It is very striking to me, how negative are people's ideals now; compared with even fifty or a hundred years ago.
And I mean negative in practice - not just in theory; because there have been negative religious theories for at least a couple of thousand years - yet in practice Christians had strong positive motivations.
Negative Theology (Via Negativa) was prominent in Christianity (substantially inherited from pagan Romans and Greeks) in the early centuries AD. I mean the ascetic path of opposition to the world, elimination of temptation, and repudiation of "the flesh", which was taken to the greatest extreme by the hermit Desert Fathers.
The Neo-Platonic theology (e.g. associated with Dionysius the Aeropagite) was one of explicit negation; that asserted we cannot know God except by knowing what God is Not, are dragged down by our instincts and desires. This in general down-rated or rejected marriage, family, creativity as paths to God; due to their excessive risk of temptation by fleshly pleasures - binding us to mortal life, its pleasures and pains.
These desires were to be overcome by prolonged disciplines of deprivation and chosen suffering; so that we may learn control of them, and ultimately independence from them.
Yet, in practice, there was at this time also a very powerful yet implicit positive desire for communion with God, to emulate (their idea of) Jesus Christ, and to dwell spiritually in Heaven even while on earth.
Therefore, the true situation was one in which there was strong positive desires that were unconscious and implicit; which were disciplined and shaped by the explicit rituals and practices of a negative nature.
Through human history, these unconscious and implicit positive instincts have dwindled, until many modern people are hardly aware of them, deny their validity, and often altogether deny their presence. People (especially in The West) are no longer guided by positive implicit instincts towards God, the spirit, higher consciousness...
Instead we are guided by external human-originated ideals - especially the dominant ideology of 'secular-leftist-materialism' that underpins all of social and political discourse and institutions in The West.
If an individual rejects the dominant ideology, he must (as a rule) do so by an explicit and consciously chosen act of will.
Interestingly, even the ideology of left-materialism itself has been subject to the same trends in consciousness. It has gone from containing a considerable largely-unconscious and implicit positive element; to being almost wholly negative in its ideals, and oppositional in its practices.
When it began to emerge a couple of hundred years ago, leftism often shared in the (mostly unconscious) positive goals of Christianity; so that there were many "Christian socialists" in the UK (from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, as well as Nonconformist churches), who (albeit misguidedly) saw socialism as a means to the end of a more Christian society. These were a significant cultural phenomenon into the middle 20th century.
Even among the explicitly materialist-atheist leftists of the late nineteenth century - such as the revolutionary communist William Morris and the gradualist Fabian George Bernard Shaw - there was strong (albeit un-theorized, un-grounded) positive assumption concerning the goals of leftism.
Such Men would argue that socialism was a necessary/ the best means to achieve the kind of society that was 'common-sensically' (by appeal to universal evaluations) regarded as a good environment for positive virtues.
For Morris that was a quasi-Medieval agrarian society in which the arts and crafts thrived, and were universal - a world of craftsmen and artists, for whom labour was an altruistic joy.
For Shaw it was a modern industrial society where all were allocated an equal income that made accessible all the higher things in life (arts, sciences etc). The purpose of universal and equal prosperity was to enable Men to pursue 'mystical' goals; such as attaining higher consciousness - en route to a somewhat Platonic world of pure intelligences whose gratification was contemplation, and untrammeled creativity.
For the likes of Morris, Shaw and other early socialists; the desirability of such a society was self-evident; but it is no longer self-evident in 2022. Indeed, such utopian schemes are all-but off the map, seldom mentioned; and so weakly believed (if at all) that such ideals are unable significantly sustain a life or even (noticeably) to influence behaviour.
What I mean is that - diminishing, but evident until about the middle-20th century - the underlying, even if unstated, belief even on the Left was that if the obstacles to a better and higher life could be removed by socialism (or feminism, antiracism, an economy of common ownership etc) - then a better and higher life would spontaneously emerge - because that (it was assumed) was what Men wanted.
And it was that better/ higher life that was the ultimate justification of leftism.
Well, that concept has become meaningless, and since the 1960s, as the New Left has focused on negative aims, without any positive sense of where this is going, or what state of society it is trying to achieve, or what people are supposed to do and live-by in a future society. Contra Morris; the arts and crafts, guilds and professions, small villages and farming as a vocation; have all declined catastrophically. And, contra Shaw; Men are more, not less, focused on materialism, consumption and shallow pleasures and dissipating distractions.
Underlying such changes in both Christianity and Leftism is this waning of the unconscious and implicit, ultimately spiritual and self-justifying, ideal of The Good Life.
Now we must consciously choose God, Jesus Christ, and to live by the transcendental values of divine creation. These are not longer spontaneously generated from within ourselves.
On the one hand; we are free-er than Men used to be; because we are no longer subject to uncontrollable drives from unconscious motivations.
On the other hand; if we do not choose correctly; then we are prone to purposelessness, meaninglessness and therefore despair - in a way that used to be extremely rare, even among the explicit atheists and nihilists of 100-plus years ago.