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Transcendental Ideas: Religion

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"Mountaintops and Riverbanks together Pulpits: A Transcendental go back to Nature"

Christopher Baratta, Binghamton University, NY (2012)


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The mountain sat top top the plain/In his eternal chairHis observation omnifold/His inquest everywhere.As one indication that the necessity of its founding and also the breadth that its influence, American Transcendentalism is a complicated movement to define, both in state ofwhat the stood for and also what it stood in the opposite to. Perry Miller, a Transcendentalism scholar, believes the the inspiration behind Transcendentalism was "a religious radicalismin revolt against a reasonable conservatism." (Warren 10) Having arised in the beforehand 19th century, localized in new England, the Transcendental movement took a an ext radicalapproach come the id of the divinity of the natural civilization than the Unitarian church accepted. It likewise rejected the tenets that sensationalism, as placed forth by Enlightenmentthinkers, such as man Locke and also David Hume. That can also be viewed as a reaction come the materialism of the 18th and also 19th century: "their mission to awaken America indigenous the materialistic slumber into which the age of vapor was promptly carrying it."(Gura xi)If you take each subject of rebellion--the church, Lockean sensationalism, industrial and also scientific progress--there is one typical link in between them:the abandonment of the individual. The church preaches conformity and strict adherence to the word of God; sensationalism negates man"s capability to produce his own truth, his ownknowledge; scientific research and an innovation abandoned the soul of guy in donate of commerce and also material wealth. The Transcendentalists thought in the Romantic vision of man thatembodied "self-expression and self-cultivation functioned as a kind of sanctification."(Young 58) Each guy was a god, and the mission that the Transcendentalist to be tochampion the self-reliant man; the movement adopted power in individualism. And, together this activity was earlier characterized as religious radicalism, that is vital to psychic thatat its source the Transcendental philosophy was theological. This theology did no send its priests and also pastors to the pulpit though; instead, it sent out them to riverbanks andmountaintops. This opposition to materialism and confining spiritual doctrines embraced intuition, spirit, and the individual. Theophilus Parsons, a member that the movement, claimed in 1840that Transcendentalism was part of the "universal loosening of every opinion and also belief."(Gura xiv) This "loosening" to be a expect that guys would look at to other sources for divineinspiration. And while Transcendentalism embodied many different aspects of opposition and also rebellion, this new source of motivation that every Transcendentalism scholarsrecognize is the natural world. One integral facet of this embrace of nature was a reaction come the brand-new "religion" of scientific and technological progress. According to RobertPenn Warren, "Transcendentalism stood for a facility response come the democratization the American life, come the rise of science and the brand-new technology, and also to the brand-new industrialism--to the whole question of the redefinition the the relationship of male to nature and to other men."(12) What the Transcendentalists to be opposed to to be the rational, scientific strategy to nature, i m sorry mostly contained an objectification of the organic world. Nature was looked at as something to be studied an initial and enjoyed second. The Transcendentalists revered nature in a magnificent sense.1 Nature was not subordinate to them, yet instead nature to be the other component of a symbiotic relationship.The examine of the connection of man to the natural civilization benefitted indigenous a symbiotic connection with philosophy. Under the Transcendentalists, the study of the natural people became an ext than the examine of organisms and also their environment. The environmental philosophy that the Transcendentalists became a religious journey the took them the end of the churches and also into nature. It ended up being a way of life and also a path to the divine. Samuel Johnson, in his 1877 essay "Transcendentalism," analogizes the Transcendental desire because that a new vision of nature and a new mode that thought: questioning a dozen men to think the an outside object, speak a tree: lock all rotate in one direction, and a supposed common emotion disguises your individuality; however ask themto look at the mental procedure by i beg your pardon they understand the tree, and also each finds the the primal resource of his perception is internal; and also the inference complies with that its value should dependon his personal dignity and freedom.