‘Romantic Christianity” and English folk music

Bruce Charlton, in a recent piece, writes on a topic which is dear to me. In it, he examines modern English folk music and how it deals with Christian themes, specifically the Christian interweaving of Christian themes with the supernatural (“uncanny”) elements based on folk tales.

He specifially references Steeleye Span and related bands, such as the Albion Band, the Watersons, et al. I don’t know how many of today’s music audiences are familar with these artists, but I recommend them to anyone who is a fan of traditional music, or English/British culture generally. When I first heard these artists years ago, I was fascinated by the supernatural themes of many of the songs; some morbid or gruesome but some simply eerie and spellbinding.

Nowadays, Christians tend to disassociate the supernatural from Christianity and Christian sensibilities, having been taught for many decades that the supernatural equates to occultism and the demonic, and that it’s out-of-bounds for Christians. Modern, established ‘Churchianity’ looks askance, at best, at the kinds of supernatural themes running throughout many of the old ballads, which bands like Steeleye Span popularized in the 1970s.

In recent years, a few in the Christian fold have been re-examining this rejection of the supernatural amongst Christians, and those who recognize the obvious fact that the supernatural is, in fact, essential to Biblical Christianity are taking a second look at the historical attitudes towards the subject.

Perhaps, as this piece suggests, the obvious Romantic influence in the old English (and Scottish, in some cases) ballads was somehow not developed to the full, and English music and folklore are the poorer for this. If I am understanding him correctly here, I agree with this idea.

Were the members of these bands consciously shying away from exploring ‘Christian romanticism’ with these themes? Were their own non-Christian proclivities responsible for their reluctance to go further in this direction?

It has seemed odd to me, considering that England was for long a very Christian country, though at times the people were irreligious; still, there were times of a great resurgence of Christian beliefs in England. Yet legend — or is it only legend? — has it that England was Christian since at least the second century A.D., with Glastonbury being the heart of early English Christianity. Of course, now Glastonbury is a counterculture  Mecca, and neo-pagans claim it as their own, denying Christianity’s deep roots in the country. Today Christianity is moribund in the U.K.

It’s natural to speculate about how today’s post-Christian Britain regards the cultural remnants which are reminders of the time when that island was a bastion of the Christian faith, and the culture in which it grew.

Regardless of all this, the music can be enjoyed on its own merits.

Professor Charlton’s musical examples include Steeleye’s renditions of the traditional ballads Demon Lover and Alison Gross. Visit the links to hear and see the videos at his blog.


What’s next for Brexit?

I don’t know how many of us in the U.S. are keeping up with the latest news on Brexit; it is a complicated situation and not so easy for many Americans to follow (including myself). But I’ll offer a few links here to give some idea of recent developments.

Hearing discussion of a possible second referendum, according to some sources, it’s hard to know what to believe. I don’t like the idea of a second referendum; it’s obviously a stall tactic, playing for time on the part of May et al, and the ‘remain’ faction apparently hope that if they keep delaying the implementation of the break from the EU, they will get more ‘remain’ votes.

Boris Johnson, in recent remarks, denounces the efforts to get a second vote, and advocates for a ‘clean break’ from the EU.

‘ “If that is true, and if people in Downing Street have really been discussing a second referendum – whether seriously or just in the hope of scaring MPs to vote for this lamentable deal – then all I can say is that they must be out of their minds,” Mr Johnson wrote in The Telegraph.’

In this article, James Delingpole says the Brexit betrayal is worse than it seems.

It appears that just as in the U.S., at least amongst the ‘aware’ or realist segment of the populace, pessimism tends to prevail. I suspect that in the UK as here, a great many people are in denial about the seriousness of the situation, or are simply tuned out, not paying attention — too distracted by the usual diversions.

I won’t presume to try to say what political choices (if any) would help the people of Britain to salvage their country; some are apparently advocating UKIP as the party of choice, though I’ve always had the impression that UKIP are, at best, civic nationalist, which is not what is ultimately needed.

There is also the For Britain party, which is described by the usual suspects as ‘far right’, but isn’t any rightist populist party inevitably called ‘far right’?

‘For Britain’ was founded by some former UKIP members, and its principles as stated are principles with which most on the right could probably agree. My only reservation is that it seems, too, to be civic nationalist. The usual justification for populists/nationalists to support such parties is that a real nationalist party could not gain enough support; baby steps are need, and ‘civic’ is the best that can be hoped for. But when and how is this ever to change, if today is never the time for it?

And time, it seems, is slipping away.