Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and the Virtues of Protestantism

Powerful Essays
Robinson Crusoe and the Virtues of Protestantism

Many people have pointed out that Robinson Crusoe's experiences on the island seem to be a reflection of the growth of civilization and society. Considering the prominent role that religion plays in the novel, it would be worthwhile to examine the progression of religious and political thought in Crusoe's "society." Through the experiences of one man, we can observe the progression of religion from the private realm to the public realm, the conflicts inherent in such a progression, and the resolution to these conflicts. This evolution of religious and political thought affirms two ideas: 1) in the personal realm, it affirms religious individualism--the idea that one can and should find his God independently from any human authority or intermediary (i.e. priests); and 2) in the public realm, the novel affirms that religious toleration, especially on the part of those in power, is the appropriate way to resolve those conflicts that are inherent in the transition of religion from the private to the public. Crusoe discovers (primarily through trial and error and constant introspection) both of these ideas and eventually succeeds in implementing both of them. He "finds God" without the guidance of anyone, and he ultimately becomes a tolerant ruler of the island with respect to religion. Surprisingly, Crusoe never lives up to his personal definition of a "good Christian." But perhaps this is just a touch or realism by Defoe, since Crusoe is otherwise so successful at recognizing religious individualism and instituting religious toleration on the island, both of which are very important to Defoe.

The first step in the religious progression of Crusoe is his personal di...

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...bsolute morality of Christianity, primarily with regard to cannibals and others whom God had apparently chosen to be left in the dark (this question pops up multiple times--142, 151, 168). For in these "questioning" scenes, Crusoe does not exempt Protestantism from critique; he is questioning Christianity in general, and whether or not its hold on truth is real or illusory. It seems to me that Defoe was concerned with religious toleration for more than selfish reasons; he saw religious toleration as a moral responsibility of all Christians, including Catholics and Protestants, and as the only resolution to the conflict between the personal and public realms of religion. So Robinson Crusoe turns out to be just as concerned about toleration in general as it is about the virtues of Protestantism. At least in Robinson Crusoe, Defoe turned out to be fairly open-minded.
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