The Arrogant Emerson and Self-Reliance Essay

The Arrogant Emerson and Self-Reliance Essay

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The Arrogant Emerson and Self-Reliance


"To believe your own thought, to believe that which is true for you in your private heart is true for all men-that is genius" (Self-Reliance and Other Essays, 19). This statement from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson provides a summary of the ideas that transcendentalism centered around. Emerson believed that man is innately good, and that if he were left to his own devices without the structures of society and laws boxing him in, he would create a utopian society very different from the one Emerson lived in. Emerson's ideas make sense in many situations where the influence of society drowns out the voices of individuals, such as African Americans before the Civil Rights movement, or intimidates others so that they never speak, as happens to many witnesses afraid for their own safety. However, I believe that he takes the application of self-reliance too far. In "Self-Reliance," Emerson applies his ideas to religion, stating that men should find their own creed, not conform to another one that has been made for them. "We must go alone," he says, not seeking the help or influence of others, but formulating our own ideas (Self-Reliance and Other Essays, 30). At this point I disagree with Emerson. I believe that it is arrogant and self-righteous to try and form your own creed and own ideas while ignoring the influence of others. Although self-reliance may have a place in our lives, it does not encompass every aspect of them. In religion, conforming to a creed and listening to what others have to say has helped me to open my mind, not close it as Emerson suggests.

Emerson believed that to seek help and suggestions in your spiritual life was to pollute it. In "Self-Reliance," he writ...


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...listening to a preacher is to shut out new ideas that could be important. Assuming that one knows enough and that he needs no teachings in the ways of God is a self-admiring egotistical attitude. Every man can always learn more about his spiritual life.

Emerson's ideas on self-reliance have many applications in life. However, religion is not one of these applications. In religion, it is healthy for man to conform to a certain creed because it leads him to questions and ideas that he may never have asked. It does not close people as Emerson says, but directs them to look deeper into themselves. Man is not innately good as Emerson suggests. Since the Fall when Adam and Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit, man has had a sinful nature. Therefore people need guidance, not just their own ideas to lead them. Men should heed the advice of others, not only listen to themselves.

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