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God in a Grocery Store

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God in religion

There exist three major groups in early American Literature which can be distinguished by their different concepts of God: the16th and 17th century Puritans, the Deists who emerged with the writings of Ben Franklin and John Locke in the late 17th century, and the early to mid 19th century Transcendentalists. None of these movements wrote dictionaries defining God, so it takes a prying reader to determine the beliefs they hold. But after careful prying, one discovers evidence that the God of these three movements is as different as the taste of sodas in a grocery store. These dramatically different conceptions of deity are apparent to the thoughtful reader of Edward Taylor’s “Meditation 8,” Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

The Puritans came to America after breaking allegiance with the Church of England. The foundation for their convictions a strict adherence to scripture, humility, and total dependence on God.

The reader can see the Puritans’ views on God in Edward Taylor’s “Meditation 8.” The Puritans believe God gives them everything from happiness to grace, salvation, and knowledge. To them the world is a place of suffering where only God can save them by sending his only son in the form of Jesus Christ. The worshipper finds God in scripture, prayer and church. These beliefs are evident in Edward Taylor’s poem.

The first stanza lays the foundation of how the Puritans, as mere humans, cannot attain knowledge and understanding of the world they live in. Taylor writes about how helpless he is when he looks out at “The world’s bright battlement” (line 2). He complains of his limitations in comprehending the world saying, “That his puzzled thoughts…pour” (line 5). Without God’s grace, man remains lost, in despair, and without “the bread of life.”

The poem continues to reveal how the Puritans depend on God for relief from despair. Taylor writes his soul “fell into (a) celestial famine sore, And never could attain a morsel more.” (lines 11-12) These lines allude to the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden which brought man into despair. According to Taylor, God alone saves man from the pain and woes of such a life: “In this sad state, God’s tender bowels run/ Out streams grace; and He to end all strife.” (lines 19-20) Taylor’s God is merciful to man and gives him grace from despair in the form of Christ. “The purest wheat in heaven, his dear-dear son/ Grinds and kneads up into this read of life.” (lines 21-22) God gives man grace and also eternal life through the bread of the Eucharist which is indicated in line 36 when he writes, “Eat, eat me soul, and thou shalt never die.” The puritans believe in a God in Heaven who is in control, making decisions and saving man from his own demise. This starkly contrasts from the Deists’ God who is not a God of religion.

Deism is a movement first introduced in the early 18th century. It was born in the age of reason and its roots lie in man using his mind to make sense of the world. Deists believe in freedom of speech and thought without the confines of any one religion. They believe in questioning dogmas and searching for the truth with an open mind.

In “The Age of Reason,” Paine writes about a God that lives in the mind and is revealed through the use of reason, a God who man worships by performing duties to his fellow men, who isn’t found in any religion and who man cannot completely understand. He does not believe in any church but says, “My mind is my own church” (502). Paine’s God reigns in his mind and exists as a personal God. The commandments consist of “doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy” (502). Paine does not need Taylor’s God to give

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