The Hidden War of "Romanticism"

By Richard Nathan, M.A.

Inheritance of the Saints


January 22, 2012


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Emphasis added

Note:  Romanticism (a philosophy, not a romance) reacted against the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the primacy of reason by emphasizing imagination and feeling, and seeking knowledge through intuition. Its prominent figures during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included Johann Goethe in Germany and Samuel Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and George MacDonald in Britain. The literary aspects of Romanticism involved certain philosophical writings and lifestyles along with occultism and occult practice. Their main themes included:

  • An embrace of paganism, especially in artistic and imaginative ways.

  • A marriage to certain philosophical movements, especially the thinking of George Hegel....Like many philosophers at the time, Hegel was trying to build a philosophy and religion that was mystical and spiritual but that denied the Biblical God and Christianity.

  • The elevation of imagination to equality with the Word of God. Such a view holds that humans create like God, or that God creates anew through human imagination.

"And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." (Colossians 1:10-12)

There is a war going on that most Christians don’t recognize. I call it a war of Romanticism, and it's all well documented in numerous books and articles.

How does this war affect the everyday lives of Christians? It affects them a lot. For one thing, we have friends who are caught up in this war and made captive by it without really realizing it, to the point of even (unknowingly) naming their children after witches in fantasy stories.

We’ve mentioned before the tremendous shifts in today's Christian thinking and worldview. One of these shifts is the enormous influence of imaginative literature -- especially among young people. We are seeing Christians who are increasingly focused upon fantasy rather than Scripture. Why? Because of the progressive dominance of Romanticism in Christian literature.

Connected with this shift is the escalating use of street drugs both in the general culture and in the Church (especially in its youth groups). I am convinced that there is a strong connection between this love of imaginative literature and the escape into drugs. I have personally seen children of fervent evangelical Christians, raised within a close community, turn to drugs. Influenced by Christian “culture heroes” like Donald Miller, whose book Blue Like Jazz, promotes drugs and liberalism, they are simply swept away. (See my critique of Miller here.)

I have also met Christians who have gotten tangled into drugs and ended up on the psychiatric unit where I work. At that same unit I often see people tattooed with occult symbols, including runes (Celtic magical symbols used in The Lord of the Rings). These same people are reading and deeply engaged in games involving imaginative literature, especially mythology and fairy tales. The connection can be very strong because many street drugs—especially LSD, Mescaline, and marijuana—stimulate the imagination and can open the mind’s door to the occult. (I speak from experience.)

Can fairytales really be harmful?

The answer I have seen in my studies of recent history is yes. I’ve been reading a book called Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler by Peter Viereck. Fantastic as it may sound, this thick and impressively documented book reveals the powerful influences arising from a love of mythology and fairytales that influenced Germany (and especially its youth) and led directly to Nazism.

Following is a list of some relevant books and articles I’ve been reading lately that are giving me deeper insight into the strong connections between Romanticism and the resurgence of paganism:

Viereck explains conclusively how Romanticism so changed the worldview of everyday Germans that it actually shaped political history and led to the Third Reich—which was a political, Romantic crusade. Viereck is a very interesting man uniquely suited to tackle this subject. A Pulitzer Prize winning poet, he studied Nazi propaganda as an Army intelligence analyst during World War II. At the same time, his father, a Nazi propagandist, was in federal prison.

I’m just beginning to read this. Veith talks about the influence of Romanticism. Veith is the Provost at Patrick Henry College and the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Heely compares J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with the opera The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner. This is a very disturbing article because the comparisons between the two works are so clear. They are a strong confirmation of how these streams and risings of Romanticism are really interconnected, whether supposedly “dark” or “light.” (I’ve been trying to make the point for some time that there is no “dark” vs. “light” magic, as is so often represented in modern writing; it is only dark.) In The Ring of the Nibelung, Richard Wagner retells an old German myth about the power of a gold ring. And The Lord of the Rings also tells a story of a magical golden ring. The article mentioned above reveals many other comparisons.

Baue reveals how much secular philosophy there is in Romantic literature, and especially how strongly Platonism and Neo-Platonism influenced C. S. Lewis’s worldview. This influence began early in his life, after he left Christianity. It continued later when he returned to Christianity and lasted up to his death. In fact, his final book, Till We Have Faces, retells a pagan myth. Lewis also incorporates Platonic philosophy into the Narnia stories. This is pretty sophisticated stuff to give to children, and, as a matter of fact, the stories are designed more for adults than for children. (Tolkien's fairy stories also seem designed more for adults than for children.)

Lewis’s work has become so accepted that there is a universal blindness to the philosophy embedded in it. Normally evangelicals do not accept Platonism/Neo-Platonism as their worldview, but through Lewis they have embraced certain aspects of this unbiblical worldview. (Platonism is a philosophy, and Neo-Platonism is more like a way of life.) This acceptance is quite apparent in the ministry of John Piper, by the way. (Watch his video, “Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul” or an amazing demonstration.)


It is astonishing to see in all of these writings how much Romanticism (that is, the love of mythology) has to do with the rise of fascism.

Basically, my research reveals that the same kind of mythology that became the religious and philosophical foundation for pre-Nazism in Germany was also exalted in England and is now wildly popular in the United States. This does not necessarily mean that just because Romanticism is growing in epic proportions in the United States that it’s going to dominate, but it does indicate that seemingly innocent fairytales can have a problematical effect on the mind and imagination, especially of young people.

Such powerful stories and films as The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series have greatly altered the worldview of many people in the United States and, especially, of pastors and seminary professors. They appear to have very little awareness of the difference between Christianity and Romantic religion. Yet Christians, of all people, should be discerning and aware of the possible dangers of such a movement.

     "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light... finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. ,
       "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Ephesians 5:6-17

Helpful information: The Great Evangelical Meltdown: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Warnings: How mysticism & the occult are changing the Church

© 2011 by Richard Nathan

Richard Nathan holds a Master of Arts in Religion in Church History and has been a Bible and church history teacher for over twenty years. He wrote his thesis on the debate over the inerrancy of Scripture in a historical analysis. Linda Nathan is president of Logos Word Designs, Inc., a Christian writing and editing service at

See Richard's blog at for ongoing discussion about such trends in Christianity as Romantic Christianity and the Emergent Church movement. Visit their blog at for discussion about Christian fiction from a biblical perspective."  See the list of other articles by the Nathans here.

  Richard Nathan welcomes your comments. Please post them HERE.

Index to previous articles by Richard and Linda Nathan

I have a B.S. in Biology from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in Religion with a major in Church History from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pennsylvania. Over the past 20 years, I’ve continued studying, writing, and teaching in the areas of church and world history, focusing on contemporary philosophies and movements in the Church. These include Gnosticism, the occult, religious Romanticism, and psychology.