Gnostic Nonsense: The New Homophobia

The religious right is always seeking new enemies to cast into Hell: Communism, Socialism, Liberalism, Atheism, Feminism, Transcendentalism, etc. “Isms” are the devil in various forms, except for fundamentalism, nationalism and heterosexualism. The newest, trendiest ism to be feared by the Crusaders against Heresy is Gnosticism, defined by American Conservative Senior Editor Rod Dreher as “the idea that matter is a prison that willful spirit is meant to overcome.” (That Gnosticism was a branch of Christianity with its own collection of Gospels is not mentioned by Dreher.) Which sort of willful spirit is now trying to breakout of the prison of matter? Homosexuality and transgenderism, writes Dreher, in a fairly incomprehensible post in American Conservative called “Queerness: America’s Post-Christian Gnosticism.”

It was a shock for me to learn, right off the bat, that America is now in a “post-Christian” age, what with all the Christians in the country and much talk of Christianity still going on, on Twitter and off. “Queerness,” according to Dreher, seems to have something to do with this sudden dearth of Christians in America. Perhaps gay and lesbian and transgender folks have converted Christians to Gnosticism? Well, not quite. The problem is something called “therapeutic values” derived from our “therapeutic culture,” terms that come not from Dreher but from a guy named Darel Paul whom Dreher quotes. Something to do with Freud and sexual desire. And while “individualism” is good, “individuality” is bad. Too much individuality leads somehow to a dearth of Christians, or at least a dearth of conservative Christian values dominating American culture, which is the apparent goal of the anti-Gnostics.

Gnosticism is bad but also bad, very bad, is Pride (with a capital P), a deadly sin which Gay Pride is guilty of, writes Dreher, because Gay Pride is linked, in Dreher’s mind, with believing that you are your own God. (Apparently this sort of divine hubris does not happen to heterosexuals, though I can think of many straight politicians who suffer from it.) Gay Pride is also linked in Dreher’s mind with a book about “pre-revolutionary Russian culture” in which we learn that sex back then in Russia was a “transgressive” source of comfort. Dreher quotes a certain James Billington, who writes this about Russian decadence:

“…the figure of Satan became a Romantic hero for artists and musicians. They admired the diabolic willingness to stop at nothing to satisfy one’s desires, and to exercise one’s will.”

The American Conservative

And that was the end of Russia: “So that worked out well for the Russians, didn’t it?” writes Dreher. It worked out ok for Russian literature, at least. (If you want to argue that Soviet Socialism was a liberal development you will have to agree that Putin’s Russia is a model of democracy.) That Satan, the fallen angel, was also somewhat sympathetically portrayed by John Milton in Paradise Lost suggests that art has a more complex view of good and evil, Heaven and Hell than some forms of Christianity do.

So to review: According to Dreher, acceptance of gay people leads to Gnosticism and Gay Pride which is linked to totalitarian immorality. For a certain sort of conservative, all liberal values lead to tyranny, despite tyrants through history espousing all manner of illiberal policies. Here is Dreher again:

“The point is this: to queer a social order and a culture, as has happened, requires replacing one set of metaphysical assumptions with another — and that inevitably manifests as a changed morality.”

The American Conservative

To use “queer” as a verb is, well, queer, and a sneaky way of putting a negative moral spin on unorthodox sexual orientation, yet we know the question of whom we love and have sex with can be biologically/psychologically fluid. Somehow when gays and lesbians and transgendered people accept who they are and the rest of the culture accepts their minority sexuality as something humanly natural rather than shameful or sinful, Dreher claims the culture’s “metaphysical assumptions” are turned upside-down and morality as some conservatives see it ceases to exist. But this strikes me as nothing more than old-fashioned homophobia with a big dose of paranoia made intellectually palatable through trendy labels. For “queerness” is in the biased eye of the beholder; why is it not “queer” (in the sense of “strange” or “odd”) to own an assault weapon or refuse to accept the credible science of vaccinations and global warming?

Of course, there is nothing more gnostic than conservative fundamentalism, which often denies reality and science and religious diversity via a willful spirit of narrow religious orthodoxy. If playing God is a sin, heterosexual conservatives are not immune.