The Transcendentalist Christian

I probably threw some of you off by the title. How could somebody possibly be a Transcendentalist Christian? I think we try to fit Transcendentalism into the Christian life so we can have the pleasure of doing things ourselves.

First off, what is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism is the idea that we are not sinful; we are our own God. Transcendentalists believe that God is everywhere, in everything – like the Force in Star Wars, He exists in the energy that surrounds us; but we are also this God. They believe that all people possess a piece of the “Over-soul” (God). Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being. Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Sikhism, fall under Transcendentalism. However, in some ways, as we will see, particular aspects of Transcendentalism will match up with the Christian life we practice today.

What I want to focus on is this one point in the Transcendentalist thinking: that all people are “at their best” when they are truly “self-reliant” and independent. We often think we do things best when we work solo. We rely on ourselves to get the job done, and then we pride ourselves in the task accomplished. We frequently rely on our own strengths. How often do we think we are “at our best when we are truly self-reliant and independent”? We don’t really think we need God. We think we can do it on our own. We don’t need help. We’re completely self-reliant and independent, and that’s exactly how we want it.

Why? Because we don’t like the thought of having to succumb to authority. We want to be our own authority. We enjoy having complete rule over ourselves. We’re stubborn and rebellious; we don’t want God to reign over us. Therefore, we reject His help. We go it alone. How often does that turn out?

But the second biggest thing that I think Transcendentalism and our Christian lives today have in common is this: we all want to have that feeling of spirituality without any responsibility. Think about it – in the religions above, each has their own point of “oneness” with their “Over-soul” (whatever form that is). They have their spiritual rituals and things that they do to reach that point. They strive for the experience. But as C.S. Lewis said, “Experience by itself is nothing”. They want the spiritual experience without any of the responsibility required. And that’s what each of those religions gets.

But how often do we want the spiritual experience without any of the responsibility involved? How often do we just want to go to church, sing the hymns, listen to the sermon, and then go back to living our regular lives throughout the week? We get that spiritual emotional experience on Sundays, but how often do we carry it into the rest of our week? This is where I think we want to live the Transcendentalist life-style under a Christian label.

How do we defy this? Is it wrong to want the spiritual emotions, the experience? If you’re aspiring and striving for the experience, then yes. Everything we do should be for Christ alone, not for an experience or feeling we hope to gain. We don’t always feel that spiritual emotion. There are some days when we wonder if God’s even there at all. But we shouldn’t strive for the experience of religion.

So again, how do we defy this? How do we go against being our own authority, and desiring experience without responsibility? We die to ourselves. We die to our fleshly desires and seek the desires of God’s will for us. We go against our human nature.

This seems near impossible. In fact, it is impossible – in our own strength. However, with God, all things are possible (Mk. 10:27). With God, we can die to ourselves and defy our human tendencies to be our own rulers and have the spiritual experience without responsibility.

Now, the point of this post was not to say that we are secretly Transcendentalists at heart. I merely wanted to point out how often we haven’t completely surrendered to Christ. I’ve learned a little about Transcendentalism recently, and was shocked at what aspects of that mindset reflect the average Christian. And no, not all Christians are this way. This is just an observation that I made contrasting Transcendentalism and today’s Christian.

4 Replies to “The Transcendentalist Christian”

  1. That was a really good post, Lauren. I’d honestly never thought about it in that way, but I think you’re right. We want God for the happy feeling of spirituality, we want God for confidence in our eternal destiny with none of the work. Who wouldn’t want a religion where everyone gets the warm, gushy feeling of religion while at the same time, there’s no need to read the Bible or pray! Thanks for making me think this morning!


    1. Hi, Rocco! Thanks so much for dropping by!

      There was no particular founder, per se, but Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with making it main stream.

      The publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay Nature is usually considered the moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. Does that help any?


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