The Gnosticism of Everyday Life

One of the most familiar types of “clever” remarks is to pretend to take it literally when someone says, “I’m sorry” in response to some tale of woe, responding, “It’s not your fault.” Indeed, so typical has this “joke” become among males my age that I am increasingly reluctant to express basic human sympathy out of fear of providing the set-up for some hackneyed joke.

Today, however, I came up with a solution that allows me to signal my empathy while gaining the upper hand in the increasingly competitive market for quips. Instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry,” one can respond to accounts of unfortunate events in which one had no hand as follows: “I apologize on behalf of God, who has so poorly fashioned the world.”

This quip works particularly well when dealing with people suffering from seasonal allergies or problematic wisdom teeth, which help to lend some credence to the Gnostic notion of Incompetent Design.

Concrete Practices

According to my version of Firebug, if you are reading this page from the United Kingdom it took approximately 2.63 seconds for you to receive the 63.4 kilobytes of data that constitute this page, with an empty cache. Doubtless there are numerous proxy servers and caches between myself and the server which may make the process faster, but according to Traceroute giving me raw data, the server of is in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. This is 3862.10 miles away as the crow flies but it is important to note by request does not travel a direct route. There 17 servers between myself and the server, and between the sixth and eighth hop on its journey, the data transfers from a server in Hampshire in the UK to a server in Frankfurt in Germany before returning to the UK for a few hops before going from here to one in Atlanta, Georgia in the US. This journey from Hampshire to Frankfurt is approximately 1,078 miles by road and would take you seventeen hours to drive – it takes 0.4 milliseconds. Our transatlantic jaunt takes 88.3 milliseconds or 0.0883 seconds, before heading out from there, after a spell, to New York, then finally reaching its destination. During this process there was 0% loss of information, the packets I sent from my computer here arrived in Chicago in perfect condition. This does not recognise the fact that another traceroute to this site could go by another route,  and does not include all the other operations that are part of my receiving of the webpage, for example, getting the images for the avatars from, which apparently has some servers in Los Angeles, California, ten hops away.

Now,, which runs this site, runs on the GNU/Linux operating system (and, the Nginx server using a robust version of WordPress MU, that depends upon both the PHP language and a MySQL database. In turn, the compilation and assembly of all these piece of software depend upon some kind of compiler, in this case, more than likely gcc, the GNU Compiler Collection. The browser I am using is Mozilla Firefox, the operating system Mac OS X, which has a kernel based on elements of FreeBSD that is called Darwin, all of which were compiled by this same compiler (note: Apple’s attitude to their kernel is problematic, there is no doubt). Everything I have mentioned in Open Source with licenses at varying levels of freedom, many of which are under the ‘free as in thought’ GNU license. In running Nginx, is unusual, but the open source software Apache run the majority (47.12%) of web servers on the internet. Let’s just take on example, WordPress MU. WordPress MU has 203,636 lines of code, but is being dissolved into WordPress itself which has 207,547 lines of code. Every line of this code has been written by a human being, an every line itself as been revised, checked, edited, refined. It is the product of literally thousands of developers, working together towards a common and freely available project. How is this not a community, with its difficulties, splits, problems, ethos and meetings both virtual and actual? Extending these estimations outwards to embrace every other element of open source software created in this single internet transaction makes the numbers dizzying. In 2001 Red Hat Linux 7.1 contained 30,152,114 lines of code, estimated to take a single person 7,956 years to complete. This number, by 2010, is probably far greater. Just as an example, in 2001 the Linux kernel was 3,377,902 lines of code, in February this year it is 12,990,041 lines of code. This does not even begin to consider the communities that came up with the TCP/IP protocol, XHTML, the PNG format – I could go on.

Now, tell me, how are any of these things, from the establishing of servers that allow internet transactions, or more vitally to the community practices that facilitate these examples of open source software, more often than not divorced from any profit motive, not ‘concrete’ practices of work in the same way that some kind of hand waving ‘localism’? Are they not at least as interesting and incredible versions of human interaction as running a back to the land farm?

