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... sight, and access to knowledge beyond senses is possible for everyone. Unitarians and transcendentalists disagreed on the role of outside God in revelations. Jonathan Edwards, before the transcendental movement, was the first one to say that an individual can receive divine light directly, without the guidance of a pastor.
But this assumes the acts of God, that revelation as divine light can be brought to an individual from the outside, while correspondence proclaims the constant presence of divinity, "the divine light, " in each person. By opening the door to the exercise of the intellect and free conscience, and encouraging an individual in his quest for divine meaning, Unitarians unwittingly sowed the seeds for the transcendental revolt. On the other hand, transcendentalism and Unitarianism shared the belief that there is only one God. Channing said, "There is One God, ...
the Father; and that Jesus is not this One God, but his son and messenger. " Since Jesus was not divine, this provided the hope that humans can realize the Christian ideal in this actual world. Both religions emphasized hope and self-dedication, and despised Calvinist emphasis on sin and punishment. Transcendentalism diverged from Unitarianism because it valued "heart" above "mind." Emerson called Unitarianism "corpse-cold, "an icebox, " with "coldness constantly increasing. " Immediately after transcendentalism was acclaimed as a separate religious school, a question of miracles came up. Transcendentalists claimed that Biblical miracles are not important because miracles are all around us. "A mouse is miracle enough to stagger quintillions of infidels, " said Walt Whitman.
For transcendentalists, God was everywhere, and since nature had spiritual manifestations, they stressed their emphasis on here and now, their concern for life, and not for afterlife. "Give me one world at a time, " Thoreau had said. Emerson believed that the idea that Jesus needed to "prove" his power by miracles separated humanity and divinity. Even though transcendentalism was a liberal branch of Unitarianism which in turn was a liberal reaction of Puritanism and Protestantism, transcendentalists extended many Puritanical and Protestant ideas. Transcendentalists valued Puritanical religious "enthusiasm", "piety" and the doctrine of "divine light." Transcendentalists had Protestant and Puritanical passion for simplification and urge for naked confrontation with God.
The leaders of transcendentalism were all Unitarian pastors, who took many old philosophies and ideas and wove them into Unitarianism, thus founding a new religious school. The reasons for the rise of transcendentalism were many. With the westward expansion into the vast unexplored regions, a romantic attitude towards nature developed as it was celebrated with the New World spirit. Transcendentalism was a philosophy of individualism, aimed at the new American, self-reliant and democratic. The erosion of Calvinism, which urged to minimize speculation and instead draw directly on the Word of God, and the "icebox of Unitarianism, " prompted a religion that required a complete devotion and warmness. Democracy and the industrial revolution made an American man confident and not afraid to claim that there is a divinity inside him.
It was impossible to accept new science without revising some of the religious views such as miracles. Emerson's favorite metaphor was movement and flow, which was caused by change and reform in nineteenth century America. Thus, transcendentalism was a religion of romanticism and self-reliance. The idealism of transcendentalism, which stressed spiritual advancement of individual, brought the impulse to minister the spiritual health of society. "If men are divine, why should they be in chains?" Emerson asked himself. "God looks out from human eyes. " Channing had said. Thus the transcendentalists set out to remake the world from God's viewpoint.
The United States proved to be a fertile ground for reform at that time. Radical reformers wanted to vigorously change and challenge harsh practices of society, such as abuses of capitalism and slavery, which stunt individual growth. This led to the rise of "immediatist" abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison and quasi-communist economic radicalism of Orestes Brownson's "The Laboring Classes. " More conservative reformers were against immediate structural change and bloody upheavals. Emerson, for example, said in his "Self-Reliance" that the safest long-term route to a righteous society is individual moral reform. According to correspondence, self-reform would result in a more global change.
The social activism was mostly religious in nature. Ripley said, "The purpose of Christianity... is to redeem society as well as individual from sin. " The areas in which transcendental reformers took part were educational reform, prison reform, temperance to other ethnic groups, feminism, poverty relief, and abolitionism. Transcendentalists claimed that servitude stunts the spiritual growth both of slaves and their masters. William Ellery Channing delivered a "Slavery" speech in 1835. He stated that slavery contravened Christian teachings, thwarted Christian desire to "knit humankind together in a divine fabric of spirituality and freedom. " James Freeman Clarke delivered sermons on "the national sin of slave hood. " He talked about the duty of abolition and the wrong of annexation of Texas, which would mean an extension of slavery.
