Thursday, 4 April 2019

Romantic Christianity - from the past to the future

One fundamental idea of Romantic Christianity is that we took a wrong turning in the past and therefore need to recover and reconnect with lost things - another fundamental idea is that when this recovery and reconnection is achieved, we will develop to a future that is new and has never previously been experienced anywhere in the world.

So, Romantic Christianity has an element that is conservative, or even reactionary; and another element that is radical, or even progressive.

This can be seen in its antecedents: those writers from whom Romantic Christianity intends to pick up the torch and carry it forward. These include William Blake, ST Coleridge and Novalis - authors who looked back and were also innovators. Authors who were deeply Christian, and also unorthodox or heretical.

But their work was not taken up by society, and was perhaps incomplete - or, at least, their task and project was lacking in that self-conscious, explicit awareness which we modern people (it seems) require to be sufficiently convinced by an idea that we can powerfully be motivated by it.

In particular; it is part of the intuitive conviction that leads to Romantic Christianity, that the destined future must be - can only be - one that is consciously known and voluntarily chosen. That, indeed, the only free choice is a conscious choice - and this is, of course, necessarily the choice of a single person.

Such an ideal of free individualism has not been seen at any time or place in the past... nonetheless, the conviction is that nothing else will suffice, here-and-now. 

The idea of going back and reconnecting with this Romantic Christian impulse was, I think, only itself made fully self-aware and explicit by Owen Barfield (in the essays collected in Romanticism Comes of Age, from 1944) - although he could perceive that it was solidly implied by the work of Rudolf Steiner.

But the possibilities for Romantic Christianity have changed over the past two hundred years, and indeed over the past decades. When it began, there was the possibility that the whole of a national culture (or a substantial segment of one) might take-up the project of Romantic Christianity - that, for example, England might do so.

To be more exact, that English culture might recognise the incoherence and insufficiency of the ruling assumptions of materialism (aka. positivism, scientism, reductionism) and reconnect with the embryonic spiritual and Christian tradition it had incrementally, and very fully, abandoned throughout the 19th century.

Such a large scale self-transformation now seems to be impossible; or at least the trends are contrary. So the hope of Romantic Christianity has narrowed to the individual. It is a project that operates one person at a time, one soul at a time.

This might seem trivial - except that (unlike for materialism) for Romantic Christianity each soul is immortal and of unbounded value.

By contrast, any and all worldly gains are bounded by the decay, sin and death that are intrinsic to this mortal world.

A culture, society or planet is evanescent; but a soul lasts forever.