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Seeking, finding, church, state, freedom: Part II

Part I here


I’ve always disliked Jesus’ three-part statement in Matthew 7:7 containing the phrase, “Seek and ye shall find.” This strikes my literal-minded self as such a blatant untruth I don’t know how anyone can read it without cynicism or outrage.

Sure, many people seek and DO find some specific, definable, solid Truth (in religion or outside it). More power to them. More power to YOU if you’re such a fortunate soul. Many other seekers (I’m one) search, search, and search some more, and find only falsehood, error, contradiction, endless and extremely colorful fearmongering, and an excess of terrible but extremely enthusiastic argument.

Then, reading The Gnostic Gospels, I came across this key difference between the early church hierarchs’ idea of seeking and finding and the “heretics'” idea.

Hierarchs: Seek until you find our message, then stop. We have everything you’re looking for.

Gnostics: The act of seeking is itself the act of finding. As you continue your search into the light, you’ll discover insight and spiritual growth in the very process of seeking.

The “knock” and “ask” parts of Jesus’ statement remain opaque to me, as they imply an “other” to satisfy their conditions and for some of us no doors to religion are ever opened or requests fulfilled.

But this process-driven, rather than end-goal-driven, concept of seeking and finding .. well, even a hopelessly jaded failed seeker can understand that.


Freedom is a mystical concept. Freedom is also the process of seeking and finding.

Because of this (or at least in part because of this), freedom is the finest way to produce that elusive thing so often used instead to justify tyranny: the greatest good for the greatest number.

The hierarchs of both nation and church say, “Believe in us to avoid error and escape our punishments.” Freedom says, “Screw up and prepare for the consequences until you figure out what works. Remember that what works for you might not work for everybody else — but in aggregate what freedom produces benefits everyone.”

Hierarchs of all persuasions say, “Do everything according to our defined procedures. Change only when we grant permission.” Freedom says, “I give you science, free markets, the printing press, telecommunications, great (and sometimes ‘heretical’) books, free association, release from historic poverty and superstition. I give you the choice of following your own path and discovering your own truths — which may be stupid or wondrous, as only experience can tell.”

Hierarchs say, “Obey us and be safe.” Freedom says, “Explore! You might die trying, but in the end, all humanity will be safer, more prosperous, and more enlightened for being free to go beyond the authoritative and the handed-down.”

Hierarchs say, “Trust us to look out for your best interests better than you yourself can.” Hierarchs don’t add “We hope you never notice that we’re hidebound, corrupt, inept, ignorant, and entirely and always serving our own self-interest.” Freedom says, “Trust yourself. Value your peers. Learn from your errors and go on.”


Functionally, there is very little difference between church and state, other than the things they revere as gods. Some current gods may be (to name only a sampling from the pantheon) “democracy,” “patriotism,” “popular opinion,” the national myth of the moment, lobbyists, money, and the perfect transforming power of technology. All these gods, governments serve, support, and attempt to perpetuate.

If you’re offended by the thought of government acting like a church or vice versa, take modern governance as an example of history rhyming, if not exactly repeating itself. These are outfits that not only aim to rule, but aim to do so by first, and constantly, molding our reality to fit their purposes.

Politically, for any government, the easiest and most desirable course for achieving goals is also precisely the same as it was for early church hierarchs — enforcing sheeplike acceptance by the hoi palloi of central authority. Demanding, or at least promoting, full belief and unquestioning “faith” followed by loyalty, submission, and obedience.

The most desirable course for any freedom-seeking “gnostic” anarchist/libertarian/free marketeer, on the other hand, is following individual principles, having choices, pursuing chances for discovery, prosperity, community, creativity, and personal growth and achievement. Plus, of course, having sufficient intellectual autonomy to seek after both The Cap-T Truth and smaller personal truths. And possessing the freedom to shout, “BS!” when the powerful are in the wrong.

That’s an obvious clash of incompatibles — especially when you consider that all hierarchies (and, sadly, many individuals) define “different” as “opposite, opposing, enemy.”

Within the universal church, a core belief was always, “You can’t make it on your own. We have the only access to the higher power you desperately need. We are the only earthly spokesmen for that higher power.” Governments may not be so blatant in saying so, but they do attempt to control access to all the current “gods,” to dole out the godly beneficence, to monger the fear that without them we and all we love would be lost, and to determine who is favored and who is cast out.

I don’t like this. You probably don’t like this. But it’s also possible that, as with the survival of the early church, the ruthlessness, the myths, the impositions from above, and even the paranoia of the powers that be are survival traits. After all, could a bunch of “do their own thing” libertarian-anarchists, who famously can’t agree on what to have for dinner, hold together anything more than a small voluntary community against the terrible forces of realpolitik and history?