(155)This analogy is the creed of the transcendental see of nature and of guy as individual. A tree is no longer a tree; a tree is now an organic gift in union v the observer. As stewards that the herbal world and the forebears that the environmental movement, men like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau2 not only preached this creed, however they alsolived it. Emerson believed that an immersion, or just a sojourn, in nature was crucial for individuals to reconnect v the essential nature the the self. Together eco-philosophers andenvironmentalists, Emerson and Thoreau were mindful of a culture embracing these "old age" values where nature to be studied and objectified, fairly than revered. Both guys saw thesymbiotic partnership of nature and also man, and they saw the excessive benefits of such a relationship, especially when put right into opposition come the religious and philosophical doctrines that they rejected. It have to be listed though, the Emerson and Thoreau and also their other Transcendentalists were not atheists. They were still males who thought in God; however, they abandoned the old doctrines as insufficient and also as confining through respect come the full development of the individual self. Malcolm Clemens Young put it best when relenten Thoreau"s religious nature: "The means Thoreauwrote about, saw, and also walked in nature, and his understanding of these methods is more important for knowledge his piety than his attendance record at neighborhood churches."(13) Emerson and also Thoreau moved the pulpit from the church to the mountaintop.In his 1836 Nature, Emerson"s philosophical foundation concerning the divine, the individual, and nature deserve to be briefly identified as a brand-new path for man to adopt "highersources that illumination" (Morse 127) with the divine power and an harmonious partnership with the natural world. The is essential to keep in mind the dual meaning of the tile of thisessay, as it alludes come both the organic world and the nature of man. The publication is deservedly held in high regard together the beacon the Transcendental thought, as it linked two ofthe movement"s most an essential beliefs: the natural world as divine and the prestige of individualism. Nature stood together a thoughtful construct because that Emerson; a philosophicalpathway to lead man earlier to a link with his herbal self. This was especially important throughout the introduction of the commercial and technical revolutions in America.And, the is this see of nature (Nature) together a thoughtful construct the separates Emerson native Thoreau. While Thoreau resided next to Walden Pond, Emerson maintained his distance from nature, though he was often seen strolling the Concord green; however, it was on these walks the Emersonsurely theorized around the transcendental qualities of man. We can say the Emerson perceived nature together a painter"s canvas: the natural civilization was the perfect empty canvas for hisphilosophical paintings. The natural people for Emerson is the embodiment that the divine. It to be an chance for him to carry the divine down come earth; to give people an chance to be one v divinity. Emerson believes the "nature concretes the soul."(Young 99) according to Emerson, nature "ministers to man" (25)--a sentiment that both accompanies Emerson"s leave from the church and his rejection of the pulpit together a resource for the magnificent inspiration. This is since for Emerson the Transcendentalist, nature exhibits God"s creation and it is in nature that male is able to come together close as feasible to God.Sacvan Bercovitch phone call Emerson the "first thinker of American individualism" (101). Emerson to adjust the individual v conscience, and also places that in opposition come the church andstate. The doctrines that the "old age" room to be abandoned. This is apparent in the opening of Nature: Our age is retrospective. It build the sepulchers the the fathers. That writes biographies, histories, and also criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature faceto face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we additionally enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why need to not we have actually a poetry and philosophy that insight and also not the tradition,and a religious beliefs by revelation come us, and not the history of theirs? 5The an initial step because that Emerson towards a global individualism is a rest from the past. This involves brand-new religions and also a new interpretation of man. Emerson walk on come say, "Embosomedin a season in nature whose floods the life currently around and also through us, and invite us, by the strength they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope amongst thedry skeleton of the past, or placed the living generation right into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe."