On his View from the Right, Auster frequently explores and expatiates on Voegelin’s ideas about the gnostic impulse in man. See, for instance, this fascinating thread on gnosticism as a flight from uncertainty: “The Escape from Uncertainty: a Theory of Liberalism.” In such a vein, Auster wondered yesterday if the Avatar blues phenomenon that many movier watchers experience after having seen the film has something to do with Leftist gnosticism. I wrote to him about it, and he posted my following message in “Cameron’s Cinematic Liberal Paradise Makes Viewers Hate Reality”:
I sympathize with the poor folks who want to live on Cameron’s imagined eco-utopia. Though I have not seen Avatar (largely because of the discussion on your site), I have often wanted to travel to fictional worlds, and I suppose that such is common. My youth was spent yearning for Tolkien’s Middle Earth, where the exemplars of good and evil—and of virtue and vice—are more striking and obvious. Does not an Ivanhoesque Romantic stirring ever visit your breast, where you long to see the hero conquer the villains and then ride off into the sunset with the princess? Fantasy is full of our projected wishes, and I don’t know if it is gnostic to wish to see the world more clearly alive and wonderful than how we tend to find it. Looking at what the modern West has become makes me more than a little escapist. Of course, such escapism can be debilitating if indulged in too much. Like strong drink, a little bit of fantasy can take the edge off of our despair.
However, you are quite correct in noting that the best forms of fantasy make us see and appreciate the real world better. I would say that reading Tolkien inculcates an appreciation of creation’s splendor. The Inklings have brought to us moderns a glimpse of the premodern view of the world; they have introduced us to Pan. We who have been thoroughly secularized into seeing the world in a lifeless, horizontal, Cartesian way (as something simply to manipulate) easily lose our ability to see woods, rivers, and fields as alive, mysterious, and beautiful—in short, as iconic. The pagans thought that forests, hills, and lakes were sacred and full of spirits. They only erred in ignoring the divine power that manifests itself in such wondrous works. We Christians do not desecrate the world but connect its majesty with the source of such. Such recalls the tenth book of the Confessions:
And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”; and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above us.” I asked the fleeting winds, and the whole air with its inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; and they answered, “Neither are we the God whom you seek.” And I replied to all these things which stand around the door of my flesh: “You have told me about my God, that you are not he. Tell me something about him.” And with a loud voice they all cried out, “He made us.” My question had come from my observation of them, and their reply came from their beauty of order.
So, it may not be that these poor souls are gnostics. They may simply be aware of the void that the modern, atheistic world leaves them. Given the soul crushing materialism, consumerism, and general cowardice and dishonestly that typify our society, do you really blame them for wanting to live on an alien planet with happy pantheists? They are being fed confections from a tainted store, but their hunger is genuine and understandable.
Good luck in bringing the masses substantive meat.