My Antonia Religious Differences Essay
Religious Differences in My Antonia During the nineteenth century many Bohemian immigrants left their homelands in search of a sustainable life, and to be able to survive with their families. The Catholics and the Protestants/ Lutherans showed many differences between the two religions, and this caused many issues in many communities. At this time in the nineteenth century the Protestants/ Lutherans made up the majority of the citizens in the United States, which proved to cause religious differences with the Catholics because of their different ways of practicing their religion.
Between the two religions many disagreements have come from certain topics in their religions. For the Catholics they believed suicide was sinful to god. They believe that your soul would suffer in purgatory, and to help that soul you must pray through icons. However for the Protestants/ Lutherans believed suicide was not as sinful as the Catholics. The Protestants/ Lutherans do not believe in Purgatory, and they believe you can pray directly to god. Throughout the novel My Antonia, by Willa Cather the Protestant/ Lutheran Burden family was not able to accept the Catholic Shimerda family’s beliefs in suicide, purgatory, and iconography.
The idea of committing suicide was a controversial topic because many of the citizens in their area were protestant, and few were Catholic such as the Shimerda family. Daniel Doyle, Jesse Rushing, and Rodney Stark in their article “Religion and Suicide”, write about the Catholic faith believes that taking your own life or committing suicide was considered to be a “mortal sin” (p. 121). The Catholics believed that if anyone was to consider taking their own life that individual would be deciding that life was meaningless, and not worth the effort to continue living.
Many Catholics believed that individual would be “living in eternal damnation” to account for their sins (Doyle, Rushing, and Stark, p. 121). The Catholic Church thought suicide was horrible sin, and did not allow anyone that committed suicide to be buried near the church. The authors state, “burial in holy ground were withheld from suicides” (Doyle, Rushing, and Stark, p. 121). In the novel My Antonia the Catholic citizens all believe that when Mr. Shimerda choose to take his own life it a sin. Anton Jelinek admits his belief “that their father has done a great sin by committing suicide” (Cather, XV, p. 85).
This shows how Jelinek implies that suicide in the Catholic religion is a serious sin against God. In My Antonia the Shirmerda family learned that they would not be able to bury Mr. Shirmerda in the Catholic grave. Cather writes, “We were sure that a man who killed himself could not be buried in a Catholic grave” (Cather, XV, p. 88). The Protestant/ Lutheran faith did not believe that suicide was as serious as the Catholic faith thought suicide was. In the article “Religion and Suicide” Daniel Doyle, Jesse Rushing, and Rodney Stark write that, “The Protestants/Lutherans also held suicide to be sinful” (Doyle, Rushing, and Stark, p. 21). In the Protestant/ Lutheran religion they had a relaxed view on anyone committing suicide. Many Protestants/ Lutherans believed, “they lacked the concept of mortal sin” (Doyle, Rushing, and Stark, p. 121). By lacking the concept that suicide was a mortal sin, the Protestants/ Lutherans tolerant view on suicide. Many Protestants/ Lutherans with in the novel My Antonia such as the Burden family demonstrate their views on suicide. In chapter XV grandfather Burden tells Anton Jelinek “we believe that Mr. Shimerda’s soul will come to its Creator” (Cather, p. 85).
Grandfather Burden means that suicide is sad, but his soul will be at rest now with God. The Burden family is very accepting with religion because their family never demeans the Shimerda’s for their father’s suicide. Many Catholics believe if someone committed suicide that person’s soul will suffer in purgatory. In the novel, A Reading of the Development of the Doctrine of Purgatory the author John E. Thiel points out that, “Purgatory became an intermediary other world in which some of the dead were subjected to trail that could be shortened by the prayers, by the spiritual aid of the living” (p. 42). Purgatory was contemplated to be a horrible place where souls were tortured until their families prayed for their soul. One-way Catholics helped someone’s soul in purgatory was by praying for forgiveness from God. In My Antonia Jake Marpole states that, “ it would be a matter of years of constant praying to be able to get his soul out of Purgatory, and right now he is in torment” (Cather, XIV, 82). Jake Marpole believes that Mr. Shimerda’s soul will suffer in Purgatory in order to pay for his sin of committing suicide.
This shows how in My Antonia the Catholic faith believed that if one were to commit such a great sin against God, he would have to pay for his sin in Purgatory. They believe that Mr. Shimerda’s soul would be suffering for years before God would forgive him of his sinful way. In the article “Religion and Suicide” the authors write that in the Protestant/ Lutheran faith they believe that there is no such place called Purgatory. In the Protestant/ Lutheran faith they believe when someone commits suicide their soul, “will begin a new life beyond the tomb” (Doyle, Rushing, and Stark, p. 21). For certain Protestants/ Lutherans they consider if someone killed them self it was a final plea for help. In My Antonia Jim says, “It flashed upon me that if Mr. Shimerda’s soul were lingering about in our house” (Cather, XIV, 81). Jim believes that Mr. Shimerda’s soul was in his house because “it had been more to his liking than any other in the neighborhood” (Cather, XIV, 81). Jim at this point in the novel believes if Mr. Shimerda’s soul was still on earth that Catholic Shimerda’s beliefs were not correct about Purgatory. He also wonders if Mr.
