I like it when thinkers try to devise a theory of everything. Never mind whether or not I find the belief system to be valid or not, I just love to explore these little models of the Universe that great minds attempt to create.
In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson sets out to create a new theology. He declares that it is time for modern man to break from the ideas of the past and formulate their own philosophies.
“The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? “
Emerson next sets out to paint a picture of the ALL. At times his view is cryptic and difficult to envision. However, he ultimately creates the outlines of a coherent thought system. As per this Wikipedia entry, Nature put the philosophy known as Transcendentalism on the map.
Though at times murky as to his exact meaning, Emerson describes a world where spirituality is of prime importance. Spirit flowing through people actually creates the external world. The matter that we see around us is a creation of the human mind and soul. People were once greater, but have somewhat lost touch with spirituality and nature, and have thus been diminished in relation to the world around us.
'Man is the dwarf of himself. Once he was permeated and dissolved by spirit. He filled nature with his overflowing currents him sprang the sun and moon; from man, the sun; from woman, the moon. The laws of his mind, the periods of his actions externized themselves into day and night, into the year and the seasons. But, having made for himself this huge shell, his waters retired; he no longer fills the veins and veinlets; he is shrunk to a drop.”
Reading this work, one is struck by how exuberant Emerson was about creation. The man absolutely loved existence. Virtue and good are woven into the fabric of reality.
“The axioms of physics translate the laws of ethics. “
Emerson devotes pages upon pages to the redemptive and sublime connection between people and nature. He criticizes science as well as the old religions as unnaturally separating humankind from the spiritual and natural. There are implications that the worship of a patriarchal God as opposed to appreciating the wonders of the natural world has stifled our existence. He eventually concludes that once humans have freed their thoughts from such rigid beliefs, that people will achieve amazing influence over their environment and a paradise on Earth will be achieved.
All this philosophizing is accomplished with prose that is often soaring as well as poetic. The above passages are just a few examples.
This is the first work that I have read by Emerson; however, I have read Walt Whitman extensively. Any reader of both will clearly see just how much Emerson was an influence upon the great American Poet. I highly recommend Emerson for the Whitman fan and vice a versa.
I cannot say that I agree with much of Emerson’s nuts and bolts view of the world. However, his enthusiasm and optimism about life, as well as the world around us, is inspiring and contagious. For those readers who, like myself, love exploring the “big ideas”, this is a must read.