'Gender Identity' Is A New Gnostic Gospel
Not quite a religion, but glomming on to yours
“Transgender” is a religious movement in the all-American, Emersonian tradition, imbued with political urgency, deranging the current era of globalization in a fit of cultural imperialism.
“Trans women are women, trans men are men” is a gnostic statement. It presupposes a division of the body from the thinking being — the definitive sophistry of esotericism. Like all religious movements in history, “gender identity” is an alchemical pastiche of ideas and borrowed rituals.
Take the mind-body split of Cartesian dualism, add queer theory, and announce your pronouns.
The result, these new gnostics tell us, is literal transmutation of the flesh through magical utterance. “I feel like a woman, therefore I am one.” “Some penises are female, some lesbians have penises.” “I am my true self now.” The phrase “gender euphoria” replaces dysphoria, for they are experiencing hormonal rapture, a transcendence of mere flesh-matter by the divine gender-soul.
A salvific belief in hidden gender-beings — gender gnosis — has taken over the brain of liberal Christianity like a misfolded protein. Contrary to its own self-image as a rational force, transgender “identity” is an inherently esoteric concept that easily adheres to existing belief systems because it indulges a specific kind of magical thinking.
Faith movements never spring into the world fully formed.
Definitions vary, but all religions have three primary components: a belief system, rituals, and a moral system of social relationships. Within this triangular space, humans have invented countless concepts of magical, immaterial reality.
“Gender” has yet to cohere in such a form that we can call it “a religion” just yet, but the cultic aspects are already present, as countless critics of gender identity ideology have noted. Talking to Graham Linehan last May, I tried to affirm the feelings of so many critics outside the United States who have observed that there is something uniquely American about the quasi-religious aspects of all this nonsense.
“Guess what?” I said. “They’re right.”
A specialist view suggests this is the right track of inquiry. “Although there is no concept of the divine in gender identity theory,” religion journalist Colette Colfer observed last April, “there are elements that could be considered religious.”
There are symbols, chants, flags, parades, and ‘holy’ days. There is a belief in what could be termed transubstantiation where the substance of the body is believed to change from one sex to another. A belief in gender identity involves a level of faith as there is nothing tangible to prove its existence which, as something divorced from the physical body, is similar to the idea of a soul.
The idea of a heretic or infidel is also relevant. People and organisations who don’t subscribe to gender identity theory, or who publicly criticise or even question it, have been denounced or ostracised, and products and publications boycotted. Detransitioners, who no longer subscribe to the theory, are akin to apostates.
Colfer worries that the imposition of a “gender identity” belief system as the new official state religion in Ireland makes it difficult to report on this emerging religious movement objectively. That’s to be expected, for rigorous examination is the enemy of all esoteric ideas. Problematically, reality does not care about metaphysics.
Any totalizing esoteric belief (see “trans women are women”) must impose new taboos, such as speech codes and “cancellation,” to sustain its ideological power over rational minds. The gender jihad, like Islam or Catholicism, or Mao’s Revolution or Stalinist pseudoscience, must necessarily destroy all heresies systematically, or else smart people will “fall into error” and perdition, requiring relocation to career Siberia, or social media execution.
Along the way, emergent faiths always turn old sources into new ideas. Jews borrowed regional myths, Christians borrowed the Old Testament, Islam borrowed biblical characters and stories. Conflict was inevitable. Intolerance for those who cling to the old story, still borrowing whatever is convenient for the new story, and killing anyone who begs to differ: this is how cults carve out spaces to become religions and demand we respect their authority.
Under normal circumstances, the genius of the American system is that it has 300,000 religions, so that no single one of them can dominate the others. Utah and the current composition of the US Supreme Court notwithstanding, this mostly works. But “gender” does not admit a rival belief. Rather, it gives believers a choice to add gender gnosis to their existing beliefs, or else join the ranks of the “right wing religious bigots” who want to murder the trans kids.
To accomplish this feat, social justice language supplants scripture as a source of authority. For example, the bible says that God made humans “male and female.” This is rather explicit in the text, so it ought to be hard for a fad identity like “nonbinary” to come along thousands of years later and be taken seriously as a new dogma.
Yet here comes Bingo Allison, the world’s first “nonbinary” (or “genderqueer”) Anglican priest, dismissing the utter absence of evidence for the existence of nonbinary humans in the bible because “God loves variety.” We are simply supposed to take his explanation on faith alone, and add it to our sense of Christian charity, never mind the bollocks, because that sounds charitable. “Be kind.”
Allison, who fathered two children as a man before “discovering” his “true identity” and “coming out,” makes it all sound like a spiritual experience. This is no accident. For him, identity is salvation. An increasing number of Protestant denominations have embraced this new gospel of the gendersoul.