(5) for Emerson, nature has actually the strength to produce a brand-new language for male to speak spirituality truths. And in this book, Emerson employs the Romantic language that poetry and also allusions,and discards the language that obedience offered by the church. That sees the ever-changing aesthetic of nature as a unified system of revelation, if rejecting the blindly followedCalvinist doctrines. Nature because that Emerson is freedom; liberty from predestination and also freedom native imprisoned thought. The the herbal world, Emerson says, "All the offers of natureadmit of gift summed in one . . . It always speaks of Spirit. It says the absolute."(14) His usage of the word heart varies considerably from the an interpretation provided by the "dry bones"that the rejects. Emerson sees heart as self-revelatory; each male has regulate of his own interpretations and his very own will: "The people exists for you"(15) he speak his readers.Although not as often or come the level as his "disciple" Henry David Thoreau, Emerson spent time immersed in nature. In his essay "The Over-Soul" Emerson places himself in themiddle the the universe: similar to events, so the is v thoughts. Once I watch the flowing river, which, out of regions I watch not, pours because that a season, that streams into me, I see that ns am apensioner; not a cause but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that i desire and also look up and put myself in the perspective of reception, but form some alien power thevisions come. (262)Emerson paints an image similar to Caspar David Friedrich"s Wanderer above the Sea the Fog. As the wanderer was standing in awe that the fog spanned mountains, so too does Emerson stand inawe that the flowing river. Emerson is not just in awe the the physical river though, but additionally of the connection of the river to himself, and also of both come the divinity of nature. Hegoes on to describe his new vision that God:The Supreme critic on the errors that the past and also the present, and the only prophet of that which need to be, is that good nature in i beg your pardon we remainder as the planet lies in thesoft eight of the atmosphere; the Unity, that Over-Soul, in ~ which every man"s specific being is contained and made one v all others. . .that typical heart. . .that overpoweringreality, which confutes everyone happen for what he. . .and i m sorry evermore tends to pass right into our thought and also hand and also become wisdom and also virtue and power and beauty (262)As Emerson currently calls the unity of every being the Over-Soul, he create a new Supreme Being. This supreme Being displaces the "old aged" doctrines of the past, and the survivingdoctrines of the present. The Over-Soul is embodied by the natural world which surrounds "every man"s being" and all of reality. Emerson illustrates a secularized interconnectednessthat includes both physical and mental, man and nature. The Over-Soul is the manifestation of Emerson"s think on the unit in the universe. And it is this unity the Thoreauwill embrace as he takes Emerson"s teachings and embarks ~ above a sojourn into the natural world.In 1770, Paul Henri d"Horbach released the influential scientific work-related The system of Nature. Goethe"s reaction to this work-related is a emotion that one might attribute come Henry DavidThoreau and also his fellow Transcendentalists: "How hollow and also empty did us feel in this melancholy, atheistical half-night, in i m sorry the earth vanished v all its images, the heavenwith every its stars."(Warren 14) Goethe is lamenting the fatality of an individual"s experience of the big in nature and also its images. The Transcendentalists want their own version of nature, and also not the nature of typical sense (in the context of the sensationalism expounded by Locke and Hume), no one the nature limit to scientific research inquiry. They were came to with a Romantic view of nature; a poetic, divine nature; a nature to it is in experience and also to be joined with. Because that nature come observed and studied in a strictly scientific sense to be a blasphemy against the structure of Thoreau"s philosophy.Seeing the negative effects that the industrial intrusion ~ above both humans and also nature, Thoreau construed the require for unity between man and nature. The principles put forth by Enlightenmentthinkers and scientists--of human preeminence over nature, materialism, science and also technology--were come Thoreau, harmful come a magnificent unity of man and also nature. Favor Emerson, Thoreau looks for to "turn far from building monuments for historical spiritual leaders come seeking God personal in nature." Young"s usage of the expression "seeking Godpersonally in nature" (231) shows that he is quite acquainted with Thoreau"s philosophy. Because that Thoreau, the strength of religious beliefs does not lie in a link to an "historical thing of faith" (Smith 