them.

There are countless possibilities for gnosis; all that is required is that the individual is fully immersed and accepting of their particular gnosis. The process of discovering one’s gnosis is simply a course of trial and error. It involves learning from others and trying out different activates or pursuits. This is all done by experiment: trying out different actives until the right one is found. This would take place in childhood and would be the equivalent of schooling. After discovering what the individual is right for, they pursue the activity as their occupation. With regard to changing gnosis, the beauty of finding the right gnosis is that with the proper understanding, they can apply their current gnosis and connect it toward a new activity, whilst reaming within the theme or category of the original gnosis. This is achieved through one’s creativity and the fact that all knowledge is connected and contingent on each other, although we may not be aware of this fact overtly. The possibilities for and endless array of gnosisi unsurprising considering that gnosis encompasses all human activities and behavior.    

An important note should be made addressing the word/term gnosticism itself. It is already used in the religious world. It is the name of the oldest Christian sect. gnosticism with a small g is not directly related in any way to Christianity. Rather, the choice of the term gnosticism is the definition of the word itself, meaning knowledge. gnosticism is always written with a small g to empathize this separation. The strict use of the small g also signifies humility by not giving the name the importance of a capital letter so as to not let the word become an icon, shadowing the practice of striving toward gnosis itself. This is meant to help people not to confuse worshiping the idea of gnosticism rather then fully immersing and accepting their own gnostic endeavors and pursuits.  

The purpose of human existence, to a gnostic, is the ongoing learning and application of knowledge toward their gnosis. It’s easy to see how the human being unlike any other animal is capable of not only transmitting genetic information, but cultural information and memes as well. This capability far removes us from the realm of pure animal, and stretches out our identity between some kind of biological creature and a tool or piece of artificial technology. The gnostic sees this drive to transmit cultural information as the process of striving for gnosis itself. Everyone is involved in the transmitting of culture, whether conscious of it or not. One of the main benefits of a gnostic awareness and lifestyle is that one becomes aware of their role as a transmitter of cultural information, and in turn become more considerate of it, careful not to cause negativity. To the gnostic, humans are the part of the universe which is reflected back upon it, so as to make the universe appear to itself. Questions of the nature of nature, and whether there is anything beyond it, are open to speculation and debate for gnostics. But our role in the universe and nature is very clear, striving toward gnosis through transmitting cultural information to oneself and others.

This concludes a brief overview of the dynamics of this new religious position, gnosticism and their followers, gnostics. Although the topic has not been exhausted in this essay, it has been/will be fleshed out in older/new essays.