Some brief correspondence with my sister who is a convinced Baptist indirectly brought my mind to a website I discovered independently a day or two ago, The Spiritual Basis of Romanticism. Before any attempt to make intelligent observations, I tried to sound out the credentials of the author and the Chalcedon site. I suspect they are Bible thumpers, but a little more concerned than most Evangelicals to present a better intellectual defence of Christian faith.
Forrest W. Schultz is the author of this article, someone I had never heard of. The site links to a number of articles he has written. His choice of subjects is quite impressive, but the man behind them is only known as having a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Drexel University. I find that disappointing.
Should we see Romanticism as some distraction from true Christianity, perhaps even a form of idolatry, or even a new religion to replace the religion of the New Testament? Schultz’s article seems to be restricted to historical Romanticism, mentioning only Kant and Rousseau by name. He bases his article on Allan Bloom‘s Love and Friendship. Unlike Schultz, Bloom was a known American philosopher of the Platonic tradition with some conservative tendencies. I see little evidence that Bloom gave conservative Christianity any preference over “dogmatic” liberalism. I would be tempted to read Bloom’s book to give a better evaluation of this criticism of Romanticism by Schultz.
Perhaps Rousseau rejected Christianity. Other Romantics did too. Byron, Keats and Shelley were hardly pillars of any church, and their disregard for Christian morality was flagrant for their time. However, other Romantics were Christians and sought to defend their faith and to live it in their times. Abusus non tollit usum. Non-Christian Romantics would no more discredit this philosophy of life than bad Popes or corrupt TV evangelists would refute Christianity as a whole. Perhaps, for some of the Romantics, Christianity had become a part of that Enlightenment that had deprived culture of its soul.
The section of sublimation is quite interesting, where Schulz blames Rousseau for the theories of Freud. That would be a good subject of study, but I have no opinion to express there. If man has ceased to believe in eternity and transcendence, perhaps he can be brought to experience it. Bible thumpers only work through the sense of hearing and deprive their adepts of the others senses or imagination. It’s not a religion that attracts me, but perhaps I’m too selfish to repent of my sins and be “saved”, whatever that means in this context.
Perhaps the fact that some Romantics were immoral, fornicated and committed adultery is evidence of the movement not even pretending to be a new religion or conspiring against Christianity. Under the section Romanticism as a Religion to Replace Christianity, the claims seem to be quite wild. Again, some poets, artists and philosophers were not Christians and others were. Novalis belonged to the Moravians and allegedly became a Roman Catholic shortly before his death. I would surmise that most of the German Idealists were believers even if not always very orthodox.
Schultz then preaches the objectivity of God as opposed to Romantic subjectivism. My realistic metaphysics is currently being subjected to my reading of Robert Lanza’s Biocentrism. It would seem that modern quantum physics offers evidence that nothing exists without having been observed by consciousness. I see some connection between this view and a form of panentheism (as distinct from pantheism). The Bible thumpers (and conservative Catholics too) maintain the absolute separation of the Creator and the created, and the possibility to deduce the radical autonomy of matter from God. Frankly, I find this view little better than materialism that denies all spirit.
I would have to read more about and by Rousseau to give an intelligent response. Kant was not the only German Idealist, and not everything can be judged only on his work. If a relationship with God is purely subjective, there seems to be a problem. Personality is constituted by relationship, and many orthodox theologians have made an analogy between the communion of the Church and the three Persons of the Trinity. This relationship is one of love, but the Other is not totally another when the consciousness of God is identical to the consciousness of us all. There is both subjectivity and objectivity in this relationship. Thus, St Augustine fell in love with love, but this love was God. The Bible thumper’s god is something more like the Demiurge of Gnosticism or the Allah of Islam, the pure will that dominates an enslaved creation.
I see many parallels between Enlightenment rationalism in the eighteenth century with realism in the early twentieth as experienced by C.S. Lewis and the transhumanism, technology and bureaucracy of our own time. Admittedly, Romanticism is a fragile response and only a stage towards the love of God from über-rationalism and atheism. It is an aspect of human culture that comes and goes as sensitive souls react to the evils of their times. The Sehnsucht of Romanticism can lead as much to sin as to the love of God in mystical union. Any leap out of the humdrum ordinary is a risk. I am reminded of the quote from the autistic personality and author Temple Grandin: If by some magic, autism had been eradicated from the face of the earth, then men would still be socializing in front of a wood fire at the entrance to a cave. Replace the word autism with inspiration, yearning, you name it.
Did Romanticism fail? I don’t think so. Its heyday was from the eighteenth century to the early nineteenth. It experienced several revivals in different accidental forms. It was expressed in philosophy, poetry, painting and sculpture, music and architecture. Today it is found in fragmented form in some popular subcultures, also in some forms of Existentialism. I identify with it as a reaction to the “Enlightenment” of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but only so far as it can motivate and guide us to truth, transcendence and universal love. I believe in the truth of Christ, and that our philosophy plays the role of an analogy of the Gospel in its deepest meaning. C.S. Lewis is a valuable guide in his transition through several stages of his philosophy leading to his conversion, but our experience is different from person to person. I am making my own journey.
Like every movement, it had its newness and freshness, and then it became institutionalised or banalised, or became the “in thing”, and then the salt lost its savour. It would come back much later in a different form with other images and new words. In itself and for its own sake, it might seem to be little more than illusion and a flash in the pan. You don’t eat icing without the cake!
There is the problem of post-modernism which some might see as a final evolution of Romanticism. Perhaps there is some truth in that. I believe that the higher can sanctify the lower and raise what is imperfect to sublimity. Is that not the central notion of the Redemption itself through the Incarnation of God in the person of Christ?
Schultz’s tone is horribly patronising and shows what may be a fundamental pessimism in regard to humanity. In some respects, I sympathise and recall Calvin’s notion of total depravity and radical separation from God. We have a considerable amount of work to do in theology as well as our understanding of ourselves and consciousness in general.
I am thankful for this criticism so that philosophy and art can advance and avoid many of the mistakes of the past.