How do the ideas Ralph Waldo Emerson espouses in “Self-Reliance” relate to the Christian themes articulated by earlier writers?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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There are many writers whose works might have espoused some of the same ideals as Emerson, one being Jonathan Edwards, whose life preceded Emerson's by about a hundred years, of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" fame.  Edwards is often credited with beginning what is sometimes called the "Great Awakening", a sort of revival movement based on his idea that to experience the absolute presence and power of God was to reach a state of enthusiastic fervor.  Although Edwards's sermons and writings are often referred to as "fire and brimstone" type ideals, his notion of experiencing God was not completely different from Emerson's.  The primary difference, probably, was that Edwards taught that people should aspire to this hyper-enthusiastic, overwhelming, and thereby, emotional experience, where Emerson, and others that came to be known as "transcendentalists" espoused a kinder, gentler philosophy rooted in experiencing God in nature.  By removing oneself from the extraneous distractions of the world, returning to God and nature, one could then begin to listen to one's own conscience and begin to trust oneself; however, this only worked since one's self was an outgrowth of the spirit of God. 


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