Existentialism And The Decline Of Religion At The End Of The 19 Th Century

1014 words - 5 pages

EXISTENTIALISM AND THE DECLINE OF RELIGION AT THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY During the 19th century, several ideas were developed about the decreasing power of religion and the meaning of life. These ideas were supported or rejected through numerous writings. Herman Melville's Billy Budd embraces God and the morals of Christianity while Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger reflects and supports the ideas of existentialism and a decline in religion in the nineteenth century.Through Billy Budd, Herman Melville expresses his disappointment with the decline of power of religion at the end of the 19th century. Philosopher William Barret stated that "Religion is no longer the uncontested center and ...view middle of the document...

"3 Melville therefore feels that with the decline of Christianity, man is becoming lost in terms of morality and purpose.With The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain represents and supports the ideas of existentialism and loss of power of religion by symbolically criticizing mankind of the late 19th century. The Mysterious Stranger takes place in 1590, a time when religion still acted as the center of people's lives. "Religion to medieval man was"¦a solid psychological matrix surrounding the individual's life from birth to death, sanctifying and enclosing all its ordinary and extraordinary occasions in sacrament and ritual."4 Mark Twain confirms this way of life for the community of Austria in the opening of Mysterious Stranger: "Mainly we were to be good Christians; to revere the Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything"¦Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them."5 This already controverts the basic fundamentals of existentialism. "All essential knowledge relates to existence"¦emphasis on individuality"¦.absurdity is manifest in Christianity."6 The fact the Twain advocates existentialism becomes apparent via the character of Satan. Satan has the ability to say and do as he pleases, thus directly representing the voice of Twain. Satan tells Nicholas at one point, "Manners are a fiction"7 and all humans suffer from "Moral Sense." Moral Sense is somewhat explained as man naively trying to live by the morals of Christianity. Existentialism, on the other hand, documents that these morals clash in certain instances: ""¦the uselessness of moral rules to a man in an extreme situation."8 Satan later explains, "As a race"¦you lack sense and courage."9 This disparagement and mockery of God-worshipping humans is not the hypocrisy of a moral-enforcing angel; it is Twain stating that the morals of...


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