Kritische und Kreative Kultur Debatte




St. John and apocalyptic Gnosticism


Note: the following was written in 1993 and reflects concerns of that time. I had abandoned Traditionalism, and was studying history, myth and religion from a critical, human rights perspective. I had studied religion from the inside for long enough. I did not know in 1993 that the apocalyptic ideologies of Christianity and Islam would clash after 2001 and cause the Iraq war, a war which has left over 100,000 dead. For more on apocalyptic ideology see chapter four and five or my book Empire of the Intellect here:


Chapter four is partly a study of apocalyptic ideologies in Hitler, Himmler and their relation to Hinduism. Chapter five looks at apocalyptic ideology in relation to science, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann and Atomic weapons: The Spiritual Fascism of René Guénon is studied here, with some inquiry made into the promotion of apocalyptic ideology by the traditionalists:


Mark Koslow


The Apocalypse of St. John is usually ascribed to the author of the Gospel of John, the so called "Beloved Disciple", who was told by Christ, when he was on the Cross, that he would henceforth be the adopted son of the Virgin Mary. The books ascribed to John were disputed as to their authenticity even as far back as the 2nd century, according Paul Johnson's History of Christianity.(pg.55). The Apocalypse is generally thought to be the production of a person later the John. But these facts are of no concern to a Church whose primary interest is the preservation of a doctrine which they claim transcends history. The Churches concern for textual authenticity was often sacrificed when it came to a contest between the metaphysical and political interests of the Church as opposed to the authenticity of a document. Thus, for at least eighteen centuries, it was erroneously and perhaps conveniently, thought that the John of the Apocalypse and the John of the Gospel are one and the same. The reason for this is clear; since the deepest mystical and gnostic doctrines of both the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches, such as the doctrine of the individual's possibility of Deification, the doctrine of the Logos or Word and its Incarnation, as well as the most important doctrines that justify the Eucharist and the Trinity, are all justified primarily by John. Christianity in its essence is from John, even though its social aspect derives from Peter and Paul. Peter is the rock "on whom I will build my Church". But nevertheless, the essential metaphysical justification of the central doctrines of the social institutions derives from John.


One  note  before I  proceed  further: John is a gnostic, that is one who desires  total  knowledge of the mythic Beyond,  and I do not use the word gnostic to refer to the  heretical sects of  that name, though they are gnostics in the sense I mean as well.  Gnosticism, in my meaning, is the idea that reality exists beyond or behind this world, and that man is alienated from this knowledge. All the main religions are gnostic in this sense, as are Plato, Marx and modern science, in various complex ways which I won't try to explain here.


Given the centrality of John to the Christian   message, one must ask, what   is the nature of the knowledge that John's writings offer? One begins with the doctrine of salvation, which is necessary because man is supposed to be lost in a "fallen world" of sin.  The Incarnation is the answer to this fall. Christ embodies the Knowledge or "gnosis" of the return to the supposed purity that existed before the fall. This knowledge is to be re-instilled   in man by the Eucharist, the eating of the body and blood of Christ. What then is the Eucharist? John informs us, in the words of Christ, that "except you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For whosoever eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life and I will raise him on the last day". The image is jarring and even shocking. Eat his flesh?   Drink his Blood? Christ implies that those that do not do as he says will get damnation if one does not drink the blood and eat the flesh. This is a horrifying way to talk. But, for the sake of thoroughness and to be generous toward Christianity one can suspend one's judgment, and assume that one is ignorant of the meaning of the symbols involved here. Perhaps the body that we are supposed to eat is only a metaphor, as is indicated by other texts in John. In various places John states that Christ is "bread", "meat", and "drink". Christ is supposed to be the essential substance of things, and this is what one is supposed to eat and drink. But a nagging question remains. Why are these images of cannibalistic eating of flesh and drinking of blood necessary?


But then the Crucifixion occurs, and one learns that the bodily metaphors are quite literal. Christ wanted the sacrifice of his body, like the sacrificed Lamb. The symbols are literal and the blood is real. Before the Crucifixion there comes a progress of wounds, thorns, whippings, public mockery, and finally, nailing to the Cross, Christ is speared and he dies.  The Victim has become a food offering to the Invisible God for the atonement of sin. This food offering specifically an offering of human flesh and blood is then offered by Christ in the Christian Mass. How is one to accept this?  For my own part I can't accept this eating of the flesh and blood of a dead man, even if others can. I can see how others might fall for the twisted symbolism. But it would be one thing if the flesh and blood were merely symbolic or ceremonial, as is the case, somewhat ambiguously, in some protestant churches. But much more is claimed. The Eucharist is claimed to be an actual man with a "real presence". It is also claimed he is the Son of God and that his flesh and blood are really present at each Eucharistic offering. The blood and flesh are "real".  For John, the communion must be total, not merely a commemorative ceremony. John is relentless and the Gospel is not enough. He writes the Apocalypse.


