Saturday 1 December 2018

The content of mainstream Romanticism (contrasted with Romantic Christianity)

 The Romantic Christianity of William Arkle - inspiring reality behind the mundane surface

Romanticism is very important, indeed inevitable.

Most people regard Romanticism as a reaction to the industrial revolution, or to Enlightenment rationalism - but I regard it as coming from within: as a development of human consciousness. And, as such, part of God's plan for Man.

From the middle 1700s there were early signs (especially in Britain and Germany) of a new consciousness. The invention of the novel by Samuel Richardson, and its rapid and runaway success is a clear example. Romanticism emerged among poets, painters, philosophers, musicians - it was a cultural phenomenon and it has never gone away.

However, most Romanticism is bad, harmful, evil tending; and was and is opposed by traditionalist religious Christians.

A classic story is of a miserable, alienated young man growing up in some kind of strict (often hypocritical) Christian background, enmeshed in 'right wing' attitudes; who seeks more 'life' in terms of extramarital sex (of whatever kind), drugs, crime, and/or radical/ revolutionary politics. Another kind of romanticism favours paganism, and contrasts its naturalness, spontaneity, happiness with the wretchedness of sin-obsessed, negativistic and legalistic Christian churches.

There are many thousands of such stories among novels, movies, TV programmes etc., and new ones emerge all the time. Romanticism of this sort is found in art illustrations, rock and pop music, fashion... just everywhere. This is mainstream Romanticism: typified by sex-politics-intoxication and anti-Christian themes and attitudes.

It is so popular precisely because 'Romanticism taps-into this changed human consciousness; yet it is also a failure. On the one hand mainstream Romanticism cannot be defeated by traditional Christianity because it addresses a need which will not go away; and against it tradition is merely endorsing a life of unavoidable alienation and misery, of boredom and despair. And, anyway, since Romanticism (properly understood) is divinely-driven, Christians should love and embrace it; not fear and fight it.

Yet 250 years and thousands of examples of experience shows us that this mainstream Romanticism is a failure. It leads nowhere better than disillusion or death. It has proved to be helpless against the rise and rise of bureaucracy, and even (via 'transhumanism') feeds-into the advanced plan to make people into robots in a totalitarian machine.

It is this reasoning  that lies behind my advocacy of Romantic Christianity - the principles, in two words - are the inevitability of Romanticism and the truth of Christianity.

Without Christianity, Romanticism is merely psychotherapy by another name, and psychotherapy doesn't work. But without Romanticism Christianity will be undesirable.

Put the two together, however, and we get the best of both worlds: Romanticism rooted in truth, meaning, purpose and the reality of relationships with a loving God and each other; a hope-full Christianity that successfully addresses alienation and despair, and potentially motivates, energises and en-courages us.


Chiu ChunLing said...

Romanticism seems to consist mainly of the obviously false notion that previous generations (particularly one's own parents) were never young and thus never felt deeply the authentic yearnings and inarticulable aspirations which tradition cannot express (because they are after all inexpressible).

I am not a Romantic, and never can be. It makes no more sense than full solipsism to me. Of course, that is because I only know of the deep and authentic yearning for life by studying the past, where most people did not suffer the existential ennui of having no serious difficulty in just surviving.

It would be easier for me to make the mistake of assuming that modern people lost their capacity to deeply and authentically desire "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." After all, as you say, the outward expression of their fumbling about with Romanticism is for them to end in disillusionment, despair, and death. But I do not make the mistake of assuming that humans are perfect in their ability to logically analyze things that they cannot even put into words.

The desires for life, and abundance of life, that are the fundamental driver of passionate behavior in humans are largely felt with an intensity and immediacy of personal experience which renders it impossible to simply put them into words. Not that anything can really be put into words, all language is evocation of qualia of experience that is resistant to direct sharing. A finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. But if you're actually pointing at an external object that is physically located in a particular and calculable relationship to both participants in communication, you can at least have some confidence of pointing at the moon and relying on the developed sense of physical perspective in your audience to look in the right general direction if they try (Bruce Lee does not usually need to bop them on the head for stupidly looking at his finger instead of the moon).

