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This paper examines Paradise Lost, in terms of puritanism, religion and oppression. It seeks to compare the manner which these themes are highlighted in texts such as, “The Story upon a Hill”, by Christopher Leise. This is a text that examines the origins of puritanism, and whether it really existed in the United States. This book is unique in the sense that it looks at a number of authors on religion and puritanism, identifying their stories and arguments, and thereafter coming up with a conclusion that the Puritan Movement emerged from England, and it was practiced in America.
Another literature that will be compared is, “Worlds of Wonder……” by David Hall. This is a collection of stories on the Puritan movement and life in such societies. The third story that relates to Paradise Lost is contained in the book by the title, “The Pilgrim’s Progress…….” that was written by Keeble NH. From these pieces of art, they are all in agreement that the Puritan Movement was motivated by the need to strictly apply the provisions of the scriptures.
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John Milton: Motivations behind the Text
Paradise Lost is an epic poem that was written by John Milton. This is an epic poem that talks about the fall of man that is the disobedience of Adam and Eve, which later on resulted to their dismissal from the Garden of Eden. In the view of John Milton, the dismissal of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was a good thing, and this is because it allowed for the true repentance of man, and eventual salvation from God. This salvation came through Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God. Moreover, the story also talks about the fall of Satan, and the reasons that made him to be thrown from heaven.
Satan was one of the angels in Heaven, but he refused to accept the supremacy of God, and challenged his authority. It is because of his failure to accept the supremacy of God, that Michael, an archangel fought against him, and threw him from heaven. While coming up with this poem, John Milton was motivated by his puritan beliefs, political events, domestic ideals and humanism. As a Christian, John Milton was brought up, with the intention of becoming a priest in the Church of England.
Nonetheless, he refused to pursue priesthood, because of the corruption that he saw in church. John Milton began to practice puritanism, which was considered as a pure form of Christianity, and which believed in the strict interpretation of the bible. The puritan movement in England was against the Catholic Church, and its aim was to reform the Christian practices, by eliminating any forms or elements of Catholicism.
Puritanism, Religion and Oppression in Paradise Lost
Religion was very important to John Milton. In fact, he was raised up to become a priest, of the Church of England. But, he had to change his mind, because of the corruption that he was witnessing in the Church of England. For instance, he was against the use of Catholic principles in worship and religion. These ideals were still practices in the Church of England, and he was against them. On this note, his consciousness could not allow him to serve in a Church that he was opposed to its ideals. In fact, Milton comes from a background that is against the practice of Catholicism. His father was a converted protestant; as a result, he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and abandoned by his family.
Nonetheless, he became a successful business personality. While criticizing the Church, John Milton advocated for a personal experience of an individual with his God. He believed that a person should be his own church, and this is a principle that is advocated in the Bible, which states that, our body is a temple that belongs to God. On this note, John Milton believed that the personal experience a person has with God, should be the main factor that drives Christianity and the Puritan movement. Basing on these believes by John Milton regarding the corruption of the Church, which he likened like wolves, John Milton came up with Paradise Lost.
Moreover, it is Queen Elizabeth who made England to be a protestant country. However, the country did not return to full Protestantism. This is because there were some elements and cultural values of the Catholic Church that were being practiced in the Church of England. Examples include the establishment of the Office of Bishops, wearing of robes, reading of hymns, etc. The reasons for allowing these practices was to enable Queen Elizabeth to unite the country, and to allow as many people as possible to participate in religious activities.
However, this divided the church, because of the arguments that some of the practices that were being instilled in the Church could not be found in the Bible. On this basis, the Puritans emerged, whose main objective was to get rid of the “unholy” practices that were being practiced by the Church of England. They believed in practicing Christianity based on the biblical principles, and this should not be compromised. Moreover, the Puritans believed that they had to set a good example for other people of England to imitate, and this would help to promote Christianity. It is based on these ideas that John Milton was motivated to come up with Paradise Lost. Note that, from the story, we are able to assert that combining disobedience with righteousness is still sin. For instance, not using the principles of the bible to preach Christianity is wrong, and corrupts the religion (Milton 27). For instance, Milton asserts that Eve and Adam had sex before disobeying God. Their sexual relationship was not lustful. However, after eating the fruits and disobeying God, their sexual relationship became lustful. From this passage, we are able to denote that Milton was against using any element or principle of worship that was not in the Bible. Doing so, would amount to corrupting worship. It is on this basis, that the Puritan movement emerged, and their aim was to engage in Christian activities by strictly following the provisions of the bible.
Moreover, Paradise Lost also has some elements of oppression. Nonetheless, in the view of oppression, the focus of this story is on the proper role of women in the society. For instance, in Book IV of the story, John Milton believes that women and men are not equals. He asserts that according to the biblical doctrines and principles, God ordained man to be a master of women. This was a belief and practice that was practiced in England and amongst the Puritans. Women did not have prominent roles within the society, and they were dependent on their men for everything. This is an element of oppression that is depicted in Paradise Lost. Note that, in the English society during the 1600s, there was a misogyny that sought to portray women as evil, and people who should be avoided.
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John Milton sought to depart from these assertions through his novel. This is because he is portraying Eve, as a woman who was a good wife, obedient and loving to the husband. He denotes that the wifely role of Eve is important and Christians can learn from them. A woman should not be discriminated upon, even if she is inferior to man, But God created her to be a helper of man. Adams harsh view on woman-kind only came because of the fall, and it was a matter of frustrations. Basing on these facts, John Milton does not have harsh view of woman, and advocates for their rights. The views that Milton has on women is best described on the manner which he explains the relationship between Eve and Adam.
