Religion and Its Influence on Early American Literature

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Religion and its followers, or congregation, of men and women joined together in the ties of a common religious faith was one of the numerous institutions that played a significant role in settling America. This missionary organisation, created after Jesus’ death, was a powerful influence on the New World’s birth and expansion of self-government.

“We are knit together as a body in a most sacred covenant of the Lord…by virtue of which we hold ourselves strictly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole,”

John Robinson

Robinson was a Pilgrim leader who founded the little colony of Plymouth in 1620. Other colonies, such as Rhode Island and Connecticut, were founded by religious fanatics who fled England because of religious persecution and hostility toward the Anglican Church.

Two groups of religious people crossed the Atlantic and established colonies. They were known as Pilgrims and Puritans.

The Catholic Church ruled England until 1534 when King Henry VIII severed ties with the Vatican and established the Anglican Church. Although Charles and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, refused to bow before the papacy and separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, some people believed that the new Church kept many of the older Church’s rites and ceremonies.

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They desired to expel the last vestiges of Catholicism from the Anglican Church by a full divorce to return to a simpler style of worship. They were known as Puritans. The Pilgrims were another group of individuals who, despite all odds, boarded the Mayflower and embarked on the now-famous 1620 trip. They were dubbed “Separatists,” and they felt that changing the Anglican Church was a pipe dream.

As it occurred, religious leaders rose to prominence in many colonies and began to impact political and social life. Because both the public and private wallets were empty, the masses had no money to dedicate to arts and science.

People had limited time to create works that were pleasing to both the sight and the mind. Churches were the only institutions that could afford to produce sermons, booklets, and other religious literature. Initially, these pious individuals founded schools for Bible studies. As a result, religion ruled supreme in all aspects of people’s lives.

These religious people’s writings were based on the belief that life was a trial set out for us.

Religion was a major topic during this period. This was especially true in New England, where the Puritans resided, a well-educated community that sought to comprehend and carry out God’s plan. Good writings were those that praised God and urged others to adore him. Other genres were just overlooked. These Puritans composed intricate philosophical poetry, elaborate theological history, and sermons. Although their techniques vary, their writings shared common elements: they were didactic in character.

These religious people’s writings were based on the belief that life was a trial set out for us. If we failed, we would be eternally damned to hell; otherwise, we would be eternally blessed in heaven. Puritans perceived significant spiritual meaning in various objects and events and believed that by following Jesus, they were freeing society and carrying out God’s grand design. Their desperate struggle to save themselves was fuelled by their tremendous fear of damnation and their desire to attain Nirvana.

Religion played a significant effect in the development of early American writing. John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Anne Bradstreet, and Henry David Thoreau produced religious, and literary works. Numerous authors included their religious concepts and convictions in their works.

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan author who conveyed her theological and philosophical thoughts in “Contemplations” Anne Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” was a profound meditation on the majesty of nature and God. As in most of her best works, this poem illustrates the author’s fight against materialism as a means of reaching paradise.

All literary works composed during the colonial period included a religious element. There were religious studies, hymns, biographies, and autobiographies in colonial literature.

In his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity”, John Winthrop explains why poverty has thwarted God’s design for the world with compelling and persuasive arguments. He thinks God created wealthy people for them to display God’s magnificence. He adds that a man’s circumstances are intended to test his character and morality. A wealthy individual is expected to demonstrate compassion and kindness, while a poor one is expected to build his faith and patience. If all people were created equal, neither they nor God would be required.

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Jonathan Edwards was another author who devoted his time to crafting religiously significant writings. He desired his peers to be sincerely driven to attain personal excellence by their religious convictions. All of his writings were intended to enhance people’s confidence in God.

In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, he utilises hell to convince people that if they disobey God’s instructions, hell would be their last destiny. The sermon was composed as a reaction to the progressive time within the Puritan movement to combat the menace of liberalism. He engages in fear-mongering in the tradition of the Old Testament to oppose the liberal movement.

Cotton Mather’s works reflect the pinnacle of intellectualism among New England’s Puritans. His articles focus mostly on the Salem witch trials.

In his essay “From the Wonders of the Invisible World,” he asserts that Satan’s recent incursion into the province was an omen of his imminent, cataclysmic defeat. He believes that Satan is angry that his territories have been invaded and that Jesus is venerated on those lands. However, his fall into the town indicates his last cataclysmic loss.

Early Puritans who landed in the colonies centred their lives on the worship of God, which they communicated via their writings. The Bible was central to their beliefs and influenced their works and lives. They not only preached but also enforced the gospel of God.

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