Monday 1 November 2021

The ecstatic awakening of consciousness of adolescence and Romantic Christianity

Thirteen is the age of what Shaw calls ‘the birth of the moral passion’ - that is, the period when ideas are not abstractions but realities, when they are food and drink. The changes of puberty have altered one’s old conception of oneself. Identity vanishes; one’s inner being becomes formless, chaos waiting for the act of creation. There is a brooding feeling of anticipation; the clouds lie there, fragmentary, slate grey, waiting for the wind. And a book, a symphony, a poem, is not merely another ‘experience’ but a mystery, a wind blowing from the future. The problem of death is still far away; but the problem of life seems quite as tremendous. The mind contemplates vistas of time, the emptiness of space, and knows that the ‘ordinariness’ of everyday life is an illusion. And as the everyday becomes less real, so ideas are seen to be the only reality, and the mind that shapes them the only true power in this world of blind natural forces.

From The Philosopher's Stone; a novel by Colin Wilson, 1969

The above passage could describe my own adolescent development of consciousness; a phase which lasted up to age twenty-one and then went off the rails by regressing into pseudo-adolescent immaturity for a couple of decades. 

The reason was much the same as reported by CS Lewis in his autobiography Surprised by Joy which was that I strove to maintain or expand the highest experiences of ecstatic consciousness - 'Joy' - but found these actually becoming less frequent and intense. 

I failed to become a Christian, and thereby failed to discover a reality of purpose, meaning and personal participation in 'the universe'.


Yet in retrospect I can perceive that all of the necessary ingredients were in-place for me to take the step into Romantic Christianity: that is Bernard Shaw, Colin Wilson and William Arkle. 

From Shaw (which I began reading aged thirteen) I took the idea of Creative Evolution; which was that the purpose of life was to attain higher states of consciousness; and that this was (for someone like me) a master passion. 

From Colin Wilson I learned that this could be the basis of a positive and optimistic world view; in contrast to the nihilism and despair of the prevalent Western culture. 

From William Arkle (had I read him with more care and seriousness) I could have got that these ideas only become deep, strong and courageous with the insight that behind all is a personal and loving God who created reality with the aim of raising Men to divine level - by a process based (as Shaw perceived) on our own efforts, trials and errors.

Also from Arkle that this development (or 'evolution', in the older meaning) took place in the setting of a universe of Beings - where all of creation was alive, conscious and in relationship.  

Yes, all the required ingredients were indeed there - but I tool a very long, slow and tortuous route to notice, learn and assemble them. 


Jonathan said...

...but very much to the benefit of we who get to take the fast, short route thanks to your pioneering the way!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - That hope is why I write this blog.