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Ralph Waldo Emerson's 'The Divinity School Address'

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, on July 15, 1838, delivered his acclaimed speech, “The Divinity School Address,” to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School. Desiring to leave a lasting impact on the students’ beliefs on what religion truly was, Emerson cunningly utilized the opportunity that arose out of addressing an easily influenced graduating class. A fervent transcendentalist who believed in the innate goodness of people, Emerson attempted to convey, in this message, what he believed the essence of true religion was: a divine worship of one’s self, a belief that is in direct opposition with what Christianity encourages: a devoted worship of Christ and a reckoning of one’s carnal self. In “The Divinity School Address”, not only did Emerson…show more content…
True religion, for Emerson, appears to be narcissistic and egotistical and can be defined as promoting and being consumed by the deity of one’s self, yet, contradictorily, Emerson claimed that as one trusts and worships in themselves, they gain a renewed confidence in other men. The opposite often occurs and the selfish nature Emerson so boldly praised manifests itself when one chooses to focus primarily on themselves rather than Christ. Throughout “The Divinity School Address,” Emerson attempted to justify why the human soul should regard itself as its own god by arguing the “indisputable” power of the soul and its ability to determine everything, such as where it will go after death as Emerson believed nothing about the soul was predetermined. Although Emerson was, to some extent, correct about free will, he misrepresented what little power the soul truly has by implying that, ultimately, the soul, not God, holds, in itself, the power to determine its place in the afterlife. Furthermore, Emerson misuses this as “proof” of why the soul is all-powerful and should be worshipped. However, Christians know this to be false and in direct opposition to the Bible, which teaches that salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross determines the soul’s outcome after
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