489), but instead it lies in one eternal longing for the holiness in nature, and also through his works he understands the an knowledge of nature just in clinical terms does little to create a connection to the divine. This scientific approach--the objectification that nature; an inability to look beyond the physical facets of nature-- is in ~ the core of what Thoreau was rebelling versus when he undertook his sojourn at Walden Pond.Thoreau has explained himself together a mystic, a transcendentalist, and also a natural philosopher. This labels ensure that he neither fits into a narrow human being of religious beliefs nor science."Self isolation is the very first step come self-consecration" (Johnson 155). The require for this "self-isolation" is a an outcome of his unsympathetic of the American means of life. InWalden, parcel "justifies his refusal of plain life in the arising commercial-industrial republic mostly with his case that it destroys intimacy with "the workman whose job-related weare," the God that unifies all nature." (Young 13) "On balance, Thoreau appears to create much an ext as if nature exists as a whole--as a discrete, living, immanent, and transcendent entity--rather 보다 as a repertoire of objects whichhumans task meaning." (Young 56) package constantly juxtaposes his views on magnificent nature v materialist, industrial American society. In the chapter title "Economy," hedenounces the need for possessions and also rejects the idea that technical breakthrough and also convenience room inevitably linked:Our innovations are no to it is in pretty toys, which distract our fist from severe things. Castle are but improved way to an unimproved ends, an finish which that was already but tooeasy to arrive at; as railroads result in Boston or new York. We room in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph native Maine to Texas; however Maine and also Texas, it may be, have actually nothingimportant come communicate around (Walden,33-34)Thoreau"s A mainly on the Concord and also Merrimack Rivers is thought about to be one of the an initial American studies of comparative religions. The book, published in 1849, contraststhe religions of the East and also West. It is in this work, the an initial of his publications to be published, that Thoreau concerns if guy is able to uncover God in nature, instead of v traditions, doctrines, and creeds. He tells the leader that that loves "man-kind sic, yet I dislike the organizations of the dead unkind ." the laments the fact that guy is administrate by these age traditions and moral codes. And also the dead, the unkind, follow to Thoreau, "rule this world, and the living are however their executors."(117) to Thoreau, menwho subscribe to the old theologies space mere puppets for your God, and they space not individuals; they are not living as God had wished. To proceed down that course of obedience come the "dry bones" of scriptures was a dead end; however to adopt nature and also the Transcendental Over-soul, one stands alongside God and becomes a god himself. Come Thoreau, nature is God and God is nature: "Nextto united state the grandest legislations are continually being executed. Alongside us is not the workman we have actually hired, through whom we love so well to talk, yet the workman whose work-related we are." (Walden 134) In A mainly on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, the an initial indications the Thoreau"s "eastern leanings" are present. These leanings arise after mindful study, but likewise with hisfirst descent right into what he calls "the wild." We watch his wild nature coupled with a denial of the Christian Sabbath as he declares "there is no infidelity, nowadays, so good as the which prays, and also keeps the Sabbath, and also rebuilds the churches"3 (73). That is the an initial step toward an immersion in nature. Thoreau next connects God through the wild. Thoreau is searching for a God that does not resemble the God the the Old Testament, no one does he resemble the God uncovered in Calvinist or Unitarian scripture. Thoreau"s Godis together wild together he, and also he admonishes those who do not embrace this "wildness": "A man"s real belief is never contained in his creed, nor is his creed his write-up of faith." (A Week, 74) This acknowledgment of God"s presence in nature and not in creeds or doctrines is the following step towards finding the divine in nature. In stimulate to take the following step, parcel is aided by eastern philosophies and their dedication to nature together a spirituality conduit come the divine.Thoreau"s connection to oriental religions opens up a brand-new understanding that his views of the magnificent in nature. Thoreau to be well-read in the scriptures and traditions of Hinduism andBuddhism, and in the works of Confucius. Arthur Versluis price quotes Thoreau scholar Rick areas who watch the mix of oriental religion in Thoreau"s philosophy:One can say that Thoreau to be pre-Buddhist in lot the same method that the Chinese Taoists were. He estimate an American Buddhism in the same method that a specific quality that transparent dawn forecast a clear morning. . . .He lost himself in nature together theChinesepainters did, by ending up being one with nature....He was perhaps the an initial American to discover the non-theistic mode of contemplation the is the separating mark the Buddhism. 