When St. Thomas More wrote his book about paradise, he gave it the title Utopia, “no place.” The 20th century political philosopher Eric Voegelin often referred to those who sought to create a heaven on earth as Gnostics, noting that any project to create such a paradise always came up short, and almost invariable the result was a waking nightmare. Indeed, Voegelin went so far as to observe that the real struggle throughout history was not between “left’ and “right,” but between those who believed that heaven could be made on earth through human means, and those who didn’t.
Voegelin’s Gnostics ranged from Nazis to communists to modern day liberals, each of whom sought to create a sort of paradise on earth. And, surely, each of these groups has, in its own way, sought to “Immanentize the Eschalon,” be it through the Nazi’s attempts to bring about the “Arian” ascendancy, the Marxist’s goals for an economic paradise, or the attempts by many of the American left to create a “level playing field” in which all views and outcomes are to be treated as equal.
All forms of political Gnosticism have a common thread, one which they share with the religious heresy from which they are derived. Gnosticism, at its heart, seeks to find perfection through knowledge, and thus ultimately abandons religion in favor of “hidden knowledge.” But knowledge alone does no beget happiness, let alone joy, nor can knowledge alone create virtue, nor can it end suffering. If knowledge alone could do this, then every doctor of divinity would be a saint, and the sins of the great men of genius would have ceased long ago.
The men and women who would be the new saviors of mankind often see only a part of the problem and none of the solution. Marx saw economic inequality, and blamed the world’s pains on the oppression of the lowly; Lenin and his ilk blamed greed for this, and attempted leveling and the persecution of those formerly in power, trading one oppression for another. Rouseau’s social contract was carried out to its bloody conclusions in the French Revolution, and his many progenies lived and died in the orphanages of
These men, and so many after them, have each in their own way sought to create their versions of a paradise or utopia—economic, social, sexual, or even atheistic. They and their followers have all expounded essentially: that man is corrupted by the current order, be it economic, political, religious, or social. Implied by this is the assumption that man can be made good—that he is perfectible—through human means aided by knowledge or reason alone.
What they forget or perhaps never knew is that perfection can only be attained through the aide of something which is itself perfect. Men may teach and learn morality, or virtues, or economic theory, but these things must actually be practiced to be useful—knowledge alone does not guarantee their widespread adherence throughout a society. Man is not perfect himself, and thus cannot make others perfect, let alone society as a whole.
This lesson was anticipated by Christ in the Gospels. Liberal Christians (not to mention agnostics, atheists, and other non Christians) are especially fond of quoting Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37, 41-42. These are the verses in which Christ tells his follower not to be judgmental; the verses from Luke state (New American Translation):
"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye.”
This parable has become a catch-all for people who not only don’t want their character to be judged by others, but who would prefer not to receive moral correction from others. But it can also mean that a person is not meant to try and perfect others until he himself is perfect, but rather to point them towards the One who is perfect.
Many a Gnostic is also familiar with these texts, and will do his own share of citing them when he stands judged (or even corrected) by another. But the moment when he is doing the judging and the correcting, they are conveniently forgotten. The new Gnostic mistakenly trusts in the perfectibility of man, and decides that he does not need God. He trusts in reason and abandons faith, puts his hope in knowledge and forsakes grace, and looks to paradise while ignoring heave. The new Gnostics of all stripes set out to create a heaven without God and then are surprised when their creation is a living hell.