From TN's Armchair Philosophy Department: Gnosis means Knowledge. Not knowledge but KNOWLEDGE, you know? Understanding of Things Eternal, of the Forms, of the Ephemeral, of the Infinite, of the Capitalized.
Gnostics are people who Know. Gnosticism is a school, or a philosophy, or a frame, or what have you, grounded on the notion that there are things to be Known out there that are only poorly reflected in the "real" world. Indeed, you might identify a gnostic by whether she puts scare quotes around "real." In some extreme forms, gnosticism holds that the "real" world is not only only "real," but also bad, corrupt, yucky. All the good stuff is ephemeral and infinite; the stuff we can handle every day stinks in comparison, therefore a person should spend her life trying to stay connected to the Infinite and reject the ick that lies close to hand.
Tolkien expresses a gnostic sensibility when he writes that a man who wakes up and finds himself in prison cannot be blamed for trying to get out and go home. For Tolkien, the prison is the real world, and home, for Tolkien, is Heaven. Some religious teaching aligns quite nicely with gnosticism, urging followers to seek Truths only within. Other religions emphasize that the world is a good place and absolutely deserves our attention. Moreover, when some people run around claiming that they have a Special Insight to The Beyond, all too often the Movement results in other people losing their money, their time, or their lives.
Gnosticism invites rejection of the real world and its status quo. A new conflict along these lines is going to play out quite directly through the emergence of virtual worlds.
If I were a Gnostic, having determined that the real world completely and totally stinks, it would be a natural move to create an environment better aligned with the Forms, as I understand them to be, that is, as my Knowledge has Revealed them to Me in the Infinite Void of Capitalized Stuff. I would then be quite comfortable spending every waking moment there. Moreover, I would urge others to do the same; I would raise that urging to the level of a Plea, an Evangelization, an Awakening, a Great Big Capitalized Movement inviting people to escape to the virtual. This of course would run head-on into those who incessantly bleat for the real, saying we must always get a real job, a real relationship, a real degree, a real politics, and so on. No scare quotes there.
It's not a new conflict, but Gnosticism now has a tool of programmatic implementation that it has never had before. Its ability to cause genuine social change is enhanced by currents in technology. Were we all to become Gnostics, we could quite easily exit the real world, rather completely, down to a few bodily functions. Gnosticism has the tools to foment a significant social upheaval.
One senses the emerging connection between tools and philosophy in the passionate self-justifications of all-night gamers and inveterate role-players (including myself at times). "What is so great about reality?" we ask. "What is indeed so wonderful about this outer world we have made?" "Exactly why is it better for me to sit in the suppurating hell of rush hour on the 91 freeway than in front of a computer?"
Well, that's a good point, and as long as abominations like the Southern California Highway System exists, gnostics will have a good case for escaping. A Gnostic Revolution might be the spur we need, to fix the real world before we lose everyone to the Forms of their choosing. Moreover, a Gnostic Revolution might be a good antidote to the Materialism of our day.
On the other hand, too much Gnosis is bad for the soul. The world is good and we ought to take care of it. Moreover, life in a computer alone is not a good life; we need to touch other people, not merely talk to them. Thus if there's to be a Gnostic Revolution, let's hope it runs out of gas before we all end up in pods.