“There is no Biblical, linguistic or historical reason to believe the claims made by those who teach an apostate gender ideology masked as Christian Theology,” writes Alaric Naudé, professor of linguistics. Examining evidence for claims by queer theologians that the bible contains a third sex “eunuch identity,” Naudé finds them entirely baseless.
People getting things wrong about the bible has never stopped them from erecting a new church on that basis, though. In fact, the opposite is true: every Christian denomination exists because Christians lacked the studied knowledge needed to know the difference between truth and falsity. Interpretations differed and people fought about them because they did not have hard, objective evidence for truth.
René Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.”
Or: thinking is existing.
“I am walking,” Thomas Hobbes responded. “I am a walk.”
Cue laugh track.
Rather than a free-floating intellect, Hobbes said, “a thinking thing is something corporeal.” We think because we are bodies with brains that think. Injure the brain and a person loses some mental capacity.
This critique was “quite without any reason, and in violation of all usage and all logic,” cried Descartes, who lacked the words ‘racist’ or ‘transphobe’ to cancel his philosophical enemies in 1641.
Despite being decisively debunked in his own lifetime, Descartes had voiced an idea that was convenient to educated people grappling with the way Copernicus, Galileo, and the opening up of New Worlds challenged Christian cosmology. The universe was not what man had reasoned from the scriptures. New reasoning was everywhere.
Through gnosis — the internal realization of esoteric, hidden knowledge, a form of theological sophistry as old as time — Cartesianism allowed belief in both an invisible world of spirit and a world of reason, separately, in parallel. We can have our cake and also eat it, leaving room to incorporate any new knowledge which might otherwise challenge the foundations of our belief.
This is a squishy kind of faith. A liberal belief.
Unlike previous iterations of gnostic Christianity, such as the Albigensian heresy of 13th century France, Cartesian dualism had a printing press and Protestantism to spread itself. Paracelsus, the medieval alchemist, was being reimagined as a Calvinist in magical grimoires studied by serious scholars of “natural philosophy.”
When he debunked Descartes, Hobbes was in Paris because he had fled London ahead of a violent revolution. That mob of Puritans later tore down the Cheapside cross monument in a fever of Christian devotion. Then those same fanatics brought their faith in God and ideas across the Atlantic to build a shining city on a hill. By the time “manifest destiny” had even become a topic of public conversation in the United States, parts of America, most famously western New York state, were already “burned over” from constant religious revivalism.
As I recently explained to podcaster and therapist Stephanie Winn, during the 1840s there was a particularly febrile period of religious formation in the US. More than one American religion was born in this time: the Church of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all trace their roots to the magical year 1844. Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, while a Baptist minister named William Miller published a popular book saying that the End of Days was at hand. So great were public expectations that the failure of his prophecy is known as the Great Disappointment.
Failed prophecies have always created new religions and movements, even human migrations. Brigham Young carried the Book of Mormon to Utah in search of a Zion to await the End Times. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is still on a globalizing evangelical mission to spread their gospel. Saving the whole world has always been a very American idea, though what that means has changed many times.
America was also already a land of diversity. Ohioans and Indianans and Tennesseeans named cities after exotic places they read about in ancient, faraway lands, if sometimes with new pronunciations: Baghdad, Medina, Mecca, Cairo, Alexandria, Memphis. Though it was not among the texts he cribbed most, Smith was clearly influenced by the Qur’an. His fantastical notions about Native Americans being the descendants of the “lost tribes” of Israel was not new, either, but plagiarized.
From inception, the United States of America was globalized, even multicultural, and knew itself through an entire world of older ideas. Even the identity “American” was new, unfinished, an argument instead of an idea.
“Trust thyself,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 1844, he was editor of The Dial, a Transcendentalist journal. Emerson rejected rationalism, preferring to see God everywhere he looked. In two words, he granted the Transcendentalist believer permission to live in a world of their own imagining, so they might connect with God at all times. Emersonian Christianity was esoteric, romanticist, gnostic. As such, it could incorporate new scientific understandings of reality without giving up heaven.
Thinking heaven exists made it it really exist; everyone carried heaven inside their own mind. Or as Descartes might have phrased it: I think, therefore heaven exists.
“I am thinking of heaven, therefore I am heaven,” Hobbes might have retorted.
Four years after Mormons left Missouri on their trek west, and the Great Disappointment had sparked the birth of whole new Christian religions, Catherine and Margaretta Fox, sisters aged 11 and 14, performed their first séance. This revival of the ancient rituals, communing with residents of an afterworld, was Christian by declaration but syncretistic in fact. American spirit-mediums today claim ten thousand different ethnic or ancient faith traditions in order to drum up business. Ask Miss Cleo. (You will need a medium.)
