Saturday, 26 July 2014

A Note on the Heretical & the Political

In the last posting, I referred in passing to Versluis' The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism (2008) and we should dwell a little on its insights.

By taking the most extreme form of the heretical (from a post-Nicaean standpoint), that point where sexuality and spirituality commingle, he highlights what it is that, in practice, caused the authorities to engage in murder and torture, to destroy people whose role in society was otherwise relatively marginal.

Of course, there were moments when perhaps heresy might actually have overturned established order but these are very rare - in the confusion leading up to the Council of Nicaea perhaps, in the seizure of tracts of Southern France during the period of the Cathars, in the marginal lands where competing Christianities, Judaism and Islam fought for dominance.

But, for most of history right up until the fundamentalist onslaught on different sexualities across the world today, the amount of effort placed by authority in extirpating heretics is analogous only to that of homeland security loons in dealing with 'terrorists' and political dissidents and communist purgation.

When a real threat appeared, as in the case of Cathars, the Church had no compunction in turning genocidal. From whence does this appalling fear of what hurts no other derive?

Of course, there may be psycho-sexual motives behind all this. After all, many conventional religious were rutting away like mad despite their claims to celibacy. But there are also cultural and sociological reasons that are worth considering as having parallels even today.

Buddhism and left hand path Hinduism did construct a form of accomodation between sexuality and 'spirituality' but usually only on very exploitative terms towards minors. I have covered this in a review of Faure's Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality elsewhere. The West proved much more rigid.

First, the dissidents actively rejected Church bureaucracy and hierarchy. In so doing, they implicitly (though there is no real evidence of any explicit intention) rejected the alliance between Church and the magisterium.

The threat of dissent was political - secular authority might well do to conventional catholicism what the Catholic Church had done to paganism viz. stuff it to cut a deal. Any rival operations had to be cut out of the game as ruthlessly as Al Capone wanted Bugs Moran dealt with.

Since condemnation of pagan sexuality was central to the Church's claim that only it could restore order in the febrile atmosphere in and following the third century AD, then any bunch of dissidents who had an alternative plan involving the maintenance of order through expression of that same suppressed sexuality could be a material threat to its institutional power.

Second, they embraced the 'natural' (meaning what men do naturally and the wildness of territory beyond the reach of the bureaucracy of the day). This too had political implications. The christian, like the communist and the late-imperial victorian, model was totalitarian and this ultimately meant it must be about sex.

It was no accident that the members of a Gnostic sect were referred to as being 'brigands' (though they stole from no-one) and that the vicious polemicist Clement of Alexandria declined to give further details of the beliefs of Carpocrates lest he 'oufit a pirate ship'.

They were literally 'outlaws' ... or 'terrorists' perhaps. But since they were not a threat to property (the main concern of secular authority), what was the brigandage and piracy directed at?

Why, self-evidently, a threat that would 'thieve' ideological control from the aggressive elite group, the spiritual New Labour-like coup d'esprit of the Catholic intellectual leadership based on a class of priests and bishops who did not care for another round of martydoms.

Like Bolsheviks in 1918, the struggle was won and the wanderings and exiles must now cease. They had gambled at the table and won and were not going to risk their winnings again.

Third, the dissidents accepted the spiritual equality of women, not just as able to attain 'gnosis' through the intermediation of priests but as direct and equal communicants with the divine.

Note that this is not the rivalling of some mythic patriarchy with some countervailing matriarchy as some more dim-witted modern feminists have asserted but a far more profound sense of anti-authoritian 'gnosis'. It was not act an act of feminism but of personism or of autonomism within a community of the like-minded.

The essence of the rebellion against the Church was individualist and so egalitarian in a wholly different way from the slave-religion of the Catholic Church which treated all souls as equal under its leadership, much like the Party in the Soviet Union.

Political and spritual universalisms always contain the seeds of totalitarian social terror as we see today in the universalism of a degenerate liberal enlightenment.

Finally, the heretics' antinomianism, not libertinism but that sense that a 'gnosis' had created an internal moral authority that was higher than any law or regulation dictated from above by Church or State - or indeed community, presented a bridge over which the Church could march its ideological troops into the secular castle and demand action and thereby assert its ability to 'cut deals'.

After all, the alliance between Church and magisterium was always contingent on delivery of order at low cost through ideology (as the Lutheran revolt was to show in its relation to peasant revolts). The communism, terrorism and heresy of the Munster Anabaptists was a 'gift from heaven' in that respect.

The ideological brigandage was of no intrinsic concern to property (since most of these mystics most of the time were rarely communistic in the expropriatory sense) and European aristocratic society was often perfectly happy with strong women in positions of influence and power ...

... no, the secret to the murder and torture which, if the secular authorities did not do themselves then they permitted to be done on their territory despite public order risks, came down to the shared interest of both Church and property in holding down the individual and ensuring that he or she remained unthreatening and submissive.

It was the antinomianism that did for the the heretics of the past much as it does for today's heretics. The relationship between sexual mysticism and mainstream culture is thus highly political and parallels the relationship between radical political dissent, radical sexual freedom and the State today.

The modern political dissenter rejects the self-serving structures of liberal constitutionalism, operates outside the institutional structures of the elite and is egalitarian across gender and class but none of this is important when set against his or her growing 'antinomian' tendency - against the possibility that the State no longer has 'legitimacy', the right to make and enforce laws. And resentment of bad laws is growing ...

It is the crisis of our time now that anyone can be a sexual mystic without a knock on the door at five in the morning from a Dominican friar - but that economic failure, uncertainty, unending apparently inexplicable and murderous small wars and loss of identity are creating a potent brew in which the political dissident is always going to be one sentence from being classed a 'terrorist' ...

... and always at the edge of things is the system's longing for some all-encompassing ideology that will set boundaries. In the West, it is a manipulative NGO-led universalism that is now required to clean up the mess left by globalisation and it is this ideology that is discovering sexuality as a problem and not an opportunity.