Shimerda’s soul would “eventually find its way back to his own country” because in Jim’s religion they believe in having another life after death. In his experience of seeing Mr. Shimerda’s soul Jim Burden like many other Protestants/ Lutherans feel that the souls of the deceased are not punished in Purgatory like the Catholic Shimerda’s believe. Many Catholics believed to be able to communicate with God you must pray though specific icons such as trees, priest, candles, and other spiritual objects. In the novel, Iconoclasm and Iconoclast: Struggle for Religious Identity the author Daniel J.
Sahas tells about iconography, and that iconography is “the breaking of physical images as an opposition to representing the divine” (p. 578). These spiritual objects were believed to allow the Catholics to communicate closer with God. For the Catholic faiths being able to pray through icons shows how essential icons are to their religion. In Sahas novel he wrote, “That iconography however, does pertain to essential identities, and especially the identities of the Catholics faith” (Sahas, p. 578). At Christmas time in My Antonia, Mr. Shimerda, “knelt down before the Christmas tree, with his head sunk forward” (Cather, 71). Being Catholic Mr.
Shimerda showed that the Christmas tree was a symbol he was praying through. Cather writes, “the candle ends sent up their conical yellow flames…against the green boughs” (Cather, XII, p. 71). Here Cather is showing the different icons that Mr. Shimerda used in order to show his show his faith. By praying to the Christmas tree, and the candles Mr. Shimerda was communicating his faith allowing him to be closer to God. In the Catholic faith a priest is a divine icon that could allow you to communicate to God. In My Antonia it states, “That the Shimerda’s were very upset when they could not get a priest to attend their funeral” (Cather, XV, p. 5). The Shimerda family believed they could not help Mr. Shimerda’s soul because with no priest they could not pray for forgiveness of God. Anton Jelinek said, “I believe in prays for the dead” (Cather, XV, p. 85). Without a priest to pray to the Shimerda family and friends would find it tough to pray and beg for mercy on their fathers soul because priest are considered to be the closest to God. Protestants/ Lutherans do not believe in praying to God through icons whereas the Catholics prayed through priest, candles and Christmas trees.
In Mark Janus, James Pennebaker, and Bradley Binau’s book Praying About Difficult Experiences as Self-Disclosure to God they write about the Lutherans/ Protestants, “regarded praying as a sacred activity” between them and God (p. 31). The Protestant/ Lutheran faith believed they are capable to communicate to God directly through praying. For the Protestant/ Lutheran religion there would be no reason to pray through icons like the Catholics because they believe God could hear their prays. In the novel My Antonia the Burden family believes in praying to God, but he Burden’s do not use any icons because they do not believe in iconography. Jim Burden states that, “grandmother saw Mr. Shimerda praying to the tree and looked apprehensively to grandfather” (Cather, XII, p. 71). This shows how uncomfortable Jim’s grandparents felt around the ways Catholics used iconography to pray. The Burden family never thought there was “nothing strange about the tree before, but now with someone kneeling before it… Grandfather put his finger-tips to his brow and bowed his head, thus Protestatizing the atmosphere” (Cather, XII, p. 72).
At this moment the Burden’s grandfather feels threaten by the differences of Catholicism, and he has to balance out the differences in the room by bowing his forehead. The Catholic Shimerda’s and the Protestant/ Lutheran Burdens demonstrate many religious differences throughout the novel My Antonia such as views on suicide, purgatory, and iconography. In the Catholic faith they find suicide to be mortal sin against god, whereas the Protestants/ Lutherans do not find suicide to be mortal. Catholics believe the souls of suicides suffer in purgatory, but the Protestants/ Lutherans do not believe in purgatory. The Protestants believe in direct relations of praying to god, and the Catholics use icons to communicate to God. Through history the Catholics and Protestant/ Lutherans have faced many religious differences, and Willa Cather displays these differences through the novel My Antonia.
Work Cited Bradley Binau, Pennebaker James, Janus Mark-David, VandeCreek Larry. “Praying About Difficult Experiences As Self-Disclosure To God. ” International Journal For The Psychology Of Religion 12. 1 (2002): 29-39. Academic Search Premier. Web. Nov. 2012. Cather, Willa. My Antonia. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918. Print. Sahas, Daniel J. “Iconoclasm And Iconoclash: Struggle For Religious Identity. ” Catholic Historical Review 95. 3 (2009): 578-580. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Nov. 2012 Stark, Rodney, Doyle, Daniel, and Jesse Lynn Rushing. “Religion and Suicide. ” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion: 22 Feb. 1983: p 120-131. Print. Thiel, John E. “Theological Studies”. A Reading of the Development of the Doctrine of Purgatory: 2008: p 741-785. Print.