In the Apocalypse the shock one felt in the ritual offering of Christ's flesh to eat and his blood to drink takes on a new and terrible meaning. The man that died was God, and he is angry. But not just angry, the Victim has turned into a bloodthirsty tyrant, who wants vengeance, even world destruction. The Victim has become Victimizer. The rapture of Christ's resurrection is no longer a victory for the man of peace, but an announcement for an orgy to come that will bring universal war. The indulgence one felt towards John's book of love, his Gospel of peace, and of turning the other cheek, now turns into scepticism and then horror. What is John actually saying in the Apocalypse?


If the violent images of the Apocalypse are considered quite as they appear, without pious or esoteric sophistry, they are psychotic, and involve a will to power that has identified itself with the totalistic concept of the universal Logos. One begins to see how the doctrine of the Logos or the sacrificed Word of God is related to the destruction of the world that John predicts. John's vision on the island of Patmos is an explosion of anger and hatred against the world that cannot conform to John's gnostic ideal of the perfect man. The Christ of the Apocalypse is a horrible person, who despises the world and lives on hate. He is a bigoted man who has a bottomless need of revenge.


The presumption of "deification" involved in John's gnostic ideal is based on a notion of the created world as fundamentally corrupt, and which only an elite can survive, the rest being so fundamentally evil that they must be destroyed and cast into the most sadistic of hells, trampled over by the four horseman, seduced by a harlot riding on a beast, sent plagues and demons and   tortured in a sadistic orgy of revenge. Even the fishes and trees are ruthlessly   burned; the sun and moon blacked and turned   to blood. Christ announces he has taken possession of the "keys of hell and death". Like the Pharaohs of Egypt, all power is with Christ, since he who controls death controls life. He threatens to kill children of a woman Jezebel, of whom he disapproves. He says he hates the Nicolatians, and that out of his mouth goes a "sharp two edged sword" towards them.   He says that "He that overcometh (the world) shall inherit all things"....but the   rest shall "have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone". Here we have it; those who obey will be given infinite power, those who do not will be infinitely chastised. The Victim has become the death dealing power-broker of the fortunes of souls. Christ is a Cult Leader, or more than that, a universal tyrant. The man of love has become a man of huge bloodthirsty hate.


The doctrine of the Logos upon which the doctrine of the Incarnation rests leads inexorably to this apocalyptic explosion of hatred. God becomes man in order to save a few "elect" souls in order that he might kill all other living things with fire and plagues. This is the mentality of a murderous tyrant and serial killer. One cannot but wonder why people would believe in such a horrendous fiction.


The Apocalypse of John is certainly one of the most fatal and destructive books ever written, in terms of its eventual effect upon history. This unrelenting fantasy of revenge erects hatred of the world into a universal principle. It is indeed a work of art, but one so densely crafted of simultaneous symbols of transcendent perfection and sheerest cruelty that the mixture is both suffocating and infectious. This close congruence of transcendent knowledge and terrible cruelty is what I mean by the term "knowledge power. In the Apocalypse of John symbol upon symbol of power and cruelty is built up and contrasted with ultimate wealth and exaltation.  Horror and purity are mixed in a conglomerate vertigo meant to oppress all rational argument in a terrorist's appeal to transcendent truth.


The effort to spiritualize Christ's crucified flesh in the Gospel has in the Apocalypse become an orgiastic dismemberment of the very fabric of the created world.  One is in the midst of a psychotic episode where each   symbol, good or evil, becomes saturated with lightning and a will to power that combines the stasis of diamond with the terror of a scream. Even the heavenly city of Jerusalem seems to be made of a diamond like malice, with endless halls of oppressive gold, and floors of sadistically perfect sapphire. Transcendence is geometricized into a sterile architecture of tyranny. God's glory is imposed with such excess that one doubts the divinity of a God who needs such cruel and pompous jewelry for his perpetual adornment. The exquisitely crafted and precious malice of this book indicates a pathology so totalitarian that it makes Hitler and Stalin, Sade, Dante and Genet look like schoolboys in the art of torture. These sterile hallways and polished sapphire floors do not compensate for the billions dead, trampled under the feet of the four horseman. This frozen, theocratic city of deadly gnosis and transcendent cruelty does not make up for the universal horror of Christ's revenge.


