What is romanticism in religion? It is relying as much on irrational mystery, mysticism, myth, intuition and the depth of the soul’s feelings as upon rational thought and explanation. The rational and irrational must be balanced in wholesome religion. The irrational romantic elements are missing in much of religion and life today and we are the poorer for it.
In the West we want a religion of knowing, explanation, thinking it is the best. (Protestants are especially bad about this.) The rational is important but without the irrational elements of romanticism we live in an unstable house of cards. Religion is a balance of knowing and unknowing, even in the Bible. God may speak from the cloud clearly as to what we should do but we are never allowed to penetrate the cloud and fathom the mystery that is God. We just don’t know.
The great geniuses such as Einstein seem to intuit the universe’s secrets with mystical feeling long before they discover the rational formulas that explain more of the universe. They feel the universe in their soul as a lover feels the approach of her beloved long before they ever see and touch each other.
Our religion desperately needs to cultivate this kind of romanticism. It will mean our enrichment and certify the validity of our lives. Neglecting the irrational of romanticism produces what we have today, a rash of Bible thumpers with a chapter and verse answer to every problem. These aristocrats of arrogance dismiss the deep feelings of the soul with a wave of their hand. They know everything. Thus, they cave in the well of joy.
In romantic religion, God is everywhere. He is found in nature and thus nature is loved and cared for by the worshiper. The awe and mystery of God is felt in sex, which is a wonderful part of created nature and is to be guarded and nurtured with awe.
Romanticism does not demand an explanation of God nor rely upon dogmatic creeds about her. God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. This is enough for the romantic faith for no one could ever explain fully the eternal mystery. If one could, then God is too small for our worship. Romantic religion feels and experiences God. It focuses not on explanation but appreciation and thanksgiving.
In romanticism myth is abounding and necessary. All myth is not literal history but is meant to teach some great truth. The myth of the virgin birth of was a story form of proclaiming Jesus’ greatness as a master of men. Stories of virgin births can be found often in ancient religious and political literature. But always they are a literary device to introduce us to great personages who transformed history. This is important because unless the church learns to deal honestly with the framework of legend and myth that permeates all sacred literature, including the Bible, the Bible’s influence for this generation will be lost.
Romanticism mystically feels the inner truth of all miracle stories that seem supernatural without taking them as literal history. It draws the meaning from them and puts it into practice in everyday life. After all, which is better, believing that Jesus walked on water as an article of faith or practicing Jesus’ faith and way of life that enables one to rise above the emotional storms of life and walk on towards good goals? Which, in the adversities of life, will do you and others around you the most good? Which do you think God would most prefer you to produce?
The real miracle of Christmas is that Christ, his attitudes of justice and love and all his teachings, can be reborn in us. We simply must trust the mystery and yearn for Christ to live in us and through us. This is the true Christmas faith.
Alvin Petty writes a weekly blog on our website at historyandspirituality.freedomblogging.com