Week 15–Break is OVER, Let’s get back to work! Transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau

The controversy over his salvation. Can a man come to God on his own, as equally divine? Or does he need to come to God through Christ? Transcendentalists follow their own beliefs and seek to come to God on their own terms.

It feels so weird covering Thoreau and Emerson AFTER the Christmas break. They are usually taught earlier in the year. In my opinion they should have been taught along with Hawthorne. But whatever, the textbook wanted us to focus on Uncle Tom’s Cabin more. And personally, I think that book is very important so I am okay with this. But in your mind, just know that Thoreau planted Hawthorne’s garden. Okay? They were buddies.


I want you to take notes on the following information on Transcendentalism. You can either write down the important stuff, or print this out, highlight it and hole punch it and put it in your folders.

So, Transcendentalism . . .

Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement that developed during the late 1820s and ’30s  in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest against the general state of spirituality and, in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School.

Among the transcendentalists’ core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed. (Wikipedia, sorry it was easy)

Tenets of Transcendentalism

  • Nature = God –in a way, similar to Hindu beliefs.
  • God is omnipresent—go into the woods not the church
  • Man is divine—Since Nature is divine and we are creatures of nature, we are particles of God.
  • Intuition—Since we are divine, we determine our own morality (right and wrong).
  • Self-Reliance—we need to rely on our own beliefs and not social pressure
  • Society is the source of corruption—we are born pure, but we are corrupted by the pressure of law, customs, etc. Conformity kills individuality.
  • Idealism—Human beings are naturally good in their core, there is no sin nature.
  • Materialism is bad—things are superficial. Money is evil because it places artificial value on objects and people.
  • Technology is bad—the railroad was bad. Technology ends up running us.
  • Emphasis on here and now—Studying history is a waste of time. Knowledge comes from experience. We cannot learn anything truly valuable from studying those who came before us; they were just learning from their unique experiences like we should.

As you can see, these beliefs are not at all Biblical. In fact, it was a reaction against Christianity. It almost combined, philosophy, science, and all spirituality. And like it says, it was connected to the rise of the Unitarian Universalist church. This church teaches that all paths lead to God, and that there is no hell. Members of this church are often times atheists, pagans, Hindus, “Christians,” Jewish, or spiritualists. They all come together and look for a religious experience, not guided by “truth” but by personal experience and equal appreciation for all faiths.

This church is still around. We have them in our local communities. There is one nearby that hosts a witch’s coven.

Transcendentalism is closely related to Unitarianism, the dominant religious movement in Boston at the early nineteenth century. It started to develop in the aftermath of Unitarianism taking a hold at the Harvard University after Henry Ware Sr. got elected as the Hollis Professor of Divinity in 1805, and of John Thorton Kirkland as President in 1810. Rather than as a rejection of Unitarianism, Transcendentalism evolved as an organic consequence of the Unitarian emphasis on free conscience and the value of intellectual reason. They were not, however, quite content with the sobriety, mildness and calm rationalism of Unitarianism, but instead they longed for a more intense spiritual experience. In other words, Transcendentalism was not born as a counter-movement to Unitarianism, but as a parallel movement to the very ideas introduced by the Unitarians.

The defining belief of Unitarian Universalism is that religion is a matter of individual experience, and that, therefore, only the individual can decide what to “believe.” The roots of this belief can be found in the Unitarian insistence on freedom of personal conscience in matters of faith. As a result, while Unitarian Universalists have no required creed, they treat as a sacred value complete and responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. Unitarian Universalists believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any religious background, and hold beliefs and adhere to morals from a variety of cultures or religions. They believe that what binds them together as a faith community is not a creed, but a belief in the power and sacredness of covenant based on unconditional love. That love is enough to hold together such variety derives from their Universalist heritage which affirms a God of all-inclusive love. (Wikipedia again, sorry I need to get off this computer and school my own kids!)

Unitarian Universalism’s “sacred” books and sources of wisdom:

  1. Personal Experience First
  2. Encouraging Words from Women and Men
  3. World Religious Texts
  4. The Jewish/Christian teachings of love your neighbor
  5. Humanist/Scientific teachings
  6. Mystical teachings of earth centered religions

My Opinion

This is not what we believe, but you need to learn about it. It is very close to paganism in how it accepts and celebrates all paths toward God. And yet it is packaged as [at best] liberal spirituality, scientific integrity, and philosophical freedom. So it seems very innocent, and intellectually honest. But it is not truth. You are NOT God. You are NOT divine. You do NOT get to decide what is right or wrong. All paths do NOT lead to the same place. You do have free will, but you are accountable to a real God in Heaven for what you do. Hey, Emerson says to speak and think in words as hard as cannon balls, so I am. Transcendental philosophy is something that sounds good, but it is on the “wide path” that Christ warned us about.

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Here is a quote from the University of West Georgia on the impact of Transcendentalism on the Pre-Civil war era, and why people found it attractive. It is a very seductive philosophy, right? Very earthy, very pagan, and yet it retains the dignity of education and science. People were caught up in it.

Transcendentalism dominated the thinking of the American Renaissance, the period before the Civil War where new literary and philosophical forms flourished, and its resonances reverberated through American life well into the 20th century. In one way or another our most creative minds were drawn into its thrall, attracted not only to its practicable messages of confident self-identity, spiritual progress and social justice, but also by its aesthetics, which celebrated, in landscape and mindscape, the immense grandeur of the American soul. The basic tenets are: that the spark of divinity lies within man; that everything in the world is a microcosm of existence; that the individual soul is identical to the world soul, or Over-Soul, as Emerson called it. This belief in the Inner Light led to an emphasis on the authority of the Self—to Walt Whitman’s I, to the Emersonian doctrine of Self-Reliance, to Thoreau’s civil disobedience, and to the Utopian communities at Brook Farm and Fruitlands. By meditation, by communing with nature, through work and art, man could transcend his senses—reach a heightened state of intuition—and attain a true understanding of beauty and goodness and truth. (West Georgia EDU)

Now . . . that we have covered all of that info, let us get into the literature.