No one asked for Christ's offering of his flesh and blood as food for our souls. Why then must the world be revenged for not sufficiently recognizing his glory when he was on earth? And what kind of glory was it, which offers a gift of ultimate love, and when rejected, must destroy everything in a petulant and universal fury?  What was the purpose of John's writing the hymn to Christ's goodness and loving-kindness in his Gospel, when this kindness ends up turning pearls to blood and promises of peace to sadistic sword brandishing?  Had John become poisoned by his own perfection? His otherworldly sanctity has erupted in a diseased and self righteous hatred.  No religion could be true that could canonize such a book.  I say this knowing that this malicious text ends with the cultish threat that any man who questions these prophecies "God   shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book." This form of spiritual blackmail is common in many religions and cults. This is the way of a mafia or an Inquisition. I cannot  submit myself to a saint who  needs  to  resort  to  blackmail  to convince me. Indeed  this  last  psychological strategy  is  so offensive  that  any indulgence  I might   have  had  towards John is  gone.  To write a book that destroys the world in the name of love, and then to seek to blackmail anyone who objects is beyond reason, indeed it is reprehensible.


These are some of the reasons why I chose, in 1991, to no longer associate myself with Christianity or to consider myself a Christian.


With these general considerations in mind it is possible to generalize about the meaning of apocalyptic gnosticism. I call it apocalyptic gnosticism because the pattern that is visible in the outline of the Christian message according to John involves a theory of knowledge or gnosis based on the idea of the Logos as intermediary between heaven and earth. This intermediary, which also goes by the name of the Intellect in the Christian Fathers and Consciousness or Atma in the Hindu metaphysic, or Primordial Awareness in the Buddhist --- this concept of knowledge is accessible  only outside or behind  the world, a world which Christians consider fallen and which Buddhists and  Hindus consider samsara or maya,  the illusory play of maya and its myriad forms. The denigration or reduction of the world to a lesser reality of symbolic constructions whose meaning is to be found only in higher truths is the natural result of these beliefs. As a consequence of this lessening of the world, salvation or liberation from the lower realm of the world becomes a necessity. Priesthood or an institution such as the Russian, Greek or Catholic Church becomes the self serving vehicle of this 'salvation'.


The apocalypse is an application of the ideal of salvation to the universal and cosmological world. The apocalyptic idea is thus a form of spiritual blackmail, meant to keep followers of a given religion in fear of the power of the religion. John's Gospel and his Apocalypse are extreme but typical forms of the apocalyptic gnostic idea. It is important to realize that apocalyptic gnosticism follows a distinct pattern where it appears. This pattern always involves the destruction of what is conceived to be lesser in view of a totalistic assimilation of that which thought to be greater. Apocalyptic gnosticism is therefore both a theory of knowledge and a theory of power. With this understood, then it is possible to see why Platonism, for  instance, was almost immediately recognized, by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, and Dionysius the Areopagite, as compatible with John's conception of  the Logos. The totalitarian concept of the theocratic Christian state naturally results from the conception of Christ as the Incarnate Logos because the Emperor-Pope, such as Constantine, is the bridge between Christ and man,  since he  is head regent of  the  government which  in the "next  world"  will be the City of God. The Christian state is necessarily an apocalyptic state, thriving on fear of blood and fire. This is already clear in the writings of Paul, who organizes the early Church in expectation of the end of the world. The apocalyptic idea, and with it the idea of a gnostic or totalistic ideal of transcendent knowledge is the basis of the Christian totalitarian government that followed the Roman Empire. Theocratic  gnosticism had been the basis of both the Egyptian, Sumerian and Roman Empires, but the addition of the apocalyptic  ideal   by  the  early Christians consolidated theocracy into a much more  powerful and universal conception. The spread of western culture all over   the globe is largely the result of the gnostic will to power extending itself because of the apocalyptic urgency. The roots of colonialism, slavery, and environmental degradation on a world scale are thus to be found largely at the doorstep of Christianity.