However, antislavery sentiment existed among the transcendentalists together with ignorance, apathy and racism. Also, in the tumult of controversy over the abolition of slavery, voices from New England were simply not heard. Practical opposition to slavery was completely different from merely denouncing it. Unresolved and unsettling questions remained with respect to the place of freed slaves in American society, assuming abolition came to pass. Emerson clung to his proto-Darwinist views of self-reliance. "The anti-slavery of the whole world is dust in the balance before this, - is a poor squeamishness and nervousness... I say to you, you must save yourself, black or white, man or woman; other help is none. " To many transcendentalists any external reform was a false and presumptuous form of social change.
Transcendentalists also attempted reform in gender relations. In the eighteenth century the "cult of domesticity" prevailed, where women's primary workplace was home. However, after the American Revolution, the question about different gender roles became more explicit because of the promise of equality to everyone, and because women increasingly began to take part in economics and politics. In theory, transcendentalists favored gender reform. However, in practice they were often prejudiced, just like in slavery reform. Thoreau, for example, had both idealistic and misogynist comments about women. "If the weather is too warm and rainy...
it becomes mere diarrhea... This is woman's poetry. " Margaret Fuller was the most successful and active feminist reformer out of all the transcendentalists. Between 1839 and 1844 she conducted classes of "conversations" for women in literature, education, mythology and philosophy. In 1845, Margaret Fuller published "Women in the Nineteenth Century, " a feminist book of demand for political equality and a plea for emotional, spiritual and intellectual fulfillment of women. Fuller worked to obtain female suffrage and extra-domestic activity. According to her, women were to define themselves not in relation to men, but in relation to themselves and to God.
In "Women in the Nineteenth Century" she wrote, "I would have woman lay aside all thought, such as she habitually cherishes, of being taught and led by men. I would have her, like the Indian girl, dedicate herself to the Sun, the Sun of Truth, and go no where if his beams did not clear the path. " Fuller tried to enrich and dignify women's place in society. Bronson Alcott worked on educational writings and experiments. At that time, education even in Harvard was based on memorization and recitation of lessons. Alcott taught in Temple School, where he developed a new educational system on which today's teaching techniques are based. He used psychology to probe pupil's minds in order to strengthen and purify reason.
He aimed to treat the students' minds as capable of growth and not just receiving information. For him, education was calling forth and cultivating the divinity inside his pupil, not an imposition of external forms upon a passive intellect. In 1828 he wrote in his journal, "The province of the instructor should be... awakening, directing, rather than forcing the child's faculties upon a prescribed and exclusive courses of thought. " With his radical teaching techniques Bronson Alcott made an impact on education which is still evident today. Frederick Henry Hedge and Orestes Brownson worked on quasi-communist reforms against the evils brought together with success of the Industrial Revolution. Hedge, although one of the more conservative transcendentalists, attempted reform aimed at the huge breach between the extremes of rich and poor in his time, brought by capitalism.
Regardless of his affirmation of progress and the practical genius of America, he was suspicious of excessive materialism and political ambition, and saw in the "growing luxury of our cities" a profound threat to liberty and equality. Brownson wrote in "The Laboring Classes" that factory systems in the North were as psychologically destructive as slavery in the South. Capitalism and private ownership brought competition and insecurity, which result in primitive warfare. Still, Brownson saw that Industrial Revolution was there to stay and abolition of private property would be highly impractical and unachievable. Inspired by the new "Jacksonian" democracy, transcendentalists attempted communal living experiments such as Brook Farm and Fruitlands. Andrew Jackson was inaugurated president in 1829.
He introduced a new era in American politics. He was the first president from the new west. He became the symbol of the political power of the common people in the United States. He brought local autonomy, free public education for all, and universal suffrage.
Most of his supporters were members of the renamed Democratic party, founded originally by Thomas Jefferson. Jacksonian democracy stressed both equality and individualism. Transcendentalism served as a metaphysical basis to explain and justify newfound democracy. The need for reconciliation of expansive and contracting impulses of transcendentalism is similar to democracy, where a person needs to realize without sacrificing both his need for liberty (egoistic tendency) and his goal of equality.
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