Tory Dialectics

The United Kingdom is currently moving only shakily towards the perfection of Toryism – we must summon all our efforts once again comrades! Only the triumph of Toryism, and the entry into the dictatorship of the Bullingdon Club that is the first step on this road, will ensure a country where the public services will bask in the unalienated freedom of worker controlled services, much like the John Lewis Partnership! Whereas the reactionaries may not, Comrade Gove well understands the most central principle of our dialectics: that opposing principles will ultimately be resolved in a higher dialectical movement! Our party talks in favour of all the benefits of worker control in the public services, calling a model from the private sphere as an exemplar, the workers republic of Waitrose. Our party is deeply opposed to organised labour attempting to control the direction of their company and prevent their exploitation at the hands of their benevolent employers and even more opposed to them having a form of political representation – Comrade Thatcher did not fight so bravely for it to be otherwise! Whereas our proletariat enemies see contradiction negatively, we more subtle thinkers understand that contradiction is the very basis of all movement in itself, even contradiction within our own party! This contradiction is simply another brief moment in what is unstoppable: the bourgeois movement of history!

A new proof of the existence of God

Proofs of the existence of God have fallen on hard times. We are far from the days when Anselm could berate the Fool for his failure to see that God’s existence was inherent in the very concept of God, and even from the heyday of Aquinas’s “five ways” to prove the existence of a Creator. Anthony and I have, however, devised a new proof of the existence of God that is not only fully rigorous, but also reflects much of the thinking underlying Christian practice today — a stirring example of faith completing reason. It goes as follows:

  1. We see all around us that the world is awash in sinful and perverse acts.
  2. Now God is the only standard by which we can know these acts as sinful and perverse.
  3. If God did not exist, then the sinful and perverse would be completely acceptable.
  4. But this is absurd — and therefore God must exist.

All we need now is a catchy name like “the teleological argument” or “the argument from design.” Perhaps the “argument from homophobia”?

Any takers?

In the spirit of the periodic CFPs on “religion and violence,” I wonder if we could somehow put together a conference on “nation-states and violence” or “money and violence” or “natural resources and violence” or “race and violence” or “sex and violence.” Violence comes in so many delightful packages — though I’m sure religion is flattered by the attention it gets in this context, other causes of violence deserve investigation as well.

A free tip for heresy hunters

Many conservative Christians are eager to point out heresies, but they are at a severe disadvantage compared to previous generations. Simply put, modern heresies don’t have the same imposing names as the old ones. Indeed, often they don’t have names at all — other than “women getting all uppity and using feminine terms for God.” The gap between that and “Nestorianism” or “monothelitism” is palpable.

Fortunately, I’m here to help. I’ve coined one term and independently discovered another to help provide my conservative brethren with the high-grade vocabulary arsenal they need:

  • Gynotheism: using feminine imagery to refer to God (not an original coinage, but not in wide usage)
  • Hermaphrotheism: using both masculine and feminine imagery to refer to God (according to Google, an original coinage as of this writing)

Perhaps more terms along these lines could be coined. For instance, there’s hydrotheism, the use of the metaphor of a spring for the Trinity.

Continue reading “A free tip for heresy hunters”


I propose that we use the word “parachuting” to refer to those occasions, all too frequent in academic writing, when a particular figure is quoted in a definitive manner without the author having previously given us any grounds for expecting to hear from the figure at all.

In theology blogging, a common example is when a blogger is discussing some topic and concludes with a sudden quotation from Rowan Williams. Yoder often comes in for this treatment as well. Another example: in broader humanities writing, for a long time it was de rigueur to “parachute in” a quotation from Walter Benjamin.

You may argue that there is already a term for this, namely deus ex machina — but what are we, a bunch of idol-worshippers?!

Another academic coinage

Magnum opusculum: referring to cases where a scholar is best-known for an essay rather than a book.

A paradigmatic example of a magnum opusculum is “The Traffic of Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex” by Gayle Rubin. A cursory search of Amazon and the catalogue of the Regenstein library reveal no books by Rubin, but her essay is very widely cited. A professor of mine told our class that Rubin had published it as a grad student, to encourage us to think of ourselves as potentially contributing to the field even before the dissertation.

Identifying with your captor

I have some reservations about the recent Larval Subjects post about “difficult” books, but I think that, in part, it points toward a real phenomenon — one that I call “academic Stockholm Syndrome.” We’ve all seen it before: an academic invests great energy and undergoes profound suffering in the attempt to grasp a particularly difficult thinker and, upon succeeding, spends the rest of his or her career thoroughly identified with that thinker.

The most prominent victim is undoubtedly Zizek, who was taken hostage by both Lacan and Hegel, but even Sinthome himself appears to have a very difficult case, with his combination of Deleuze and Lacan.