Breaking the Vessels of Power: The Politics of Freedom

Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”

—Karl Marx

Since its earliest origins, with men such as Valentinus, Carpocrates and Basilides, Gnosticism had sought above all a non-religious or an a-religious attitude, for it was anxious to bypass the absurd antinomy of faith versus knowledge, the sacred versus the profane. They knew that the sacred, like the profane, is vitiated by evil and that the solution could not consist in opposing the first to the second, but in overcoming both one and the other and liberating oneself from the false dilemmas into which they drive us. This position clearly implied a total questioning of the very existence of the sacred, and therefore of the usefulness of religions and, a fortiori, of Churches. This tended to throw the most rational of the Gnostics into a solitary position where few came to join them, but which prefigured the attitudes of certain thinkers, philosophers, writers, and mystics of our own time.

I would define this position as a return to the fundamental, virginal interrogation of man faced with the problems of his life, with his need to escape from the yoke of systems and to arrive, in every instance, at a point of absolute zero in knowledge. If the Gnostics proposed a dualistic image of the world, it was not because, when faced with an entity, they were temperamentally predisposed to see its opposite, but because, confronted with the agonizing and omnipresent evidence of evil, it was necessary to oppose something to it. But their aim was quite patently to overcome this antinomy which did nothing but reflect the schism, the inherent rending in two of the world. By doing this-we cannot say it too often-they found themselves obliged to reject practically all the religious ideologies of their time and to live on the fringes of all accepted conventions, since, for them, the demands of truth were paramount, even if they were to lead them to the stake.

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