Since the ancient times, religion has influenced the principles of society, and still continues to do so. The foundation of society and all the moral values were totally based on the religious values. During the age of colonial America, the Puritans were known for their peculiar religious ideologies on which the moral values of the society were shaped. With scientific and technological advancement in the future, the ideologies of the American people started to change. Philosophically, America underwent through a lot of changes in beliefs and ideas in religious and political terms, for which literature is more or less responsible.
This change helped the nation to deal with political issues avoiding religious controversies. While each colony were struggling to strive for greatness, religious practice inspired the colonial people to be perfect, wise, and pursue happiness. The Puritans landed in America during the seventeenth century seeking religious freedom. However, for the Puritans, the term ‘religious freedom’ implied to their right to practice their religion without anyone opposing them. This ideology made them kind of an extremist in today’s standards as religious tolerance was totally absent.
The Puritans believed in predestination, and selfexamination which was a pretty ridiculous belief system as it brainwashed people to think that their fate was already written by God and there was nothing much they could do about it. Also, all the published literature writings glorified God to influence the behavior of the citizens. Religion didn’t just dominate the Puritan literature, but the politics as well, as the society was led by religious leaders known as the Elects. These people identified themselves as the ‘God’s chosen ones’ and dealt with all the religious, political and social issues.
On top of that, the Puritan’s patriarchal society didn’t do much for women, as they weren’t supposed to seek opportunities for education and instead stay at home and support their husbands. So, it comes as no surprise that these strong religious beliefs and its influence on politics triggered the infamous ‘Salem Witch Trials’, which goes down in history as one of the biggest human rights violation in America. Cotton Mather, a prolific writer and an influential religious leader, accounts the gruesome events of the trials in ‘The Trial of Martha Carrier’.
The final judgement, that executed innocent civilians were made by the Puritan leaders, which shows the influence of religion on the Puritan leader’s ideology and the politics of the society. In his writing, ‘The Trial of Martha Carrier’, Mather concludes the judgment by writing, “This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the witches and of her own children, among the rest, agreed that the devil had promised her she should be Queen of Hebrews. ” (Mather 538), which sounds ridiculous in modern day thinking.
This gives an idea of the state of politics during the time of the Puritans, and how religious beliefs affected people’s thoughts and judgement. During the period of the American Enlightenment, the ideologies of the American colonies had drastically changed. The ‘Salem Witch Trials’ brought out a change in the thoughts of the citizens. With the population boom in the colonies and revolutionary scientific discoveries taking place, the Enlightenment era brought out a philosophical change in the people. Humanism was now prominent in the society.
People emphasized more on scientific study and discovery rather than blind religious faith. Benjamin Franklin was the most celebrated figure and the epitome of the Enlightenment era. His contributions in science, literature and politics have made him one of the most important and recognizable figure in the American history. He opposed the Puritan ideology, but supported the self examination belief held by the Puritans for a person’s own betterment.
His literary writings are known to motivate people to strive for greatness and pursue happiness and wisdom. Franklin’s works embody not only key concerns of the Enlightenment but also of American literature. ” (Madden 840). The concept of the American Dream was coined by Franklin to inspire people to live a life of full of happiness and dignity. Franklin also helped the oppressed people, especially women, by bringing out their voices in the public through his literary works. In his fictional writing, ‘The Speech of Polly Baker’, Franklin writes about a woman who is put on a trial for having a bastard son.
In this story, Franklin writes about the absurd beliefs that prevail in a patriarchal society through Polly Baker. “What must poor young Women do, whom Custom have forbid to solicit the Men” (Franklin 849). This statement further helps the reader to understand the harsh nature of patriarchal society and how the authorities have forbidden women to raise their voices and concerns in the society. However, with significant changes in the religious ideologies, religion didn’t affect politics during the Enlightenment era compared to the Puritans.
The bright minds of the American Enlightenment wanted to reform their faith in such a way that religion didn’t interfere in political matters. This concept helped avoid controversies that included religion and politics. The American Enlightenment saw a change in the American politics as America took a lot of ideas from European philosophers and implemented it in their own way. The concepts of individualism, independence and freedom changed the political thought of the nation.
The role of women in the society had also significantly grown in the Enlightenment era compared to the Puritans. Still religious ideologies continue to affect political matters, but not in a way it used to. With a change in people’s beliefs, society has become more thoughtful and developed. Since, the colonial times until now, America has faced a lot of political instability, but the government has managed to deal with all the religious and social issues like slavery, separation of church and state, and sexism to name a few. The American society is now much more diverse and developed.