After Vatican II modestly loosened centuries of old policies, Tom Lehrer satirized the supposed anarchism of the reforms in a song, “The Vatican Rag” (“Everybody say his own kyrie eleison!”) (lyrics video).

It was pretty funny at the time, but it gently pointed at the scary truth that even modest change is both hard and threatening to historically immovable institutions. Small change is trumpeted as huge. Major change tends to come only with a whole bunch of people dying. Institutions of coercive power don’t react well to demands for real change.

Obviously there are dangers on both extremes, hierarchal power and boundless freedom. When you assume that a nation is a fixed concept and that government is also a concept defined by believing institutional dogma and following leaders, you’re open to inevitable tyranny and corruption. OTOH, freedom can equal chaos and impermanance — or so millions of people are taught to perceive.

And it’s true that freedom tends to yield over time to the desire for hierarchy and fixed ideas of order. In all times, even the best of times, free individuals are vulnerable to vast, overpowering forces. The most supposedly stable, secure, powerful, just, and law-bound government will reach out at any time, unpredictably, to crush a single individual who holds a “wrong” opinion and expresses it too vocally.

It was a foregone conclusion, back in the day, that an organized, political, and hierarchical church was going to crush a bunch of proto-hippie, proto-Jungian, Buddhist-influenced, super-ascetic believers in individual interior light.

Still — in a little miracle of resistance and history — one or more insignificant members of that increasingly powerful church, upon being ordered to destroy the “heretical” texts in his or their library, sneaked that clay jar full of books into the desert and defiantly hid it. That person or those people could not have imagined that 1,600 years later those books would emerge to enrich and educate a more receptive world. You never know.

It’s a foregone conclusion that we assorted anarchists, libertarians, and other individual freedom seekers will never move the weight of government off millions of shoulders. Or even off our own. Perhaps one day we’ll be known, as the gnostics were for centuries, mostly through the derision and misrepresentations of those who hate and fear us. But you never know. History is full of surprises. Ideas have power even when the individuals holding the ideas lack it.

Whatever happens in the big political and historic picture, one thing remains true: Seek freedom, and in the mere act of seeking, you find it. That is, you find — and exercise — personal freedom, despite whatever horrible or hopeful thing might be happening to political freedom.


There may even be hope of meaning in the otherwise opaque “ask” and “knock” passages of that dubious bible quote. Pagels quotes Silvanus, a gnostic whose Teachings were found at Nag Hammadi:

Knock on yourself as upon a door and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on the road, it is impossible for you to go astray …. Open the door for yourself that you may know what is … Whatever you will open for yourself, you will open.


  1. Pat
    Pat June 6, 2019 5:28 am

    Too much to absorb – I’m still pondering Part I.

    Re: “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes”: “History” may not repeat, but people do. And it’s people who make up history.

    Take War: War was fought for years on foot and horseback, with rocks and spears and swords, and face-to-face. Now we fight with planes and drones, with “smart” weapons and bombs, against hundreds and thousands at a time (never knowing – or really caring – who our enemy is).

    BUT… we still fight, we still kill! WHERE’S THE PROGRESS? Technology changes, but people have not. “History” does repeat itself, because people repeat themselves, and have not learned (or want to learn) from their mistakes. (The writers who speak of “rhymes” will not admit that those rhymes are *people*; and not just the people in textbooks, but those never heard from, those many who just “go along to get along”.)

    Re: hierarchs and gnostics: You might say that hierarchs are concerned with the destination, gnostics are concerned with the journey. Which one gets you to their goal faster?

    The hierarch is always seeking more. But if the journey IS the goal, gnostics – nnd freedom-seekers – must be happier and more content (with themselves at least) in the seeking because they are living their goal while “looking” for it.

  2. Michael Stone
    Michael Stone June 6, 2019 7:02 am

    A lot to think about here.

    I’m becoming “post-ideological” over the years. More and more I think that the way things are is the way things have always been, just a slightly different flavor.

    After years of railing against centralized plans and “one size fits all” systems, I’m beginning to see that us freedomistas suffer from the same problem – we think we can come up with one big plan or idea or just explain things clearly enough and we can fix everything.

    Now I’m “just” seeking and learning for myself.

    I feel much calmer..

  3. Jorge
    Jorge June 6, 2019 1:29 pm

    Part 1 inspired me to reread the _The Gnostic Gospels_. I don’t remember how long it has been since I first read it but know that I’ve had it for over 30 years. Surprisingly the book is still in good shape. After rereading it I see that it was one of the many books that put me on my path. Although I must admit that I attempted Libertarian party politics for a while, thinking this was the way towards freedom and enlightenment. The Gnostics would surely laugh.

    While I truly hate coercive hierarchies I try not to think too much about them. I try to be “the change you want to see in the world” (probably not Gandhi). If my daughters, a few friends and perhaps some others more closer to freedom I am happy.

