Knowledge, transcendentalism, and puritan theology: 3 philosophies that formed 3 centuries in America. Given that the time periods of each philosophy overlapped with the others, all 3 had resemblances as well as differences. From these approaches came different writers with different views, shaping American prose. A significant Enlightenment author was Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine composed a piece called “The Age of Reason.” In this piece he totally incorporated the ideologies of the Enlightenment. These included the belief in the perfectibility of a person, universal altruism, faith in natural goodness, and the sovereignty of reason.
He discussed the defects in religion and the idea that “his own mind is his own church.” In his piece he said that whatever can be discussed through science and that nothing was made in vein. This piece totally described what people believed throughout the Knowledge. During the knowledge there was a significant focus on science and finding reasonable and clinical explanations for whatever. What Thomas Paine stated went against the beliefs of Puritans.
He thought that religious duties consisted of doing justice, caring grace, and attempting to make others delighted.
He claimed that all faiths were based upon hearsay revelations, and he was not obliged to think that those discoveries occurred. He said that a revelation is a discovery only to the person who had it, which he will not think rumor evidence of something. This breaks the Puritan concepts with their claims that one will burn in hell if one does not think in Christ. The Puritans based their ideas not on scientific proof, but rather on “God’s will” and following the bible.
Jonathon Edwards, an important Puritan writer, explained exactly what would take place to one if one did not think in Christ or do as God wanted.
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 the world. There were two main authors that laid out transcendental ideologies. One was Henry David Thoreau. In his piece titled “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau talks about the flaws in the American government. He stated that a government where “majority rules” is not one based on justice.
He said that people should be men first, and subjects second. He explained that it is important for a person to live life with their conscience and serve the country with their conscience. In summary, he said that men should be true to themselves and government should recognize the individual as a higher and independent power. He explained that the government couldn’t attack one’s mind, only their body. In his other piece, titled “Walden,” Thoreau stated that people needed to simplify their lives and enjoy the small things in life.
He said that as one simplifies life, the laws of the universe also become more simple to that person, and one can become one with the world. He emphasized that people need to learn to love their life and accept it as it is. The other transcendental author was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote a piece called “Self-Reliance” in which he talks about the importance of being an individual, not conforming to the beliefs of others, and staying true to thy self. He said people should learn to appreciate the simple things in life and not value property and material goods as high as they do.
He said that one should value the self and the soul most, for in the end staying true to one’s self is all that matters. All of the ideas given by these two authors are transcendental beliefs. These transcendental beliefs were very contrary to the Puritan beliefs. The transcendentalists were focused on knowing thyself and thus knowing the universe and becoming one with nature. Puritans were focused on living a good life by conforming to what God supposedly wants them to do. They were focused on the afterlife more than this life, and made it seem more important. Transcendentalists, on the other hand, put more emphasis on this life.
One similarity between the two philosophies is that neither was based on science or rationale. Both philosophies take huge leaps and require faith and belief, for they don’t have much evidence to support what they believe. The Puritans took the leap of believing in God and Christ and that the bible is legitimate. The Transcendentalists took the leap of believing that the self is a parallel to the universe and that in knowing oneself one then knows everything about the universe as well. Enlightenment, on the other hand, is based on science and rationale, a major difference between Transcendentalism and the Enlightenment.
During the Enlightenment, people did put emphasis on knowing thy self, but did not assume that by knowing thy self, one knows the cosmos. They put an emphasis on knowing thy self so that one would stay true to one’s self and not conform to what others said. People during the Enlightenment made education a huge deal and were focused on finding scientific reasons for everything that occurred in nature. The Enlightenment was based on ration and science, whereas Transcendentalism was based on knowing thy self and becoming one with nature. However, the 2 philosophies did have similarities.
One included that they both were focused on this life rather than the next. In addition, they both focused on the individual and believed that it is possible for people to better themselves. Each philosophy had their similarities and differences, their ups and their downs, but personally I agree most with the Enlightenment. I think that the Puritans and Transcendentalists contradicted themselves and made too huge of leaps in their faiths. Jonathon Edwards contradicted himself and Puritan beliefs. Puritans believed in pre-destination, and yet he claimed that God made no promise to keep any man out of hell and can cast anyone into hell.
If the fate of every person is predestined, then God has already decided whom he will cast into hell, and therefore won’t cast any random person into hell, only those who are predestined to go there. He contradicted himself again by saying that God has no obligation to save someone from eternal damnation until they believe in Christ, and therefore once they do believe in Christ, God does have that obligation. Once again this goes against his first statement saying that God may cast anyone into hell. Ralph Emerson contradicts himself as well.
He stated that a person should not conform to what others say, but rather accept him or her self as they are. Yet, he also states that people should learn to not value material goods as much as people do. He said that people should change what they think and value the little things in life more. This is contradictory because he is telling people not to conform, but then telling them to conform to what he says they should do. In addition, if someone were to accept who they are, for better and for worse, then why would they change what they value most?
If someone were to truly accept who they are, they would not change their life in any way, but rather accept their faults and merits. Transcendentalism and Puritanism both involve leaps in faith. Neither has much evidence to support what they believe, but rather expect people to follow those beliefs out of fear or other means. I also simply disagree with what they both say. Transcendentalists state that as one simplifies life, the laws of nature and the world become less complex. I disagree, I think that they only think everything is less complex, for they are ignorant to the real world and what is really happening.
There is always a simple answer for everything, but there is a complex answer as well. It seems transcendentalists simply wish to only pay attention to the simple answers. Puritanism I cannot agree with for they ruin their argument by contradicting themselves on their main beliefs. Everything Thomas Paine said made sense to me. He doesn’t contradict himself, staying true to what he believed. I agree with the Enlightenment ideology that everything can be explained through scientific reasoning. Paine’s arguments had support and made sense. His arguments against religion were strong, and yet he didn’t force them upon others. He
stated that people have the right to believe what they want to believe, and was simply sharing his own ideas. This was contrary to Jonathon Edwards, who stated that people who didn’t believe him and didn’t believe in Christ would burn in hell. Enlightenment, Puritanism, and Transcendentalism were 3 philosophies that have helped shape America. Authors such as Paine, Edwards, Emerson, and Thoreau helped shape American prose. Their different beliefs and styles made American prose diverse and original. Even though I disagree with much of what the Puritans and Transcendentalists believed, each period equally contributed to what America has become.
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