Fast forward to the 1960s, and the moment when rock stars “wiped out the split-reed sax, and mantras began fouling the crystal clarity of rock and roll lyrics,” to quote Indian writer and documentarian Gita Mehta’s critique of western cultural imperialism and colonialism, Karma Cola: The Marketing of the Mystic East. “Eventually we succumbed to the fantasy that Indian goods routed through America were no longer boringly ethnic, but new and exciting accessories for the Aquarian Age.” Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation and Scientology: another burst of esoteric beliefs, free borrowing of rituals and practices, a changing moral landscape.
By the 1990s, the hip a la carte religion was “New Age,” and a new cohort of evangelical Christians was rejecting that culture of the Whole Earth Catalog. Like the Puritans, the objectors complained that Christianity had been colonized by something new and sinister and foreign to its nature, that the innovation in traditions and rituals from outside influences was perverting their faith.
Resistance to that malevolent force was inherently political, referencing everything left of Ronald Reagan in the negative. America has always been an argument about itself and its place in the world. That argument was always explicitly religious, with ideas about gnosis naturally gavitating left and harder religious beliefs tending to swing to the right, especially in our time.
It happened in the one country on earth where everyone comes with their faiths, traditions, rituals, and cultures, a country that started out void of any identity, and has borrowed freely from all of them along the way, finally turning outwards to remake the world in its own image of omnifaith, of being all faiths at once, in general, but no single faith in particular.
An evangelizing liberatory faith mission.
James Lindsay is right about esoteric leftist politics.
In a recent podcast episode titled “The Violence of Decolonization,” the conservative activist and scholar discusses Frantz Omar Fanon, also known as Ibrahim Frantz Fanon.
Fanon is the single most important influence in academic decolonization studies. I have enountered him recently, quoted at length in freshman history texts. A psychiatrist, Fanon makes an explicit call to violence in Wretched of the Earth. It is a weaponization of psychology in pursuit of what we would understand today as social justice, though Fanon did not use those words. He was a pan-Africanist, wanting a single continental superstate; that never happened. He demanded that the US should explicitly link national liberation with decolonization in the postwar order. Ultimately, that is what happened.
More to the point, however, Fanon’s violence is purgative. Cleansing. Transformative of the colonized individual. Blood erases the colonized and colonizer, leaving space for new African identity to emerge. A new mind.
Lindsay does not use the terms palingenetic, or palingenesis, which are used in studying this same phenomenon in fascism. He ought to, for as Lindsay is happy to explain, fascism and communism diverged from the same esoteric source material.
In fact, Fanon’s use of capital letters to concretize abstract ideas (“Political Consciousness,” “Negritude”), which confused Lindsay on first reading, has become more meaningful to him now that he understands Marxism as “an esoteric religion.”
This may surprise the reader who is used to thinking of socialism and communism as godless creeds. All the most difficult parts of Hegel and Marx — the eye-watering digressions into “essence,” “World-Spirit,” and so on — are in fact esoteric faith constructs from previous epochs, ideas thousands of years old, reimagined as a pseudoscientific historical methodology. Lindsay:
Ever since I learned the roots of Hegel and Marx’s work being embedded in esoteric religions like Gnosticism and Hermeticism, I’ve come to read those tests from those religions, and about those religions, and the way that Hegel and Marx made use of those ideas, I no longer feel like I can talk about issues, whether it’s Marxism, whether it’s woke, whether it’s anything libertarian — critical theory, cultural Marxism, it doesn’t matter — I feel like I can no longer talk about these issues in their own terms. I feel like I can only talk about them in terms of them being manifestations of esoteric religion.
Welcome to enlightenment, James! Esotericism has been popular with authoritarians ever since Plato.
To cite one famous example, Stalin indulged the esoteric vision of Trofim Lysenko, who rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of “Marxist biology.” Lysenko sent the real biologists to Siberia and starved 30 million people to death through his agricultural disasters. Mao also had esoteric ideas shaped by occult practices. To be sure, the Cultural Revolution has clear parallels with our current era of “cancel culture.”
“Fundraising felt impossible,” ballet producer Lincoln Jones tells the Free Press. His crime? Declining to turn his ballet production company into a crusade. “The requirement on grants comes down to this: If you don’t agree with this very particular and recently adopted approach to social justice, we won’t fund your art. Behind the scenes, so many people in the arts world told me just to say the words.”
Just say the words. Say you believe. You don’t have to mean it.
Just say you believe, like we do.
Perform the rituals.
Otherwise, we will have to shun you.
Promising social transformation, John Saller writes that DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is “supplanting truth as the mission of American universities.” Social justice is a very old gospel, but the zealots have never been this sure of their own power to make us say their magic words and impose their revisionist programs.
Leslie Elliott went to Antioch College, a bastion of progressive Christianity and politics since its founding in 1850, to pursue her career as a therapist. Fanon and Marx thrive at Antioch for the same reason Emerson and Descartes thrive at Antioch: their ideas are useful for revolutionary programs in a Nietzschean world where “God is dead.”