For instance, after sinning, Eve does not give up on God, but he encourages Adam for them to seek reconciliation with God. She realizes that what they did was disobedience; thus, the need of asking for forgiveness. It is through this encouragement that Adam manages to seek the forgiveness of God, and asking for grace (Milton 26). On this basis, Milton examines the role of women in marriages, and asserts that they play an important role in the stability of a man, and the success of such marriages. Note that, it is through the encouragement of Eve, that God manages to forgive Adam, and to send angel Michael to show Adam how the redemption of man will occur (Milton 22).
Relationship of the Readings and the Text
These four texts have been written during different time periods, and cultural backgrounds. For instance, Paradise Lost was written in 1667, and it is during this period when the Puritan movement was being formed. The movement was out to oppose the policies of the Church of England to incorporate some elements of the Catholic principles in its affairs. On this basis, the movement was basically a protestant movement. On the other hand, “Worlds of Wonder……” is a text that was written in 1990. These are many years from 1667, and the freedom of practicing religion was entrenched in the English laws. In as much as the Church of England was still there and the Queen was its head, the practice of Catholicism was being accepted in the country, and all over the world.
The setting of the story in this text by David Hall is in New England, and he seeks to provide the various religious beliefs that the Puritans in New England engaged in. The setting of the text by David Hall is the first point of difference that can be seen, when comparing it with that of John Milton. In Paradise Lost, the focus of the text is at the Garden of Eden, and at the rebellion of Satan, which occurred in Heaven. Moreover, “Story upon the Hill”, is an examination of the various authors on their views of Puritanism, and whether it actually existed. This is a text that was written in 2017, and it is the latest. In the current years, United States and the world is faced with the notions of religious freedom, and there is an increase in various types of religious movements and their acceptability.
In fact, there are movements that are called atheists, who do not believe in God. It is on this basis, that people like Christopher Leise are able to come up with this type of book that questions the existence of the Puritan movement. Moreover, it is important to note that in the 1600s, the ides of atheism were unacceptable. Anybody who was found to be an atheist was condemned, and could be regarded as an outcast. However, this is an aspect that is being acceptable in the 21st century. In fact, the current society has gone to the extremes, and in some parts of America, there are churches called, “the Church of Satan”.
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This is a religious organization that does not believe in Christ. Note that, in the 1600s, the notion of coming up with such kind of a church would entail a person being tried and prosecuted for blasphemy. Such people could even be considered as witches, and this may amount to death sentences. On this basis, authors during the age of John Milton were reluctant to write texts on atheism and to promote unreligious activities. The Pilgrims Progress is another contemporary text on the puritan movement, whose settings is in the 1600s and the 1700s. Keeble wrote this text in 1980, and it examines the concepts and faith of the Puritan movement. The 1980s was a period when the freedom for religion and its practices were becoming acceptable.
However, one of the major relationships of these texts, despite the different historical periods they are written, is their concurrence of the Puritan faith and religion. For instance, these authors agree on the fact that Puritans viewed themselves as pure, and they advocated for a strict interpretation of the Bible. Hall (33) asserts that this was an important characteristic of the Puritans, and it defined who they were. Leise (17) asserts that the Biblical principles that the Puritans were seeking to follow were very difficult to observe, and this challenges the notion of Puritanism. For instance, Leise observes that the Puritans in New England were believed to be immoral, and they did not strictly observe the principles of the Bible.
On this note, he challenges the notion of Puritanism, and whether it really existed. However, in the view of Milton, Puritanism could only be achieved by an individual, and not the whole society. In fact, the presence of Christ is good for Christianity, because he led to our redemption. So, with prayer and repentance, chances of getting salvation are there. On this note, there is no need of judging the Puritans, because the same Bible they use to judge the, is the same that is talking about the weakness of man. Keeble (330) agrees with the views of the other authors on Puritanism. He asserts that in as much as it was difficult to live within the principles of the Bible, Jesus Christ already fulfilled this requirement.
However, there are some basic tenets of Christianity that must not be challenged, and this includes the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the “Three God Head”. However, this is a believe that Milton does not agree with. Milton, in Paradise Lost, challenges the divinity of Jesus Christ, and asserts that he is inferior to God (Milton 18). Authors such as Hall and Keeble, challenge this view of God, that was held by Milton, and they believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and consider him as equal to God.
Finally, Puritanism is a movement that began taking shape in the 1600s, and it is during this time that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost. The Puritans believed in the strict application of the Biblical values and principles. In his book, Milton believes that combining unbiblical principles with that of the Bible would result to the corruption of the church. That is why the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve before disobedience was holy, but after disobedience, their sexual relationship was lustful. Therefore, it emerged to challenge the practice of Catholic principles in the Church of England. David Hall, in his book, provides an overview of the Puritan movement, and its major characteristics. He believes that Puritans did not tolerate any religious activities that were against the Bible, on this note; they were against the Church of England.
- Hall, David D. Worlds of wonder, days of judgment: Popular religious belief in early New England. Harvard University Press, 1990.
- Keeble, N. H. “The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Puritan Fiction.” Baptist Quarterly 28.7 (1980): 321-336.
- Leise, Christopher. The Story Upon a Hill: The Puritan Myth in Contemporary American Fiction. University of Alabama Press, 2017.
- Milton, John. Paradise lost. Pearson Education, 2007.