The illness of light is deadly

The Voices of the Days/7 - The seductive, crossless gospels of the false reformers

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/04/2016

Margherita gialla rid"Serious and terrible mistake it was, the invention of the crosses.

The Gospel of Thomas

The processes of change in ideal-driven organizations and charismatic communities are particularly complex and delicate because, unlike in many economic or bureaucratic organizations where change is planned and guided towards the objectives set by the owners, in ideal based organisations reform is actually a march into the unknown.

When the self-styled reformer is a false prophet, he presents himself as the bearer of certainty about change, as someone who knows what the good is that awaits the community at the end of the path advocated, wanted and promoted by him. Like an angel who is the bearer of only and all light.

One of the elements that make it complex and difficult to overcome the moments of crisis in ideal-driven and charismatic communities is the appearance of false reformers. If, in fact, the community is not alive anymore, to the point of not even feeling the need for reform, neither good nor bad "prophets" are born into it. If the community is alive, the good and the bad prophets tend to appear simultaneously, and the more lively and fruitful the original charisma still is, the more prophets emerge. The abundance of false prophets is also a way to tell the charismatic vitality of a community. And the more light there is in the charisma, the more frequent, subtle and dangerous Gnostic heresies are. The early churches were full of apostles and false prophets. Therefore we must not make the mistake of thinking that positive phases only produce good prophets and those of crisis only bad ones, because historical reality shows the exact opposite to be the case. After all, it was the same spiritual fertility of early Christianity to generate Paul of Tarsus and Simon Magus.

The historical and concrete forms assumed by false prophecies are many. In ideal-driven and / or charismatic communities, the most subtle and pernicious false prophecies and false reforms are those that have recourse to the register of light. They are variations on and updates of the ancient Gnostic heresy, because they present themselves as an offer of new light and different knowledge. Gnosticism, in its rich and varied expressions, was the main ideological enemy of the Christianity of the first centuries. Penetrated in many communities, it could have decreed the death of Christianity if it had not been fought hard and eventually defeated thanks to the action of the best prophets and theologians - from Irenaeus to Augustine.

Spiritual and ideal-connected experiences are naturally and radically exposed to Gnostic seduction, because of them being essentially experiences of light and intelligence. Those who follow an ideal or a charisma are attracted by the new light and the different words (logos).

They discover the gift of new eyes that show new horizons, new heaven, new beauties, and with a bright intelligence that opens a different understanding of the world and things.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that in these communities the Gnostic phase arrives readily. It threatens especially those with the brightest and most spiritual charismas, because it is also a disease of these which develops as a form of neurosis: their most brilliant part gets ill. Spiritual experiences remain authentic and generate good life until they keep their connection with history, while they remain incarnate and therefore limited experiences, partial and intertwined with darkness. As long as the spirit remains in the flesh and the one follows the laws and the rhythms of the other. Many charismatic experiences are lost upon their birth because the spirit becomes disembodied and evaporates in search of perfection without any shade. For these reasons, Gnostic phases also accompany the historical existence of the founders, and if communities survive beyond the life of their founders it is because these temptations have not had the upper hand - many communities born from genuine charismas got spent after a few years because their founders were eventually seduced and devoured by Gnostic neurosis.

But it is in the phase right after foundation that the Gnostic temptation becomes almost obligatory and always decisive. Facing the end of the era of true "miracles" and "resurrections" that had been the normal way of life of the community's founding phase, some people start to think they can recreate the early wonders with certain techniques and spiritual drugs. They do like athletes who, no longer able to repeat their first record, instead of changing their training and working hard, fall into the trap of doping. Gnosticism is a form of spiritual doping which promises the performance of youth without work and effort, and if it is not decisively countered it infects the whole community very quickly.

It is, in fact, on this suffering and frustration over not being able to repeat the first charismatic performance, on the unconquerable nostalgia for the signs and the climate of earlier times where the Gnostic plant easily takes root. Instead of starting from the core of the first message, necessarily made of flesh and spirit, the Gnostic reformer performs a twofold task: reconstructing a partial and disembodied image of the original charisma and adding secret revelations of which - he says - he has come into possession through private experiences or special communications, and which are adorned by the spectacular and pseudo-mystic elements and techniques that supposedly allow for a deeper access to the ideal and spiritual message. The Gnostic type of reform is therefore accompanied by the promise of special mystical experiences that are accessible only to those few who have been introduced to the secrets and mysteries, around which it establishes a messianic power and its main promise. These are always elitist, non-transparent experiences that are and never popular and never on the side of the poor. The devaluation of concrete experience and the body then creates almost inevitably an ethical exception, which allows for enlightened carnal acts and actions that are harmful to others, but legitimate and necessary for the inhabitants of this new "colour" kingdom.

They are Baroque constructs, they are colourful, worlds populated by many fantastic beings and "truths" that do not appear in the first, original message. And the followers of these false prophets soon take the looks and attitudes of the initiated; they undergo an aesthetic change also in the expression of their eyes and facial features, and separate from the not (yet) illuminated people as the new "saints".

When the charisma is alive and healthy it is very easy to identify false prophets who are moved by personal material interests or are intent schismatics; however, the false prophets of light and intelligence are much more difficult to recognize and call by name, because they use the same symbolic repertoire and the same words that had founded the community one day and attracted many people to it. They are devouring wolves disguised as meek lambs, and sometimes as the good shepherd. The severe crises of ideal-driven communities are always crises of light and intelligence. For this reason the choice of heresies of light and intelligence is particularly abundant, especially and exactly during the most serious crises. And for the same reason many times false prophets are not recognized, they are successful, and they kill communities.

A fundamental job to manage deep crises and major reforms is, therefore, being able to recognize the Gnostic symptoms since they appear as renewal and salvation. It is a rather difficult job, because the Gnostic reformer, unlike other false prophets, uses truths and words that are actually present in the original, genuine charisma, and builds his speech up using parts and phrases from the speeches of the founder. From the beginning the intelligence of the snake has manifested itself in history in words and discourses similar to and more seductive than those of Elohim. The Gnostic chromosomes are in the DNA of the genuine charisma, because the gnosis builds salvation combining some foundational elements of the genome in a different way. It deletes the ordinary, normal or gray ones, as well as the mestizos, and reassembles only the brightest part of the original genetic material, creating a body that has all the features present in the first body. And so the Gnostic reform appears tremendously charming and bright: as the elixir of eternal youth, as the tree of life, like a picture of us when we were twenty years old that magically takes life.

The Gnostic reform proposals are therefore presented as days where it is always noon, and in the name of this light without shadow they refuse the dark dimension, which is only so because it is true, and of the limit. Incarnation, imperfection and sin become cursed words, condemned as the scandal to be overcome in order to create the new era of full maturity which is about to begin. This is the proposal of an eschaton in reverse: while the authentic spiritual experiences live an imperfect already and point to a not yet which is never reached in full, the gnosis will present itself as a perfected already, the completion of an imperfect already have. Gnostic reformers are always brighter than the founders, because they lack the shadow of true reality. Only the body can cast a shadow when it gets in contact with sunlight.

In these false reforms death is absent from the scene of their fake passions. They are "gospels" without the Calvary and the cross, the stone does not roll and the tomb is just a comfortable bedroom. These are very bad takes on the mourning of life. They reject life in order not to get their feet dirty on the only pathway possible for humans under the sun. Resurrections without crucifixes do not save anyone. They are ghosts that drift apart from the wounded flesh of others and from the victims, and imprison people inside cages of psychic and emotional consumerism. The Gnostic false prophets are revealed by the absence of the marks of the nails on their bodies and the bodies of those that they touch and embrace.

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