A new word for an old enemy

I’ve been trying to find a word for some time to describe what I consider to be the most dangerous type of person on the planet. I have lit on an old word, ‘gnostic’ which means ‘having knowledge, knowing or shrewd’ (Chambers, 12th edition, 2011). It is also helpfully the antonym of ‘agnostic’ a term which is often bandied around in conversations about religion and religious doubt.

(When endowed with a capital G, a Gnostic means an adherent of Gnosticism, an almost impossibly abstruse set of beliefs which you can read more about here. My intention is not to allude to them.)

So: I’m proposing to use the word ‘gnostic‘ – with a small g – to describe people with a particularly dangerous cast of mind which all of us have come across at one point or another.

There has been a lot of comment, scandal and policy-making on how to prevent extremism, most (but not all) of which seems currently to be centred around religion rather than politics. It was not always thus – extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies have played their part and they don’t go away. However, what many of us agree on is that it is not specifically religion, or the religious, nor indeed politics or the political, who threaten to oppress, destablise or dominate.

In my and many other people’s view, it is those who know that they are right, and that what they believe is the real and only truth, who are the enemies of civilisation at all levels from the international to the domestic. It is those for whom their religion or politics are the last word. They are the people who believe that holding certain beliefs auotmatically makes them not only good people but better than those who do not hold those beliefs.

Not only that, they believe that those who do not hold those beliefs they are wrong and evil, and that must be defeated, either by conversion, subversion or conquest. It is perfectly legitimate, in the mind of a gnostic, to use these weapons against the unbeliever.

Please note that I do not include most religious or political people in this. Most of us are reasonable people. My friends occupy a wide range of religious and philosophical ground, including devout Church of England vicars, wine-drinking Muslims, Sikhs who rise every day at 5am to pray, Liberal Democrat councillors, lapsed Catholics, Pagans, non-practising Jews and a former Tory cabinet minister.

They are not, however, gnostics. They do not consider me damned. They may try to persuade me (though most don’t), but they will never execute me for failing to agree with them.

The term ‘gnostic’ is one which I hope other people may start to use, not least because I feel that politics and religion are as badly tainted by extremism as is secular life. It distinguishes workaday belief from extreme belief, and civilised human interaction from deranged obsession.

I have no idea whether it will catch on – perhaps there is a better word out there which will.




Published in: on June 8, 2014 at 17:10  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As Anuerin Bevan said (and was later re-quoted by The Manic Street Preachers) “This is my Truth, tell my Yours” – a very true statement and one we should all consider in our daily lives.

  2. As Anuerin Bevan said (and was later re-quoted by The Manic Street Preachers) “This is my Truth, tell my Yours” – a very true statement and one we should all consider in our daily lives.

    • Or as Sam Goldwyn put it, ‘When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.’

  3. I prefer the term ‘ideologue’ whether a precise term or not, because I like some of the gnostics of old. It was the anti-gnostics who burnt gospels that did not agree with them, whilst it was the gnostics who had a female creator God of wisdom, Sophia…

    • See my comment to Badger above. Ideologue is good too!

  4. Could I put the case for not using ‘gnostic’ here? ‘Gnostic’ refers to knowledge (it is simply greek for ‘knowledge’), and what you’re referring to here is not knowledge but an absolute certainty in a stated/held position or belief. In many cases this is anti-knowledge, because the belief is false (and therefore not based on knowledge) and the stance that one’s position is the one absolute truth suppresses knowledge. ‘Ideologue’ is far closer to the sort of person you’re describing. I’ll see if I can think of a term for you to coin in this blog. How about ‘dogmatomaniac’? Bit long, perhaps.

    • Hi Badger – yes a couple of other chums have made this point and indeed I almost didn’t post this blog as I thought it wasn’t quite the right word. But anyway, I like ‘dogmatomaniac’.

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