93Versluis look at the connection to eastern scriptures in the conflicts found in 2 chapters indigenous Walden, "Economy" and also "Higher Laws." In "Economy" package battles v a prudentapproach to goods and also possessions: "With respect come luxuries and also comforts, the wise have ever lived a an ext simple and meager life 보다 the poor. The ancient philosophers,Chinese Hindoo nobody so affluent inward" (8-9). This idea that prudence with respect toeconomics is, follow to Versluis, affected by Thoreau"s readings of Confucius and also the Hindu laws of Manu, and also not the sentiment shared by his fellow American: "Americanbusiness cry "expand," and Thoreau cries "simplify!" (84) because that this research though, I desire to focus on Thoreau"s link to Taoism together I check out this link to it is in the the strongest in its revelation that God in nature. Thoreau"s knowledge ofTaoism is a contested issue amongst Thoreau scholars. I belong come the school that watch a straight influence that Taoism in Thoreau"s writing, many prominently in his journals and inA mainly on the Concord and also Merrimack Rivers.4 concerning Field"s observation on the mixture of eastern thought in Thoreau"s work, Versluis states that fields is "on the mark"and that Thoreau"s natural contemplation carefully parallels the Taoist love for and absorption into nature. A straightforward description of the beauty, beauty of the pond illustration this parallel:Standing at the smooth sandy coast at the eastern end that the pond, in a patience September afternoon, once a slim haze makes the opposite shore heat indistinct, I have actually seenwhence come the expression "the glassy surface ar of a lake." when you invert her head, that looks like a object of gossamer stretched across the valley, and also gleaming versus thedistant pine tree woods, separating one stratum that the setting from another. 121Thoreau never leaves nature in this passage. His absorb is obvious in the language used in his descriptions of the pond. His vocabulary, like his physics being and also his soul,does not depart native the existing time in the herbal world. That elevates the beauty of nature through descriptions that the pond"s surface in relationship to the trees and also the valley. Thisquote illustrates the interconnectedness that the natural world: the surface ar of the pond connects come the valley which connects to the trees which connects come the enveloping atmosphere.It is all connected and it is all one. This is the Taoist principle of the unity of all things in nature. The following step because that Thoreau top top his Taoist trek is to unify himself through nature.Thoreau"s Taoist unification with nature come in the kind of self-transcendence. This involved a sojourn into and also deep contemplation the nature--his time at Walden Pond--and an ascetic ethical discipline.5 Versluis tells us that the target of the Taoist hermit to be to "leave the ego behind, to transcend the self. The aim is come be establish by thetransmutation that one"s existing life, in this an extremely instant" (94). Thoreau write in Walden "in eternity there is certainly something true and also sublime. However all this timesand places and also occasions are here and now. God culminates in the existing moment and will never be much more divine in all the slide away of all the ages" (63). Versluis laments the truth that Thoreau"s attention in eastern religions appeared to have, five years ~ the publishing of Walden, waned. This doesn"t take far from thefact the Chinese religions, most notably Taoism, played vital role in his works and way of life. While the is true the Thoreau"s posthumous publicationThe Maine Woods has actually very few references to asian religions, Thoreau"s immersion in and also absorption of nature cannot be dismissed because of its "exclusion" from among his laterworks. Gary Simon explicitly states that "Thoreau. . .evidenced, in mine opinion, a greater affinity for Taoism than any other asian religion" (253). According to Lyman Cady, Walden suggests a deep affinity for and also knowledge of Taoist philosophy: "the profound similarity of clues of view, their nature mysticism, love that the straightforward life and "primitive," distaste because that convention and also governmental interference, and the recurring use of paradox" (31-32). The success that Thoreau"s unity is obvious in one of the most well-known lines native Walden, discovered in the chapter title "Solitude": "I