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The Puritans

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The Puritans’, Enlightenment/Founding Fathers’, and Transcendentalists’ View of God

American literature was influenced by three different religious philosophies between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even though the Puritan, Cotton Mather; the Enlightenment author and Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson; and spiritual philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson had a different view of God, each philosopher believed in God and felt a connection to our Creator on some spiritual level. Their ideas differed particularly on predestination, science and rationale, and intuition. (clearly stated thesis) During the seventeenth century, Puritanism was the most common form of religion and played an important role in Puritan life. Since God was at the forefront in Puritanism, individuals believed that human and natural occurrences were messages from God. Cotton Mather was a great historian and a highly respected clergyman during this period. In one of his most famous works, The Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather gives his account of the Salem Witch Trials in which he was convinced that he received this command from the Lord. Cotton Mather believed that witches were doing the work of the devil and had to be destroyed before the Puritans could fulfill their destiny as “a people of God.” The Puritans believed they were chosen by God to serve a special purpose which was already predestined. According to the Puritan beliefs, one cannot choose salvation; since God was all-knowing, he has already chosen each individual’s destiny. The Puritans based their views on God’s will and following the Bible instead of scientific evidence. After Cotton Mather’s death in 1728, which marked the end to Puritanism, the people of New England began to comprehend the world in ways they had never imagined. This era was known as Enlightenment because many believed that the human mind could comprehend the universe through the laws of physics and rational thought. Unlike the Puritans, Thomas Jefferson did not believe in supernatural events. He believed that a deistic God exists, and that the Lord created and governs the universe. In Thomas Jefferson’s book, Jefferson Bible also known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, he excluded sections of the New Testament which contained supernatural aspects. Most of the Enlightenments’ beliefs were contradictory to the Puritans’ except for education. Both religious philosophies believed that each individual should be educated enough to read and understand the Bible. A major author during the Transcendentalist era was Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his essay, “Self-Reliance”, Ralph Emerson urged readers to trust their own intuition and common sense and refuse to conform to the ways of popular opinion. Transcendentalists believed that the goal for individuals was to become one with the world by learning about themselves and thus the universe and becoming one with nature which provided answers about virtue and wisdom. Nature is as close as we can get to God. Transcendentalists believed a person’s true feelings and intuition were more valuable than book knowledge. While Puritan author Cotton Mather believed in predestination, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson valued science along with reason, and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson urged each individual to trust his or her own intuition, each author’s diverse beliefs and original writing styles greatly influenced American literature. B+/B needs a few more actual quotes, two run on sentences and watch apostrophe use.

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