Elliott discovered that woke ideology has taken over the teaching of the profession at Antioch, devaluing the “wrong” experiences of patients with the “wrong” opinions or demographics. Elliott was told to “decolonize” therapy and “degender everything.” Instead, she took to YouTube and started raising an alarm about the colonization of her profession by a sinister, parasitic program. Antioch retaliated by kicking her out, limiting her online account access, and denouncing Elliott as a white supremacist transphobe in an email to staff. Shunning like the Amish.
Steven Pinker wrote an entire book about The Blank Slate.
Or to use the Latin term: tabula rasa.
The modern idea that we are blank slates, upon which society inscribes the person, comes to us from John Locke by way of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Notably, Rousseau had many opinions about children being little blank slates despite never raising any of the five he inflicted on his mistress, preferring to have them sent away so he could have peace and quiet for thinking up new things to be wrong about.
Today, Pinker says, the tabula rasa is “the secular religion of modern intellectual life,” a “sacred scripture for political and ethical beliefs.”
According to the doctrine, any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from differences in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences.
Nature creates inequality and difference. This is the actual “variety,” so beloved of Bingo Allison’s God, that we can actually observe in nature. Liberal politics abhors any innate, natural explanation for inequality, however. Only nurture — good, bad, or indifferent — is allowed to explain inequality and difference. “Identity politics” is the blank slate on steroids: the individual is entirely a product of everyone else around them, and to ascribe any personal or inherent material deficit of any kind is actual genocide of that individual’s identity.
In a recent essay, Pinker writes that “cancel culture” is moral outrage against the nonbelievers by those who demand blank slates for all. This “default intuition has also been intellectualized and fortified by the doctrines of relativism, postmodernism, critical theory, and social constructionism, according to which claims to objectivity and truth are mere pretexts to power.” Ed West calls this cascade “taboo metastasis,” for “not only are such things as the genetic influence of intelligence now more dangerous than before, but even saying such blandly obvious points as sex being a real biological fact are now seen as somehow controversial.”
A hat on a hat, an esoteric belief atop an esoteric belief: if a man claims to have a magical, mystical, invisible, ineffable “transgender” identity that cannot be detected by laboratory experiment, we must believe him, and therefore any attack on him at all, for any reason, is “transphobia,” and somehow also racist. Behold the new untouchable priest class.
It has all happened before, except now there is the internet.
“Constantly enraged by the fact that their wish fulfillment wasn’t being perfectly fulfilled onscreen, and even more infuriated that other people had the gall to be okay with story decisions that felt like personal attacks, the Glee fandom transformed into a bellum omnium contra omnes,” Bill Hurrell writes in a recent viral essay tracing the roots of “woke” to the online personality cults spun off by that program.
To fight that war, more than mere personal desire and preference would be necessary to achieve victory. These things would have to be intellectualized, and so the Glee fandom cast about and found critical theory, and absorbed its narcissistic message that basically enabled you to cry “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” etc at anything because what they really were after was a way to demand that nothing ever happen on the show that didn’t make them feel personally fulfilled. They threatened each other with death, this war was so fierce, and when it was over, while they slunk away bleeding and miserable and full of regret that they had ever let themselves be driven so mad by a freaking TV show, the damage was done. They had already absorbed the intellectual patterns of critical theory and were now determined to inflict this same overly personal, emotionally toxic relationship to media on every other fandom they entered.
Blank slates. Microidentities. Neogenders. Cartesian dualism of the gendered soulbeing. All brought to you by the incredible power of ‘the new printing press’ to bring people together, sure, but not always for good reasons, or with good ideas. All the estimable aspects of religion — forgiveness, mercy, conscience, empathy — are absent, or else weaponized. Our new social justice priesthood demands sacrifices, obedience, silence of all doubt, or else.
Hard atheists and hard believers are the two people least likely to fall for woo. Dear believer, take it from an adamantite atheist. Heretics are coming to your church or synagogue or mosque or temple, nonbinary and transgender and maverickgender and boggogender and all, freak flags flying. They mean to stay and colonize your house of worship with bad ideas and sterilized kids. They are coming. They are already there.
If they have their way, some day soon you will hold pronoun ceremonies in the middle of worship for a child going on puberty blockers. You will be told to pray for another Dylan Mulvaney going through his facial feminization surgery, because that is “necessary and life-affirming.” Girls will share bible camp cabins with boys overnight because what are you, a transphobic bigot? Take heed and start talking to your congregation now, dear believer, before it is too late, and you find yourself surrounded by people whispering:
Just say the words. You don’t have to mean them.
Just say that trans women are women and nonbinary identities are valid.
Just say you believe, like we do. Say it with us.
Perform the rituals.
Otherwise, we will have to shun you.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
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