Alexander Pope's Essay on Man presents contradicting arguments: First he proposes that prevailing rules of fatalism govern the universe, then he advocates deliberate decision-making as Man's way of paving his own path toward salvation; He suggests the futility of Man's attempts to reason beyond his limited human perspectives, then betrays his own advice by attempting to reason about the universe; And while the poem's philosophy rejects supernatural revelation and only supports theocracy based on tangible evidence, Pope interweaves abstract elements of hope and faith into his poem.
So, what is Pope's stance on religion then? Pope's closing line of the first epistle in particular, "whatever is, is right" (1.294) seems to challenge the Christian doctrines of good and evil. However, a closer scrutiny of the first two epistles reveal that Pope's arguments have striking parallels to canonical elements from both New and Old Testaments: Evil exists, and we know this through the concepts of vice and virtue, but Man should not blame such evil on God, and he should not question God's motives, because reasoning beyond his limited scope would only lead to insufficient answers.
After putting in place the inadequacy of Man's reasoning, Pope offers a Christian strategy for Man to avoid the pitfall: First, he must restrain his pride, and then he must submit to God. Pope communicates this through the illustration of the great chain of beings (1.33) in which Man is but a tiny link in the universe. This parallels the Christian depiction of the hand, the ear and the feet being a part of God's greater picture.
[...] And Man should accept his position in the chain. To challenge it is foolish, for if foot should say, `Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,' would it no longer belong to the body?" (Corinthians 12:15). And Paul asks, the body were all eye, what would happen to our hearing?" (Corinthians 12:17), and thus, each man should play his own little part. However, often times Man is not okay with his role in the universe, and his pride blinds him from seeing his own insignificance. [...]
[...] But the moment he eats it to worship a human idol, then the very same action of meat consumption becomes a vice and abstaining becomes the virtue. The apostle Paul teaches that whoever “eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord" (Romans 14:6). Pope eventually alludes to the belief that God meant for Man to be imperfect and for him to ask such questions. Why am I suffering? Is it for virtue? Or is it evil? [...]
[...] Eventually, the truth will be revealed! Man can attain happiness simply by living in bliss and maintaining his hope, because “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” ( 1.95 In the face of incomprehensible suffering or evil, this Christian concept of hope, although difficult in practice, offers strength, with the underlying message that when Man continues to struggle, he's playing his part in the Grand Design with a specific end in mind. The world Pope describes seems bleakly fatalistic at first, but Pope later shows that Man can ultimately avoid that meaningless by submitting to God's plan, which gives us hope. [...]
[...] Pope offers the remedy for this quagmire with the solution to "Hope humbly . Wait the great teacher" ( 1.91 just as in the Bible when Paul states that Man should hope what we cannot which “means awaiting it with patient endurance" (Romans 8:25). In both the bible and in Pope's poem, the assumption is that the truth about evil will eventually be clarified, for "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; nether hid, that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2). [...]
[...] Ed. Mark Pattison, B.D. 6th ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press Holy Bible, New Living Translation Carol Stream, Illinois. Tyndale House Foundation. Tyndale House Publishers Inc. [...]
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