Thomas Molnar: A Christian Scholar For Our Time
Part I From Gnosticism to Sartre
Not every Christian will agree with all premises of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless Thomistic scholars have valiantly struggled against the overwhelmingly anti-Christian, nihilist thought of our time and pointed to its roots in the past. Thomas Molnar stands in this tradition, and much can be learned from his many excellent writings.
Molnar, born 1921 in Budapest, Hungary, is Professor of French and world literature at Brooklyn College. He is a world traveler and has written articles and books on an astonishingly wide range of subjects. including education, ancient and modern philosophy, American and European politics. socialism, the modern ecumenical movement, and religion versus atheism. Book titles include Ecumenism or New Reformation, The Future of Education The Decline of the Intellectual, Africa, a Political Travelogue; Le Socialisme sans visage (Socialism Without a Face) and L'Animal politique (The Political Animal), published in France; and Authority and Its Enemies, published at the height of the revolutionary, anarchistic turmoil among Western young people in the 1960s. Of particular importance for students wishing to understand the course and meaning of Western intellectual and religious history are Molnar's Sartre: Ideologue of Our Time: Utopia, The Perennial Heresy; God and the Knowledge of Reality; and Theists and Atheists: A Typology of Non-Belief. These four books, as well as Molnar's important article "The Gnostic Tradition and Renaissance Occultism," published in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction (1:2, Winter 1974, pp. 112-119) will be reviewed and discussed on the following pages.
1. "The Gnostic Tradition and Renaissance Occultism"
This very helpful article traces anti-Christian thought patterns during the first three centuries of the Christian era and in the Renaissance. Molnar shows that "the Hebrew-Christian concept of separating God and man as Creator and created. of not confusing their natures, their persons, their powers" stands apart from "practically all other religious and para-religious doctrines and systems [which] identify God and self." Molnar believes that "Christianity is hard to bear" because it requires of man "insertion in the hierarchy of creation, acceptance of a role assigned by the Creator above the rest of other creatures, yet definitively and distinctly not divine." Here Molnar rightly shows that biblical creation ex nihilo is the root and ground of Christianity, as well as of the enmity of almost all other religions and thought systems. To anticipate, this is the burden of his books God and The Knowledge of Reality and Theists and Atheists, as well as of the ground-breaking Utopia. The Perennial Heresy What non-believers really desire and attempt to bring about is the overthrow of the reality created by the God of Christianity, and to become divine creators of a different reality of their own making.
Molnar goes on to show the fundamental monism (disbelief in the transcendent Creator of Scripture) underlying ancient gnosticism and occultism of the first three centuries A.D., which revived in the Renaissance and is threatening "to prevail once more in our time." (We see this revival in the so-called "New Age" movement of today, which is not "new" at all.) Molnar rightly emphasizes the important part played by techniques used by the ancients (as well as modern "New Agers"1) either to escape from this present world into an "inner world" of one's own, or else to master it through attempted fusion or self-identification with God, that is, the pantheist "One." He presents the principal concepts of gnostic-occult thought recurring through history to this day. They are (1) the doctrine of correspondences in the monistic universe, expressed in the occult motto "As above, so below," which allows the magician to change the substance of the world/reality; (2) the notion of the "coincidence of opposites" (coincidentia oppositorum) within the one great Whole of a pantheist cosmos; (3) closely related to (2), the notion of original man as the "androgyne" in whom male and female are fused; (4) the search for a "philosopher's stone" which would fuse opposites and even produce a "new man"; (5) the symbol of the Sphere, denoting the fused totality of all things (restoration of the original undifferentiated Whole or One) as well as Nothingness. Note that the One and the Nothing are seen as ultimately the same, just as in Zen Buddhism and Chinese Taoism (and inferred in all Eastern monistic thought). To these ideas the Renaissance added "the concept of the community itself as a 'talisman,' a kind of philosopher's stone on a large scale, the city regarded as the Original Man of vast proportions." Humanist utopians have perennially written about their ideal "city" as "the final symbol for man's divinization" and representing a "new" mankind unified in a new, man-made paradise replacing present (created) reality.
2. Sartre: Ideologue of Our Time
Molnar's study of the French atheist-existentialist philosopher and communist centers upon Sartre's hatred of the "bourgeoisie." For Sartre this is not only the loathed traditional middle class (from which he himself sprang), but anyone not exercising absolute and unbounded freedom to do as he pleases. In Sartre's new world there are no moral norms; the very concepts of "good" and "evil" would disappear. In his bulky book Saint Genet, dedicated to a thief pederast, Sartre declared that in a society freed from its "bourgeois" antifreedom neurosis sodomy and theft would be as normal as any other acts.
However, he also stated in his Existentialism Is A Humanism that "even the creation of a climate of tolerance around an individual or a group would be a violation of their freedom: We would thereby neutralize their free exercise of courage and resistance."2 This means that Sartrean absolute freedom is impossible to obtain in any society. What Sartre really wants is the abolition of society; as he puts it in his well-known words from his play No Exit "Hell is other people."