    Thanks for the Vatican Rag link. I did not realize there was a video. I checked out the the rest of the album on the site. _Wernher Von Braun_ was unfortunately not available (there was someone who got away with War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity). “National Brotherhood Week” is as relevant today was it was 50+ years ago, just now substitute politics for race/religion. And of course “New Math” the philosophy/religion that inspired it has now come to dominate almost every subject.

  4. larryarnold
    larryarnold June 6, 2019 1:47 pm

    Trigger warning: You may consider the following freedomista heresy.

    It was a foregone conclusion, back in the day, that an organized, political, and hierarchical church was going to crush a bunch of proto-hippie, proto-Jungian, Buddhist-influenced, super-acetic believers in individual interior light.

    And into this breech, the need of many individuals of disparate beliefs, backgrounds and abilities to come together and cooperate to build something that is both permanent, and beyond the ability of any individual or small group of individuals, came what I believe is humankind’s most important invention.*

    The corporation.

    In its purest form, individuals with a common goal elect representatives (a board of directors) who:
    1. Can make decisions for the group;
    2. Can hold property in the name of the group;
    3. Are individually responsible for their own actions, not the actions of the group.

    Since the corporation was invented humans have had the ability to cooperate and build pretty much anything they wanted to, and maintain it as long as it was needed. Like the computers we’re using over the infrastructure of the internet to communicate via Living Freedom Blog.

    There’s an interesting list of the oldest living corporations at:
    Starting with Kongō Gumi, a Japanese construction firm first chartered in 578.

    Corporations have indeed been dangerously misused. In every case I’ve seen it’s because governments granted them powers beyond what they should have,

    * Not to say the control of fire, agriculture, wheels, and bows and arrows weren’t also vital.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 9, 2019 2:38 pm

    After all, could a bunch of “do their own thing” libertarian-anarchists, who famously can’t agree on what to have for dinner, hold together anything more than a small voluntary community against the terrible forces of *realpolitik* and history?


    It’s a foregone conclusion that we assorted anarchists, libertarians, and other individual freedom seekers will never move the weight of government off millions of shoulders. Or even off our own. Perhaps one day we’ll be known, as the gnostics were for centuries,

    While you were writing this, the progress of technological innovation continued to roll on. Contrary to what Orwell wrote in 1984, technological innovation can only be temporarily dammed up, not stopped permanently. Kurzweil’s plot of innovation through recorded human history showed this. The plot grows faster than exponential. I speculate the exponent depends on IQ, which is itself growing as we build better tools. Making guns in your garage with cheap small machine tools is now boring enough that a garage video needs to have CNC machines with robotic tenders to be interesting. Copenhagen Suborbitals is today building a manned suborbital rocketry mission on a donation budget. Soon the cost of a drone-with-pistol will shrink from $500 to $50. When suburban white picket fence lines start getting defended against busybodies and thieves, what will appear is individual freedom. What will you do with your life, once labor-saving devices free you from most of the work to earn a living, and labor-saving defense devices allow you to keep what you’ve earned?

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 9, 2019 3:07 pm

    Militarily, the only way government can succeed is if it implants its control mechanism of human brain malware into a high enough percentage of minds. Accordingly, individual liberty has been positioned by the status quo media as on the far side of a lifestyle disruption of Biblical proportions: cities burning, neighbors shooting each other in civil war, mass starvation, nuclear wastelands, war diseases producing a zombie apocalypse. Under no instances are you supposed to fantasize about a peaceful repeal like the Berlin wall falling. Even worse is anticipating the state being quietly stalemated into mutually assured destruction, like additional gun registration was in Connecticut, California, New Jersey, etc.

    What’s going to happen is, tax collection will be disrupted because it can’t be militarily defended, the dollar will be hyperinflated, most of the government employees will quit and find jobs that pay, and retired boomers will go back to work. Golly, that’s soooo terrible!

  7. Noah Body
    Noah Body June 10, 2019 1:20 pm

    “What will you do with your life, once labor-saving devices free you from most of the work to earn a living . . . ”

    Oh yeah, that prediction again. What it’s looking like, is the labor-saving devices will be freeing people from having jobs, meaning they will have little or no income. The problem will not be how to fill leisure time, but how to survive without work.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 11, 2019 6:56 am

    The problem will […] be […] how to survive without work.

    The labor-saving devices won’t stop you from working, any more than your dishwasher today stops you from cooking in your kitchen or your lawnmower stops you from gardening. Generally, peoples’ earnings are a percentage of what they produce. The bigger of a power tool you use, the more you get paid. In the future, you might choose to service a self-driving farm combine, because this labor-saving device is so productive.

    You seem to be operating from the incorrect view that there is a fixed amount of work in the world, and social justice means to spread that work around evenly. The reason so many people who want jobs today don’t have them is because government has outlawed those jobs with red tape and high taxation.

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