Enlightenment, Transcendentalism, and Puritan Theology

Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau Pages: 5 (1843 words) Published: October 10, 2006
Enlightenment, transcendentalism, and puritan theology: 3 philosophies that shaped 3 centuries in America. Since the time periods of each philosophy overlapped with the others, all 3 had similarities as well as differences. From these philosophies came different writers with different views, shaping American prose. A major Enlightenment author was Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine wrote a piece called "The Age of Reason." In this piece he fully encompassed the ideologies of the Enlightenment. These included the belief in the perfectibility of a human being, universal benevolence, faith in natural goodness, and the sovereignty of reason. He talked about the flaws in religion and the idea that "his own mind is his own church." In his piece he said that everything can be explained through science and that nothing was made in vein. This piece completely outlined what people believed during the Enlightenment. During the enlightenment there was a major focus on science and finding rational and scientific explanations for everything. What Thomas Paine said went against the beliefs of Puritans. He believed that religious duties included doing justice, loving mercy, and trying to make others happy. He claimed that all religions were based on hearsay revelations, and he was not obliged to believe that those revelations took place. He said that a revelation is a revelation only to the person who had it, and that he will not believe hearsay evidence of something. This goes against the Puritan ideas with their claims that one will burn in hell if one does not believe in Christ. The Puritans based their ideas not on scientific evidence, but rather on "God's will" and following the bible. Jonathon Edwards, an important Puritan writer, explained exactly what would happen to one if one did not believe in Christ or do as God wished. He argued against Thomas Paines' accusations that the church was corrupt and used religion and fear of god to gain power and profit.

The Puritan beliefs were clearly stated by Jonathon Edwards. Puritans believed that salvation is a matter of personal responsibility and that no religious authority on earth could assure salvation. They believed in pre-destination, but that living a good life and doing good were signs that someone was saved. They believed that someone would make a decision to be a good and religious person because God made them make good decisions since they were to be saved. Whereas, if someone were to make a bad decision, and not do good in life, that was God's plan all along and that person was not to be saved. Jonathon Edwards emphasized the necessity to not sin in this life, for if one does, they will burn in hell in the next. He made it clear that one must believe in Christ in order to be saved, and that in order to be saved one must integrate their personal identity completely. Most of their beliefs were contradictory to Enlightenment beliefs, except for one. The Puritans believed that one must be educated on human history, current events, and natural phenomena, as well as Scripture. In order to be saved one must know how to read and be well educated, so in a sense they emphasized education just as the Enlightenment followers did, just for a different reason. During the Transcendental period people also emphasized the need for education. However, the Transcendentalists were more focused on learning about thy self and not specifically about history or nature. They believed that through learning about thy self, one would also be learning about nature and history and even the cosmos. They believed that the structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of thy self. They thought that the external was united with the internal; how one felt about and saw the world reflected how the individual saw him or her self and felt inside. They believed that "beauty is within the eye of the beholder." The goal of transcendentalists was to become one with the world by learning about the self and thus...
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