The Quest: Man’s Pursuit of Truth
When Atheism Became Intellectually Feasible
At this same time, Charles Darwin advanced his idea of evolution that was in perfect keeping with the Hegelian evolutionary philosophy, and with Romanticism’s view of “man as part of nature.” Darwin was an idea whose time had come. Man was now just an animal. The offspring of an impersonal process.
And at the same time theological liberalism arose in Germany. Its ideas were in step with Romanticism as well. Like Darwin, Freud, and Hegel theological liberalism saw the bible as an evolutionary thing. Numbers of authors progressively recording their ideas of God. The Bible…a mere human book of men expressing evolving ideas. In no way a divine revelation.
And in Russia there arose the political and economic expression of Hegel’s philosophy – Communism. The final thesis of political evolution and social perfection. The literature of the 1800’s was Romantic. The music was Romantic. Philosophy was now Romantic. History was Romantically hopeful as was economics. Even science was Romantic in Darwin.
Man would not live as a mere rational, philosophic, enlightened being, content with a divided view of truth and a barren, godless, cold arid view of life. “Life will find a way”.
Romanticism was the break…the reaching up of man to find a unity with the natural world. A world alienated to him through rational philosophy and science.
The Dust of Death: The 20th Century
But as the 20th century began to unfold Romanticism ran aground on the reef of the reality of history. Romanticism may have been a rebellion against the sterility and impersonableness of rationalism but as the century progressed in its violence and despair the Romantic, Hegelian, Marxian, Darwinian, and optimistic view of progress evolved to be a horror! With no final standard to govern subjective passion and will, the 20th century was the century of blood. Science prevailed over passion. What arose was the final expression of rational philosophy…philosophy’s death rattle called Nihilism…or “nothingism”. All that exists is matter, said John Locke. Said David Hume. Man’s senses recognize nature but man’s mind cannot, as rationalism said, stand outside of nature to draw final, absolute conclusions as to its meaning.
Said Mr. Kant, even the laws of nature are merely impositions of the mind on matter. Thus Romanticism concluding the 19th century said moral absolutes were only the emotional thrashings of advanced bi-peds. And as 20th century science progressed, even the fundamental laws of science previously thought immutable, were now found relative to appearances. As Einstein proved Newton as relative, and Max Planck showed molecules and matter to be more space than solid: Nature was now an illusion. Freud said, “Mind was a fettered entity.” Darwin allegedly disproved creation and man’s divine image. German Higher Criticism supposedly disproved the inspiration of the Bible. All things glorious and of the upper story were caught in the machine of nature and 20th century man was adrift. He had merely evolved a troublesome, annoying thing called the soul. Mind and conscience had evolved as an organ unique to man.
“I don’t paint. I hit.”
20th Century Artist
Nihilism seemed man’s fate. Romanticism his last clutching at anything solid. Nothing depicted this more than 20th century modern art. For years it has been the butt of a thousand jokes but it is a tragic commentary on the despair that inspired it. One historian said “art met science in the throes of the 20th century’s epistemological relativism”, i.e. art expressed despair. By the beginnings of the 20th century the Greek view of realism and ideals had begun to dissolve. Like the Romantic novels of the 19th century that were linear in the seeking of truth to conquer evil but gave way to the 20th century’s darkness and pessimism, so painting began to lose form, reality and objectivity. Truth and objective beauty were now seen as “fictitious habits of psychological and pragmatic convenience”. And to many 20th century artists, standards and laws were seen as false prisms to be seen through and transcended…for “where there was uncertainty there was also freedom.”
Such was modern man. Free with no boundaries nor anchor. And man’s supposed freedom was soon to go.
“Art’s task”, one wrote, “was to make the world strange”. To shock the old world sensibility. To “forge a new reality by fragmenting the old”. It required the earnest, systematic flouting of traditional values. “Each artist had become the prophet of his own new order….courageously breaking the old law and forging a new testament.” Artists saw themselves as the prophets and embodiments of a new reality. The blind man in the alley at midnight had now quit looking for the black cat…they simply did not believe any more that there was a black cat. The Greek quest had ended in Nihilism. The hoped for something was nothing.
But man will not live as a cosmic orphan. Man will not live as non-man. Out of the despair of this post-modernism “life would find a way”…in this case, life would invent its own way. Man would become his own god.