ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
For our purposes here, the important point is that rightly or wrongly, many educated people became skeptics. Only the propertied classes were affected by these developments during the era of the Enlightenment. However, this meant that the established churches had lost the support of some of the most important and powerful members of society even though the great mass of people continued to be orthodox in their religious beliefs. The new liberal approach in religion was challenged, at the same time, by the Romantics, members of a literary and aesthetic phenomenon which arose in Germany with a late eighteenth century student protest movement called Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress), discussed earlier. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the second phase of this movement arose, partly in protest against French classicism, partly in reaction against rationalism. Friedrich Schiller, Lessing, and other chiefly German Romantic poets and essayists influenced English poets such as William Blake, Samuel Coleridge, George Gordon Byron, William Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stendhall in France, and many others.
As Mircea Eliade points out, the new science and accompanying positivism and agnosticism did not attract all educated people. There were many who were dissatisfied with both traditional religion and the new materialist philosophies. The first was no longer credible in the light of modern knowledge, but the second was equally objectionable for other reasons. For one thing, while the new science seemed to leave no room for Jehovah, it was no less difficult to believe that the universe in all of its complexity had just come into being by accident, and that there was neither design nor purpose. This opened the way to lively philosophical debates in which an important philosophical school, the Idealist, contended that there was indeed a higher purpose and design in the cosmos and that it could be apprehended by reason. Other nineteenth-century philosophers, such as the utilitarians, evaded the thorny metaphysical issues and insisted that the proper sphere of concern must be the human sphere, and those areas about which something could be known and understood. This, however, did little to satisfy the yearning for assurance that there was a loving heavenly father or mother, and life after death. The typical positivist answer to such yearnings was to assert that they were exactly and only that. Of course, we all would like to be assured that there was meaning and purpose in life, a higher power with whom we could establish a personal relationship, and that we would all be united some day with those whom we loved and have lost. But wishing does not make it so. The hard facts of life, as the new biology seem to show, indicated that we were animals like others, that we had evolved over the course of millions of years by processes of natural selection, and that the only values which we had were those which we had invented. Clever apes with remarkably sophisticated brains had appeared in the course of evolution and, bewildered by the problems of their own existence, they had invented religion because of the comfort it gave.
Some thoughtful persons rejected the authority of the Bible, but not of religion altogether. The chief reasons for doubt concerning the authority of the Scriptures were based on biblical study itself, what was called “Higher Criticism” or the “documentary” approach. Beginning with scholars such as Julius