Molnar believes that this rejection of actual reality confronting the self with the not-self or "other" is at the root of all philosophies which see in the "otherness" of reality outside the self "ultimate obstacles to true understanding. They believe that true knowledge could only be attained through the complete merger of subject and object .." This notion was "manifested in medieval nominalism, later in idealism, and again in contemporary phenomenology."3
How can philosophy find a way to overcome the distinction and separation between the self and the world, the subject and the object of knowledge? The phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, whose explanation of how this could be achieved was adopted by Sartre, actually reiterated "the Kantian position which views man's consciousness as the final organizing principle of outer reality."4 As Sartre then put it in an article, "La Transcendance de l'Ego," "The `I' exists by the same token as the outside world, it exists relatively, that is as an object of consciousness."5 Kant, Hursserl and Sartre explained the apparent "otherness" of the world relative to man in an atheistic, rationalistic and phenomenological manner. On the other hand, Hegel expressed the same fundamental premise of a monistic universe in which all is essentially and ultimately one in pantheistic terms. He wrote "in the early Theologische Jugendschriften. . that the divine is the point at which subject and object are no longer separable . Happiness. . is . .our unity with the world, the act of finding oneself in the being."6
A perhaps unexpected but inevitable result follows from any monistic world view (atheist or pantheist) denying the transcendent, personal God of the Bible, the Creator ex nihilo and ontologically "Other" who established creaturely distinction (such as the fixed kinds of Genesis 1) among all things. If the world and all things are considered ontologically One, then it is equally possible to say that man's "I" is absorbed in the universal "One," or that the "One" is absorbed in the "I." Within the monistic atheist-pantheist world view all opposites such as idealism and materialism, pantheism and atheism, rationalism and irrationalism, the self and the "other" coincide. Molnar shows by Sartre's example that "knowing" and "being" also coincide.
Man may reach the state of perfect knower, if, in order to coincide with the outside world, he allows his consciousness to dissolve and become part of the world. This is, in essence, the phenomenological line of thought that Sartre, too, adopts. . .on the other hand, he believes with Hegel that to think an object means to inferiorize it in consciousness which thus defines the outside world.7
Moreover, if the world is essentially "One," and if it exists only as the object of man's consciousness which, just as Kant said, is "the final organizing principle of outer reality," then, as Molnar states, "the reconstructed world (which, for the immanentist [monist] philosopher, is all that being is) will have conditions for the perfect knowledge." For the traditional "realist" philosopher a distinction exists between that which actually is ("being") and that which man knows about it ("knowledge"), and for him "being is more than what knowledge can ever embrace."8 The traditional philosopher wanted to understand the world around him often apart from the Creator God of Scripture, it is true, but at least still in principle submissive to existing reality. The modern philosopher wants perfect, total knowledge of a world he himself creates by his own mind and will so he may transform and rule it; in biblical language, he wants to be God. Alternately, and this is Molnar's belief (he significantly calls Sartre an "ideologue" rather than a philosopher), the modern philosopher is not a philosopher in the traditional sense at all. Marx summed it up neatly in his celebrated dictum, "Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world." This attitude explains why Sartre, ostensibly a champion of total individualist-anarchist freedom, became a rabid defender of communist Soviet tyranny in its efforts to change the world.
Sartre understood that the most important step in establishing a new, reconstructed world is the fusion of all individual "l's" within one all embracing whole, global and cosmic coalescing mankind. This is why he
locked himself up in the Hegelian-Marxist conceptual world Hegel defined the free community of the future as an intersubjectivity in which each may be as sure of all others as of himself. This state will be reached when the world becomes purely the product of men. Human existence will then be based on complete community and reciprocity; consciousness will not have to search beyond man, in the direction of God, but will be totally engaged in the terrestrial enterprise. Sartre could subscribe to every one of these statements; what interests an immanentist of his kind in the Marxian completion of Hegel is the thesis that the objective so outlined is identified not with some nebulous operation of the World Spirit as Hegel taught, but with work, collective ownership, and centrally directed collective production, distribution, and consumption.9
Molnar proves through Sartre that thought systems ostensibly at odds, namely, Kantian rationalism, Hegelian pantheist idealism, Marxist materialism, and modern pnenomenalism-existentialism, share the common ground motive of monism. This presupposition entails the denial of the transcendent, personal, sovereign Creator God of the Bible, and hence of created, fixed, diversified reality. All these thought systems explicitly or implicitly envision a new world, a new age, and a new, coalesced mankind made and ruled by man, the new God.
It is instructive to compare Molnar's "The Gnostic Tradition and Renaissance Occultism" and Sartre. Ideologue of Our Time, and to see the many premises shared by both world views. These common premises include (1) monism, consisting in denial of the separation between God and world as Creator and created, and identification of self or world with God; (2) emphasis upon "techniques" to be absorbed in or master the world; today's techniques not only revive ancient magic, psychological consciousness "expansion" (really emptying one's mind from rational thought) and drugs, but also include "scientific" conditioning, outright brainwashing, and police state coercion; (3) the Renaissance idea, vastly expanded, of the community, the global city, where Sartre's desire for the abolition of society as we know it would be fulfilled, for all differentiation between individual people would be erased in the total and totalitarian "equality" of the new, fused mankind.10 No truly "others" would exist.
1 For a list of such "techniques," see Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspriacy (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1980), pp.86-87.
2 Thomas Molnar, Sante: Ideologue of Our Time (New York: Funk & WagnaIls, 1968), p.51.
3 Ibid., p.41.
4 Ibid., p.53.
5 Ibid., p.50 and n. 19, p.58.
6 Ibid., p.52.
7 Ibid, p.56.
8 Ibid.. p.57.
9 Ibid., p.85-86. Marilyn Ferguson, a prominent spokeswoman of the contemporary, neopagan new age" movement, speaks in glowing terms of the next step of mankind's evolution as analogous to a Kenyan flattid-bug colony in which all flattid-bugs act in total unison to produce a "hive" looking like a flower. The Aquarian Conspiracy. pp.161-162.