goin’ minoan


In 1830 Auguste Comte laid out his scheme of the three phases of human development, culminating in the ‘positive’ stage in which belief in demons and gods would be supplanted by an understanding of natural laws. Just eight years later, Charles Darwin began his descent from a robust young man to a neurotic invalid as he wrestled with the atheistic implications of his theory of natural selection. Friedrich Nietzsche announced the death of God in 1882. In 1919, Max Weber unveiled his argument about the progressive ‘disenchantment’ of the world caused by the decline of religious belief. Accompanying this ebbing tide of faith were repeated attempts to do something to slow down or reverse the flow – to ‘re-enchant’ the godless universe. The most exuberant manifestations of this impulse stemmed from poets and artists, but scientists also proffered their own solutions to the ‘anomie’ of materialism. Physicists proposed vital links between electricity, animal magnetism and nervous fluid. Chemistry inspired Goethe’s vision of love as elective affinity, linking human romantic desire with the attractive forces that structure natural substances. Biologists exhorted their followers to look to nature for moral guidance. By the end of the 19th century Romantic pantheism (the belief that God is identifiable with nature) had largely been supplanted by an eclectic neo-paganism inspired by anthropologists’ and archaeologists’ extensive catalogues of prehistoric rituals, myths and votive symbols.

more from Cathy Gere at History Today here.