Your Reading:
“Transcendentalism” in your main textbook (pg. 210-211 in new edition, the middle of Lesson 40 in all).

“Civil Disobedience” by Thoreau (pg. 146-258 in American Voices)

Pick a favorite quote of Thoreau and share it in the comment section– Thoreau Quotes

The only thing our textbook has for Emerson is “Concord Hymn” (pg. 137 American Voices)

But you need a bit more Emerson, so read the stuff below:

From “Self-Reliance”

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Ne te quaesiveris extra.” (“Seek no one besides yourself.”)

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can

Render an honest and a perfect man,

Commands all light, all influence, all fate;

Nothing to him falls early or too late.

Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,

Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact makes much impression on him, and another none. It is not without preestablished harmony, this sculpture in the memory. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. Bravely let him speak the utmost syllable of his confession. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. It needs a divine man to exhibit any thing divine. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not pinched in a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort, let us advance and advance on Chaos and the Dark. …

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater, The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. …

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with packthread, do. Else, if you would be a man, speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood. Misunderstood! It is a right fool’s word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Questions on Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” and Transcendentalism

Answer the questions below and turn them in on Friday.

1. What does the verse at the beginning mean?

2. Write the first sentence in your own words.

3. What is the overall message of this essay?

4. What tenets of Transcendentalism do you see in this essay and where?

5. What good can you take out of it?

6. What do you see in it that contradicts Christianity?

7. Just as we are sitting here, thinking about all of this stuff. I want you to consider Genesis 3. When the serpent appeared to Eve. He got her to look to nature, and her own ability to discern good from evil. He told her that she could look at the fruit for herself and decide if she should eat it. That in disobeying God, she would have her own knowledge of good and evil and be like God. How is the tenets of transcendentalism actually seen inside the Biblical account of the fall of man? Look at Genesis 3 and look again at the tenets of transcendentalism and see how these ideas first came out of the mouth of the enemy. Write down your thoughts.

*It may be confusing to you, after reading some of their writing, because they actually do say some good things. But, before you think that it is strange how it can be both evil, and also sound so right, remember that when the serpent tempts us he puts a small lie into a huge piece of truth.

We still see the tennets of Transcendentalism in our art and culture. If you look closely at many of the movies today you can see it. Here is a quote from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and you see a strong transcendentalist (and existentialist) influence.

Bring To Class on Friday January 8:

  • Journals (all 30 journals are due this week)
  • Grammar books (you need to have half of your book completed this week)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Essay
  • Your questions on Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” and Transcendentalism (above)
  • Homework Assignment Sheet for week 13, and weeks 14-15 signed

Final Project–American Literature Timeline (DUE January 16)

I need you to make a timeline for what we have studied so far this year. It needs to include each authors date of birth and death, as well as when the main works that we have read in class were published. That will help you put all this in perspective. Also put 4-5 significant historical dates on the timeline–things like American Revolution begins, American Revolution ends, when the presidents were elected, and when the Civil War began. Easy Peasy. It needs to be big enough for me to read it. So I would suggest using a big poster board or taping about 3 sheets of white computer paper together. Color also helps the brain to process and store information so you will get a higher grade if you use color on your timeline. Also feel free to glue pictures onto the timeline too. Just don’t let them get in the way. This is due January 16


27 thoughts on “Week 15–Break is OVER, Let’s get back to work! Transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau

  1. I’m excited to work on proper, British stuff I get to be social and open about!’ Haha hopefully I’ll get it all done in time. Happy New Year and God bless! 😀 ❤

  2. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” I knew this would be my favorite one out of all of them. It was the first one, and it really caught my attention.

  3. I have multiple favorites quotes from Henry David Thoreau, but here’s one of them:

    “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”

    I like this one because it can mean the truth. People change, mentally and physically after accomplishing their goals.

  4. “Truths and roses have thorns about them.” -Henry David Thoreau
    The truth is beautiful, but it can hurt. This is such a gorgeous quote. ❤

    "Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth." -Henry David Thoreau
    This is the truth. It stings, but it's a beautiful feeling to have it there.

    "There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself." -Henry David Thoreau
    There IS value, but you just cant see it there. You might be worth just a penny, but it takes that extra penny to turn 99 cents into $1. 🙂

  5. Which one is considered the first verse???

    “Ne te quaesiveris extra.” (“Seek no one besides yourself.”)
    “Man is his own star; and the soul that can Render an honest and a perfect man, Commands all light, all influence, all fate; Nothing to him falls early or too late.

  6. It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
    -Henry David Thoreau

    I like this quote because it is so true. I’ve caught myself wasting my time doing things that really aren’t important, and constantly remind myself what is important and check how I use my time.

  7. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

    This quote can be lined up with the real Truth. If you have all the other things, but not the truth, you have nothing.

    1. I was thinking of what “littlenotw” could mean last night… Oh my Lord, I should know this! Lol
      Its Not of This World! Duh!
      (It is Not of this world, right?…)

      1. He made it up in like 6th grade and uses it for everything. Even he doesn’t know what it means lol I gave up trying to figure it out 😛

        1. That’s awesome! Your silently sharing your faith, which is a great big step for all believers to do. People will someday ask you (most likely) what your username means; God gives you a perfect opportunity, right then and there! I made my username up when my parents started dating lol. Hence the term “Hipster”…. Mine has become a part of me too 🙂 God bless you, Tristan! Seriously.

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