go and also come through a weird liberty in nature, a component of herself" (84). If over there is a quote through Thoreau the exhibits the Taoist creed the unity with nature, climate this is clearly it. So, unlike Versluis, i am no lamenting the limited references come Taoism or Buddhism in Thoreau"s later writings; instead, to me, the absence of recommendations is one indication the full adaptation into the culture embodied by oriental religions. That is my belief that the Transcendentalists, especially Emerson and also Thoreau, were agnostics. Although castle separated themselves fromUnitarianism, they still held on come the id in God; however, through their writings it is clean to me the this is not the Christian or Judaic God. Emerson and also Thoreau believed in a god as creator; a god that is alive and who dwells amongst his creation: nature. This is the factor why the natural civilization was therefore revered by these 2 men. Nature was the magnificent space, no a fabricated church. Nature is wherein man deserve to walk side by side with God; nature is whereby man have the right to see God"s gifts; and also nature is where guy can embrace the god in ~ himself. Arthur Versluis feels that the "essential point" in Walden and in the approach of the Transcendentalists with respect come nature, the individual, and also the divine, is thequestion, "What walk it benefit a man if that gains the whole world but loses his soul." (81) These men felt the the search for God or the divine, specifically in the artistic or poetic sense, carried them closer come the Self. And both guys no longer thought that His presence might be discovered in a book or a creed; lock felt that the landscape offered more than the pew. In a prophetic statement because that the 21st century, Young sees Thoreau"s comment on technology, the railroad, steamships, and also the telegraph and how that "gives the illusions of intimacy6 however ultimately have the practical effect of separating united state from our home." (185) because that Emerson and Thoreau, nature is home, and also home is wherein the heart of man and also the true self resides. Footnotes1 This emotion is shared by the new England Puritans of the time. Jonathan Edwards, speaking because that the new England Puritans, experienced nature together God"s language. Edwards was thought about anatural philosopher, and also he saw in nature a consistent reminder the God"s sovereignty. (Young 107)2 Edward Abbey, a leading 20th century environmentalist writes, "Thoreau"s mind has actually been haunting mine for many of mine life." And, plenty of environmentalists that the 20th century--Bill McKibben, Annie Dillard--have acknowledged Thoreau together an influence.3 In Thoreau"s time, this "unorthodoxy" was so severe as to warrant conflicts with publishers and also audiences.4 because that a an ext in-depth look at the affect of Taoism ~ above the life and works that Thoreau, view "Thoreau and Taoism" by David T.Y. Ch"en.5 i will set aside the connections between Walden and also Siddhartha because that a later on study.6 Today, we view this phenomenon in Myspace, Friendster, or Facebook.Works CitedCady, Lyman V. "Thoreau"s quote from the Confucian books in Walden." American Literature. March 1961. 20-32.Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Nature." The Selected writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. Brand-new York: arbitrarily House, 1968. 5-44.---. "The Transcendentalist." The Selected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. New York: random House, 1968. 87-106.---. "The Over-Soul." The Selected writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. Brand-new York: arbitrarily House, 1968. 261-279.Gura, Phillip and also Joel Myerson. "Introduction." crucial Essays top top American Transcendentalism. Eds. Phillip Gura and also Joel Myerson. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982. Xi-xlix. Johnson, Samuel. "Transcendentalism." 1877. An essential Essays on American Transcendentalism. Eds. Phillip Gura and Joel Myerson. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982. 142-167.Smith, Duane E. "Romanticism in America: The Transcendentalists." 1973. An essential Essays ~ above American Transcendentalism. Eds. Phillip Gura and Joel Myerson. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982. 483-504.Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. New York: Dover, 1995.---. A mainly on the Concord and also Merrimack Rivers. 1849. New York: Signet, 1961.Versluis, Arthur. American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.Warren, Robert Penn, Cleanth Brooks, and also R.W.B. Lewis. "Introduction". Romanticism: vital Essays in American Literature. Eds. James Barbour and also Thomas Quirk. New York: Garland, 1986. 3-26.Young, Malcolm Clemens.

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The Spiritual journal of Henry David Thoreau. Macon: Mercer UP, 2007.