A Few Words On Romanticism / Transcendentalism As A Worldview Of The West

In terms of worldview thinking Romanticism / Transcendentalism was the mystical new agey subjectivistic godless ying to the rationalistic objectivistic godless yang of Deistic Unitarianism. Romanticism / Transcendentalism flexed its muscle in New England with the take over of Harvard from the Deistic Unitarians circa 1840’s.

Whereas Unitarianism posited some kind of rational divine order that could be read via the use of autonomous right reason of a deistic natural law, Romanticism / Transcendentalism had a kind of Hegelian pantheistic feel to it as it thumped the idea of connecting with the divine oversoul in all of us. Unitarianism was very rationalistic oriented while Transcendentalism / Romanticism was given to the feelings and the senses.

Epistemologically speaking, Deistic Enlightenment Unitarianism insisted that man could know via reason discovering self-evident truths. Transcendentalism / Romanticism however made the Epistemological move to intuition as the basis of knowing. Rationalism gaves us the godless outward look, while Romanticism / Transcendtalism gives us the godless inward look. Ontologically speaking, the god concept for Deistic Enlightenment Unitarianism remained objective, however ontology for the Transcendentalist / Romanticism was not the god outside but the god in all of us. The American Transcendental movement’s philosophical pillar was that the individual is identical with the world, and that world exists in unity with God. Through this logic, it followed that the individual soul is one with God. Anthropologically speaking, Romanticism / Transcendentalism believed that man should be primarily thought of in terms of spirit or the divine spark. They believed that man was inherently good and that man had only to be educated into his inherent goodness.

As Romanticism / Transcendentalism gained a foothold in American culture one consequence was the rise of radial abolitionism. The Romanticist /Transcendentalist worldview, believing that all men share equally in their god quotient therefore believed that all men were perfectly equal and that the power of the State should be used to insure that all men were forcefully given their equality. Interestingly enough, Romanticism / Transcendentalism, as it informed the radical abolitionists worldview, served as one of the factors that set the Northern Yankee armies marching.

The power of Romanticism / Transcendentalism dissipated and eventually the rise of Darwinism as a worldview began to account for social order mythology that animated the West. Somewhere around the 1930’s – 1940’s the power of Existentialism as the guiding motif for the West began to pick up steam.

America has had basically 4 or 5 worldviews. Calvinism, Rationalistic Unitarianism, Romanticism / Transcendentalism, (which also explains the rise of the Jacksonian Democratic Revolution here), Social Darwinism, and Existentialism. Some would argue that currently we are in a kind of Nihilistic worldview, though Nihilism, what is styled as “post-modernism,” could also be argued as merely subsequent extensions of Existentialism.

Of course these matters are not always clear cut in terms of the exact dates in which they are hegemonic. For example, even though we are in kind of a Nihilistic mode right now, the relative rationalism of Darwinism still reigns supreme in the hard sciences. Also keep in mind that in the end there are only two worldviews. Biblical Christianity vs. some variant of Humanism.

Psalm Singing

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand” Psalm 149:6

When we think of congregational Psalm singing, if we ever think of Psalm singing at all, we usually have visions of nattily dressed folks singing four part harmony in a Sanctuary, completely unmolested from any serious distractions.

However, congregational Psalm singing has been practiced in other environments besides the safety of formal worship. During the English resistance to the tyranny of King Charles I the New Model Army, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell were known for their Psalm singing while going into battle. Cromwell’s Army was drawn largely, though not exclusively, from the Puritan population and being familiar with the Psalms they took those Psalms into battle. These men believed that they were God’s Army fighting God’s battle and so they advanced against the enemy singing the songs of Zion.

Imagine how this must have unnerved the enemy. You are one of the troops in the Cavalier Army, entrenched in a defensive position, and suddenly in the distance you begin to here the feint melody of Psalms wafting upon the morning breeze. As the minutes unroll the menacing voices carrying those awful sounds come closer and closer until you can see the terrible Army that is carrying those Psalms coming to disembowel you and your mates.

The troops that carried those Psalms with them into battle were men who had been so shaped by the Psalms that it was natural for them to carry those songs with them as they were wading into a conflict that could very well find them meeting their Creator and Redeemer. What better way to meet God then to be fighting His battles singing His songs?

It was not only Cromwell’s New Model Army that took up the Psalms in battle. We also know that the Covenanters in Scotland were known to sing God’s tunes while in battle.

Of course the idea of music in battle in not unique. However, the singing of Psalms in battle by the inheritors of the Reformation reminds us that the Psalms are not just for Sunday Morning finery. They are intended to put steel in men’s spines and comfort in their souls. The singing of Psalms in battle reminds us that God is known as the Lord of Hosts and that we are to be his infantry in the cause of righteousness.

The Church has lost her martial swagger and while this is no trope advocating Psalm singing battle to be entered into at the drop of helmet, it is a appeal to think again on the importance of singing the Psalms and on the reality that there will be times where we must literally fight and sing for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

The Psalms are beautiful and their beauty is found both in their ability to glorify God and in their ability to shape men in such a way that they would rather die singing God’s song book then surrender apologizing for their convictions.