Eighteenth Century / Robinson Crusoe

The Varying Role of Religion in Robinson Crusoe’s Life

Last week, I addressed the theme of religion in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and now that I have finished the book, I would like to expand on the topic. My previous response was written on the story prior to Crusoe’s discovery of the “Print of a Man’s naked Foot,” and I had admired him for altering his fate by improving his attitude and changing his values (130, 60). Unfortunately, a few pages later all his success was completely undone, and he fell back into the routine of self-pity and bitterness that was intensified by the self-admittedly, wholly unnecessary “Dread and Terror of falling into the Hands of Savages and Canibals” (171, 138).

From this point, I began to look at Crusoe from a cynical perspective because his religious values are extremely inconsistent. For example, he admits, “my Fear [of the cannibals] banish’d all my religious Hope,” and after he measures his foot next to the print, he seriously considers going on a destruction frenzy and later reflects, “I had not that Relief in this Trouble from the Resignation I used to practice” (132, 135). That is, he found no comfort in religion because he stopped practicing it. However, after his status of Master is rebuilt by Friday whose signs Crusoe interpret as all those of “Subjection, Servitude, and Submission imaginable,” he suddenly takes on the mindset of a missionary who has “Powers enlighten’d by the great . . . Spirit of God” (174, 177). Consequently, Crusoe reasons that these newfound powers somehow give him the right to “save the Life, and . . . the Soul of a poor Savage” and to call Friday’s god Benamuckee “a cheat” (186, 183).

On the other hand, Crusoe personally gains from Friday’s conversion because “in laying Things open to him, I really inform’d and instructed my self in many Things, that either I did not know, or had not fully consider’d before” (185). In other words, by teaching Friday about Christianity, Crusoe deepens and strengthens his own faith, which I believe is the critical turning point where he fully accepts Protestantism. Unlike his forced and overly dramatic prayers when he was alone, when Crusoe begins to verbally mention God to his companions it occurs naturally, which indicates a truer devotion. For example, when he tells the Captain, “‘that the consequence, whether Death or Life, would be sure to be a Deliverance,’” meaning God would be looking over them, offering them salvation whether they lived or died (219).

The last and the best example of his devotion occurred when he reluctantly decided not to go back to Brazil because of Religion. Specifically, Brazil was a Catholic country so he had two choices: “to embrace the Roman Catholick Religion, without any Reserve . . . [or] to be a Sacrifice to my Principles, be a Martyr for Religion, and die in the Inquisition” (255). Although Crusoe chose neither, which could be interpreted as cowardice and disloyalty, we  need to remember that he is only human who not only wanted to live happily in bodily form, but was also convinced that “Papist . . . might not be the best Religion to die with” (241, 30). That is, if Crusoe died Catholic, he might not be granted the ultimate deliverance to heaven that he had been waiting for since he re-found the Bible in his Castle decades earlier (83).

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6 thoughts on “The Varying Role of Religion in Robinson Crusoe’s Life

  1. Amy, I get that Crusoe does not always act “religious” in our points of view, but in order to be religious does that mean were not able to bash out every once in a while? maybe he was religious even in those “dark” times of his life, but if he never was in those situations where he was completely mad maybe religion when he met Friday would not have been the same

    • Hi Sarah – I agree with your point about how bashing out does not necessarily affect our religious devotion and, to me, it was more the 180° flip-flop happening so many times that led to my cynical perspective.

      Additionally, I like your idea that his anger shaped his religious interactions with Friday because without it I don’t think Crusoe would have questioned “why it has pleas’d God to hide the like saving Knowledge from so many Millions of Souls, who if I might judge by this poor Savage, would make a much better use of it than we did” (177). In other words, Crusoe questioned why God did not make cultures, such as Friday’s, Christian like the English were because based on his observations of Friday, he believes that these cultures are made up of people who would make better use of Christianity than the English did. Similarly, after he had been teaching Friday for three years, he wrote that “the Savage was now a good Christian, a much better than I,” and then takes it a step further by admitting that he had “known few equal to him in my Life” (186). To me, this was an indicator of Crusoe beginning to think that because he had doubts and Friday did not, it made him less of a good Christian, and these thoughts would not have surfaced without the anger. Furthermore, the way Crusoe placed Friday equal to or above himself and most of the people he knew, showed how their bond was unique compared to the typical master/slave relationship, and this was possible because of the guilt Crusoe felt about his madness and bashing out.

  2. I truley believe that religious struggle is extremely common. Part of that comes from the fact that no one has all the answers. I am Catholic, I attend church most Sundays but not all, I do not believe everything that the Catholic church teaches and though I believe there is a God, I often struggle with why, if there is a God would he allow so many awful things to happen in the world. Faith has always been a struggle for those in the bible, for those of other religions, for myself. It is not something that Crusoe is alone in, but that occurs on a regular basis across the world to people of all different races, religions, economic and social stations. It is actually a very universal struggle. I have heard of criminals “finding religion” while in prison but I have also heard of devout Christians who have questioned the existence of a God when a loved one has died before their time. I think that everyone needs something to believe in and that when we are hurt, we often need someone or something to blame as well.

    • Bridget – I apologize if my post offended you. I never argued that religious struggle is not common nor did I argue that Crusoe was alone in his religious struggles. Rather, I found that Crusoe’s inconsistent religious values at the beginning of the book and most of the time on the island (First and Second Paragraphs) gave him the opportunities to self-reflect and personally gain from his conversations with Friday (Third Paragraph). Consequently, I reasoned that he developed a deeper devotion to God that I evidenced by his interactions with the mutinied Captain (Third Paragraph) and his reluctant decision not to go back to Brazil (Fourth Paragraph).

      • No offence at all, just pointing out that religious struggles within people are a very common occurance. I don’t think Crusoe’s constant “flip-flopping” is really all that unusual in such UNUSUAL circumstances that he tends to find himself in. People have always been prone to asking questions of themselves and others 🙂

  3. Pingback: RE: “The Varying Role of Religion in Robinson Crusoe’s Life” « History and Literature of Georgian England

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