In this larger context it is possible to see why the Apocalypse of John had to be considered as written by the same author as the Gospel, even if there cannot have been written by the same man.  The combination of the apocalyptic terrorism of John, with the gnostic explanatory power of Aristotle and Plato created a theory of knowledge that was infinitely and quickly expandable to the four corners of the earth. The marvelous plasticity of the apocalyptic gnostic ideal made it adaptable to entirely new circumstances. Francis Bacon, for instance, would adapt a form of apocalyptic gnosticism to the expansionist ambitions of 16th century England.  Bacon conceived that   "knowledge is power", and that John's new Jerusalem must be America.   For Bacon the Augustinian City of God, which was a development of John's Jerusalem, was conceived to be buildable in the "new" world. The French Revolution continued expanding on this myth, even to the point of actually creating a new calendar, beginning at the year zero. The shadow of John's gnostic terrorism would make itself felt in the apocalyptic bloodbaths of the revolution and the Napoleonic campaigns that followed. Religions as well as quasi-religious political systems are not about truth, but about mental conformity to a system of social controls.


Indeed, the shadow of John's apocalyptic gnosticism can be discerned in most of the terrorist and revolutionary movements of the last three centuries. The Marxist system is also a gnostic theory of apocalyptic power achieved through radical change.  Marx merely changed the equation of the apocalyptic gnostic pattern. Instead of God as the end of history, Marx replaces god with man,   "Man is God for man", he declares in his essay "The Jewish Question".  The result of the Marxist effort to follow John, and create "a new heaven and a new earth", is well known.  Lenin, Stalin, and Mao unleashed an horrendous bloodbath of murders committed for the cause of righteousness. The shadow of St. John seized all of Russia and millions died.  The same thing happened in Germany under Hitler, where the apocalyptic gnostic pattern of destruction in the name of ultimate knowledge killed millions in order that the "new Jerusalem", this time called the Third Reich, might come about. In Chinese history, we read of a  similar effort  to initiate the golden age, or the  "New Age", during the Taiping Rebellion of the19th century, where a self proclaimed prophet, calling himself  the "son of Christ", as John did,  participated in the murder of an estimated 30 million people in the hope of bringing about the millennium. Even more recently, the government of Pol Pot in Cambodia killed at least a million people in an effort to begin the world over again at the beginning. And the United States killed 2 or 3 million people in Vietnam to save them for "freedom".


The sterile glory of John's Jerusalem is reflected in the glass towers off our modern cities, and not by accident. John's vision of glory is a form of aesthetic fascism. The Protestant interpretation of the gnostic kingdom of God was consciously developed by European Protestants from Calvin to Luther, Wesley and Huss.  Those whom Calvin called  the "elect", echoing  John's elect,  the 144,000 mentioned in the Apocalypse that  would  survive  Christ's vengeance, ----these  worthy   people  came to America  with the protestant  idea  that the  good deserved the special  fruits of God's  pleasure in their devotions. They felt they had the right to murder and destroy the native tribes and steal their land, in the name of god. Many Republicans, to this day, echo the sentiment that God fearing capitalists deserve the rewards of the "new world", that is to say, its wealth. The effects of this attitude on the environment alone have been devastating. Indeed, the whole battle between the communists and the capitalists, which spread itself around the globe, has been the battle of two different interpretations of the apocalyptic gnostic idea. The fatal consequences of John's idea of transcendent terrorism have long since left the realm of John's psychotic imagination, and have been realized in the most concrete terms from Vietnam to Siberia and from Nagasaki to Mexico City and Berlin. The  idea of the supremacy of man's consciousness,  and the enthroning of this consciousness in apocalyptic drives for power and dominion have threatened the earth itself, as modern science, too, when combined with political drives for conquest and oppression, has employed a gnostic and apocalyptic ideology.  But my purpose here is only to indicate something of the extent of the will to power through apocalyptic knowledge systems that is consequent upon John's ideas, but not to pursue these other matters further here.


The will to power contained in mythological constructions such as John created needs exposition. It is no longer possible to say that religion and science somehow exist in a moral vacuum and that the responsibility of the corruption of scientific ideas occurs because of misapplications by a few bad individuals. Such individuals exist; but the primary motives of cultures do not arise because of individuals, but because of deep ideological and mythical structures which organize whole populations around key ideas. The key ideas generate a logic in history which cannot be stopped unless the logic is analyzed and uncovered. The myths are the means to power, as they organize human consciousness around primal goals and ambitions. I have briefly analyzed the ideas of St. John, in this light, but one could equally well begin with Plato or Christ, Muhammad or the Buddha. Metaphysical claims are power claims. Reality is not metaphysical and the facts of existence precede imaginary essences. The apocalyptic gnostic ideal is an ideal that has failed. The myths that support it cannot be taken seriously any longer. The world, the earth, and the creatures upon it are all that we have, such as they are, and they need taking care of.


© Mark Koslow


© Victor & Victoria Trimondi