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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

definition of "immanentizing the eschaton"

From the 2002-01-16 Goldberg File:

At the end of my column, "We Can See Clearly Now," I chastised many of you for not being more zealous promoters of NRO. I wrote:

I'm not asking anyone to become the high-minded ideological equivalent of a Howard Stern listener, calling in to shows to ask Brian Lamb if he's immanentized his eschaton lately, but it would be nice if you could swing the big foam finger with "NRO's Number 1" every now and then.

This elicited three types of responses: 1) people wanting to know where they could buy a big foam finger with "NRO's Number 1" on it, 2) ecstatic shouts of "Thank God someone remembers!" or "Nice Illuminati reference!" and 3) people who wanted to know, "What the hell does 'immanentized his eschaton' mean?"

It is this last category of readers who were ensnared by my conservative dork trap. And now that I have you tied up in curiosity, like Butch and Marsellus in Pulp Fiction, I can indulge myself at my leisure. "Immanentize the eschaton" is a hard-core conservative insider-thing. Sort of like saying "TK-421, where are you?" to a Star Wars freak.

In modern parlance, the phrase was coined by the late, great Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. Voegelin doesn't make for easy reading, and if you can get through The New Science of Politics you probably think I'm an idiot and aren't reading this column anyway. One small example: Voegelin writes, "The problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized. Such an immanentist hypostasis of the eschaton, however, is a theoretical fallacy." Now, if you can understand that the first time through, you probably need a tan.

Anyway, Voegelin believed that Western civilization took a wrong turn under those damnable Gnostics. Gnostics are small furry creatures with opposable thumbs and who tend to get into your garbage cans. Oh, wait. Sorry. Those are raccoons (whom Cosmo considers to be Gnostics — very long story there).

Gnostics were pre-Christian, early Christian, and various Jewish sects who believed that if you stood on one foot while saying the alphabet backwards, or some other silliness, you could release your soul from material constraints while you were still alive.

Actually, that may not be exactly right either. The problem is that Gnosticism took many forms, in many places, over many distinct periods (sort of like bell-bottom pants). The central thing to keep in mind is that Gnostics believed that personal enlightenment — or revelation to a specific truth or viewpoint — liberated you from the need to find salvation in the afterlife or through any conventional, institutional means. Instead of going to salvation, they brought salvation to them (a Muslim Gnostic, I assume, could have his 72 virgins delivered to his home — which, if true, would make Islamic Gnosticism the fastest-growing religion in the world, for men). It's not surprising, then, that the Catholic Church was constantly putting out Gnostic fires through most of its history.

Because the Gnostics believed they — and they alone — had figured out God's plan in the here and now, they tended to be very, very smug and more than a little annoying (except when they were on the rack, which tended to make them a lot less smirky). It also inclined Gnostics to argue that heaven could be established here on earth, that through material or political means they could perfect the inherently imperfectible.

If that sounds shockingly like Hillary Clinton to you, you deserve a door prize ("But I don't need a door!" my couch just heckled). Voegelin believed that Gnosticism flourished in the liberal, leftist, Nazi, and Communist minds. These folks were hell-bent (heh, heh) on creating heaven on earth. According to Voegelin's perspective, Ralph Nader is a direct descendant of — I am not making this up — such 9th-century crypto-Gnostic thinkers as Scotus Eriugena (if you are tempted to write me saying, "Eriugena was a pantheist, not a Gnostic," I bet you need a tan too).

So: Immanentize means to make part of the here and now. Eschaton, like eschatology, relates to the branch of theology which deals with humanity's destiny. You know, the end times, when all of that wacky, end-timey, Seventh-Seal stuff happens (oceans boil, the righteous ascend to heaven, Carrot Top is funny, etc). Hence "immanentizing the eschaton" means, in effect, trying to make what is reserved for the next life part of the here and now. You can see why all sorts of cults, heretical sects, Scientologists, and various flavors of Mother Jones readers — including the Fighting Illuminati — would be accused of doing precisely that.

So why do conservatives care about all this so much? Well, because in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks largely to William F. Buckley's popularization of the phrase, Young Americans For Freedom turned it into a political slogan. Pale YAFers sported bumper stickers warning, "Don't Immanentize the Eschaton." I believe buttons were made for Mr. Buckley's mayoral campaign when he ran against that renowned eschaton immanentizer, John Lindsay, saying the same thing.

Now that you know all that, I should apologize to Brian Lamb for suggesting that he's such a person. However, you can hardly deny that some C-SPAN callers would dearly love to immanentize the eschaton.

It is important to realize the similarities between the Gnostics and the humanists, being a branch of leftism as I see it, a descendant of Christianity and rightist philosophy. Their idea is that their own respective personal knowledge and possession of such knowledge is a key to salvation, not a relationship with God.

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