Reading (slowly) Jay Parini bio of Robert Frost (since I was up Franconia way a few weeks ago). His time at Harvard, classes with Santayana, interest in philosophy of W. James, others.
Got me thinking in desultory way today about how nations & cultures slowly work around (or don't work around) certain intellectual problems or impasses. U.S. philosophy seems mainly about achievement of inner freedom & realism (Emerson's self-reliance), large dose of scepticism about religion (James, Santayana, Royce, many others). Maybe kind of a cousin to British empiricism. (I'm no expert, that's for sure : not well-read at all... just speculatin' here.)
This modern philosophy (secular, pragmatic, humanist, sceptical) runs counter to the older American strain of Protestant religious piety & enthusiasm. & you can see poets like Stevens & Eliot & Frost wavering & pondering at the crossroads of this deep intellectual/spiritual divide - ambivalent, cautious, crafty... (Crane, on the other hand, boldly, brashly, perhaps naively, rashly...) trying to work things out for themselves. Same can be said for their great precursors (Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, Melville).
I see in my own poetry an unresolved obsession with this problem of faith & scepticism as well. I'm always trying to "figure it out". The mystery of it all, that is. I've come to some provisional conclusions (oxymoron there, moron).
I think I float somewhere between Eliot & Crane. There's this medieval sense that there is something uncannily canonical & authoritative in the Judaeo-Christian prophetic scripture & religion(s). But there's a stance, with me, against Eliot's reactionary authoritarianism - in fact a strong swing in the direction of Crane's Blakean-antinomian-poetic-Romantic kind of originary vision.
I think for me the resolution comes by way of an idea about the nature of religious language. For me, the Biblical record is - underneath all the hard-to-identify-with cultural archaism (& primitivism : see the amazing "Song of Deborah", for ex.) - strangely factual & historical (& despite the layers & layers & layers of storytelling & thematic editing & manipulation). There has been some kind of prophetic intervention of a powerful divine Word, the nature of which we don't yet rightly understand.
But - & here is my humanistic caveat : this Word, from the beginning, has aimed toward universalism. It is a fundamentally dramatic presentation, of a representative reality. This is epitomized in the title Jesus applied to himself : "the Son of Man". He used it in a double sense, and interchangeably, to refer 1) to himself personally, and 2) to humanity in general. As I understand this, he was intentionally setting himself forward as a kind of "actor of a general sign". This is an awkward way of putting it - I mean as a representative figure. You might think of this action as a kind of equalizer : a democratic limitation on the authority of that same Word. What I mean is, what is being implied by this kind of verbal formulation, is that the scriptural witness, the whole Biblical narration, is to be taken as some of the Epistles take it - as allegory, as typology : "in a spiritual sense". In other words, the historic act of divine intervention, narrated in the Bible, is intended to be understood as an "illustration" of universal human experience.
This is in no sense put forward, here, as asserting a limitation on the moral, experiential, spiritual motivation & meaning - the diverse forms of religious sustenance - which are and can be drawn from this scriptural & sacerdotal source. My thoughts here represent just one among many ways of drawing out the implications of the Biblical event(s). For me, anyway, this vague direction seems to offer a possible means of reconciling faith & humanism, religion & the secular.
& further... it must be kept in mind that the "Son of Man" is characterized by Jesus as someone subsisting always in (close) relationship with the Spirit of God. It's an irreducibly binary or triune mode of existence (leading ultimately to unity & oneness). Here is where humanism & faith part ways. Jesus relates in the Gospels that "all Power & Authority" have been granted to the Son of Man; indeed, the Biblical "illustration" of truth may have even emerged originally from Man; but what is the substance of this illustration, exactly? It is the manifestation, & the record, of the unaccountable activity of divine Spirit - understood as guiding humanity toward its own ultimate goal. Sacred history is a strange sort of two-step... conscious/unconscious... reason/nature... sort of like the action of poetic/prophetic inspiration (O Muse of fire...)