December 1, 2004


Song of himself: Harold Bloom on God (Marc M. Arkin, May 1992, The New Criterion)

Once a Romantic, always a Romantic. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University as well as Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Professor of English at New York University, was at one time a literary critic with a special interest in Romanticism. In his new book, The American Religion, he attempts to do for American religion what he once did for literature: rewrite it with himself as the hero. In pursuit of this Romantic calling, Professor Bloom argues that there is such a thing as an American Religion and that it transcends all denominational barriers. According to Bloom, American Religion is defined not by a distinctive theology but by the unmediated experience of the self as God. The “American finds God in herself or himself,” he writes, a feat accomplished “only after finding the freedom to know God by experiencing a total inward solitude.” In this solitary freedom, the American is liberated both from other selves and from the created world. He comes to recognize that his spirit is itself uncreated. Knowing that he is the equal of God, the American Religionist can then achieve his true desideratum, mystical communion with his friend, the godhead.

For Bloom, gnosticism unites with American exceptionalism to yield an American Religion that finds God not in nature but in the divine spark within the yeoman farmer: a sort of manifest destiny of the oversoul. Quite clearly, this version of American religion does not describe Sunday services at your local mainline Protestant church. Indeed, to find a methodology equal to his insight, Bloom must slip the traces of traditional disciplines and develop a new genre, one which, in deference to his previous profession as a literary critic, he baptizes “religious criticism.” Just as Bloomian literary criticism elevates itself to the level of the works of literature it explores, so religious criticism turns out to be a species of self-deification.

The difficulty with such a novel discipline, if “discipline” be a fair word, is that, like the Bloomian religion itself, it seems to be subject to none of the traditional constraints. Admitting that he is not “a historian or a sociologist or a psychologist of religion, let alone a theologian,” Bloom instead qualifies himself as a religious critic by explaining that he is an “unbelieving Jew of strong Gnostic tendencies.” Even while likening religious criticism to literary criticism—both are said to be based on a core aesthetic element—Bloom points out that religious criticism is freed from such limiting concerns as texts or the relations between texts.

In other words, religious criticism is entirely a projection of the Romantic self, the self of the critic if not of the believer.

The exquisite thing about this is that the folks who fell for his argument have unwittingly become gnostics themselves--it's like a malicious zen koan.

-ESSAY: Wake up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix (Frances Flannery-Dailey, Hendrix College and Rachel Wagner, The University of Iowa, Journal of Film and Religion)
-ESSAY: The Gnostic Matrix (Don Closson, Leadership U)
-Gnosticism (Wikipedia)

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2004 6:42 PM

The great Shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard. The angels in heaven are dismayed and are seized with fear and trembling; as they proclaim,. Behold the Day of Judgment! For the hosts of heaven are to be arraigned in judgment, for in Your eyes even they are not free from guilt. All who enter the world You cause to pass before You, one by one, as a flock of sheep. As a shepherd musters his sheep and causes them to pass beneath his staff, so do You pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creatures life and decreeing its destiny.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.

Americans don't have time for repentance, prayer and righteousness. We assume we can argue G-d out of it.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 1, 2004 7:14 PM

knowing that he that he is the equal of God

Oy vey. Just what Satan wanted with Adam & Eve. This is about as far away from Judeo-Christian teaching as you can get. (And Islamic too, probably.)

This isn't even good Buddism. (That everything is maya - illusion - does not imply that you are God.)

Posted by: Gideon at December 1, 2004 9:00 PM

"...King Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the throne, and made an oration to them. And the people shouted, 'the voice of a god, and not of man!' Immediatly an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died." Acts 12:21-22.

Lord have mercy!

Posted by: Dave W. at December 1, 2004 10:01 PM

Bloom wrote a book in the 70's called Flight to Lucifer. Supposedly it was a SF/Fantasy Novel based on Gnostic themes. One of his acolytes reviewed in TimesWeek and praised it as the most subtle and ingenious work since Dante. So I rushed to the book store and plunked down my hard earned $5. I rushed home and opened my treasure. Yech, unreadable glub. incomprehensible twadle. I still have it. Just to remind me.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 2, 2004 12:37 AM

Gnostic, shmoctic, all I want to know is this the guy that tried to feel up Naomi Wolfe or am I confusing him with someone else?

Posted by: h-man at December 2, 2004 6:56 AM

No you are not. And there was good reason for it. as was later disclosed. She invitedhim over for dinner. dressed in something slinky. They drank a lot of wine. He did what she wanted him to do. And she hurled all over him.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 3, 2004 2:04 AM