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A 4 Pages Term Paper on God and Goodness



    Anne Bradstreet's "Contemplations" and "The Flesh and the Spirit" illustrate precise Puritan distinctions between natural and Godly life. In reference to "The Flesh and the Spirit," one critic identifies in Bradstreet "the struggle between the visible and the belief in the invisible." (Ann Stanford, 1972) More specifically, the conflict is between materialism and spirituality in human nature. The Puritans recognized their material existence as denizens of the physical world, yet with no less conviction they proclaimed the reality of the soul. The soul's origins are traced not to the physical environment but to God. And the primal purity of the soul must be preserved from earthly taint if it is to return to God when physical life comes to an end. From this governing preoccupation with spirituality comes the traditional observation of the Puritan elect as being "in the world, but not of it." The physical world is a creation of God and can therefore only be good--a great gift to humanity by a benevolent God. Yet Taylor declares in the "Preface" to God's Determinations that "man did throw down all by sin" (line 41), corrupting himself and his relationship to all that is good. The Puritan man and woman endanger their souls if they embrace the world's sensual enjoyments at the expense of the spiritual life.

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    As stated above, the Puritan saw Nature as essentially good and not to be associated with the corrupt human impulse to embrace the material world at the expense of the spiritual. Thus we see Bradstreet praise and celebrate the beauty of Nature repeatedly in the opening stanzas of "Contemplations." Yet her enthusiasm for Nature is qualified in two very important and highly Puritan ways. As with Taylor in his "Preface," Bradstreet's observance of natural beauty leads her to acknowledge its source in God. As the critic Robert D. Richardson observes, this is a Puritan reflex (Robert, 1967). A creation presupposes a creator, and insofar as the creation is good, pure, and beautiful, the creator must be more so. The Puritan looks at Nature and thinks of God--good, sovereign, awe inspiring, and thoroughly incomprehensible and inscrutable to the puny human intellect. Whereas both Bradstreet and Taylor praise Nature mightily, it is praised in ultimate tribute to a greater, more beautiful, and more powerful God. Second, although Bradstreet celebrates nature in the poem and even employs natural images to symbolize the human desire for spiritual grace, she is careful ultimately to distinguish human needs and human destiny from Nature. Nature may point to God, but it does not lead to God. The Puritan approaches God through the path of the regenerated soul, which is utterly divorced from material life.

    Bradstreet's "Contemplations" and Taylor's "Preface" display the prevalence of meaningful natural imagery in Puritan poetry. The abundance of such imagery is not surprising, given the unspoiled richness of the natural New England environment in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this way Puritan poetic imagery reflects the scenes, objects, and sensations of daily rural life. Yet another aspect of this has been identified as the Puritan poet's "skillful use of homely realism," (Robert, 1969) or of images common within a household or farm. Thus Taylor in "The Preface" describes elements of the cosmos with expressions such as "quilt ball," a "silver box," "curtain rods," "tapestry," and "twinkling Lanthorns" [lanterns] (lines 12, 17, 18). Although in "The Soul's Groan to Christ for Succor" and "Christ's Reply" the rural imagery has important origins in Holy Scripture, it is no less influenced by the 17th-century New England rural environment. "Christ's Reply" refers to the devil as a "cur" (line13), and Taylor even equates Satan with a sheep-dog named "Spot"! (Line 10) To grasp the purposes of such imagery we need to recognize that the intended audiences of American Puritan poetry were, by and large, American puritans. The poets employed scenes and images from the life they knew, and which they knew other Americans would recognize.

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    Franklin thirteen virtues are

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and    justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

    When Ben Franklin was in his twenties, he set out to achieve "moral perfection." He sat down and listed virtues that he felt, if he could manage to acquire them, would help him achieve excellence of character. His first efforts at self-improvement, however, taught him that good intentions were not enough. "Habits take advantage of inattention," he found. "While my attention was taken up and care employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another. . . . I concluded at length that the mere speculative conviction that it was in our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping, and that the contrary habit must be broken and the good ones acquired and established before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct."
To acquire the virtues he desired and to make them habits of character, Franklin devised a plan for working on one virtue at a time for one week at a time. He states:

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    My list of virtues contained at first but twelve. But a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation, that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent--of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances--I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice of falling among the rest, and I added humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word.

    Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God show Edwards responding to an important change in Euro-American intellectual culture. The "Age of Reason" has come to America from England and the Continent, and New England Calvinists must respond to it and speak its language. Edwards went on to say, "The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict, to the end that He might show what the wrath of Jehovah is. God has had it on His heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent His love is, and also how terrible His wrath is."

    Edwards' emphasis on the wrath of God is foreign to our generation. Yet an amazing thing happened as he quoted heavily from Bible texts warning of the anger of God. Terrified men and women woke from their sin long enough to see their desperate need for the forgiveness of God.

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    God's anger is not a denial of His love. His anger means He cares too much to ignore the harm we are doing to ourselves and to one another. Woven into the greatest love story the world has ever known is the unfolding drama of a God who loves enough to hate evil. He cares enough to be angry with religionists who trivialize sin in themselves, while separating themselves from those who need mercy. He cares enough to be angry with those of us who reduce sin to petty legalisms, while ignoring the needs of others.

Franklin goes on to say:

    I made it a rule to forebear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others and all possible assertion of my own. . .when another asserted something that I thought in error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case "there appeared" or "seemed to me" some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manners: The conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly; the modest way in which I proposed my opinion procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

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    Franklin checked his virtue for the week each evening. He continued the program for over two years before he discontinued doing his nightly reflections. With thirteen virtues, he went through the cycle 4 times each year. In his autobiography he states that this self-improvement plan had a very beneficial effect throughout his life even though he didn't feel he had been entirely successful at achieving all the virtues he intended to. He admits that pride was the one most difficult for him to subdue, and that his failure was probably "for the better" since, had he "completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility." (Autobiography)

    Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God." To a congregation so traumatized that some clung to railings for fear of sliding into the fires of hell, Edwards pleaded, "Oh sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in! It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath that you are held over in the hand of that God whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it and ready every moment to singe it."

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Works Cited

Ann Stanford.  (1972) "Ann Bradstreet." Major Writers of Early American Literature ed. Everett Emerson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972), 33-58

Autobiography and Other Writings, by Benjamin Franklin, Russell B. Nye, Editor, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1958, pp. 75, 84-85

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. (1967) "The Puritan Poetry of Anne Bradstreet." Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Fall 1967), 317-31

Robert E. Spiller, et al. (1969) Literary History of the United States. Third Ed: Revised (London: Macmillan Company, 1969), 60.
 
 


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