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Volume 73, Issue 1, Winter 2021

Modernism and the Turn Toward Religion

Stephen Kern
Pages 57-75

Modernist Ambivalence about Christianity

Kern argues that the responses of Friedrich Nietzsche, James Joyce, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, and Martin Heidegger to Christianity made up a Weberian ideal type. Accordingly: They all were raised as Christians but lost their faith when they began university studies. They all criticized the impact that they believed the anti-sexual Christian morality, with its emphasis on sin, had had, or threatened to have, on their love life. For that reason they were militantly anti-Christian but also ambivalent about Christianity. They worked to replace the loss of Christian unity with non-Christian unifying projects in literature and philosophy. Virginia Woolf, who was raised as an atheist, conformed to many of these elements of the ideal type but added another in criticizing the fragmenting patriarchal society that supported the dominant patriarchal Church of England. She envisioned new man-womanly and woman-manly types who could cultivate their understanding and love for one another in less polarizing and more humanizing ways.

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