Wednesday 7 November 2018

Romantic Religion by RJ Reilly (1971/ 2006)

Romantic Religion: A Study of Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien by RJ Reilly (1971/ 2006)

Over the past couple of years I have come to regard Romantic Religion by RJ Reilly as one of the very best books I have read - I am now on my third slow, detailed read-through.

The book is probably the earliest (1971) serious study of the ideas of The Inklings - and its central chapters focus on Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien. As such, and despite its narrowish selectivity; RR remains far-and-away the deepest and best explanation/ analysis/ advocacy of the underlying (implicit) significance of this literary, philosophical and theological group of friends.

The title Romantic Religion encapsulates the thesis; although in fact it would be more accurate if the title were Romantic Christianity, since that is The religion at issue here; and one that could not be substituted by any other.

The method is to define Romanticism, mainly by means of its historical lineage; and then (in the first main section) to use Barfield as the philosopher who best understood Romanticism and its unique significance and necessity. Lewis, Williams and Tolkien are then considered separately in terms of how they exemplify, and how diverge from, the framework of Barfield.

This time reading; I have become convinced that Romantic Christianity is the best term for what I personally believe, and regard as the essential future of Western Man - and especially English Man! I shall probably be referring to myself, in shorthand, as a Romantic Christian from now onward.

Of course Romantic (and Romanticism) are mostly, in the cultural mainstream of the past century and more, rather widely differently understood from the Inklings (and especially Barfield) mode. Indeed, 'romantic' is usually a pejorative or pitying term, signifying escapist, wish-fulfilling unrealism.

Nonetheless, Romantic remains the best term, for both its historical and etymological accuracy - and because many of the common ideas of 'Romantic' are entirely appropriate and correct from a Barfieldian-Inklings perspective: for example, a focus on love, creativity, fantasy and imagination, nature, ecstatic emotion, inspiration and intuition.

All of these seem to me desirable, as well as necessary; so long as they are rooted in Christianity. Indeed, it was-and-is the subtraction of Christianity from Romanticism, as early as Byron and Shelley, that led to the degeneration of the historical Romantic movement: degeneration into hedonism, Leftist politics and the sexual revolution.

No doubt I shall quote from Romantic Religion in the future; but anyone who shares my conviction on these matters, and who is prepared to make the effort to engage with such a book, would need to read RR; if not entirely, then at least extensively.

Note: I find it significant that such an outstanding piece of intellectual and critical work, by such an deeply intelligent and rigorous scholar, should originally have been done as a PhD thesis at Michigan State University (a long way from the Ivy League); by an academic who was teaching rather than research orientated (he spent his career at the University of Detroit); and it was issued by an obscure publisher: The University of Georgia Press. This confirms a pattern I have often observed with genuinely high quality and original work in the late 20th century - it comes from the cultural periphery, not the centre. Or rather - what is officially the centre is actually trivial, derivative or corrupting - almost wholly, and vice versa. The reasons will be obvious to regular readers of this blog.  


Wurmbrand said...

Well -- that's quite a recommendation. I have the original printing and read some of it years ago, but it sounds like it could be well worthwhile to read it straight through, pencil in hand...

Dale Nelson

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - If you do, let me know what you think.

Keri Ford said...

I read his chapter on Barfield at your suggestion some time ago and thought it good, I will read the rest when I can.
I also found your comments on important modern works interesting, I recently made a similar comment to a friend, the central intellectual cultural commentators do not inspire me, but I have found wonderful riches in the byways.

Tobias said...

Romantic Christian - yes. But never refer to yourself as an RC, unless you dearly love a laugh, and like your readers slack jawed and confused.


Bruce Charlton said...

@T - Indeed - but one could be both; like my co blogger at Albion Awakening, John Fitzpatrick.

Mark Diebel said...

So, how does Anthroposophy relate to the restoration and healing of the West?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mark Diebel - well, via the work of Own Barfield, mainly, as described.

The first three philosophical books of Steiner are important, and various other things scattered through his writings such as the prophectic elements of Work of the Angel in Man's Astral Body.

All these are covered in detail on my Bruce Charlton's Notions blog, if you do word searches.