Christianity is all about how we might have life, and have it more abundantly. But how do you point out to a young man that what he really wants is to settle down and get married to a wife who will grow fat and old and always surrounded by children? His instincts are telling him something quite different, and he has no experience to rely on. He is like someone standing in the shadow of a tower, looking at someone pointing at the moon. He cannot see what they are pointing at, and thus only can look at the pointed finger. Which is nothing much to see.

Of course, his own self, in the shadow, is even less to behold. But if he wants to see anything illuminated, then his eye will be drawn most to what is in the opposite direction from the tower shading him, since it is those things that are opposite the moon which will be (to his limited perspective, not in reality) most clearly illuminated.

We might think him very stupid for not realizing that these things appear illuminated because something behind him is illuminating them. But that is because we have seen the moon.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - At the base of what I am saying is my understanding (mainly from Barfield) that the average human consciousness has changed/ developed/ unfolded accoding to a plan through time. Romanticism is the most recent major change.

I only know about The West, but the history is consistent with such a development (but, of course, does not 'prove' it).

Chiu ChunLing said...

I agree that the average human consciousness has evolved over time. And I agree that it is according to plan. I just don't feel that there is anything necessarily good about that average, the goodness in some periods of time is found among the exception rather than the rule.

We live in an age of declining average Christianity, honor, honesty, intelligence, physical strength, courage, and pretty much everything that could be listed as a virtue. Right now, even 'tolerance' and 'democracy' are falling apart.

The average isn't really all that good. on average.

Gyan said...

CS Lewis in the preface to the second edition of Pilgrim's Regress defines seven different meanings to the word "romantic". He then argues that this word should be abandoned as it has become useless. This book, Pilgrim's Regress is an romantic extrapolation of Christianity but I have found it hard to comprehend. Perhaps, you could discuss this book which has been largely neglected.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - Ive read it - twice I think - but it didn't make much impact. There is a recent annotated version been publshed that might make it more comprehensible, but it is rather pricey and I haven't seen it yet.

Gyan said...

The page headings are interesting though--"Sciences bring to facts the interpretation they claim to derive from them" or "Real strength in the lives of philosophers comes from the sources better or worse than what their philosophy acknowledges". By the way, Steiner is named among the philosophers whose real strength comes from Magic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - Several of CS Lewis's best friends from Oxford undergraduate days became Anthroposophists, including his very best friend Owen Barfield. However, Barfield said that Lewis never actually engaged with Steiner's work - which frustrated Barfield considerably. Lewis would have disagreed with a great deal of Steiner (rightly, in my view) but Steiner's early philosophy is solid and vitally important, and it might have made a very important and positive difference to Lewis's understanding of imagination - for example.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I find that unlikely.

Steiner has much to say that is of value. But he attempts to positively argue what should be posited as axiomatic, only to be argued negatively by analysis of the result of failing to accept the axiom.

There is no real question of C.S. Lewis ever having been able to find much value in Steiner's work. The intellectual tendencies are simply too deeply opposed. Lewis is at his strongest in showing the logical incoherence of rejecting true axioms, both in persuasiveness and in reliability. He could have benefited from a summary of the various important truths Steiner argued, but the arguments themselves are (quite properly, really) lost on Lewis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - In other world, this was a blind spot for Lewis, who prematurely settled for an inadequate theological metaphysics: I agree.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It would be more accurate to say that each was for the other a blind spot.

But it would be most accurate to say that I consider Steiner to have been a bit blinder than Lewis. Or rather, blind to something actually important, which Lewis wasn't really missing that much.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - What we need to take into account is that Barfield, Lewis's best friend, was Steiner's intellectual heir - By Far the greatest Anthroposophist since Steiner (Valentin Tomberh was really the only onther one who warrants being called great IMO). Lewis and Barfield loved each other for about 40 years; but Lewis essentially refused ever to take seriously Barfield's deepest convictions - although, at the rate Lewis read and assimilated, it would have been less than a week's work for him to do so (even if he had just read the Philosphy of Freedom it would have been sufficient...).

As a consequence, Lewis apparently never *understood* what Steiner was saying that was important; so his disagreement didn't mean anything, really. This is a fault in Lewis.

On the other hand, in his last months of life, Lewis read and re-read (with great appreciation and enjoyment) Worlds Apart by Barfield, in which Barfield expounds the core of Steiner's philosophical basis.. so maybe, at the last moment... Who knows?