Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Natural Vs. Artificial

I speculated a few weeks back that the idea of natural things being better because they were made directly by God, while artificial things were inferior because they were touched by sinful man, owed more to German paganism than to Christian thought, however common it has become in Christian circles.  Refresher:  I am referring to foods, medicines, tourist spots, and the like. There seems to be a subset of Christians who believe that natural is closer to what God wants. They sometimes add in that corporate entities are more from the culture of materialism (and hence less holy), while natural things bring us closer to the simpler lifestyle God points us to.

My hunch was based on these strands of knowledge:

The Nature Boys of the 40's - 60's, who built many of the first California health food stores and were influential in counterculture, alternative medicine, and especially H-A hippie culture, were themselves descended from the early 20th C German youth movements.  While these movements were characterised by hiking, camping, healthy living, and self-reliance, this was closely tied to ideas of German superiority and return to Teutonic ideals.  They read Hesse and Nietzsche, listened to Wagner, and stressed personal will.  Many were quite specific in their return to German pagan roots. (The relation of this to later Nazi developments are not inevitable, but pretty clear.)

The American versions of this all-natural approach came from the Midwest, especially upper Midwest, which were largely German, Dutch, and Scandinavian settled.

The earliest naturopathic, homeopathic, and related alt-medicine practices came a century before that from other Germanic sources, from a philosophical ferment which focused on life-force, and gods from nature.  Though of course, that last is hardly unusual, as most cultures drew their gods and goddesses from what we would today generally call "nature."

I also had a vague idea that the Puritan strain of reading from the Book of Nature as well as the Bible, and the relation of that both to earlier Germanic outlook and later Unitarian beliefs, seemed to suggest a continuity from those Teutonic thoughts to modern nature-emphasisers and Gaian thinking.  Even then I thought it was tenuous, but something might be made of it.

My hunch prover to be more correct than not, but I got some things wrong.  For example, I thought I would get to ruin the song "The Happy Wanderer" for you, as it seemed clearly tied to the late 19th C Wandervogel movement of strong young Germans hiking, breathing fresh air, eating vegetables, and enduring hardships. And where that led.  German evangelicals* were especially big on this, which was one of their reasons for supporting Hitler in his first few years.  We have always fallen for movements that get the teenagers to be polite and get focused, I'm afraid. They got off than bandwagon, but a lot of the damage had already been done.

But the song has only the most distant connections to such things, having been written in 1954.  I'm not going to hold hiking in general against the Germans.  The craze had always been British and American as well, and now everyone is getting into the act.

In my research on the song, however, I came across this, which illustrates that the Germans are still not quite like us.  They were not known as stern and emotionless until the mid-20th C.  They were regarded as hopeless oversentimental romantics (see Literature, German, 18th-19th C) who might burst into tears at old songs or go off and believe anything.  Perhaps that gives us a better understanding of why they went insane.
Details to follow.

*Evangelical had somewhat different meaning in that culture, as it primarily meant Lutherans and Calvinist groups.


Dubbahdee said...

What a beautifully wandering post.

"The American versions of this all-natural approach came from the Midwest..."

Supporting information? Seems like a leap.

"The earliest naturopathic, homeopathic, and related alt-medicine practices came a century before that from other Germanic sources..."

Chiropractic from Palmer in Iowa. Palmer sound english, but Iowa -- yeah, German.
Homeopathy - Hannemann -- yup German.
Naturopathy - Father Kneipp to Benedict Lust -- yeah sounds German.

"I thought I would get to ruin the song "The Happy Wanderer" for you..."

Too late.

"The craze (hiking) had always been British and American as well, and now everyone is getting into the act."

By this, of course, you mean that YOU are getting into the act -- or returning to it at any rate.

"Germans are still not quite like us."


David Foster said...

On my list of posts-to-be-written is one about the German youth movement (Wandervoegel....literally, birds of passage), about which I've read a fair amount. I was inspired initially to research this subject by a passage in Erich Maria Remarque's "The Road Back," in which a couple of German WWI veterans are wandering in the woods and hear a group of boys singing. They initially think it is a Wandervoegel group, but it turns out to be a proto-Nazi organization.

Remarque casts the Wandervoegel and the Nazis as polar opposites, but I think the real relationship was not so simple.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Midwest - Opening with Graham, Kellogg, and the Seventh Day Adventists.

Hiking as a sport not a necessity did not have many adherents until the 20th C. The German/American/British dominance may be a function of being among the first nations to have wealth and leisure time. That there are moderate mountains in those places may also be part of it. Flatter places seemed to go more for cycling.

As to David Foster's "not so simple;" indeed. It was easy to think so at the time, as all but the Hitler Youth were made illegal, and so seemed antagonistic. But that was Nazis putting competitors out of business, not defeating enemies. They both grew in much the same soil.

Texan99 said...

I would have guessed that Wandervoegel was something more like "migratory bird," but Wiki assures me that the traditional word for migratory bird is Zugvoegel. Wandervoegel apparently was made up for the new movement to connote pleasure-hiking and getting back to nature.