Pastoring, philosophizing, and analyzing require gnostic insight

A portrait of Karl Marx.

Karl Marx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note: Very little of what I write on this blog is aimed at the pastors at my church. For that matter, relatively few of this blog’s readers go to my church! My target is broader.

Read British historian Paul Johnson explaining the gnosticism in Freud and Marx:

Freud was a gnostic. He believed in the existence of a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of things….

Gnosticism has always appealed to intellectuals. Freud offered a particularly succulent variety. He had a brilliant gift for classical allusion and imagery at a time when all educated people prided themselves on their knowledge of Greek and Latin….

Marxism, now for the first time easing itself into the seat of power, was another form of gnosticism claiming to peer through the empirically-perceived veneer of things to the hidden truth beneath…. Marx had pronounced, ‘The final pattern of economic relationships as seen on the surface…is very different from, and indeed quite the reverse of, their inner but concealed essential pattern.’ On the surface, men appeared to be exercising their free will, taking decisions, determining events. In reality, to those familiar with the methods of dialectical materialism, such individuals, however powerful, were seen to be mere flotsam, hurled hither and thither by the irrestible surges of economic forces. The ostensible behaviour of individuals merely concealed class patterns of which they were almost wholly unaware but powerless to defy….

Marx, Freud, Einstein all conveyed the same message to the 1920s: the world was not what it seemed. The senses, whose empirical perceptions shaped our ideas of time and distance, right and wrong, law and justice, and the nature of man’s behaviour in society, were not to be trusted. Morever, Marxist and Freudian analysis combined to undermine, in their different ways, the highly developed sense of personal responsibility, and of duty toward a settled and objectively true moral code, which was at the centre of nineteenth-century European civilization.     (Paul Johnson, from Modern Times, revised 1992 edition)

Think about this for a moment. Johnson makes his case that Marx and Freud were two men who persuaded people with their thunderclaps of well-articulated, special insight into how things really are. The senses cannot be trusted. Motives and forces are at work, and they can neither be helped nor stopped.

When you say things and do things, special people have insight into what you really meant and what you were really doing and why you were doing it.

Isn’t all that very, very similar to the claims of many pastors today? They know exactly how your (rarely defined) “heart” is bent. They have knowledge of hidden workings of your mind, your will, and your emotions.

You work hard because you worship money — it’s this internal idolatry, hidden within your external pretentions of providing for your family and being responsible.

Isn’t this exactly what people fallaciously do when they “read” assumptions and presuppositions “into” what others say?

It’s an assumption if the insight does not match with the gnostic theory.

It’s an insight if the assumption matches with the gnostic theory.

Well, perhaps Freud and Marx have won the day. I find it very difficult not to think in the very ways that Johnson describes.

Now think about this from another angle: Could it be that Christian thinkers, from Augustine to the “heart doctor” Puritans, set the foundation for Freud’s and Marx’s gnostic mode of thinking?

I admit — thinking of Augustine and Puritans in gnostic terms seems a little unlikely. However, looking inward, to motives, rather than outward, to actions, is essential to Christianity.

Maybe Johnson isn’t entirely accurate with his use of the word “gnostic”? But then again, I find it hard not to think about any available school of thought without some reference to a “hidden” structure of what’s really going on with and within humans.

I’m still thinking this through. What do you think?

Related articles ↓

Augustine, the former gnostic, and his many heretical views (

What Is a Gnostic? – by Stephan A. Hoeller


Agnostic and Gnostic


Wrong having Gnosticism?


(A)theism and (a)gnosticism


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