No matter who you are, you might be swayed these days by a new kind of Gnosticism.
Ancient Gnosticism was this whacko offshoot from Christianity that was all about secret knowing. At the base of all that Gnosticism taught was this idea that the world had a secret, underlying truth that only the knowers could know. And if you don’t know what the knowers know, you’re not participating in the divine. You’re like a non-playable character, a rube. Gnosticism had no evidence to base itself on. You just had to know. You just had to connect the invisible dots with even more invisible lines.
We have different beliefs today that echo the attitude of Gnosticism. Two particularly trendy new Gnosticisms are coming into focus these days. One is a kind of ethnic gnosticism, and the other is conspiracy gnosticism. Both of these assume that virtue and salvation come from having just the right insight, regardless of the reality before them.
Missing from the old Gnosticism was teaching about sin and repentance. Instead, pupils heard about how the world they saw was cloaked in evil, and enlightenment about this truth was our chief spiritual goal. How do we achieve this enlightenment? Not through Jesus and his word, but through personal insight and perception. Rely on what you see. You’re probably right. Now share that with someone else.
As coined by Dr. Voddie Baucham, ethnic gnosticism is “the phenomenon of people believing that somehow because of ones ethnicity that one is able to know when something or someone is racist.” This temptation might creep up on you if you are passionate about social justice (a concept that is rooted in the Bible, though how we should carry it out is debatable). You want to feel “woke,” so you look for ways to demonstrates your knowledge of what is and is not racist. While knowing racism when you see it is important, the pursuit can be taken too far.
If I am a wealthy white person, am I racist? Now, part of the explanation for my wealth may be inheritance going back to a slave-owning ancestor, or living in a part of town that was once segregated, or being picked over a black person by a racist boss. However, whenever these things are assumed without proof, an ethnic gnosticism accuses me of evils I have not committed, based, ironically, on my race. And even if my great-grandfather did own slaves, does that make me guilty of racism? Ethnic Gnosticism affirms that I am. It also affirms that, the more minority groups a person belongs to, the more oppressed they certainly are, and the more they deserve from the rest of us in return, whether it be attention or money or power.
You can see how such attitudes can breed a lot of resentment, division, and failed reconciliation.
Conspiracy gnosticism is when people cultishly cling to conspiracy theories about what’s really going on in the world, usually involving their political enemies. The rest of us rubes rely on mainstream info, none of which can be trusted at all. What can be trusted is secret, marginal, underground sources of info. If you believe this info, your eyes have been opened to the truth.
Conspiracy theories can blend just enough truth to make the entire story believable. For example, we all know Jeffrey Epstein had a child sex trafficking ring. True. We know he was found dead and reports later confirmed it was murder covered up as a suicide. True. That does not mean that everyone who ever took a photo with him was part of it, or was part of the conspiracy to take his life. That is where theories become dangerous.
As Kenneth Tanner says, “obsession with wild speculations steals energy from the sort of practical imitation that the Spirit empowers in us when we take time to contemplate the life of Jesus: care for the stranger, the prisoner, the sick, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, the sex slave, the widow, and the orphan. It’s [more exciting] to tell others about a fearsome secret cabal that controls everything and everyone.”
The Problem With These
Read through the Revelation of John, and you’ll find an important message: There is the world we see, and there is the real world going on behind it. There are hidden truths that need to be revealed. However, those truths aren’t hidden by a secret plot of world governments or secret attributes of an ethnic group. They’re hidden by our failure to see the spiritual state of the world and the Messiah’s plan to redeem it.
Put on the glasses of the prophets. You’re not going to find a secret network of lizard people. You’re not going to see oppression wherever you want. But you will see that the world is upside down, we’re all messed up, and one day the future can and will look very different.
Sadly, two things that are very real and horrible in the world are systemic racism and underground sex trafficking. That doesn’t mean that every white police officer is a racist. That doesn’t mean that everyone who ever knew a sex trafficker is also a sex trafficker. The Coronavirus is out to get us. It doesn’t mean it was created by a group of people also out to get us. Not everything has to be a giant secret.
Ancient Gnosticism diluted Jesus to the level of an angel. New Gnosticisms do this as well. I’ve heard a lot less about Jesus from people who get wrapped up in these politicized philosophies. He doesn’t seem to be part of the solution any more.
Your salvation will not come from your secret experience or your secret knowledge you discovered through your amazing research skills. Knowing the divine will not come from suffering alone, or from your intellectual pursuit alone. It comes from the son.
For every false claim you make about what another group of people is doing, or suffering through, you delegitimize everything else you say. If you want to have a Bible study with people because you believe you know the truth, don’t be surprised if they don’t believe you because you spent the last month sharing conspiracy theories.
Not everything is a secret plot. Stop calling Tom Hanks a pedophile because he was once in a photo with Jeffrey Epstein. Stop calling white people racist who use the word “picnic” (which is a French word not associated with use of the n-word). Stop trying to see evil where evil has yet to go. Why?
It harms your reputation
It confuses real efforts to fight evil
It distracts us with nothing to show for it
So if you want to go on the hunt for oppression and injustice and schemes, they are everywhere, but you have to prove it and demonstrate it. Otherwise you’re being gnostic. You’re assuming that people just have to know things like you do.
Here’s an example: Very recently the conspiracy theory group QAnon has been circulating the #savethechildren hashtag with accusations about Pizzagate, Wayfair, and other alleged child sexual exploitation rings. Yet not only is there no evidence of these, there have been zero children rescued from these alleged rings. Meanwhile, actual child advocacy groups—IJM, A21, The Polaris Project, World Vision—are actually dedicating their time, money, energy, and their lives to save children and rehabilitate them.
But helping those causes would mean sacrificing some of your own time, money, and energy. Isn’t it much easier to just like and share a conspiracy post with a hashtag nobody can say no to?
Oh and by the way, you know the “mainstream media”? You can thank them for exposing many of the sex abuse scandals in the world. Hollywood even made a movie about one, called Spotlight. Check it out sometime.